restricted access Beyond the Text: Toward a Performative Cultural Politics
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47  Beyond the Text Toward a Performative Cultural Politics The good news is that in recent decades there has been a remarkable constellation of thinking around performance. The “antitheatrical prejudice ” notwithstanding, performance is now a powerful locus for research in the human sciences, a rallying point for scholars who want to privilege action, agency, and transformation (Barish 1981). The bad news is that the almost total domination of textualism in the academy makes it difficult to rethink performance in non-­ eurocentric ways. Edward Said coined the term “textual attitude” to describe the widespread tendency “to prefer the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human” (Said 1979, 93). Further, he declared “that it is a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and problematic mess in which human beings live can be understood on the basis of what books—­ texts—­ say” (Said 1979, 93). It is ironic that progressive intellectual movements, such as cultural studies, are still dominated by a “largely ‘white on white’ textual orientation” (Giroux & McLaren 1994, x). Even a performance theorist as astute as Jill Dolan does not question the hegemony of the text in her recent metadisciplinary essay: “Perhaps the most distinctive contribution of performance studies is to expand even further the scope of the textual object, opening its purview into folklore and festivals, rituals and rites,” and so on (Dolan 1993, 430 [emphasis mine]). Because the conceptual deck is stacked in favor of text-­ based disciplines, methods, and epistemologies, we need to ask whose interests are served by the textualization of performance practices ? What are the consequences of thinking about performance and textuality as fluid, exchangeable, and assimilable terms? What is at stake in the desire to blur the edges, dissolve the boundary, dismantle the opposition , and close the space between text and performance? What are the costs of dematerializing texts as textuality, and disembodying performance as performativity, and then making these abstractions inter- 48  cultural struggles changeable concepts? What gets lost in the exchange, in the “reworking of performativity as citationality” (Butler 1993, 14)? Because knowledge in the West is scriptocentric, we need to recuperate from performance some oppositional force, some resistance to the textual fundamentalism of the academy. Performance studies scholars must continue to engage critically the visualist/textualist bias of western intellectual systems by deploying performance as a lever to decenter, not necessarily discard, the textualism that pervades dominant regimes of knowledge (Olson 1994). It is important to take up this challenge for at least two related reasons: (1) performance-­ sensitive ways of knowing hold forth the promise of contributing to an epistemological pluralism that will unsettle valorized paradigms and thereby extend understanding of multiple dimensions and a wider range of meaningful action; (2) performance is a more conceptually astute and inclusionary way of thinking about many subaltern cultural practices and intellectual-­ philosophical activities. Whereas a textual paradigm privileges distance, detachment, and disclosure as ways of knowing, e.g., “knowledge means rising above immediacy,” a performance paradigm insists upon immediacy, involvement, and intimacy as modes of understanding, e.g., “the primordial meaning of knowledge as a mode of being-­ together-­ with” (Said 1979, 36; M. Jackson 1989, 8). The textual paradigm is not a sensitive register for the nonverbal dimensions and embodied dynamics that constitute meaningful human interaction, what Mikhail Bakhtin calls bodies of meaning (6). Jackson notes a contradiction and cultural bias in the widespread influence of the world-­ as-­ text model in ethnography and cultural studies: The idea that “there is nothing outside the text” may be congenial to someone whose life is confined to academe, but it sounds absurd in the village worlds when anthropologists carry out their work, when people negotiate meaning in face-­ to-­ face interactions , not as individual minds but as embodied social beings. In other words, textualism tends to ignore the flux of human interrelationships , the ways meanings are created intersubjectively as well as “intertextually” embodied in gestures as well as in words, and connected to political, moral and aesthetic interests. Quite simply, people cannot be reduced to texts any more than they can be reduced to objects. (M. Jackson 1989, 184) I am not reassured by the much celebrated expansion of meaning from text to textuality and intertextuality because I believe that the wider, beyond the text  49  more expansive meanings too often slide back and get compacted into the narrow meaning of text as readable words on a page (Worthen 1995). In his study of the oppositional...


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