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December 13, 2004

An Apocryphal Motley of Errors and Phantasms?


One articulating thread traceable along our diverse readings for this week�s discussion is the development of a series of perspectives or approaches to the crossroads between history, the archive, and performance. Ginzburg, Foucault, Roach and Dening propose a performative understanding of history, stressing paradigmatic shifts in Western thought as well as specific indexical imperatives between the historian, her �object�, (their) bodies, and the performance of history-as-narration. Genealogy is the deal, here, and a provocative concept to reflect on in terms of a deixis of performance (as) methodology.


One articulating thread traceable along our diverse readings for this week�s discussion is the development of a series of perspectives or approaches to the crossroads between history, the archive, and performance. Ginzburg, Foucault, Roach and Dening propose a performative understanding of history, stressing paradigmatic shifts in Western thought as well as specific indexical imperatives between the historian, her �object�, (their) bodies, and the performance of history-as-narration. Genealogy is the deal, here, and a provocative concept to reflect on in terms of a deixis of performance (as) methodology.
Ginzburg�s understanding of history is aligned with what he traces/proposes as �venatic� deduction. Supposedly rooted in primitive hunting, the venatic is here presented as the reconstruction, recording, interpretation and classification of traces in order to reconstruct a complex reality that couldn�t be experienced directly. The venatic as investigative �attitude� is proposed as background for the presumptive or conjectural (or �divinatory�) paradigm, which the author contrasts with what he call the �Galilean paradigm�: whereas the Galilean is devoted to quantification and the repetition of phenomena (where the individualizing perspective is a mere instrument, or effaced altogether), the conjectural paradigm is performed in qualitative disciplines, studying individual cases, documents and situations �because they are individual�. In this stratification of paradigms of inquiry, Ginzburg places history among the conjectural approach (along with the field of medicine�) inasmuch as he considers it an �indirect, presumptive, conjectural� knowledge, intrinsically individualizing and tied to the concrete. History then, is in a way venatic.
Albeit Ginzburg intends to present �primitive� hunting practices as background or ancestor of the paradigm of the conjectural, he doesn�t develop a reflection on a history of Western thought as framework for the almost ontological (inasmuch as he doesn�t specify or clarify his coordinates) conception of �discipline� that he ties to history and medicine, among others. In turn, Foucault poses a more thorough rendition of a tracing of denotative and connotative values of Western thought/paradigms in relation to history, origins, teleology, and genealogy, proposing the traits that would characterize his concept of genealogy, by grounding it in examples from prior works on/of paradigm conceptualization and instrumentality, specifically the literary and philosophical works of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Foucault�s genealogy is proposed as palimpsest of sorts, an erudite accumulation of source material that takes into account absences ad unrealizations, recording the singularity of events while rejecting metaphysical essentialisms and teleologies. Sensitive to recurrence (not to trace an evolutionary curve, but interested in isolating �different scenes engaged in different roles�), genealogy also rejects the metaphysical preoccupation with �origins� (the �essential� or �timeless�) and its dissociation with the concreteness and immediacy of the idiosyncrasies of the body.
History enters this epistemic picture as the instrument of genealogy �to dispel the chimeras of the origin�, cultivating details and accidents related to Foucault�s understanding of emergence: history would look to reestablish the various systems of subjections and the plays of domination, positioning itself in an interstitial �no-place� far (from utopic) and contesting any attempt of synthesis.
By doing so, Foucault�s proposed modality of history would be �effective� rather than �Platonic�, being parodic and directed to reality (where, instead of being reminiscence or recognition, history takes the form of a �concerted carnival�), being dissociative and directed against identity (looking for a complex system of multiple elements that evade both synthesis and a the idea of a continuous identity rooted in tradition), and being sacrificial, directed against truth (or uncontested, essentialized, Platonic �knowledge�).
An �effective� history would also be attached to the body, as a site, a pretext, a palimpsest. Genealogy is presented by Foucault as �the articulation of the body and history�; effective history is related to medicine inasmuch as it shortens it vision to the things nearest to it (�it� meaning the historian, I guess�). It also introduces discontinuities into our very being, and deals, as in the model of venatic history proposed by Ginzburg, with the unique characteristics of events. Foucault elaborates this trait by quoting Nietzsche on �the singular randomness of events�: he mentions a �marvelous motley�, �host of errors and phantasms�� I�ll get back to this characterization of effective history, for it is extremely important in relation to my own methodological approach to history from a performance studies research perspective.
Foucault�s genealogy is echoed and put to play in Roach�s article on the interdependence of carnival and the law in New Orleans. Rather than just focusing on binary polarizations of gender and race in the performance of carnival, Roach analyzes the intricate historical network of impositions, accommodations, social tensions and exclusory/integrating designs and practices that play out in the crossroads of carnival and the law. The author, through considering these two instances as agents of cultural transmission as well as instruments of contestation and change, intends to trace a genealogy of performance, understood as �the transmission and dissemination of cultural practices through collective representations�. In doing so, Roach resists metaphysical or �Platonic� ontologies and teleologies, thoroughly tracing detailed instances where �timelessness� and �timeliness� clash, juxtapose, or work in complicity in order to shape and reshape the �playing out of the cultural politics of racial identity and difference� in such a specific performance of culture. His article is full of concrete examples (visual and narrative) that articulate identity and historical/social/cultural time as contingent upon emergences, contradictions, reiterations, infiltrations, expansions, compliances and transgressions by thinking and feeling bodies, by very specific social agents.
A particular stress on the thinking, feeling, performing bodies/social agents is present in Dening�s article on the theatricality of history making. For the author, narrating in history �is itself lived experience�, and therefore subject to the complexities of mimesis and alterity, sharing with (his vision of) theater the paradox of a coexistence of the subjunctive and the indicative, resulting in a performance �metonymic of the present, metaphoric of the past; it presents the past with the double meaning of the word �presents��. The interplay between time, historian, and narration is in this light seen as preoccupied with �actuality� rather than �reality�, with the development of a narration of praxis; processual, unfinished, embracing the present participle while stressing the presence of those experiencing, history is rendered �reflexive�, one that should �ensure that the interpreting is discernible in the interpretation�.
Reflexive history-making �redresses� reality rather than �replicates� it, and this is what Dening proposes as its theatricality: it �narrates the paradoxes of the past out of the paradoxes of the present in such a way that our readers will see the paradoxes in themselves�. Furthermore, for history to be, not only �reflexive�, but also �effective�, its narration should catch and narrate the �force� of human actions and emotions (while rendering silences present). It could also benefit from theater�s rhetorical devices, such as the prologue and the soliloquy, experiencing and experimenting with their subversive potential for sparking dialogic imagination as well as complex alternatives to private and public reflexivity and interpretation.
It is in this pivotal dialogue of theater and history that I would place my own current investigation on Latin American experimental theater. This set of readings has provided useful theoretical framework with which to articulate my own historical, methodological, critical �genealogy of performance� � la Roach, an affective archive of collaborations juxtaposed to the search for an �effective� dramaturgical approach to the repertoire of collective creation in Latin America, dealing with specific, contextual, concrete and idiosyncratic bodies and embodiments, while acknowledging my presence as �reflexive� (in the line of Dening�s history) and paradoxical. I�m intending to analyze concrete processes of theatrical creation, experiencing them as they happen, while nurturing from a historical overview of the work of these particular practitioners conceived as �like their own work usually is- not a �work in (teleological) progress� but a work in process (as it would literally translate our Spanish term, �trabajo en proceso�).
The processual is key to my genealogical approach; the alliances, collaborations, apprenticeships and influences, too. I�m not as interested in the wild goose chase of the �origins� of contemporary experimental theater, but am profoundly invested in the emergences, the impasses, the �along-the-way� solutions, which have been both an integral part of their modus operandi as creators as of their presence as artist in the Latin American scene. I�m embracing the processual not only in terms of a narration of a �list of events�: �process� will be articulated as an embodied interplay between scholarly and artistic work, profiting from the narrative possibilities of the dialogical and the soliloquial that a dramaturgical methodological approach aims to provide.
In a more concrete sense, I intend to trace the making-of-history- as history-in-the-making, not in the sense of �Witnessing The Event�, but as an experiential record of processual improvisations and mises-en-espace. Transits, translations and the performing (of memory through) object are three defining aspect of the type of theater created by the Malayerba Ensemble, Rosa Luisa M�rquez and several other theater artists in Latin America; it is through the documentation and analysis of these aspects that I intend to articulate my historical narration. I believe that these three instances could contribute to a better understanding of the underlying ethics and esthetics of these particular dramatic phenomena, principally because of the poetic possibilities of sketching distinctive indexical relationships �poetic both in terms of the lyrical possibilities as in its sense of �poetics�, a formal structuring of my argument by strategic usage of metaphors, metonyms, imbrications of form and content, etc.
The sort of indexical narration I intend to perform is, after all, my will to state an experiential acknowledgement of what I consider is an urgent necessity in current experimental arts in my country: a critical history of processes and emergences that could confront the paradoxes of the indicative/subjunctive forces in a productive, contextual, participant array of the �present participle�. I honestly think that the ��ing� narrative choice, sooo linked to performance, will more forcefully document the nuances of flow �of the artists, and mine as dramaturg- amidst Foucault�s �singular randomness of events�. And it is this randomness and singularity that fascinates me the most, as it is the cause of my interest (expressed in a prior blog entry) of playing with the possibility of a pataphysical approach to a history of works-in-process�.
Pataphysics, �the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments� (as defined by its creator, the experimental theater practitioner Alfred Jarry), is deeply invested in the aleatory, in the contingent, in the particular, in the �systematic toying with the arrangement of things and their significance until we see the improbable hypothesis of the real�. It intends a ludic and rigorous study of clinamen, or principle of deviation and modifications of equilibrium, of motility (so tied to Dumouli��s analysis of motility in relation to an Artaudean ethics of cruelty). It could be a unique approach to �create a narrative that performs as coagulant of life experiences, as catalyzer of confusing and misunderstood emotions and which affects in the first place she who writes� (my translation of a comment by Morelli in Hopscotch �considered by some a pataphysical novel- by my favorite Julio Cort�zar). It could be a performance studies, processual approach to my dissertation document, which I hope to crystallize as a sorts of �marvelous motley� hosting �errors and phantasms� (right, Nietzsche?), a performative apocryphal text: �The apocryphal text is then a �pataphysical text, beyond metaphysics because it eschews any systematic theory of the cosmos or of being. It is imperturbable and pays attention only to particulars and of course is imperturbable within the absurd. Finally, the apocryphal text reveals a basic ironic posture in relation to the idea of individual writing. It is not so much a new text as it is a critical text, or a pun on writing as information and creation.� (Sara Castro-Klaren, �Cort�zar, Surrealism, and �Pataphysics�). I�ll do my best to perform an investigation and a document that complies with this idea of the apocryphal, not hunting for origins, but haunted by hauntologies and the many voices of my �research subjects� and my scholar genealogy.
Some of the voices that will play/haunt my research are haunting today�s posting. They are some of my choices of works that would provide a basis for demonstrating what Performance Studies might have to offer to the study of history and vice versa. I back my choice in the very underlying force of their presence here, of their performing and animating the theatricality if my history making. Please welcome to our haunted text the influences of: Joseph Roach (Cities of the Dead), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Beyond boredom and anxiety), Ann Cvetkovich (An archive of feelings : trauma, sexuality, and lesbian public cultures), Greg Dening (Performances), Guillermo G�mez-Pe�a (Dangerous border crossers the artist talks back), Michael Taussig (Mimesis and alterity a particular history of the senses), Diana Taylor (The archive and the repertoire: performing cultural memory in the Americas), Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks (Theatre/Archaeology), Susan Stewart (On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection), Michel Foucault �Nietzsche, Genealogy, History�, Jacques Derrida (Spectres of Marx, State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International), Camille Dumouli� (Nietzsche y Artaud: por una �tica de la crueldad), Sara Castro-Klaren (�Cort�zar, Surrealism, and �Pataphysics�), Alfred Jarry (Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician), Julio Cort�zar (La vuelta al d�a en ochenta mundos), and�.

Posted by at December 13, 2004 2:35 AM