restricted access Conclusion: On Not Knowing
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163 Conclusion | On Not Knowing Until one can accept one’s internal other as lost, invisible, an unmarked blank to oneself and within the world, the external other will always bear the marks and scars of the looker’s deadening gaze. —­ Peggy Phelan, Unmarked1 Knowledge of the other subject is theoretically impossible. —­ Gayatri Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason2 A point of return across these pages has been the ethical concerns that emerge when immersive simulations function as a form of performance pedagogy, purportedly fostering cross-­ cultural knowledge. The immersions I’ve examined here disclose the degree to which the “other” is epistemologically unavailable and unknowable, as Elizabeth Ellsworth and Gayatri Spivak have asserted, calling into question the pedagogical efficacy of immersions for cultural knowledge creation but also, more broadly, the investments in performance as itself a means of fostering understanding across difference through embodied encounters. Each of the case studies, in varying degrees and ways, has invited us to trouble the thrall to empathy and the tendency to think of performance as a “veritable empathy boot camp,” to echo Tracey Moore, reminding us of the limits of exercises that aim to immerse oneself in the experience of the other. The profound entanglements between self and other are partly what account for the other’s inaccessibility. As Levinas insists, “Alterity is possible only starting from me” (Levinas’s emphasis).3 The “I” is always the beginning point and the organizing principle in the cultural encounter. The inescapably egocentric point of beginning and return in the cultural encounter assists in identifying why empathy as a vehicle of understanding across difference is a fantasy. As Peggy Phelan’s influential engagements with Lacan have shown us, not only is the subject constituted by the other but the subject comes to see herself “through looking at the other.”4 From a position that is decidedly distinct from Lacanian psychoanalysis, Levinas’s 164 immersions in cultural difference ethical philosophy nevertheless attempts to attend to this problem of the absorption of the other “into my own identity as a thinker or a possessor,”5 as we have seen in chapter 3. His contentions compel us to scrutinize some of the foundational tenets of theater and performance, namely, that embodied practice can lead to deeper understandings and offer the means by which one can “get to know” the other. The Shoal Lake 40’s Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations, premised on a nonmatrixed immersion that actively interrupts sympathy and empathy, serves as a useful counterpoint to immersions that orient themselves toward embodied epistemologies of otherness. The MCHRV fosters unsympathetic relations between settlers and First Nations peoples as a way of compelling settler-­ tourists to undertake the self-­ work of unlearning as a decolonial practice. Its call to unlearn raises a number of questions not only with respect to the cultural encounter but also for the discipline of performance and academic inquiry more broadly. To what extent is the impossibility of knowing the other “a matter of the logic of knowing ”?6 And in what ways do the investments in performance as a way of knowing sustain the imperatives of Enlightenment thinking, predicated on the assumption that everything is accessible and knowable as an open terrain of inquiry? As we have seen in the case of Aeneas’s insurgent training camp, which instrumentalizes empathy as a means of understanding the “cultural mind-­ set” of the enemy, there is, as Sara Ahmed puts it, an “epistemic authority” at work that centralizes the Western subject as the site of knowing and the point from which everything can be known. It might seem a counterintuitive move to emerge from a study of these immersions, which I have positioned as forms of performance pedagogy and intercultural rehearsal theaters, with concerns about the limits of performance as an episteme or a way of knowing. To be clear, my intention is not to raise the specter of a neo-­ Platonic antitheatricalism concerning the potentially falsifying forms of knowledge these immersions produce. Rather, my arguments here find their antecedents in Peggy Phelan’s landmark efforts to trouble performance’s scopic drive within a psychoanalytic and phenomenological tradition that seeks to expose the ways in which vision “cannot be the guarantee of knowing” since “vision is never complete .”7 By extension, Phelan unveils “the limitations in visibility politics” by virtue of the unmarked, invisible and irreducible aspects of identity that exceed representation.8 As Rebecca Schneider asserts, following Kobena Mercer, performance presents a challenge to...


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