- Archaeologies of Presence ed. by Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, Michael Shanks
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This edited collection is the main outcome of the interdisciplinary project, Performing Presence: From the Live to the Simulated, a collaboration among University of Exeter, University College London, and Stanford University from 2005 to 2009. In the prologue, the editors Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, and Michael Shanks situate this book against the background of “overtly postmodern critical narratives directed toward media-based theatrical performance in the late 1980s and 1990s” (6), Peggy Phelan and Phillip Auslander being regarded as two of the main representatives of this scholarship. The editors argue that the works of contemporary practitioners of theatre and performance art (see a list of theatre companies on page 3) have brought the uniqueness of the performer’s body to the fore and the same applies to the recent ephemeral turn in museums and art galleries. In the editors’ view, these artistic practices confirm the ontological difference between live and mediatized performance.
Archaeologies of Presence is arranged in three sections. The first section, “Being Here: Place and Time,” examines spatial and temporal aspects of experiences of presence in theatre and performance art. The second section, “Being Before: Stage and Gaze,” reflects exclusively on the art of the theatre, with a special focus on the performer’s subjection to the gaze and the emergence of presence as result of psychophysical processes that occur in a spatio-temporal continuum shared by performers and audiences. Finally, the third segment, “Traces: After Presence,” engages in an archaeological reading of the issue of presence, which, in its analysis of a wide range of media and body art, complicates the assumption of live performance as the privileged medium of an unmediated, full presence. In addition, essays in this third section show the inadequacy of archival practices when it comes to capturing the ephemeral nature of theatrical/performative presence (how to bring to the present past performative acts characterized by their ephemerality?). Besides contributions by the three editors, the collection features essays by (in order of appearance) Josette Féral, Rebecca Schneider, Jon Erickson, Erika Fischer-Lichte, Phillip Zarrilli, Simon Jones, Nicholas Ridout, Tim Etchells, Amelia Jones, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and Mike Pearson. With the exceptions of Féral (UQAM) and Fischer-Lichte (Frei Universität Berlin), all the authors are affiliated with anglophone institutions in the United Kingdom and North America.
The editors acknowledge the eminently deconstructionist tone of their declaration about the performer’s experiencing the present tense “as always already subject to difference from itself” (7); yet they argue that the distinctiveness of the archaeological turn in performance theory is its ability to account for the occurrence of presence effects in “site-specific and sitesensitive theatre and performance” (8). In this context of reinterpretation of the critical legacy of deconstruction, Rebecca Schneider is the only contributor who goes beyond Jacques Derrida’s Writing and Difference and Of [End Page 129] Grammatology, by bringing to the table his Archive Fever, a later work that helps her conceptualize body performance “not as that which disappears (as the archive expects), but as both the act of remaining and a means of re-appearance” (71). It is via Archive Fever that Schneider successfully conceptualizes the dichotomies archive/performance, presence/absence, and appearance/disappearance while avoiding essentialist definitions of presence taunted by a drive to ontology (76). Suzan-Lori Parks’ America Play and Diana Taylor’s Disappearing Acts are, according to Schneider, two examples of the tension between materiality and ephemerality that (re)configures history through performance, beyond “the imperial domain of the document” (75).
Such central concepts to this book as being present and persistence of being are derived from Martin Heidegger – needless to say – his philosophy purged of a metaphysics of presence, in postmodern fashion. The frequent use of key terms such as eventness, liveness, and even “fleshiness” (e.g., Zarrilli 95) recalls Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and, in broad terms, the tradition of phenomenology represented by Levinas and Ricoeur, among others...