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  • Run with Whatever You Can Carry":Cross-Platform Materials and Methods in Performance Studies–Meets–Digital Humanities
  • T. L. Cowan (bio)

Remember to Surface

This essay is structured by my remix of "Instructions," a 1996 song by Veda Hille, a Vancouver-based songwriter, musician, and performer.1 Each heading is an instruction from her song, which I returned to recently as I moved back to Canada after several years of living and working in the United States. It always struck me as a survival guide for the absurdity and brink-of-apocalypse quality of contemporary life. The absurdity (understatement) continues; today's apocalypse, as always, targets some more than others. And many people have already experienced the/an apocalypse many times over.

The song was a favorite of mine when I was an undergraduate dropout and emerging performer in Vancouver in the late 1990s. This was, significantly, also around the time that I got my first laptop computer and my first email account, so it also marks my belated entry into a digital existence. The perspective I bring to this AQ forum on methods is shaped by my cross-border, decentered understanding of performance studies and digital humanities, in the context of American/Americas studies more broadly. It is also shaped by what I see as the co-emergence and co-divergence of performance studies and digital humanities as newly articulated scholarly activities.

Endeavour to Dive

This essay reflects the thinking that I am doing as a scholar and practitioner who moves between performance studies and digital humanities, and digital media studies, all refracted through a kaleidoscopic critical lens that focuses and multiplies my understandings, priorities, and accountabilities toward work that is anti-colonial, trans- feminist and queer'ing, crip'ing, and anti-racist. [End Page 649] Indeed, like the people with whom I am in conversation, we do this work across these and other disciplines, using whatever field, space, or platform we can get our hands on within and beyond the academy. That's the first method.

Don't Let Them Shrivel on the Vine

The question of what methods the intradiscipline of performance studies brings to the intradiscipline of digital humanities bears considerable attention if we accept that these are two intradisciplines with distinct genealogies, protocols, methods, approaches, critical orientations, and commitments. But first let's trouble that a bit.

Don't Think of It as Reasonable, Think of It as Terrifying

I am reminded of Linda Tuhiwai Smith's clarification in Decolonizing Methodologies that "academic knowledges are organized around the idea of disciplines and fields of knowledge. These are deeply implicated in each other and share genealogical foundations in various classical and Enlightenment philosophies."2 She notes that disciplines are "also isolated from each other through the maintenance of … disciplinary boundaries," and that they are "not simply … a way of organizing systems of knowledge, but also … a way of organizing people or bodies."3 Performance studies: you go in this building and study these things in these ways. Digital humanities: you go in this building and study these things in these ways. Both of you: demonstrate unique observations of new objects of study and analysis that dutifully learn from—but correct, expose, and reveal—the research and analysis of earlier scholars, and provide compelling evidence of your claims. Collect things and keep them (encrypted). Best if you discover something. Best if you are a pioneer on—or, better yet, break through—the frontier, wherever that is.

When You Hear a Mechanical Instrument, Think of a Child Shrieking

So, in any case, let's agree that we're talking about performance studies and digital humanities in the context of the in-bed-edness of university financial, social, and intellectual power with imperialism, genocide, mass enslavement, and settler colonialism in the United States and Canada and—in various manifestations—across the Americas. And in the context of the exploitation of workers within—and the poisoning of the land, water, and atmosphere that absorb the excesses of—the industries that fuel our scholarly disciplines and [End Page 650] the technological mobilities that we must keep up in order to keep going in them. As Safiya Noble writes, these are "hidden...


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