Paradox (Upd: Mar 30, ’21)

A deaf midwife hears a morgue’s stone window opening shut as her white satin shadow waves frozen despite the black sun rising to dusk with a wingless dove flying inside out into a parched puddle reminiscing tomorrow’s threadless spool under a missing chandelier. (From my piece entitled Excerpt from an Endless Codex)

Emi Hasty

A paradox is something that bears contradictory elements. Sometimes paradox is connected to irony. Geoffrey Harpham has connected paradox with the grotesque because of its living in the fringe or the interval (or gap).  Geoffrey Harpham notes:

“If the grotesque can be compared to anything, it is to paradox. Paradox is a way of language against itself by asserting both terms of a contradiction at once. Pursued for its own sake, paradox can seem vulgar or meaningless; it is extremely fatiguing to the mind. But pursued for the sake of wordless truth, it can rend veils and even, like the grotesque, approach the holy.¹

Hence paradox is connected to liminality/ma.

Both Helena Katinkoski and Jochelle Elise Pereña propose that paradox is the one thing that separates Butoh from other art forms. Katinkoski claims butoh to be “a liminal art that arrives to non-dual performing by embodiment of a paradox,”3 and similarly, Pereña claims that “[Butoh] is a liminal art, meaning that it is part of the threshold or limen between worlds, and it is also part of both worlds – a paradox.”“Bipolar oppositionalism” coined by Arata Isozaki is what Katinkoski feels Hijikata based his butoh on such as death being life and ugly being beautiful.5

Koans often exhibit paradox.

Here are some examples of qualities that may be somehow embodied, perhaps after discovering a sense of false dichotomy: fast and slow; small and large; light and heavy; young and old; airy and solid; strong and weak; strange and normal; beautiful and ugly; vain and humble; pleasurable and painful; cold and hot; rough and smooth; rainy and sunny; silent and loud; bitter and sweet; sunny and rainy; happy and sad; something and nothing; nowhere and everywhere.

Example Characters

The title alone describes their paradox: (1) happy monster; (2) beggar king; (3) cardboard egomaniac; (4) old baby; (5) happy scrooge; (6) enlightened creature; (7) sick bodybuilder; (8) beauty pageant creature; (9) sleepy jogger.


We can utilize confusion to enter into new and unfamiliar territory. Anything dealing with paradox especially can lead into a state of confusion. Cognitive dissonance also leads to confusion and occurs when one is between two or more contradicting beliefs.

Exercise: Contradictory Suggestions

This exercise can be done with one or more speakers throwing out contradictory suggestions. The more contradictory, the better. It begins with visualizations of the suggestions, e.g. we fly, and the ground is hot. Summer is cold, and we go inside. Here, we go outside. Inside we stay heavy like a feather. Once the acting participant is in an overwhelming state, all suddenly stops with a final suggestion that is to make clear sense:

Example suggestions: (1) Now dance your mystery; (2) Now enter into your true self; (3) Now resonate with one thing.

The point of the exercise is to enter into trance so that profundity in the subbody can be found. This exercise is based in Milton Erickson’s confusion technique.²


¹ Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. On the Grotesque. New Jersey. 1982. Print. Page 20.
² LeCron, Leslie, Experimental Hypnosis, 1948.
3 Katinkoski, Helena. “Non-performing – Liminality and Embodiment in Butō Dance”. BA Thesis. The University of Stockholm.2017. Page 44.
4 Pereña, Jochelle Elise. Chasing shadows: Exploring Butoh and the Liminal. M.F.A. Mills College, 2011. Page 9.
5 Ibid. Page 17.