- Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment
Bemoaning the lack of cultural evolution since the 1990s in the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, Kurt Anderson writes that, due to a newfound technological savvy in dredging up remnants of our recent past (as well as to geopolitical and economic developments), “[o]ur culture’s primary M.O. now consists of promiscuously and sometimes compulsively reviving and rejiggering old forms. It’s the rare ‘new’ cultural artifact that doesn’t seem a lot like a cover version of something we’ve seen or heard before” (45). While perhaps an unusual pairing, the anxieties Anderson evokes are not so different from those that have haunted theatre and performance studies since Marina Abramovic’s 2005 (re)performances in Seven Easy Pieces. And the theoretical roots these anxieties rest upon – such as Peggy Phelan’s oft-cited “ontology of performance” from 1993 – date back to about the same time in which Anderson suggests culture lost its sense of the new. Rebecca Schneider addresses such anxieties astutely and comprehensively in her eagerly awaited Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Reenactment and suggests, contra Anderson, that rather than a state of malaise, this cultural drive toward (re)performance, reiteration, and repetition “underscores that the battle of much reenactment, in art and in war, is a battle concerning the future of the past” (4). The repetition on which re-enactment hinges “is not remembering the past as if the past were only behind, but pitching and stitching forward into the odd category Kierkegaard termed . . . ‘time to live’” (123).
Schneider writes, “I am interested in the attempt to literally touch time through the residue of the gesture or the cross-temporality of the pose” (2), and her theoretical time travel draws on feminist, queer, and race theory with lengthy lay-overs in what Fred Moten terms interinanimation (“the ways live art and media of mechanical and technological reproduction . . . cross-identify, and, more radically, cross-constitute and ‘improvise’ each other” ), as well as Gertrude Stein’s “nervousness of syncopated time” (6) [End Page 283] and Richard Schechner’s “restored” or “twice-behaved” behaviour (10). The connection among the various performances and media Schneider offers is contingent upon what she refers to as “an intense, embodied inquiry into temporal repetition, temporal recurrence” that manifests itself as a methodology of “affect as inquiry” (2) and in the labour of performance that is a necessarily collective endeavour (137).
Schneider begins Performing Remains with what is missed. Describing her experience as witness to a 1999 re-enactment of the 1863 Battle for Culps Hill at Gettysburg, Schneider recounts not the stages of the battle but rather her inability to play witness to such a stage: with the battle obscured by the woods in which it took place, both in its (historical) enactment and (theatrical) re-enactment, what Schneider witnessed was “belatedness and a lack of clear images made palpable as experience” (33). This missing-as-experience resulted in an affective engagement that, in itself, became an inextricable part of the “remains” of performance: “not solely . . . object or document material, but also . . . the immaterial labor of bodies engaged in and with that incomplete past: bodies striking poses, making gestures, voicing calls, reading words, singing songs, or standing witness” (33).
That “incomplete past” becomes the theatrical time of re-enactment, Stein’s “syncopated time . . . where then and now punctuate each other” (2). (This syncopation, or even stuttering, is made viscerally evident in Schneider’s account of meeting an Iraq war veteran participating in a re-enactment in 2005 whose wound she was not sure was not “real” ). Part of such incompleteness is predicated upon discrepancies between repetitions. In Civil War re-enactments, for instance, interpretative correction of errors, whether historically accurate or not, often results in “an authenticity that should have been” rather than “an authenticity that was” (55). These discrepancies, however, as intentional differences, may also play out as performative disruptions that enable a...