PSi#21 Fluid States - Bahamas: Deep Anatomy, 'Virtuosi', by Tracy C Davis, Bahamas Correspondent


by Tracy C Davis

10 May 2015

Psi #21 Fluid States - Deep Anatomy
Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island, Bahamas

PDF available here

The Odyssey

Diomedes, of “god-like cunning, advised by Zeus,” was one of the Achaean kings who waged war against Troy. He epitomizes traditional heroic values, striving for glory but never succumbing to hubris. His excellence rests in his heroic deeds, particularly deeds of battle. In epic poetry and drama, such deeds are depicted in the aristeia: the scene where a hero’s finest moments are exhibited. Yet the Iliad also reports:

They all held their peace, but Diomed of the loud war-cry spoke saying, "Nestor, gladly will I visit the host of the Trojans over against us, but if another will go with me I shall do so in greater confidence and comfort. When two men are together, one of them may see some opportunity which the other has not caught sight of; if a man is alone he is less full of resource, and his wit is weaker."  Iliad, Book X

For some critics, Diomedes’ aristeia is in battle, but for me it is this statement that shows his great wisdom. Rather than seeking solitary valour, he takes the collective approach, finding greater strength and cunning in comradeship.

          The virtuoso/a is another ancient concept embodying power, strength, and moral goodness. Additionally, the virtuoso/a has extraordinary technical skill, and hence we associate this term particularly with musicianship. Other artists and artisans can qualify, but differentiating between the prowess of the virtuoso/a and the lesser mortal is a helpful way to contrast the accomplishments of aristeia from other, lesser, deeds. Music’s quality of sound is dependent not merely on the instrument but also in how it is wielded. Muscular control of the diaphragm, chest walls, throat, jaw, and face determine how breath is collected, held, and expelled on notes. The ear, of course, is important but its discernment and calibration is a matter of mind as well as ottic acuity. The virtuoso/a is also a master of coordination: for instrumentalists this means the hands but they are connected to arms and shoulders that must have the optimal relaxation, poise, and grace in the midst of exertion and precision. In ensembles the musician coordinates with others but takes ultimate responsibility for their improvisation within the fluid discipline of concerted sound-making. And in all cases awareness of how the sound resonates in a locale, is effected by the presence of absorbent and non-absorbent surfaces, remains tempered to pitch, and so requires ongoing adjustment is a matter of discernment but also the ability to activate infinite adjustments while playing. But virtuosi too find greater resourcefulness in company, relying continually on teachers and coaches to temper their approach. In a sense, they go into their aristeia always with the fuller resource of this companionship.

          Diomedes and virtuosi do what the rest of us cannot, in part because they are trained by experts and engage long practice and experience, through which they hone superior mental and physical apparatuses with which to execute their cunning. Some of the divers here at Deep Blue exhibit physical ideals: carve them in marble and they would be readily recognized as goddesses and gods of old. But not all are thus. There are phenotypes of all sorts excelling in the pursuit of the deep. Most avow that freediving is an interior-focused pursuit, adrenalin is antithetical to their needs (adrenalin increases respiration and oxygen utilization), and so mantras of peacefulness, tranquility, and surrender are preferred. In Patanjali’s yoga sutras,

By accepting your fate (ishvarapranidhana), you achieve self knowledge (samadhi) and supernatural power (siddhi).

The key to success in this regard is practice with effort, which becomes progressively easier, combined with deep contemplation (samapatti).

This results in a victory over the duality of life. (45, 47-8)

Certainly, a reckoning with duality is necessary. As an instructor of the Eskimo Roll once told me, “water is a low-oxygen environment.” But freediving is more profound and agential than dodging a rock or righting a kayak after a watery broadside: it requires not just righting oneself without the panic of a push-out, but takes a sustained will over many minutes that requires calibrated physical and mental adjustments at specific depths on the descent and ascent. Without these the consequences are more than a dousing and sputter. At a certain depth gravity takes a body downward and the mind must remember not only when and how to turn to return, but also to collect the patch velcroed to the line at the diver’s pre-selected depth.

          Some divers say that this epitomizes freedom. They must be right, because only they could know, though this is not all I perceive in the ontology of this pursuit. Freedom is not commensurate with agency. And agency is not commensurate with technical ability. The divers must free themselves, to be sure, through self-knowledge that releases them from fear. They practice with effort, they execute with effort, and though this eases and naturalizes with repetition it is always an exertion of some facet of their virtuosic apparatus such as body, mind, or sattva (lightness or clarity). When William Trubridge arose from his 120-meter dive his tanned face was ash-coloured: the blood had pooled to the core and the brain in a mammalian survival instinct, and specific kinds of breath were requisite to expel the pallour. His coach said: “Hup, William, hup!” And he hupped. The ability to execute the physical act of diving and return in optimal sequence, infinitely calibrated to the circumstances, is the virtuosity of this pursuit. Like Diomedes, divers strive for honour and glory but must not succumb to madness or hubris.


Photo credits: Meredith Smye


Copyright –  Tracy C Davis (2015) “Virtuosi”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available

Tags: Environment Ecology and Performance  Mobility Travel Transport and Performance   Performance Studies in the Americas   Phenomenology and Performance  

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter