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147 9 A Jeté Out the Window Fred Herko’s Incandescent Illumination Su r pl u s va l u e i s a loaded concept. Its origins exist in Marxian political economy. Surplus value is the value of work done or commodities produced that exceeds what a worker needs. It is the source of profits for the capitalist in bourgeois society. The process of production is essentially the production of surplus value. Within capitalism surplus value becomes profit in the form of capital for the capitalist, and it is at the expense of the alienated worker. This strict economic understanding of surplus value is transformed when we consider aesthetic theory. In Ernst Bloch’s work, surplus becomes that thing in the aesthetic that exceeds the functionalism of capitalist flows. This supplementary value, which is at times manifest as aesthetic excess and at other times as a sort of deviance from conventional forms, conveys other modes of being that do not conform to capitalist maps of the world. Bloch understands art as enacting a “preappearance” in the world of another mode of being that is not yet here. In this chapter I examine the work of Fred Herko, a choreographer and performer affiliated with many countercultural performance groups, primarily the Judson Memorial Church, as both a choreography of surplus and a choreography of minor movements. I do so in an effort to frame Herko’s movement as utopian traces of other ways of moving within the world. In this sense the notion of surplus I am invoking is also akin to Antonio Negri’s nuanced description of surplus value as an uncontrollable and potentially disruptive integer within late capitalism’s formulations.1 Thus, I write about a surplus in movement that does not simply align itself with abundance for the capitalist but instead, to borrow Andre Lepecki’s useful formulation, involves kinesthetic stuttering, that represents a problem within modernity’s compulsory dance steps.2 Herko, as I show in this chapter, represents movement that not only stutters but twitches, vamps, leaps uncontrollably, and ultimately whirls out of control into the void. 148 A Jeté Out the Window Central to this underground figure’s subcultural legacy is his final performance , his suicide. Herko’s suicide was staged as a performance, with only one unsuspecting friend in attendance. Herko, who was then known as a major figure in New York’s queer avant-garde but who was somewhat homeless, took a bath in the Cornelia Street, Greenwich Village, apartment of his friend, the Judson lighting designer Johnny Dodd. After emerging from his bath, Herko did a nude dance in front of his friend while Mozart ’s Coronation Mass in C Major played. The dance was described as typical of Herko’s whirling excess. We can perhaps decipher “typical” to mean a highly energetic mixture between the postmodern dance that worried the divide between theatrical and quotidian movement and an excessively campy, neoromantic style. Its conclusion, his leap out the window to his death, was an exemplary theatrical act bridging camp excess and real life (or, in this case, death) movement. Years later, when Dodd was finally able to talk about the incident, he described the leap as a perfect jeté. No part of Herko’s body touched the window frame.3 This suicide took place four years after Yves Klein’s famous fake “Leap into the Void” and a year after Buddhist monk Quang Duc gained fame when he was photographed setting himself on fire in a suicide protest against the Vietnam War. We cannot know how or even if these performances influenced Herko’s final leap. I nonetheless invoke them as a possible backdrop to Herko’s “excessive ” final act. Herko’s ultimate performance is legendary in different subcultural worlds. Speed freaks throughout the world can understand Herko’s dramatic gesture even if they do not know his name. His imprint lingers in queer experimental art movements. I am interested in the traces left by Herko. By traces I mean different lines of thought, aesthetics, and political reverberations trailing from this doomed young artist. To approach one’s object of study in the way I write about Herko is implicitly to make the argument that the work of queer critique is often to read outside official documentation. This chapter follows three important engagements with Herko’s work authored by three eminent dance scholars: Sally Banes in Democracy ’s Body (1983, reprinted 1993), Susan Leigh Foster’s essay “Improvising /History” (2003), and...


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