- Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, Second Edition
Early in this revised edition of his 1999 monograph Liveness, Philip Auslander notes that providing a complete assessment of the digital turn and its impact on performance in the decade since the book’s initial publication would require a new book. It is a point well taken. Auslander’s subtle, thorough revision of his book presents a familiar version of Liveness in this second edition, reproducing the clear lines of theoretical argument that have cued important new avenues of inquiry in the fields of performance, cultural, and media studies, among others. At the same time, however, the second edition of Liveness reads as a very different book, especially in terms of tone, scope, and intellectual generosity.
As in the first edition, Auslander’s main analytic thrust in Liveness remains the author’s interrogation of the perceived “oppositional relationship between the live and the mediatized” (4) among performance theorists and practitioners alike. As Auslander endeavors in cultural-economic terms to assess “the situation of live performance in our mediatized culture” (2), he explicates the centrality of “the televisual” as the foundational visual and experiential vocabulary within both live and mediatized performances of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In the book’s first and most substantial chapter, “Live Performance in a Mediatized Culture,” Auslander develops his core polemic, which emphasizes both “the mutual dependence of [End Page 653] the live and the mediatized and challenges the traditional assumption that the live precedes the mediatized” (11). In the subsequent two chapters (“Tryin’ to Make It Real: Live Performance, Simulation and the Discourse of Authenticity in Rock Culture” and “Legally Live: Law, Performance, Memory”), Auslander offers two ostensibly nontheatrical performance sites—the rock concert and the court of US copyright law—as demonstrative of the means by which certain performance strategies, conventions, and modalities exploit the interplay of the live and the mediatized. Auslander demonstrates how the rock concert and the corpus of copyright law invest cultural value within the performative enactment of, respectively, creative “authenticity” and juridical presence/memory. In both the first and second editions then, Auslander argues that the “relation of opposition” perceived between the live and the mediatized “exist[s] only at the level of cultural economy,” as he also emphatically asserts that an opposition is “not rooted in essential differences between” the live and the mediatized as modes of performance.
While Auslander’s central argument remains consistent between the two editions, the book’s tacitly polemical affect seems to have been tempered somewhat by the passage of time, a subtle shift reflected in Auslander’s emendations within the new edition. As he notes in his preface to the second edition, “[t]he best description of my present attitude toward the vagaries of live performance’s negotiations with an ever more intensely mediatized world is pleasant bemusement” (xi). Auslander’s “pleasant bemusement” appears most plainly in the handful of elegantly elucidating examples he chooses to incorporate into this edition of Liveness. The second edition’s most thorough revisions can be discerned in the book’s foundational chapter, which culminates with Auslander’s charting of the historical timeline of “liveness”—a gesture that proves especially clarifying. Yet the most intellectually captivating revisions arrive in the later chapters.
As a new concluding gesture for his chapter on rock authenticity, for example, Auslander develops a thoughtful, precise assessment of pop-rock singer Ashlee Simpson’s lip-synching troubles during her “live” broadcast on the television show Saturday Night Live in 2004. By situating the Simpson controversy as one node in a tradition of utilizing mediatized liveness to contest “rock authenticity,” Auslander not only retrieves his earlier analyses of Milli Vanilli and MTV Unplugged from pop culture obscurity, but also, and more significantly, amplifies the historical significance of his largely theoretical scholarly intervention. Comparably productive is his incisive analysis of the challenges to intellectualproperty law posed by the increasing ubiquity of “synthespians,” a compositional practice wherein “digital information is derived from a performer to...