(non)Performance & (non)Performativity: Archives, Experiments, Stakes: from month to month
Seminar 5 (11+12 June) in PAF
My heart makes my head swim
The smallest cell remembers a sound
Discipline is empire, is whiteness. Listen to Jimmy Cliff singing “Many Rivers to Cross.”
The above words are all taken from Katherine McKittrick’s book Dear Science and Other Stories. For our final seminar we are closely reading this work in order to study the ways in which study and critique necessitate imagination, collaboration, play, and invention. We will engage with McKittrick’s book as a performance that furthers our study on questions of non-performance, non-performativity; the questions of archives; experimentation; and the socio-economic political and historically material stakes at hand. Following her lead on “simultaneity,” we will spend time revisiting the thinkers, artists and books we studied throughout the year and bring them together into a conversation that seeks affiliations whilst attending to historical, geographical and regional materialities and particularities. Through a deepening of particulars over the two days, we will also visit the words and work of Kim Tall Bear, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. As McKittrick notes, citing Sylvia Wynter: “We are a storytelling species,” and the stories we tell and hear impact our neurobiologies and physiologies. Thus, Cusicanqui’s addressing the workings of internal colonialism resonates with McKittrick’s anticolonial methodologies and black radical imagination which in turn vibrate with Weerasethakul’s animist realism, and TallBear’s storytelling as vital resistance and healing.
Katherine McKittrick, Dear Science and Other Stories. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.
Veronica Gago, “Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui: Against Internal Colonialism.” Viewpoint Magazine, Oct 25, 2016. https://viewpointmag.com/2016/10/25/silvia-rivera-cusicanqui-against-internal-colonialism/
Kim TallBear, "A Sharpening of the Already Present: An Indigenous Materialist Reading of Settler Apocalypse 2020," Speaker Series, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta, October 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eO14od9mlTA&t=1s
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. 2010.
Seminar 4 (30 April + 1 May) in PAF, St.Erme
For our penultimate seminar we are doing several things over the course of our two days together. Firstly, we will engage with Gayatri Gopinath’s book Unruly Visons: The Aesthetics Practices of Queer Diaspora. Critically analyzing the interrelations between archive, region, affect and aesthetics, Gopinath points to the historical colonization of our practices of seeing, and thinks through how the necessity of “unruly visions” is tied to a refusal of colonial mappings, constructed identities, and geographies. By “by-passing the nation state” as a framework of categorizing separate spaces, struggles and aesthetic practices through a calling for and embracing of a “South-South relationality,” Gopinath provides us with another way of envisioning and building archives through a sensing of resonant affects and affiliations across different aesthetic practices expressed from within and across queer diasporas. This “queer regional imaginary” opens up “alternative possibilities of organizing social relations” and transforms the “ways in which hierarchies of value determine archival production in the first place.” Creating new cartographies via non-teleological disruptions, disorientations and suspensions, Gopinath argues that the aesthetic practices of queer diaspora enable us to see and sense “the intertwined nature of various bodies of knowledge, racial formations, and historical experiences of displacement and dispossession, as well as of housing and dwelling, that are otherwise obscured.” Gopinath emphasizes the necessity of attuning ourselves to the affective and aesthetic convergences across these variations and emphasizes that the aesthetic “enacts, produces, and performs these affinities and affiliations.” These aesthetic practices, and not just forms, do things in and to the world, shifting our fields of vision, and our senses of world.
Following Gopinath, we will be engaging in our own aesthetic practice of resonance across queer regional imaginaries, by watching the 2004 film Tropical Malady by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a film that itself enacts, produces and performs disorientating and suspended unruly visions from an irreducible queer regional geography, imaginary and affective aesthetic practice. Furthermore, the second years in the seminar who are soon to graduate and are all working on their final theses will share their research projects and methods with the class so as to receive feedback from their fellow students, as well as to offer an opportunity for all of us present to collectively imagine and form ways in which, following Gopinath, as well as Weerasethakul, we can build an unruly archive of affiliation across various and different research projects, aesthetic practices, queer imaginaries, regions and diasporas.
Gayatri Gopinath, Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.
May Adadol Ingawanij, “Animism and the Performative Realist Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul,” in Screening Nature: Cinema beyond the Human, eds. Anat Pick and Guinevere Narraway. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tropical Malady, 2004.
Seminar 3 (25 + 27 March) in Bergamo
For this seminar we are reading the essay “Communication as Techné” by Jonathan Sterne. Sterne argues for an understanding of communication as a ”doing” and practice, i.e, a “practical art.” In other words, he seeks to bring attention to the ways in which communication at its core is a form of action. Sterne differentiates between communication and formal logic, describing the former as an embodied knowledge to be distinguished from an Aristotelian understanding of abstract knowledge as episteme. For Sterne, communication as techné is an unfolding of a sensibility which is always cultured. Developing an account of communication as a social phenomenon with descriptive and political ramifications, Sterne is interested in what people actually do when communicating (not what they say they are doing, or think they are doing). Communication according to Sterne requires both language and technology, “and both are forms of techné.” What is at stake for Sterne: “[C]ommunication as a practical art – as doing – should be a central concern for us…. Communication is a philosophical and political problem, because it is a practical art through which people make, break, or maintain their worlds.” Alongside Sterne’s important essay, we turn to a close reading of the book Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music by Alexandra Vazquez in order to engage with multiple forms of communication as techné, art and practice. Which is to say, we not only engage with the embodied sensibilities, cultures, politics, socialities and migrancies of Cuban music lovingly and astutely traced in the book, and the techniques and technés of the musicians Vazquez listens to and writes with, but, more importantly, we engage with the ways Vazquez’s own writing is a techné, an action, a performance, which in its shifting, eloquent, sensitive forms and rhythms, expresses embodied sensibilities bound up with, and inseparable to, the music and musicians’ technés she studies and listens to in detail. Thus, through our own close reading and listening to compositions studied in the book, such as Pérez’s Prado’s “Voodoo Suite,” we can deepen our thinking of the practical art of expression and communication, as well as reflect upon questions of listening as techné.
Jonathan Sterne, “Communication as Techné,” in Communication as… Perspectives on Theory, eds. Gregory Shepherd, Jeffrey St, John, Ted Striphas. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006.
Alexandra T. Vazquez, Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
Seminar 2 (17+18 February) in Arnhem
For this study session we are critically engaging with three important texts in the development of the field of performance studies. These are José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, Fred Moten’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, and Alexandra T. Vazquez’s Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. Our close readings of selected chapters from these books will be guided by the following questions: how do all three authors develop their different modes of analysis through a shared emphasis on performance as an object of study? How does the study of performance require and encourage other modalities of critical theory to emerge through writing as performance? How does the detailed focus on performance practices instill and call for different methods and methodologies of knowledge production? How is the studious and affective attunement with the aesthetic, social and cultural performances that one loves key to the valorization of certain practices of doing that in turn inform writing as a practice of doing? Related to this, how then is critical discourse a both writing with and against, as opposed to just merely about? In other words, we will study the ways all three authors make crucial interventions in their respective fields (i.e., Muñoz demolishes the whiteness of queer theory through his own, and the performers he studies, strategic modes of disidentification; Moten reveals and performs the undeniable avant-garde aesthetic experimentations of the Black radical tradition’s collaborative improvisations as break; Vazquez performs a feminist listening in detail that tenderly and passionately attends to, and sits with, everlastingly dynamic and migratory Cuban sounds while simultaneously critiquing forms of imperialism, nationalism, race and gender). Following these three seminal texts students will revisit the performances they shared in the last seminar and deepen their engagement with these objects of study through their own writings in order to tease out the theoretical and political implications of the performances they were initially drawn to. Our seminar will also engage closely with the artists, musicians and performers studied in the abovementioned books: Adrian Piper, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vaginal Davis, Graciela Pérez, and Pérez Prado to name a few.
José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Alexandra T. Vazquez, Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013
Seminar 1 (13+14 November) in Nida
For our introductory class on (non)performance and (non)performativity we will read Diana Taylor’s book Performance in order to gain a deeper understanding on what the field of performance studies entails. The field of performance studies is a broad and fundamentally interdisciplinary one with a ranging focus on everyday cultural, social, political, behavioral performance to all forms of artistic and aesthetic production. With an emphasis on J.L. Austin’s definition of the performative statement in his posthumously published lectures How to Do Things with Words, we will critically engage with the ways in which the performative statement delineates actions, identities and contexts and how doing things with words make institutional worlds possible. These institutional forms and parameters include everything from the inner and outer workings of different nation-states, political economies, to the formation and policing of preconceived expectations of how, say, gender and sexuality are to be “properly” performed within said political economies. In turn, through the recognition of the stakes of performance and performativity, and what they seek to achieve, we will share with each other performances we have witnessed that have affected us and explain why. In other words, how does performance come to trouble institutional performative forces and achievements? How can we think of performance as a material forming and deforming that precedes, and/or is in excess of normative conduct, rules and regulations? We will engage with Jerome Ellis’s work Loops of Retreat and listen to Time Bandit in order to sense together another way of doing things with words as dysfluent refusal and escape; and how Ellis’s loopholes of retreat, are, in his words, a “never ending activity and never an achievement.”
Diana Taylor, Performance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.