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27 Using Performance in the Classroom Ga il T u r ley Houston • If one asks students to perform excerpts from Victorian literature in the classroom, it is necessary for the instructor to be unapologetic about the uses of emotion and the body in this always already implicitly performative pedagogical site.Those who use performance as a regular part of their teaching assume that the body is not disconnected from the academic project of analysis and that emotions register vivid and intelligent, if often inchoate, responses to literature. As Richard L. Gregory explains in the 1987 Oxford Companion to the Mind “[Emotions] are not necessarily remnants of our pre-sapient past, but rather they are important characteristics of an active, searching, and thinking human being” (219–20; quoted in Sedgwick 112). Or as Lorraine Code suggests , “all knowing is permeated with mood, feeling, sensibility, affectivity” (148). Indeed, the corporal self is performative because such feelings as anger, love, hate, shame, and joy viscerally notify the self of their presence. Internal synapses of the neural system create the adrenalin that makes the stomach jitter with terror, the face blush with love or hate, or the skin prickle with elation. Further, performance and classroom teaching are based upon the assumption that knowledge is created, transferred, shared, and analyzed in social interchanges and that the body is a complex instrument that interrelates with the social, physical, and cultural spheres. Indeed, the “connatural” body Merleau-Ponty describes is “our medium for having a cultural world, indeed, for having any world at all” (Bigwood 108). Finally, as regards using performance in the Victorian classroom, it can certainly be said that the Victorians knew long before Judith Butler did that gender and class are performative— the worlds of Villette, Daniel Deronda, and Our Mutual Friend could not exist without lavish theatricality. In my classroom, performance begins with questions:“What does this look like?” and“What does this feel like?” For example, in a course on theVictorian fallen woman, I might require students to perform a tableau by asking them to represent nineteenth-century British race, class, and gender hierarchies by representing how Mary Prince, Mary Barton, Lizzie Leigh, Hettie Sorrel literally “stand” in relation to Adam Bede, the villains and other major and minor characters in Mary Barton and Adam Bede. Each student becomes one of victorian review • Volume 34 Number 2 28 the characters and decides what bodily gesture, stance, facial appearance, and placement in relation to the other characters best illustrates British ideologies about class, race, and gender. In this case, they must physically show where their character fits in this nineteenth-century British community by deciding if characters are standing, sitting, kneeling, or in a few cases groveling on the floor.They must also discern which characters have physical contact (and what kind), which characters make eye contact (and what kind), which characters avoid eye contact, and which characters are completely left out of the community . Students also consider which characters would get to speak in this community of fictional characters and which ones would be silenced. In one such exercise, the student playingThomas Pringle (the head of theAnti-slavery Society and editor of Mary Prince’s History) stands on top of a table with his arms outstretched, looking down on his harried and silent amanuensis Susanna Strickland; the student who plays Strickland sits at a desk below him with her head down as she scribbles away. Mary Prince grovels below Strickland. None of the three touch each other or look at each other. Pringle speaks while Strickland scribbles and Mary tries to capture their attention by telling them “That’s not how it happened” or “You left out the sexual abuse.” Though the use of performance has dramatically (pun intended) increased the effectiveness of my teaching over the last ten years, I have never been able to find a satisfactory theoretical foundation that would explicate what it is exactly that I am doing.Thus far, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling:Affect,Pedagogy, Performativity comes closest to providing that foundation. Sedgwick outlines the work of psychologist Silvan Tompkins on the digital (binary or on/off ) and analogical (“graduated and/or multiply differentiated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 27-32
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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