Martin Puchner holds the H. Gordon Garbedian Chair in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University where he also directs the Theatre Ph.D. program. He is the author of Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama (Hopkins, 2002) and Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes (Princeton, 2006; winner of the MLA's James Russell Lowell Award). He has published essays in the London Review of Books, Raritan Review, N+1, Yale Journal of Criticism, The Drama Review, The Journal of the History of Ideas, New Literary History, Theatre Research International, and Theatre Journal among others. His edited books and introductions include Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen (Barnes and Noble, 2003), Lionel Abel's Tragedy and Metatheatre (Holmes and Meier, 2003), The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings (Barnes and Noble, 2005), and Modern Drama: Critical Concepts (Routledge, 2007). He is the co-editor of Against Theatre: Creative Destructions on the Modernist Stage (Palgrave, 2006) and The Norton Anthology of Drama (2009) and the new general editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, third edition (in preparation).
Identity in Motion in Renaissance Drama
Moderated by Katherine Kellett, Boston College
Jeffery Blanchard, Drew University
"Shylocks in Discourse: The ways in which performance criticism facilitates the study of characters as genres
The advent of performance criticism re-grounded Shakespeare on the stage and away from the page. Though a prominent change in Shakespeare studies, it did not take place overnight. Performance Criticism's examination of varying production breathed new life into the stage and gave it a prominent role in academic circles. While performance criticism allows many different aspects of a performance to be meticulously studied, I propose here one of the areas in which it can have the greatest effect is on the study of character. Performance criticism allows characters, in their endlessly diverse interpretations, to be studied in a fashion similar to an analysis of genre. Through performance, characters become distinct "kinds," "sorts," "styles," or "types," all of which are synonymous with genre.
The definition of genre that will be followed comes from Amy Devitt in her book Writing Genres, where she states that a genre has the ability to function in multiple ways; most often it "reflects, constructs, and reinforces the values, epistemology, and power relationship of the group from which it developed and for which it functions" (63-4). This definition and all that surrounds it works in conjunction with the performance, or playing, of a character. Characters too are malleable and can be altered by the same social and historical forces that affect genres; the semantic utterances of the characters on the stage are indicative of both the culture and historical period of performance.
This analysis will examine the character of Shylock from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Shylock has been chosen due to the seemingly endless interpretations that have appeared throughout history and across cultures. Shylock will be examined through the application of the work of three genre theorists: Mikhail Bakhtin, Tzvetan Todorov, and Ralph Cohen. The application of these theories to the particular aspects of reviewed performances will illustrate how a character can be seen as a socially constructed, open genre when studied through the lens of performance criticism. These analyses will look at performances ranging from Barry Edelstein's production in Chicago in 1994, another performance produced by Edelstein from 1995 in New York, one by Arnold Wesker in Stockholm in 1976, and German performances dating back to 1777, during the Second World War, and in the postwar period. Each performance will provide further evidence that characters can be analyzed in the same method as genres due to their cultural and historical malleability.
Raymond DiSanza, St. John's University
Performance and Contortions of the Self in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho
My paper "Performance and Contortions of the Self in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho" examines the inherent theatricality of Shakespeare's Henry IV through Van Sant's Postmodern resetting of the play in early 90s Portland. The paper examines the central metaphor of the film, the metaphor of the fucked-up face, developed through three separate speeches by River Phoenix in both the context of performance in Shakespeare's play, and in the context of the performance that is an inextricable part of our everyday social interactions. In the paper, I argue that, while such thing as "the self," may exist as an abstraction, it is undeniably inaccessible as an actuality. The true self, this abstraction, if it exists, is the performer himself, naked, unmasked and out of character, but in a world of perpetual performance this self is unapproachable. This self cannot be summoned up while the performer is playing a part, and the performer is always playing a part; always performing, contorting himself and his public face to conform to one role or another. This concept of the fucked-up face develops throughout the film, particularly through the three speeches delivered by the character played by River Phoenix. In my paper, I discuss the various possible connotations the film's central metaphor, focusing largely on why Van Sant chooses the precise words he does. What is it exactly that makes the unadorned face of the social performer "fucked-up"? Various different possibilities are explored that examine the nature of the film's characters in relation to their Shakespearian counterparts, the nature of performance and theatricality in everyday social interactions, and the postmodern metatextual self-consciousness which insists upon breaking the fourth wall to remind the reader or viewer that what they are reading or viewing is representation, fiction, fabrication...in a word, performance.
Cory Elizabeth Nelson, Brandeis University
The Braver Way: The Search for a Stable Reading of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II
The penultimate scene of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II Act 5, Scene 5 presents an interpretive challenge to critics and theatre practitioners. At line 112, Lightborn, a hired assassin, murders Edward, England's recently deposed monarch. However, as Lars Engle has pointed out, Marlowe's stage directions are vague, perhaps deliberately so, thus leaving the precise manner of Edward's murder open to speculation (356). The ambiguity of 5.5 has inspired a small critical debate, with most readers assuming that Edward dies in the manner described by Raphael Holinshed in his Chronicles: Lightborn penetrates Edward with a red-hot spit, in what William Empson has called a "parody" of anal sex (444). However, several readers, led by Stephen Orgel, have refused this interpretation, instead insisting that Edward is pressed to death.
This paper traces that critical debate, asking a deceptively simple question: how has 5.5 been interpreted, and what are the implications of those interpretations? My contention is that the open-ended nature of 5.5 reflects the thematic ambiguity of Marlowe's play as a whole. By refusing to stage Edward's death in a clear-cut manner, 5.5 repeats (rather than resolves) the play's central questions. Does Marlowe's Edward II condemn same-sex desire or a corrupt court? Does the play trace the persecution of a man or the downfall of a king? What kind of a body does Lightborn punish in 5.5, and what would that punishment look like?
Many readers of Edward II have refused to confront these questions, instead attempting to identify the central concerns of Marlowe's play by "resolving" the mystery of Edward's death. In so doing, these critics have not only overlooked the indeterminacy of 5.5; they have also produced readings that sideline the interpretive multiplicity of live performance and the unstable nature of early modern texts. Using W.B. Worthen's account of the relationship between early modern print and performance, I conclude by suggesting that the critical search for a stable reading of Edward II rests on the assumption that a play's meaning is (re)produced by authorial signs on the page, rather than actors and spectators on historically inflected stages.
Giving Props to Puppets, Mascots, and Tyler Perry
Moderated by Gene Gorman, Boston College
Amber West, U Conn
Through the Funhouse, Towards the Dead World: An Argument for a Puppet-Based Production of Adrienne Kennedy's "Funnyhouse of A Negro"
Since the first production of Funnyhouse of a Negro (FhN) opened at the East End Theater in 1964, Adrienne Kennedy's work has been labeled difficult: difficult to successfully produce, and for audiences/readers to understand. The difficulty of Kennedy's subject matter and form, arguably her work's greatest strength, makes her work resistant to tidy categorization and often unpleasant to watch. Because of this, her work was generally lost/overlooked in academic and theater circles from the late 60s to the late 80s, and still, though to a lesser degree, today. Kennedy remains under-produced in relation to the size of her body of work, her reputation, and influence.
Director Gerald Freedman contends that Kennedy's challenging experimental plays demand "new solutions and new techniques." Fragmented characters, disturbing storylines, and dense poetic language make communicating her vision to an audience a challenge. A puppet-based production of FhN would provide a revelatory new approach to Kennedy's work. Kennedy's plays are filled with calls for performing objects, yet her grave subjects and bleak outlook have likely caused theater-makers to overlook the possibility of puppetry to be profound in its delivery of her tragic protests against institutionalized and internalized racism. Comparable puppet plays are discussed, as well as previous uses of, and calls for, puppetry in Kennedy's work. FhN's five main production challenges are identified in order to discuss how these might best be overcome through puppetry.
Puppets' ability to suspend disbelief, to open audiences up to stranger possibilities than they are often comfortable with in human actors, and their ability, as puppeteer/puppetry scholar John Bell describes, to help people communicate with the dead world, make them an ideal vehicle for a work like FhN, in which a fragile self fragments in the moments before death in an attempt to survive. A puppet-based FhN will be valuable in terms of revealing new possibilities in Kennedy's oeuvre, as well as in the art of puppetry itself.
Timothy Lyle, Georgia State University
"Check With Yo' Man First; Check With Yo' Man": Tyler Perry Appropriates Drag as a Tool to Recirculate Patriarchal Ideology
In this conference presentation, I investigate the drama of Tyler Perry and introduce his dramaturgy into the academic landscape. As the critical discussion is shifting towards the realm of popular culture, we must begin to locate several discourses at work in the drama of quite possibly the most visible and financially successful African American playwright of the twenty-first century, if not of all time. Drawing on gender and queer theory, I offer a theoretical discussion about subversive and non-subversive drag acts and question Perry's apparent feminist advocacy. My project explores the degree to which Perry appropriates the subcultural practice of drag in a politically liberating or constraining manner on the African American theatrical stage. Moreover, I examine the gender and sexual politics in Madea's Family Reunion (2002) to illustrate the ways in which I read Perry as offering a theatre of paradox in which a contradictory dialectic between his activist aspirations and his oppressive tendencies emerges quite problematically, particularly in regard to questions of safe feminist spaces, motherhood, female self-sufficiency, female self-definition, and domestic violence.
As Perry's popularity continues to climb the charts and his politics are ingested by millions of people in the African American community (and the American and global communities at large), I am more convinced than ever that he is a force with which we must reckon. Rather than offering a multitude of conclusive ideas and statements, I often concern myself much more with asking complicated questions. If we consider the fact that the feminist messages of supposed empowerment, healing, and testimony are delivered from a male dressed in drag, do we assume that Perry's messages are loaded with masculinist ulterior motives? Contrastingly, do we recognize that Perry's drag acts are parodic attempts to destabilize and denaturalize gender categories and to illustrate the ways in which gender is simply a matter of the performative? My chief objectives in reading Perry's rendering of drag acts and his adoption of an apparent feminist advocacy are two-fold: 1- to interrogate the degree to which we find Perry adopting and deploying drag in a very subversive, political manner to motivate transformative cultural logics concerning Black gender and sexual politics, realizing that his acts of bodily subversion (Butler's term for the political, destabilizing acts of drag) provide him a platform from which to centralize his feminine sensibilities? 2- to analyze the specific means by which Perry appropriates the queering potential of drag acts and uses the practice of drag as an attempt to re-circulate rather conservative, disempowering (for women and homosexuals), and masculinist logic My largest polemical goal is to plant several seeds for potential academic discussion. I hope to use this conference as an opportunity to expose several of the larger discourses at work in Perry's drama to ignite an engaging, productive dialogue among students, scholars, and other interested "readers" of Perry's work, which will certainly be a part of theatrical studies for many years to come.
Katie Dailey, Boston College
Mascots: Performance and Fetishism in Sports Culture
Mascots exist in sports ranging from high school track to professional football, and their role has never been academically questioned. From a cultural standpoint, mascots serve as entertaining aspects of sport culture; however, upon deeper examination, one can conceptualize mascot performance as representing fetishization. Mascots correspond to single facets of sport society and this paper brings their fetishistic status to the forefront in order to initiate an academic discussion as to why and how these performances perpetuate themselves in modern culture. The discussion includes theorists ranging from Joseph Roach and his work on effigies to Karl Marx and commodity fetishism. Through working to elucidate relationships between mascots and other fetishized objects, readers are encouraged to see mascot performance through an innovative lens.
Moderated by Ann Nicodemi, Boston College
Lauren Ellis Holm, Brandeis University
Lady Audley's Secret and the Drama of Publication
Shortly after Mary Elizabeth Braddon published Lady Audley's Secret in Sixpenny Magazine (1862), Robert Walters recognized its theatrical potential and wrote to Braddon requesting permission to stage a dramatic adaptation. Although her permission was not legally required for the adaptation, Braddon granted it and attended a performance in 1863. The success of Walters' adaptation led other playwrights to undertake their own dramatizations of the popular sensation novel. William Suter not only staged his production, but published the script as well. At the appearance of the printed script, Braddon's publisher, Tinsley Brothers, sued the publisher of the play-text, Thomas Hailes Lacy, for infringement of copyright and won. This anecdote is often recounted in introductions and appendices accompanying the novel's modern editions, but has never attracted critical attention for the issues it raises about the relationship between print and performance.
Nineteenth century British copyright law did not protect novelists from dramatic adaptation on the premise that even if a novel and drama share content, their two narrative methods constitute significantly different forms of expression that result in two independent, original works. The case of Tinsley v. Lacy establishes that dramatic adaptations only remained original as long as they were confined to performance. As soon as a play was published, it stood in a different relationship to its source material. Several important questions are at stake in this case: does performance in itself constitutes a form of publication? What is the relationship between a staged performance and the printed document of such an event? How is a published script like a novel? Extracted from a chapter of my dissertation, Staging the Novel: Victorian Adaptation and the Influence of Medium, this talk explores these questions and their implications for a broader discussion of genre and performance.
Nick Frangipane, Boston College
Inside Molly's Mind: The Trouble with Film Adaptationsof Ulysses
Every filmmaker who has tried to capture Ulysses has gotten it wrong on at least one count: Molly's final stream-of-consciousness monologue. In adapted versions of the novel the actress who plays Molly invariably speaks her thoughts out-loud to audiences, but herein lies the problem: while the novel allowed us to experience Molly's thoughts exactly as Molly would, inside our own heads as we read silently to ourselves, every film version puts something in between our thoughts and Molly's thoughts: voice and the rhythm of speech. Stream-of-consciousness writing is unique because it allows the reader to experience the inside of another person's head without being mediated by speech, or the organization that we put to our thoughts before we verbalize them; though the actresses who play Molly give us many of the same thoughts in the same flowing order Joyce wrote them, they are punctuated by breaths, sighs and thoughtful pauses-the very punctuation that Joyce left out of his novel.
It is what Milan Kundera calls the novel's reason to exist. He writes: "The sole raison d'etre of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover." Stream-of-consciousness allows us inside the character's head in an unmediated way, which no other form allows. Ultimately, in the final chapter of Ulysses Joyce reminds us that the novel is necessary.
In addition to a close look at exactly why these adaptations fail, I also discuss the small ways in which they succeed. Finally, I include a brief discussion of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, the film version of which was able to remain faithful to the novel and still garner praise as a film (it won the academy award for best picture). A close look at this text reveals that the novel is quite cinematic: McCarthy's descriptions are very visual and his dialogue is unaccompanied by "he said" or "she said" as if it is coming straight from the characters. This raises the question of whether or not it is possible to turn a book that is not predisposed to film into a successful film.
Mary McCleary, UMass Boston
Literary Adaptations in Operatic Libretti: Travesty of Justice?
The art of the libretto ("little book") is one that has been practiced with both brilliance and mediocrity, having the capacity to either enhance or detract from the final product of an opera. When a librettist adapts a literary text, the task becomes all the more difficult with the incumbent contingency of subordination to musical format. The question then follows whether a libretto based on a book or play can stand on its own artistic merit, or whether it is merely a vague rendition with feeble dialogue.
The first part of the paper will provide a brief synopsis of the development of the libretto through the nineteenth century. The second part of the study will focus on establishing the criteria for a model to properly assess adaptations of literature into libretti. Parameters will include plot conformity; textual fidelity, clarity, and condensation; diction (word choice) and syntax; adaptation of the meter and rhyme schemes to musical exigencies; character replication and development; proficiency of translation where appropriate; use of setting; and whether or not, and to what degree, the end product captures the essence of the original literary source.
Finally, two libretti based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830) and Gounod's Romeo et Juliette (1867), will be compared according to the parameters set forth in the aforementioned template. Of particular interest will be the development of the Shakespearean libretto between Bellini and Gounod, in which the earlier emphasis on storyline alone was supplanted by a more concerted effort to be faithful to the text.
Acts of Faith: The Rituals of Religion Performed
Moderated by Carolann Madden, Boston College
Joseph Mendes, UConn
"Gape agans be son: "The Pilgrimage of Violence as the Vehicle of Salvation in the Wakefield Play of the Crucifixion"
Brutal, sadistic, graphic, and bloody, the late Medieval Wakefield play of the Crucifixion displays in detail the immense suffering endured by Christ on the cross. Through an intricately-woven, consciously brutal ordeal, the Wakefield playwright probes the depths of human culpability, human sin, and the theological nature of Christ's death and subsequent resurrection. The violence both entertains and repulses the audience, who, throughout the course of the play find themselves to be simultaneously be both witnesses to and perpetrators of the crucifixion.
In a short, 15-minute presentation, I will explore how the Wakefield Crucifixion play moves beyond simply presenting the manner in which Christ was tortured and crucified and instead seeks the audience's own complicity and participation in the spectacle taking place onstage. By dehumanizing the Christ actor and utilizing sadistic humor, game playing, and physical violence, the audience unwittingly transitions from mere spectators to co-torturers of Christ. The audience laughs and snickers at the familiar scene of torture taking place onstage, but the laughs stop when Christ's first lines of "My folk, what haue I done to the / That thou all thus shall tormente me?" are directed at the audience, not at the four torturers onstage. I then explore how this realization of the audience's own complicity in the crime hammers home St. Anselm's theology of affective piety, where the sinner is called to realize that through each new sin, they are literally wounding and crucifying Christ anew.
Alyssa Connell, U Penn
"The Undigesting Multitude": Considering the Audience in Seventeenth-Century Execution Speeches and Responses
Public executions constitute a popular, if grisly, theatrical form during the long eighteenth century. The very location of the execution on the stage-like raised scaffold insists on its theatricality, while the crucial moment when the executioner turns and displays the severed head to the spectators explicitly positions the crowd as a necessary and participating audience for the event. However, the spectator's role in the public execution is not limited to his presence around the scaffold. Delivered by the condemned, execution speeches (both at the time they were spoken and, more importantly, in their subsequent print form) demand an audience as well. These speeches, in turn, provoke responses that also implicate a particular audience. The purpose of this paper is first to consider the presence of the audience in execution speeches-how it is constructed and addressed, what assumptions the speaker/writer makes about it, and how it is viewed in conflicting or contradictory ways-before focusing primarily on the audience's prominent presence in the execution responses. The scope of this discussion will be limited to executions for treason conducted during the 1680s; treason provides a common narrative for the execution speeches, while the considerable number of subsequent print attacks they generate makes these high-profile speeches somewhat unique. Seventeenth-century execution speeches in general have received surprisingly little critical attention, and this investigation will attempt to address that gap while considering rhetorical assumptions and declarations about the place and power of the audience.
Corey Wronski-Mayersak, Cornell University
"Quem Quaeritis?": Seeking and Signifying the Spiritual in Late Medieval Drama
This paper's title derives from what the Catholic liturgy codified as the question thought to be posed to Christ's followers when seeking his body in the sepulcher, a scene replayed in much medieval drama; yet the phrase also encapsulates the issue of what the audience seeks to see in dramas attempting to represent matters of faith. Informed by speech act theory and focusing on a selection of religious dramas from late medieval England, this paper explores the techniques employed by the plays to gesture toward intangible divinity and spiritual entities that cannot be represented on stage in concrete form. The central concern of this paper is the interchange between the plays' struggle to signify and the interpretive work this requires of a "seeking" audience.
With particular reference to the Digby play of Mary Magdelene and the N-Town Mary Play, I argue that the spiritual is invoked and depicted linguistically; one of the techniques at work in the plays is an emphasis on linguistic signs over physical illustration, moments that require the audience to consider speech while overlooking the bodies of speakers that fail to match it. The verbal is used, I suggest, to affirm the perfection of internal spiritual states of characters such as Mary, as well as to illustrate the divinity of Christ himself, though sometimes at the risk of utterances that fall "void" in an Austinian sense. Given the ultimate inexpressibility of the divine, a topic of concern we find throughout the medieval corpus of writing on the nature of God, all linguistic attempts to represent divinity are perhaps less successful than the use of absence, both of physical object and of language, to convey its nature, a means I argue we find at work particularly in Corpus Christi cycle plays of the Resurrection.
Both techniques involve the audience in the successful production of the drama, which relies on viewers' willingness to read the presence of the invisible into an inadequate visible sign. Likewise, both ultimately challenge the supremacy of the material object that is often considered the definitive medium of theater.
Gender & Performance Across Time and Culture
Moderated by Josh Olivier-Mason, Boston College
Debra Goodman, University of Buffalo
"No fit capital yet here:" Re-fashioning Washington's Spectacular Promise
Henrietta Vinton Davis, a pioneering black actress, made her theatrical debut in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 1883. She had served under Frederick Douglass in the recorder's office, and he was not only in attendance but introduced her. For Douglass and Davis, Washington seemed a space of new beginnings, in which they might forge a path of political and dramatic representation. Yet Davis, like Douglass, experienced extreme disillusion at seeing her "new" identity constituted by the "old" framework of racism. That this Shakespearean actress eventually turned to minstrelsy reveals the problem with such a "new" beginning - it is never entirely new. The desire to represent oneself on one's own terms, fostered by Washington and its burgeoning worlds of fashion and theatre, went unfulfilled for many black men and women living "behind the scenes."
In this essay, I will examine how Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes and Pauline Hopkins' Hagar's Daughter use theatrical tropes to open up inaccessible spaces/stages and to rewrite the terms of "representation," expanding the possible roles available to women in performance through the performance of writing. Who can represent America and its promise? What are the pleasures and pitfalls of such representative power? And how might their desire for self-representation force a re-evaluation of the aesthetics of performance, the politics of fashion, and of the theater's importance as an imaginative space for black women in the 19th century? I will argue that both Keckley and Hopkins bring to the footlights what is anxiously contained behind the scenes: the spectacle of slavery's terrors and traumas, the racial ideologies behind aesthetic practices, and most importantly, the desire for representative power and the power to represent.
Emma Katherine Perry, Boston College
"Stripping Cibber's Fop on the Eighteenth-Century Cultural Stage"
In Act V of Colley Cibber's sentimental comedy The Lady's Last Stake, the fop Lord George - originally played by Cibber himself - is robbed and subsequently stripped below the waist. Although the robbers claim to be after his money, they take great interest in removing his clothing: "Pull off his Breeches, make sure work; over his heels with 'em, that's the shortest way" (V.iii, p. 88). In an intriguing response, Lord George equates being stripped of his fashionable breeches with being stripped of his skin: "With submission, Sir...if you pull off my skin you won't find another sixpence in the inside on't" (V.iii, p. 88). As Lord George reveals, the fop's clothing serves as an external signifier of the performed self, the metaphorical "skin" he fears might be stripped away with the loss of his clothes. Ultimately, when Lord George's breeches are removed, his male sex is exposed.
Similarly, The Lady's Last Stake also highlights the breeches role of Mrs. Conquest, originally played by Anne Oldfield. Mrs. Conquest's masquerade as a man is called into question when her man's coat is removed, revealing her breast and thus her female sex beneath. Both of these instances involve the removal of an external clothing signifier that leads to the revelation of gender performance.
This paper argues that the fop's "fashionable" gender performance in The Lady's Last Stake extended through the fourth wall and into eighteenth-century culture, revealing anxieties surrounding the fop's "sexually suspect" body and his body's adornment. Looking specifically at Cibber's autobiography, An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, the metaphors he uses to "defend" himself provide compelling evidence for such a fourth wall maneuver. In particular, Cibber uses the metaphor of the "Coat of his Profession" to indicate the murky divide between performance and authenticity. I explore the fop's coat in Cibber's plays and autobiography, as well as a number of eighteenth-century popular texts such as Gentleman's Magazine and The Spectator. Some visual aides of actual eighteenth-century men's wear help to support my claim for the fop's gender play and gender performance through fashion. Expanding beyond dramatic literature to include other genres helps to reinforce the cultural pervasiveness of performativity.
I draw from Christina Straub's work on Cibber's fop in Sexual Suspects and Tom King's work on eighteenth-century constructions of masculinities in The Gendering of Men 1600-1750: The English Phallus. Robert Heilman and Susan Staves also help to frame the critical precedent set for work on the fop. Though the fact that Cibber's fops performed through their clothing is not a new observation, the link between fashion, performance, and authorship is particularly intriguing when applied to Cibber's own role as performer and author. In reading the fop's coat as an authored performance, fashion assumes a more central role in our understanding of eighteenth-century gender "play."
Bernadette Guthrie, Penn State University
"I Like to Watch": The Ethics and Erotics of Performative Spectatorship
In 1974 Marina Abramovic performed Rhythm O, her most famous piece of performance art, in which audience members were invited to use seventy-two objects on her body as they pleased. Reversing the passive/active binary that traditionally defines the roles of spectator and spectacle in performance, Abramovic stood passively for six hours as her clothes were cut off, rose thorns were pressed into her stomach, and a loaded gun was cocked against her head (which induced a certain number of audience members to wrest the gun away from its wielder). Allowing her audience to take possession of her body, Abramovic's performance explored both the ethical and erotic implications of performative spectatorship. In Rhythm O performative spectatorship is taken at its most literal; the line between audience and performer is transgressed through the active, physical participation of the audience in the performance itself. However, issues of performative spectatorship are also raised within contexts in which the audience appears seemingly passive.
In this paper I use the explicit performative spectatorship of Abramovic's work as a starting point from which to investigate how more implicit performative spectatorship similarly engages in questions of ethics and erotics. Drawing upon the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom as my primary text, I employ definitions of "performance" and "spectator" which encompass not only theatrical performance but also textual performativity. I consider how Sade's text implicates its audience as participants in spite of and, in a number of cases, because of, their passivity. Sade affirms this erotics of spectatorship through his continued acknowledgement of the reader as a fellow traveler. In 120 Days Sade addresses his audience as "ami lecteur" (usually translated as "friend-reader," occasionally as "dear reader"); similarly, in the introduction to Philosophy in the Boudoir the readers are identified as "voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex." Sade's explicit recognition of his audience in nearly all of his texts (and his assumption of at least some inclination towards depravity on their own part) makes his readers complicit with his own fantasies. In these invocations, as in so much of Sade, questions of eroticism and ethics meet.
This equation of spectatorship/readership with erotic activity is furthered within Sade's descriptions of the libertines themselves. In 120 Days the libertines are treated to a story by one of four specially chosen storytellers each afternoon and the narratives grow more outrageous and obscene with each passing day. The text assures us that "[i]t is commonly accepted amongst authentic libertines that the sensations communicated by the organs of hearing are the most flattering and those who impressions are the liveliest." In this description spectatorship is recognized as a particularly sophisticated form of erotic activity and for a fair portion of the text the reader is, for all intents and purposes, participating in the same activity as the libertines. These passages complicate the standard divide between watching/doing and fantasy/reality that so often characterize contemporary ethical discussions both of pornography and of eroticism in general. Of course, this destruction of traditional dichotomies is as much - if not more - a part of Sade's work as his erotic excesses. As Susan Sontag says in "The Pornographic Imagination": "Sade was not so much a sensualist as someone with an intellectual project: to explore the scope of transgression."
In my reading I use this transgressive tendency of Sade's texts to unsettle the active/passive binary that continues to function in much of the discussion surrounding performative spectatorship. While the participatory nature of spectatorship in Abramovic's work is effective in sullying the line between spectator and spectacle, it does not fully investigate the degree to which watching is, in itself, act or performance. I argue that the reader's consumption of 120 Days is equally performative despite the appearance of "passivity" and, further, that this recognition of voyeurism as action and performance has far greater implications than the narrower definition suggested by Abramovic's piece. To this end I draw in large part upon Georges Bataille's consideration of the essentially communal nature of ritual in which he argues that ritual functions by erasing the line between spectator and spectacle through a shared limit-experience that recognizes an equal degree of participation both in the act of watching violence and in violence itself. Bataille is especially suited to my study since Sade is particularly concerned with performance as ritual, and the rituals present in 120 Days have both erotic and ethical implications that are inextricably tied to the presence of the body. It is here - at the site of the body, with its vulnerability to both pleasure and violence- that the exp licitly participatory spectatorship of Abramovic and the "act of watching" in Sade finally meet despite their apparent differences in form.
Acting Out of Bounds: Performing Hybrid Identity
Moderated by Kristin Imre, Boston College
Ally Day, Simmons College
Praying Indian as Playing Indian: An Analysis of Performativity in the Construction of Sampson Occom's Indian Identity
This presentation intends to use Butler's theories of performativity, combined with more recent scholarship by Ian Barnard and Shannon Winnubst that incorporate race more explicitly into queer theoretical analysis, in order to understand 17th century Indian Christian Missionary Samson Occom. This analysis also allows us, as contemporary scholars, to understand how performance theory can be used to analyze the subversive and political construction of a raced identity in historical literature. In order to do this, this analysis examines Occom's letters to his family, his Indian community at Stockbridge, and his published sermons. Theory comes from Butler's analysis of Paris is Burning, as well as queer critical perspectives on Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands.
When the Puritans encountered Native American tribes like Samson Occom's Mohegan, they already had a framework developed for understanding otherness. For Puritans, there was their own Christianness, which was representative of truth and light, and there was everyone else. In this way multiple tribal identities become grouped into one category of Indian. The Puritans were intent on both maintaining their boundaries of difference from Indians but also pursuing missionary work. Samson Occom, and other Christian Indians, necessarily queered the identities of Christian and Indian because they blurred the boundaries of both. Occom himself is representative of this queered identity.
This queered identity can be best understood in relation to Butler's theories about gender performativity. Gender is performative just as Indianness is performative. As such, it is capable of a performance in double mimesis and comparable to contemporary drag (queen) identities. The Indian identity is first performed as a repetition of acts that the reader can locate in Occom's response to the Puritan encounter. The double mimesis happens when Occom mimics this repetition by highlighting his Indianness in his letters to native communities such as Stockbridge, in his community advocacy for native communities in his letters to white Christian officials, and in his formal sermons in which he is able to perform his Indianness in conjunction with his Christianess. Occom's Indian identity becomes a drag identity in its location within his Christian Missionary Project through his use of Christian language and rhetoric.
Occom's Christian Indian identity in itself can be understood as a hybrid identity. Using queer theorists who cite Anzaldua's Borderlands, one can best understand a hybrid identity as an identity that makes space for ambiguity. Occom's Christian Indian identity is necessarily an ambiguous identity, blurring the boundaries between lightness and darkness as mythologized in popular Puritan thought. If Occom's Indianness, as located in his Christian Missionary project, is a drag Indianness, what implications for the meaning of Christian Indian as a whole if that "Indian" component is drag and the Christian Indian itself is hybrid?
Applying Queer Theory allows scholars to understand how Occom is able to preserve his Indianness by interpreting it through drag; he is also able to present a hybrid identity that allows room for ambiguous space. In this sense, the hybrid identity becomes a performance of double hybridity: in one sense it is a hybrid identity much like the mestizaje identity making space for ambiguity by occupying a middle space between two binaries and queering those binaries in the process. Occom's identity becomes a performance of double hybridity because in addition to this mestizaje hybridity, it is also a hybridity between non-drag and drag. Hybrid identities are queer identities. Drag identities are also queer identities. This double-hybridity queers the notion of drag itself, thus queering an already queer identity. Occom's Christian Missionary Indianness thus becomes the ultimate queer identity. Through Christian performance, a 17th century Indian "acts out", contemporarily, the ultimate Queer performance.
Margaret Wilson, U of Maine
Ceremony as Communication
The role of the audience in Native American theater is unique. Although their use of Western theater has only been in the last century, Native American playwrights have a history of ritual and performance in their tribes, which can be linked to theater. Rituals have traditionally involved audience members. Therefore, many Native American playwrights use their plays to interact with their audience. I examine how two playwrights, Hanay Geiogamah and William Yellow Robe Jr., explore the concept of Native voice and communication, and how they involve their audience in the process. These playwrights ultimately show how ceremony can be a pathway towards expressing oneself, understanding oneself, communicating with the universe and with each other.
To examine different levels of communication, it is necessary to examine the playwright's tribal history. I address how their tribe's history of muteness is reflected in the muteness of their characters. Ceremony plays a central role in the search for voice. I conclude that these playwrights are making their own voices heard, the voices of their characters heard, and their tribal histories heard. They are finding a way to remedy the effects of centuries of being silenced.
My paper evolved from a graduate level Native American Drama course at the University of Maine in the Fall of 2008, and we were fortunate to have Mr. Yellow Robe as a participant for several classes. He related his experiences working in theater as an Assiniboine playwright for 30 years. I focus on his early play, The Independence of Eddie Rose. Hanay Geiogamah is a member of the Kiowa/Delaware tribes and a leading director, playwright, and producer. I focus on his seminal play 49.
Ariel Nereson, SUNY Buffalo
"Krump or Die": Racism in the Armchair Tourism of David LaChappelle's Rize
This paper argues that despite its valuable introduction to the dance form of krumping, LaChappelle's 2005 documentary furthers a history of white patronage and black subjugation. Rather than breaking from a narrative wherein representations of blackness conform to white expectations, LaChappelle's visual commentary in the film and verbal commentary in interviews support an essentialist view of blackness and the black performing body. Further, this paper articulates two elements of a larger critique: an analysis of the movement itself and an analysis of the film's reception by film critics, a reception that speaks to the successful commodification of a racist narrative.
This page was prepared by Emma Perry, with the assistance of Zdenko Juskuv.