- Performance by Diana Taylor
Duke UP, 2016. 240 Pp. 74 Illustrations.
THIS BOOK HAS A RATHER REMARKABLE HISTORY. It evolved from “a little glossy book on performance” (xiii) written in Spanish as an introduction to the field. It was meant to provide the fifty institutional members of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics throughout the Americas (i.e., artists, scholars, and students) with a common vocabulary, which they were lacking at that time. When the question of an English translation arose, the author decided to adapt this introduction on several levels because it covered somewhat familiar ground for its North American readers. She also added a number of new chapters that reflect on some of the uses of performance and the kind of power it is capable of investing in individuals and collectives. In this regard it has become a new book after all.
The first three chapters, “Framing [Performance],” “Performance Histories,” and “Spect-Actors,” are based on the Spanish edition, even if they are not completely identical. While chapter 1 provides an overview of definitions and commentary on performance and its scope, referring to the well-known theories and theoreticians of performance and performativity, chapter 2 provides the reader with a historical survey of different kinds of performance art since the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on questions of the body, the scale, and the eventness of performance. Chapter 3 discusses spectatorship via a broad range of theories (e.g., Althusser, Boal, Brecht, Artaud, Rancière, Gallese, Azoulay, and Didi-Huberman) and performances (mostly from Latin America). It ends with another definition: “Performance is a doing to, a thing done to and with the spectators” (86). Even this general section distinguishes the book from the many publications that serve as introductions to the field, not only because it draws heavily on examples from Latin America but also because it sets the focus on performance’s capacity to function as an “epistemology, a form of knowing and understanding the world” (36).
This provides an unusual segue to the second part of the book. Chapter 4, entitled “The New Uses of Performance,” foregrounds the different approaches of embodied knowledge that are not related to the dichotomies “true vs. [End Page 205] false” or “being vs. pretending,” but rather emphasize that “the affective is the effective” (92). The question of performance’s particular epistemology is at the center of the two following chapters. Chapter 5 discusses the terms/concepts of “performatives,” “performativity,” and “animatives,” drawing on the theories of Austin (the concept of “performative”) and Butler (the concept of “performativity”). The term “animatives” appears to be an interesting coinage by the author. She defines it as “the ‘inappropriate’ response to a performative utterance” (127), as often witnessed in art and activist practices. In my view, this concept has great potential for further research in performance. As Taylor convincingly demonstrates, the three terms “performative,” “performativity,” and “animative” serve as important tools for discussing performance as an epistemology.
In chapter 6, “Knowing through Performance: Scenarios and Simulation,” scenarios (134–42) and simulations (142–46) are discussed as particular forms of knowing that unfold during a performance. They are introduced in order to elucidate how performance “provides a lens and framework for understanding everything” (133). The term “scenario,” which was first used in the context of commedia dell’arte, is here redefined as “portable, flexible frameworks for thinking and doing” (137). This in turn stresses the need for embodiment, which scenarios prompt, and highlights experiencing as a “privileged way of knowing” (138). The author very convincingly argues for the reintroduction of scenarios to cultural and performance studies theory, albeit differently from their earlier use. This would be an important step in shifting the focus further onto embodied culture and the particular knowledge embodied in/by performance.
The last three chapters address three different but related issues that seem to momentarily put aside the question of performance as epistemology, yet without leaving it out of sight completely. Chapter 7, “Activists (Artist-Activist), or, What’s to Be Done?,” deals with performance as the continuation of politics through other means. Taylor draws on four highly diverse examples: an action...