- The Ends of Performance
Anthologies rank among the weaker breed of book. Most display the relics of some conference, and the rest cater to classroom sales; rarely does one stake out new territory. Although this anthology does stem from a conference—the First Annual Performance Studies Conference (1995), entitled “The Future of the Field—Peggy Phelan, conference organizer and editor has staged on these pages an ambitious disciplinary intervention, beginning with her pointedly argued introduction and continuing with twenty essays and performance texts.
Phelan rejects the genealogy of Performance Studies as a field beget from the marriage of Richard Schechner’s theatre and Victor Turner’s anthropology (even though this is the history Schechner tells in the volume’s final essay). She is “suspicious” of their “faith” in vision as potentially omniscient. “Theirs was the work that first framed the field for me,” she explains, “but it was other work that [End Page 95] sustained me and provoked me to write. This anthology is an attempt to highlight some of that work, to explain why I think these ‘points of contact’—to take up Schechner’s inviting phrase—can sustain the field in the next century” (4). Robert Sember’s essay on the “infected vision” of David Wojnarowicz, for example, investigates the connection between vision and death; Jon McKenzie rereads Judith Butler by way of Schechner and Turner.
According to Phelan, theatre anthropology has been eclipsed, and “we must begin to imagine a post-theatrical, post-anthropological age” (5). She initiates this future by reinscribing the past. Schechner’s foundational theory of restored behavior—the past subjunctive that drives the future indicative—is rewritten as Freud’s nachträglichkeit, “the retrospective account that reinterprets the past in such a way that what had been repressed by the unconscious can be joined with consciousness” (6). With this move, Phelan makes her paradigm shift: space, the site of the theatron, the place of seeing, is replaced by time, the phantasmagoric site, the moment of repetition with a difference. Such repetition is theorized by Joseph Roach, who explores “the [historian’s] desire to communicate physically with the past, a desire that roots itself in the ambivalent love of the dead” (23). And the performance artist Orlan, whose surgical repetitions of historical female images critique contemporary art and consumer culture, offers further theorization.
Phelan’s project is intensely personal: “Looking at performance and writing about those visions are the means by which I approach my truest ends—to love what rationalism says is phantasmatic, to imagine and realize, however tentatively and momentarily, a world elsewhere” (5). Her vision is projective, and her “faith” is in the talking cure of psychoanalysis, toward which she strains impatiently: “[I]n the rehearsing of the event that has passed, the analyst and the analysand learn how to play the past when it happens again in the future. Performance studies as a discipline has, until recently, been in the first part of this process: the careful recitation of the facts of the event. It is only recently that the field has given sharper attention to curative interpretations, to the affective and ideological consequences of performance events. It is these consequences that the essays in this volume articulate. Such interpretations, which are always reinterpretations, are also what I most hope will become the future of the field and the truest end of performance—truest in the sense that they help us move past the time of diagnosis and bring about, enact, give us the time of the cure” (7).
This volume does not traffic in the now-reified discourse of identity politics. Instead, it offers us Amanda Denise Kemp’s “This Black Body in Question,” a performance text that uses performance “both as a way of knowing and as a way of showing” (116). Deb Margolin’s “Of Mice, Bugs and Women” is an exquisite performance text about transformation, writing, and compassion (“And yet, it haunts me . . . Who are we at the moment we choose to ignore the presence...