Defyning (Updated: 02/19/18)

“It is a question of a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again.”¹ – Deleuze and Guattari

Tatsumi Hijikata coined the term butoh, which is a shortened version of its original form known as Ankoku Butoh, ankoku meaning dark. Dark was used for the emphasis of entering deeply into one’s being. The word Butoh itself came from China and was adopted by Japan 1000 years ago. The word implies stomping or movement that descends to the ground.³

Butoh takes endless themes. Butoh scholar Liao P identifies some major ones: (1) the search for identity, (2) social criticism, (3) seeking the Truth of life, (4) ceremony or festival, (5) body-mind coherence as a means of psychosomatic therapy.4

All butoh practioners/scholars will have their own view of Butoh. To Frances Barbe, “Butoh often works in the area of the absurd, or the grotesque, and might seek the double-edged image: the beautiful within the ugly, the old within the young, dark within the light. Extremity is a feature of Butoh. Extreme slow motion, frenetic movement, extreme emotional expressionism, animal states, strange hybrid characters or material qualities that ‘re-form’ the body.”5

To Rhizome Lee, “butoh is the continuum of an infinite quest for novel beauty […] [one] which nobody notices as beauty.”6

Butoh, however, always seems unwilling to be completely pinned down. Its nature is free and rebellious. The quote at the beginning of this page comes from the book A Thousand Plateaus, which has as its core the concept of the rhizome which is a non-hierarchical (non-tree) structure. In the authors’ own words, “a rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.”² Such is what resembles my view of butoh. In this manual, I can only manifest my slice or tree of butoh of the multiplicities of butohs.

Deleuze and Guattari have much to say about the tree vs rhizome.

“The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and. . . and.  . . and. . . .’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’ Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions. Making a clean slate, starting or beginning again from ground zero, seeking a beginning or a foundation all imply a false conception of voyage and movement […] [But there is] another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing.²

Take anything in this manual with a grain of salt, sugar, other spices, or transform it completely. Thinking is often dualistic and associated with judgement anyway. One plus one may equal three if we have hijacked the nature of the base numbers. In the deterritorialized logic world, the non-sequitur reigns and the meanings/signifieds shift. Play at will.


1 Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum, 2004. P. 20. Print.
² page 25
³ Liao, P. An Inquiry into the Creative Process of Butoh. City University London. 2006. page 48. Print.
Page 47.
5 Barbe, Frances. The Way of Butoh and Contemporary Choreography: Reflective. Writing on Choreographic Research. n.d. Web. 20 April 2010.
6 Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh: A Dedication to Tatsumi Hijikata. 2018. Page 34, 35.