Transforming Body, Emerging Utterance: Technique Acquisition at a Puppet Theater


  • Haruka Okui





This paper describes the moment when a new body technique is acquired, using a case study in which three puppeteers manipulate a single puppet together. Although phenomenology assumes that the world is always “already there” before reflection begins, we can still ask how a sequence of movements is acquired. Struggling to learn puppet choreography in a training session, the learner’s body encounters difficulties because it cannot easily imitate the proper movements. At the same time, the puppet master cannot easily explain those movements because he or she is so familiar with them. The communication between instructor and learner requires a kind of reflection that helps the learner transform and attain competency; this reflection is different from a dualistic disembodied form of thinking thatuses abstract representation. The focus is on the precise coordination of gestures and onomatopoeic utterances that emerge through improvisation in the learner’s trial movements. It is not just “a process of thinking,” but an experience that evokes “a synchronizing change of my own existence, a transformation of my being” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 213), through which the puppeteer facilitates his or her own body’s comprehension of new movements. Using puppetry as an example not only illuminates the phenomenon of learning a bodily skill, but also reveals the dynamics of our bodies, which can enliven our conversation, engender our transformation, and realize our being-in-the-world.