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Postmodern Performance and Technology Johannes Birringer The problematic of postmodernism-and its significance as a cultural struggle over the perception and evaluation of the historical moment in which we live-involves both aesthetic and political questions. These questions can be articulated from various positions across a spectrum of affirmative or critical discourses that may not, at first sight, seem much concerned with the institutional role of theatre in the United States. Much of this discourse and ideological critique, as a repertoire of possibilities for an ongoing inquiry into the social processes of reading and viewing capitalist development and modernization rather than imposing an apparatus of imported and domestic concepts of poststructuralism/postmodernism, are made to converge here on the question of how one might have to rethink the idea of performance in the mid-1980s and after. This is especially true at the level of postindustrial information and communication technology and mass-mediational systems. A lot of things have changed since Herbert Blau's manifesto for the "impossible Theatre" in the mid-sixties, including all the good or bad intentions of both the mainstream theatre and the dispersed radical energies of the Judson Church and Living Theatre generation. The changing artistic practices and modes of cultural production-especially visible within an ongoing experimental performance tradition whose irreducibly complex and heterogeneous history is reflected in the critical readings of PAJ over the last decade (see, for example, the special issue 10/11 on "The American Imagination")-could perhaps be more directly contextualized at the present conjuncture of "discursive formations" and consumptional patterns if we were able to accept the impossibility of speaking about postmodern performance . Included in this view is the conceptual self-understanding of postmudernism as portrayed in recent crisis-theories of knowledge, 221 representation, and performativity by Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Habermas'), which are impossible to speak of outside of what I shall call the "technological scene": the constructed, technological environment that shapes our vision and embodies our relationship with the life-world. This relationship is nearly totally informed by industrial design, the paradigmatically contradictory and multivalent urban space, and the allpervasive "supertext" of mass communication and media image production which not only sustains and legitimizes the economic order that has theatricalized itself into a supermarket of spectacles (cf. Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, 1977) but reinscribes itself as a technology of viewing conditions and spectator positions in political and cultural processes . If one wanted to reactivate the Frankfurt School critique of the repetition compulsion and one-dimensionality intrinsic to culture industrial production , without trying to recuperate Adorno's utopian belief in the radical potential of autonomous aesthetic truth and authenticity, one would need to examine the postmodern "technological scene" in all its pluralistic, heterogeneous, and multi-disciplinary dimensions. This, in order to account for a widespread enthusiasm behaving as if contemporary artistic production , its marriage of "high" and "low" and of anything else that is marriagable , had already achieved the reintegration of art and life which the historical avant-garde once considered fundamental to social transformation . It seems perfectly ironic that it is from the present generation of masterbuilders, the heirs of an ideology of integration which espoused the modern architectural utopia of social-as-technological transformation, that we hear the most despairing obituaries on the defunct "revolutionary" architecture , on the futile hope for a rehumanizing symbolic praxis within capitalist structures that condition the very function and character of architectural design. By the time Manfredo Tafuri, in 1973, concluded all that remained in the "drama of architecture" was a flight into pure form, into aesthetic theories or semiologies of its own "language," or into "sublime uselessness,"2 one could already begin to see the emergence of the new spectacular stylemixing of the postmodernists. Their eclecticism of pastiche, of representational kitsch derived from randomly quoted historical forms, betrays a huge learning process, not only from Las Vegas, but from the recent history of the commodification of early postmodern art (pop, op, conceptual, aleatory art, minimalism, intermedia performance, etc.) from reified dramaturgies of montage to be found virtually everywhere in cinematic practices, commercial advertising, television programming, exhibitions, sports events, etc., and-perhaps most problematically-from the very theories of...


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pp. 221-233
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