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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

Re: Metre and Performance

From:

cris cheek <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

cris cheek <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 17 Mar 1998 17:43:36 GMT

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Hi Peter,

re 'performance' and how i am beginning to use it.

>But if writing is a performance
>in any of these sense there are other things it can't be, such as a
>meditation. But why shouldn't the writing of a poem be a meditation?
> Personally I think the performance metaphor has been too much taken
>up as a writing stance in contemporary poetry, producing a lot of involuted
>and dangerously virtuosic writing, paradoxically withdrawn from actual
>transmissive disciplines:

- I would want to clarify what you mean by the phrase 'actual transmissive
disciplines' before taking issue with it. But there is something Saussurean
there, in implications of concensual understanding and therefore actual
detailed manufactures and manipulations of such concensii that i need to
know more. I might argue the opposite - that concerns with performance
are bringing writing back from the brink of jumping from the ivory tower
into a rigorous discourse with a potentially humane world, through
engagement. I don't btw discount 'meditation' as a full bodied active
engagement. I would consider meditation as every bit a performance under
the terms delineated below.

But before i get to that - Re:>the ballerina before the mirror / the endless
>flexing of linguistic muscle, where the materials of the world merely
>furnish the decor of a self-exercise.

- isn't that the ideal 'perfect' body that resembles the 'perfect' ear.
That sterile environment. Surely it has been more planted in a humane world
than that. What of Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer and many
others?

(here's one i prepared earlier, as it were):

          'Performance', in particular within the emergent field of
'performance studies', is a contested term and requires a closer
definition. [A contested term, according to W.B. Gallie's 'Philosophy and
the Historical Understanding' (1964), involves:

'Recognition of a given concept as essentially contested implies
recognition of rival uses of it (such as oneself repudiates) as not only
logically possible and humanly 'likely', but as of permanent potential
critical value to one's own use or interpretation of the concept in
question.'

I find Richard Bauman's suggestion useful, that:

'All performance involves a consciousness of doubleness, through which the
actual execution of an action is placed in mental comparison with a
potential, an ideal, or a remembered original model of that action . . .
the double consciousness, not the external observation, is what is most
central. An athlete, for example, may be aware of his own performance,
placing it against a mental standard. Performance is always performance for
someone, some audience that recognizes and validates it as performance
even when, as is occasionally the case, that audience is the self.' [in the
International Encyclopedia of Communications (Oxford University Press, 1989
ed. Ed Barnouw)

                    Erving Goffman defines the emergence of performance as
a process which 'transforms an individual into a stage performer, the
latter, in turn, being an object that can be looked at in the round and at
length without offense, and looked to for engaging behaviour, by persons in
an "audience" role'. (Frame Analysis). I find the pejorative use of being
'looked to for engaging behaviour' more revealing of a sense of 'value'
conveyed through performance that is dated. It reeks of rewarding work and
of time 'well' spent. But Goffman's moment of individual transformation
connects powerfully with Bauman's 'consciousness of doubleness' to form a
re-orientation of performance, that brings it firmly into everyday life. Of
course that's not exactly new either. Since the 1960s, in particular,
movements in 'performance art' have explored both the politics and the
poetics of the everyday. [* through what has often been referred to as
non-matrixed or 'task-based' performance] One result is to particularise
differing kinds of performance along Goffman's scale of 'purity' (see
below), and let each be both discreet and be connected. Process and product
thus become moments of articulation, as already suggested in the examples
of photocopying and vocal utterance. Word by word, phrase by phrase, note
by note, frame by frame - particularisable moment by particularisable
moment.

                    Once again, this is not a smokescreen to obscure the
differences between 'performances'. On the contrary it begins to allow us
to read the differences, by revealing their specificities. Once the idea of
'performances' plural, at differing points of engagement within processes
relating to production and processes relating to consumption of product -
a detailed dynamic range of arrivals and departures between process and
product, which can encourage one to unravel into the other and vice versa
- forms a basis for discussion, it is clear that old hierachies of
understanding that priveledge the 'live' virtuoso display are necessarily
challenged.

                    Goffman goes on to distinguish between performances on
the basis of what he terms their 'purity', meaning 'according to the
exclusiveness of the claim of the watchers on the activity they watch'. At
the formal end of his purity range he places performances for which if
there is no audience there is no performance (both within 'arts' and
'sports' contexts). At the other end he places "work performances", in
which 'viewers openly watch persons at work who openly show no regard or
concern for the dramatic elements of their labor.'

                    Whilst Goffman wrote such differences up in the 1950s
and 1960s, contemporary Performance Studies has foregrounded other
distinctions. The notion of the 'live' has become increasingly
problematicised. This occurs under another version of the totem of
'authenticity', that of ontological integrity. The 'aura' of 'liveness',
depicted as the virtuous, is placed in opposition to the evil of
mediatization. In noting such a binary Philip Auslander argues for a
relation of mutual dependence and imbrication. For him:

'The live is, in a sense, only a secondary effect of mediating
technologies. Prior to the advent of those technologies (e.g. photography,
telegraphy, phonography) there was no such thing as the "live", for that
category has meaning only in relation to an opposing possibility. Ancient
Greek theater, for example, was not live because there was no possibility
of recording it . . . the "live" has always been defined as that which can
be recorded.' (Performance & Cultural Studies)

Auslander is careful to make a distinction between 'live' representation,
such as the voices in Greek theater amplified by architectural means, and
'live' repetition, that which is reproduced through 'indirect testimony'.
His concern is with technological reproduction more than with technological
mediation. But he opens an important line of argument that:

'nonmatrixed representation provided a beachhead for mediatization within
artistic practices that resisted mediatization'.

By using Clint Eastwood's squint, filmed in close-up, as an example of
nonmatrixed representation, (i might add the experience of overdubbing in a
recording studio, or of proof reading) he alerts us to another change in
perceptual practices. Namely, that audiences have become used to looking
for details that might previously have passed unnoticed and reading them as
significant. The importance of this lies in what details an audience might
then concentrate on, in the context of a 'live' non-mediatized performance.
Also the extent to which such details either are or are not the express
intention of the performers. That is, audiences might see things that the
performers are not foregrounding in their performance and bring such
details to their reading of the performance.


*


                    Writing within a context of contemporary poetics,
Charles Bernstein points to Goffman's concept of the 'disattend track' as
of key significance.

[* 'A significant feature of any strip of activity is the capacity of its
participants to "disattend" competing events - both in fact and in
appearance']

He suggests that 'focussing attention on a poem's content or form typically
involves putting the audiotext as well as the typography, the look and
sound of the poem, into the disattend track'. ('Close Listening: Poetry and
the Performed Word' Oxford, May 1998 hope you don't mind my quoting this
Charles? perhaps you have something extra to say on this topic). 'Focus' is
an omnipresent term in the visually obsessed late twentieth century. It is
one of those words which crosses boundaries between arts and sports and
sciences, between traditional approaches and those which interrogate
traditions. Lying in wait, behind the urge to 'focus', is the apprehension
that too much distraction, and distraction is itself culturally and
historically specific, can lead to a collapse of the performance 'frame'.

                    There are many creative practitioners engaged with
testing the 'frames' of 'performance'. Much along the lines of including
that which might be more conveniently edited out, within booklets - both
in terms of the extralexical and extrasemantic aspects of 'writing', as
well as the incidentals of orality (pauses, tonal inflections to pARTs of
words, stutters, tongue clicks, erms and ums, splutters and so forth
*footnote the poet critic Andrew Duncan wrote of the ugliness of such
expressions. On the contrary they render the work more humane). It is
precisely those points on the boundaries at which distraction can be seen
to be ideologically formed and at which the frame might be induced to
collapse that some 'writings' are at work to reveal. There lies their
pedagogical intent. Those points at which the 'formal' and 'informal' along
Goffman's scale of purity become interchangeable. Those moments during a
given performance at which witnesses are unsure as to what is and what is
not part of the performance. Or at which their attention to details has
become so challenged that their experience is of over much happening, that
they can no longer encompass the breadth of events, they cannot tell what
constitutes distraction, their criteria are ruptured and and they are
challenged to impose their own limitation of interpretations. At such
points are 'tastes' and personal preferences constructed. Matrices are
brought back into the play.


love and love
cris




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