Caravans Continued: In Memory of Dwight Conquergood
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310 Shannon Jackson Caravans Continued In Memory of Dwight Conquergood At the premature January memorial of Dwight Conquergood—­ teacher, scholar, activist, performer, foster parent, foster grandparent, godfather , neighbor, and professor of performance studies at Northwestern University—­ former students and colleagues from around the world gathered to pay tribute. The gathering drew academics of all varieties; it drew theatre directors and actors, community organizers and legal activists. And it drew members of both Dwight’s family of origin—­ his biological siblings—­and his adopted Hmong family. The memorial’s performance was also eclectic, including gospel singing, poetry recitation, and oratorical tributes that ranged from the staid to the incantatory. It included performances of Zora Neale Hurston, theatrical performances about gang violence, performances of an African funereal lament, and performances of personal memories of Conquergood’s exchanges of food, ideas, inspiration, and gossip. Coming to terms with the disciplinary legacies of what is sometimes erroneously called the “Northwestern” strain of Performance Studies in the United States is, to some degree, about contending with the heterogeneity of that memorial gathering. It indexed a wider network of scholars and practitioners engaged culturally and aesthetically in the communicative dimension of performance. To be so engaged is to take particular interest in performance’s oral, embodied, and narrative dimensions, especially as those conceptual concerns have been developed and refracted in the interdisciplinary humanities. To bear witness to his passing was thus also to wonder whether our field could possibly be ready to let go of a person and symbol who so epitomized a disciplinary future. It was to worry, and for many of us to resist, the dumb temporality that would allow his death to push progressive hope into the recent past. This collection resists that push by remembering the political, intellectual , international, interdisciplinary, and aesthetic combinations that critical responses  311  Dwight Conquergood pursued in his scholarship and in his classroom. I want briefly to touch on a few themes that seem to me to recur again and again in Dwight’s work. By the end, you will find me reflecting more broadly upon the significance of his work ethic, particularly as it manifested itself in a daily political practice of human attachment. 1. Instituting Performance Studies: Members of other fields do not always have to do the intense institutional work that those of us in performance studies have to do in order to create a place for our work. Dwight’s commitment to that act was visible in almost every essay he wrote and every keynote he gave. At all times, one had the feeling that he was never only speaking for himself but constantly reaching for a meta-­ language within which all of us could place our efforts and gauge our contributions . Dwight’s commitment to that act also took place in the less visible domains of institution-­ building; in memos written, in curricula defined, in meetings planned and agendas set. To commit institutionally to the discipline of performance studies meant also having to be present, centered , and rhetorically expedient at some difficult moments of growth and transformation. Dwight was there when canons had to be expanded and methods had to be re-­ thought. And he was also there to argue for a continuity between these curricular shifts and the larger preoccupations of the arts and humanities. 2. Theory and Practice: That sense of continuity manifested itself also in Dwight’s commitment to the creation of curricular, artistic, political, and scholarly spheres that unsettled assumed oppositions between theory and practice. This strain of PS began with a tradition of “making a piece” rather than the tradition of “casting a show”; to break with—­ and I mean with—­ such a tradition thus propels a slightly different course. In a variety of sites—­ medical theatres, immigrant parades, Ghanaian storytelling , queer autobiography, and so many more—­ the interest in the propulsion of embodied narrative animated our practice. The interest in cultivating a centered and indexical mode as a performer, the interest in performances that would allow the voice of another to be heard but never claimed—­ that pursuit of “speaking with”—­ animated what we did on our feet as often as it animated what we did in print. 3. Poetics and Politics of the Disenfranchised: To the pursuit of embodied narrative, Dwight incorporated a political imagination: whose narratives were heard, under what conditions, and through what vehicles ? It is no secret that Dwight strongly identified with the strain of social science and humanistic thought that did its...


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