Qualia (Updated: 02/21/18)

“Butoh…plays with perspective. If we, humans, learn to see things from the perspective of an animal, an insect, or even inanimate objects, the road trodden
everyday is alive…we should value everything.” – Tatsumi Hijikata¹

Qualia can be thought of as the root of every segment of experience, connected with sensory interpretation. Items in nature, for instance, a stick or a rock, will feel very different from each other. True or not, qualia can be thought of as the inherent properties of experience that can be accessed through introspection alone. Because butoh often works with introspection and uncovering the hidden or deep, the concept of qualia is of great interest to the subbody method founded by Rhizome Lee. Subbody butoh strives to resonate with the subtle essences of the varying life differentiations.

Persons, places, things, or ideas are all qualias we can resonate/transform with.

Reduction and Regeneration is connected to qualia in the way that when we transform, there is always a loss or gain from the starting qualia whether we, for instance, begin with human walking, talking, or emoting. Human walking to crab walking may imply a level and human reduction, yet a gain in agility.

Exercise: Object Resonance

Pick any physical object as your new dance partner. Experiment with interactions. For instance, if I choose to resonate with a large stone, I will resonate with its texture, temperature, and weight distribution as I carry it around different areas of my body. I may discover new tricks or ways my body compensates. For a very detailed list of visual object resonance, see vision & perception.

Qualia Sceneries

Create a multi-qualia scenery of which a subbody or cobody is to fill. For instance, if we are to open up a camp fire scenery with cobody, then one or more individuals are the logs, another the fire, and another the smoke. The same is possible with the subbody, explained in the following part.
Figure 5, Chimera Demon Haborym of the Ars Goetia


The chimera takes on more than one qualia within different parts of the body. For instance, the arms can be tree limbs while the legs are rooster legs.

Stacked Body

The stacked body will have one qualia base and a secondary or tertiary on top of it. For instance, we might take on the qualia of zombie, which will serve as the foundation, but on top of this, we might add yogi. If a mask were to stand for embodiment, we can think of one mask on top of another.


Unlike the stacked body or chimera, the hybrid does not have separately defined qualias but instead are merged together into a new qualia like an offspring not unlike yellow and blue making green. A little bouncy ball and a leech might turn into a fat homunculus that bounces all over the place with fat suckers all over it.

Qualia Metamorphosis

These are qualia sceneries that shift from one scene to the other. For instance, if we have a camp fire, the fire will eventually burn out. The subbody part or cobody individual who were playing smoke may transform into air while the logs may transform into ash followed by enriched soil then a germinating flower seed, etc.

Exercise: Poem Recitation

Have somebody read out a poem slowly. Whatever scenery is being portrayed is being enacted in real time. The more surreal (or absurd) the poem, the better.

Bio Qualia

Resonate with nature by first imitating the movements. You can also search for videos of any number of life forms.

The kingdoms of biology include: (1) Bacteria; (2) Protozoa; (3) Chromista; (4) Plante; (5) Fungi;(6) Animalia.


When Tatsumi Hijikata performed the weakened body in his last performance called Quiet House, he was in reality performing the vaporized body. Vaporization is the potential, invisible world body, which is of endless qualias. In the vaporized body performance, there are two things taking place: (1) The 3d world body that appears weak or in ash body, dead body or statue/freeze. (2) The multidimensional invisible world.

Hijikata was fond of Antonin Artaud of the Theater of Cruelty, and a term known as the body without organs (BwO) mirrors that of the vaporized body. Deleuze and Guattari were also fond of Artaud and make extensive use of the term as well. A & G say of the BwO: “The body without organs is not a dead body but a living body all the more alive and teeming once it has blown apart the organism and its organization.”² It is thus “alive and teeming” because it is in the multidimensional world.

The dead or frozen body in butoh theater is a means to an end. A & G say, “You invent self-destructions that have nothing to do with the death drive. Dismantling the organism has never meant killing yourself, but rather opening the body to connections that presuppose an entire assemblage, circuits, conjunctions, levels and thresholds, passages and distributions of intensity, and territories and deterritorializations measured with the craft of a surveyor.”³ In other words, the dead or frozen body is means to an ultimate novelty and inner-creator.

Quiet House had many qualias and characters involved, but the audience may have only perceived a very limited movement weakened body. If this practice appears pointless to perform in front of an audience, note that even the most subtle feeling inside the body may microexpress enough for the audience to maybe feel a difference even if clueless from where it came.

Metaphor & ‘Pataphor

Qualias live inside metaphors and ‘pataphors because of their association with images. The metaphor is a comparison between an object and something unrelated, but the ‘pataphor gets lost in the metaphor, creating a world from it. Here, ideas or concepts take on a life of their own.² Let us use a simple example:

Non-Figurative: Your head tilts to the side.

Metaphorical: Your head tilts the side as if there is water coming out of your ear.

‘Pataphorical: Your head tilts to the side as if there is water coming out of your ear. The water attracts a thirsty raccoon, which happens to thank you with an English accent.

This degree of taking a metaphor further is enacting the ‘pataphor. This is your world. You can always extend your metaphor just as you can always extend your qualias. ‘Pataphors can of course be used in your choreography or butoh-fu (see further on in the page). The following section Fermentation & Distillation is a good example of these figures put into place.

Fermentation & Distillation

The following butoh concept was inspired by Rhizome Lee: (1) Juice; (2) Wine; (3) Brandy. These three states will denote forms/levels of transformation and/or depth that we can enact upon a qualia. Let us take the example of the facial expression. The general facial expression, for instance, of sadness, is something everyone can easily identify. What happens when we go underneath and refine or sublimate the general association? If we swallow the juice, can we turn the juice into wine? Can we then turn the wine into brandy? What happens when we swallow sadness? What comes of it? Can we create wine? Can we create aged wine? Brandy? Aged brandy?

If we wanted to, we could take the juice/wine/brandy concept to the liking of our own hearts. We can ‘pataphorize it. Are we at brandy? What then? Have we suddenly traveled back in time to the prohibition where brandy is illegal? Does a cop see us with the brandy?

This concept is also connected to the idea of reduction, a reduction that is makes the qualia richer.

Butoh-fu (Butoh Notation)

Butoh-fu is simply notating butoh qualias. It creates qualia sceneries (see above), and can make great use of qualia metamorphosis (see above). Butoh-fu is inherently poetic, which is why surrealistic or absurdist poetry is a great resource to mimic (see above). Example butoh-fu from Yukio Waguri entitled Ear Walk:

A big ear lies on the floor at the feet. Walk along the lines of this ear. Passing curves and slopes, walk into the depth of the ear. Suddenly, an eye grows on the tip of the index finger. The nose has also become an ear. Walk lazily along the walls of the ear. Slugs are crawling on the back. The ear traces the lines of its own self. Strange curves. Voice of vendors are heard from afar. Those were the last voices that were heard. The person is moved by the ear on the tip of the nose, by the eye under the chin, and by the ear between the legs. Hands wander around the labyrinth of hands aimlessly and infinitely. It enters King Solomon’s palace.5

Butoh Koans

Koans are riddles meant to be pondered or felt, which make great use of paradox and reading between the lines. Though koans are generally meant to be read and meditated upon intellectually, there is no reason why these cannot be transformed to incorporate the body. The koans below are transformed into butoh-fu (see above).

1. Hanging by the Teeth

You are hanging up in a tree by only the teeth. Your hands are tied to your back. It gets harder and harder to hold on. You get so weak that you can already feel your impending death. You are almost at the point of letting go when somebody comes along and asks, “say the one thing that can save your life.”

2. Not the Wind, Not the Flag

What is moving the flag? You are a flag moving. No, you are the wind moving. No, you are the mind moving.

3. The Buffalo

You are a buffalo walking to the enclosure. The horns pass the enclosure. The head passes. The front legs pass. The torso passes. The back legs pass. But the tail does not pass. Why can’t the tail pass?

4. The Strawberry

You are at the edge of a cliff holding onto a vine with both hands. There is a tiger above you sniffing at you. Below, there is another tiger waiting for you. Two mice gnaw at the vine. You eye a strawberry. You pick it. How sweet it tastes!

5. Face Koan

What was your original face before you were born?


We can certainly grab qualias from within our memories. There are certainly moments of our lives that are the most memorable. To Hijikata, Can Factory represented a memory with very rich associations/qualias. For me, perhaps its building sand castles in summer camp when I was a little boy. There is also a memory of extreme excitement/great impression, which Hijikata called Peacock, after the rare moment of encountering a peacock in the yard of his friend,  Mr. Yanagida.7


¹ Viala, Jean and Masson-Sekine, Nourit. 1988. Butoh: Shades of Darkness. Tokyo:
Shufunotomo Co., Ltd.
² Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum, 2004. P. 30. Print.
³ P. 159
Casado, Luis, Pataphors And Political Language Archived 26 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine., El Clarin: Chilean Press, 2007
5 Waguri, Yukio, Reading Butoh-fu, http://www.otsukimi.net/koz/e_bk_reading.html
6 Lee, Rhizome. The Butoh: Dedication to Tatsumi Hijikata. 2018. Page 185.
7 Page 79.