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Carla Harryman's Non/Representation and the Ethics of Dispersive Performance
Abstract

Abstract:

Contemporary poet's theater audiences might best be characterized by community rupture: each member experiences an individual identification in the collective space of the theater. This essay takes a closer look at this audience formation through the work of Carla Harryman, a poet-playwright associated with the San Francisco branch of what has become known as L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing. Harryman's 2008 work Mirror Play weaves together poetic experimentalism with references to the U.S.'s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the Gulf War, and to the 1968 campy intergalactic anti-war movie Barbarella. She employs poet's theater conceptually as a means of rethinking our engagement with political narratives. The result is an interpretive "community" marked, paradoxically, by discontinuity and dispersion. Portraying an America defined not by physical borders but by complex military, economic, cultural, and political relationships, Harryman's work plays through the ways in which these relationships are constructed and maintained. What emerges is not an interpretive free-for-all but rather an embodiment of the ethical dilemma in the postmodern era--the contradiction, as Geoffrey Galt Harpham puts it, between "How ought one to live?" and "What ought I to do?", between generalizable norms and individual acts in actual (and unique) situations.


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