These three lectures by Austin were quite interesting to me. The concept of a performative statement is one that I had not considered. Yes, there are actions that one says they are going to undertake and then they follow through with them. In my head, the words and the follow through were two separate things. Austin is definitely arguing that both are necessary, but I found the idea that the words themselves hold an actual performative action interesting. The two main examples of saying “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife” and “I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth” were both great uses of the idea of a performative action. The act of saying something like this is a performative action, and he discuss that there are several ways in which this can be a false performance, or not hold weight. The easiest ones are where the actual ceremony or performance was invalid for some outside reason. In this case, the words still had a performative action and were doing the duty they needed to. The other case in which the person is not meaning what is being said is an entirely different story. It is interesting that the main cases in which these types of utterances are seen is in religious rituals and judicial cases. Both of these things want people to provide more than empty words, they want the truth, and both typically have a type of punishment and safeguard to try to make sure that they are not empty promises. Since these are being considered performances, I have a bit of a query. If these words are said to yourself and no one else, are they still performative? Can you perform to yourself? The validity of these utterances are predicated upon the understanding and expectation of others that your later actions will match your current words. In a way it could be seen as similar to the “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound” argument.
Munoz talks about Ephemera as anything left that is not the performance itself and a “modality of anti-rigor and anti evidence”. I find his thoughts on ephemera interesting, because typically I would classify it as something that was intended for a fleeting period of time and is no longer useful. To him it is documented evidence of the event through scraps and pieces of the event. A playbill from a show, a movie stub, and a plane ticket can all count as ephemera, but to Munoz they are more powerful when they represent something that most people don’t want to remember, or don’t care about, in his case queer events. For me, I wanted to think of something I had hung on to in my life that represented a bad memory. Some sort of ephemera that I had kept to remember it, but not because it was someone wishing me happy birthday, or me going to an amazing Broadway play. Those didn’t seem as interesting to discuss. I decided on my old car’s insurance card. I kept it as a reminder that I had that car, and that I almost died in that car. A while back I was hit straight in the side of my car with two other passengers and luckily made it out okay, but that moment was ingrained within my memory. The car totaled, I could never drive it again, and it has made me hesitant of driving since. I hung on to that insurance card and put it in my safe as a reminder of the event and that life itself is ephemeral.
The end of a hallway
People standing front to back
Phone cameras aimed at faces
Try not to crash into people or walls
Nearing an exit
Both people and cameras turn around
Phone is held in front of face and becomes new eyes
Don’t lose sight of the person in front of you
In Cuco Fusco’s The Other History of Intercultural Performance Fusco reflects on performing The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey with fellow performer Guillermo Gómez-Peña in which they “sought a strategically effective way to examine the limits of the ‘happy multiculturalism’ that currently reigns in cultural institutions, as well as to respond to formalists and cultural relativists who reject the proposition that racial difference is absolutely fundamental to aesthetic interpretation” (145). The essay chronicles the artist’s basis for conducting this social experiment/art piece drawing historic inspiration from colonial times when Europeans would bring “exotic” peoples to Europe and display them in cages like zoo animals or freak shows. From this time onward whites continued to display non-whites to showcase ‘otherness’ and to fetishize the “primitive.” The non whites were treated as objects and not as fellow human beings. Fusco’s piece was meant to be a satire criticizing ethnocentrism. It was an unexpected result that audience members would truly by into this fictitious story line and believe them to be natives to this made up land. In observing those that believed this to be real, it is interesting to see how people even today are drawn to observing the exotic from outside of the cage, but not truly engage with the people. Fusco and Peña are put on display, still viewed as ‘other’ to all the observers. Not as much has changed as one might have imagined since colonial times.
1. Listen: How to Make a Happening
2. Read: Untitled Guidelines for Happenings
3. Investigate: Time for a scavenger hunt at the Pratt library! Some of these books are rare and held in the special collections vault. Just ask the amazing reference librarians (at the big desk when you turn right just past security). Look through these amazing catalogues, scores and artist’s books, hunting for inspiration.
1. Assemblage, environments & happenings. Text and design by Allan Kaprow. 1966. Brooklyn Closed Stacks/Ask at Reference Desk:LIB USE ONLY Call no: 792 K17
2. Happenings and other acts edited by Mariellen R. Sandford. : Brooklyn Stacks:AVAILABLE 1995 Call no: 702.81 H382
3 Happenings, an illustrated anthology. Scripts and productions by Jim Dine [and others. : AVAILABLE, Brooklyn Stacks:LIB USE ONLY PRINTED MATL 1965 Call no: 792 K58
4 Performances : happenings actions, events, activities installations a cura di Luciano Inga-Pin. : Brooklyn Stacks:LIB USE ONLY, Brooklyn Stacks:AVAILABLE PRINTED MATL 1978 Call no: 709.0474 P4383
5 Blindsight Allan Kaprow. : Blindsight / Allan Kaprow.; Brooklyn Artists’ Books/Ask at Reference Desk:LIB USE ONLY ARTIST’S BOOKS 1979 Call no: 709.04075 K17B
6 Echo-logy Allan Kaprow. : Echo-logy / Allan Kaprow.; Brooklyn Artists’ Books/Ask at Reference Desk:LIB USE ONLY ARTIST’S BOOKS 1975 Call no: 709.04075 K17E
7 Grapefruit; a book of instructions. Introd. by John Lennon. : Grapefruit; a book of instructions. Introd. by John Lennon.; Brooklyn Artists’ Books/Ask at Reference Desk:LIB USE ONLY ARTIST’S BOOKS 1970 Call no: 709.04075 O58GR
8 The way things go [videorecording] / by Peter Fischli & David Weiss ; a T & C Film AG Zurich Production, in association with Alfred Richterich. : The way things go [videorecording] / by Peter Fischli & David Weiss ; a T & C Film AG Zurich Production, in association with Alfred Richterich.; VMR Media:AVAILABLE DVD Call no: 709.04075 F529W
9 Air condition Allen Kaprow. : Air condition / Allen Kaprow.; Brooklyn Artists’ Books/Ask at Reference Desk:LIB USE ONLY ARTIST’S BOOKS Call no: 709.04075 K17
4. Explore and observe: walk around campus and scout out potential locations for Happening events. Observe the ordinary activities already in play at that location. Imagine an action for this situation.
5. Write and post a proposal for a mini-Happening to be staged on campus next week. You will have thirty minutes to prepare at the beginning of next week’s class, and each of you will have ten minutes for your Happening element. You can recruit your fellow classmates in the participatory action you devise.
In his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, author Erving Goffman, discusses the aspects of human behaviour in social interactions and the way we portray ourselves, perceive others and perceive our own selves. “The expressiveness of the individual appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity, the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off” (2).
Goffman investigates the act of Self Presentation through the lens of performance and theatre acting – “When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them” (16). Hoffman further defines the two types of actors/performers: the “Sincere” and the “Cynical”. The first extreme is a performer who completely believes and his taken by his own act- “he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stage id the real reality” (17). The latter, the “Cynical” is a performer that does not believe in own act, and deludes his audience, either for his self interest or for their own greater good – “We know that it in service occupations practitioners who may otherwise be sincere are sometimes forced to delude their costumers because their costumers show such a heartfelt demand for it” (19).
What I found absurd is how Goffman pushes the limits of “Cynical” acting when he suggests that even inferior beings are cynically acting inferior “attempting to put the superior at ease by simulating the kind of world the superior is thought to take for granted”. In other words, Goffnam injustice that social injustice is a form of acting, played by weaker layers of our society. This for me is a point that questions the validity of Goffman critique. It is a proof that his theory struggles beyond the world of theatre and role playing, and the failure of forcing such theories on other social spheres.
In Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life Goffman posits the easiest way to understand human is to view humans as actors on the stage of life. Actors present themselves in a specific way to convey to the audience the character which they are performing. When people act in the world, they are also presenting themselves to those around them in sometimes a constructed way to give off a certain impression. People manipulate setting, mannerisms, clothing and makeup all to convey a certain message to their “audience.” People change these parameters based on the audience (one acts and dresses one way for work and another way at a bar.) People take on certain roles in order to fit into societal constructs. One must be constantly conscious of keeping up appearances if the role they are occupying is an unnatural one for one never ceases to give off impressions. Most social performances fall in the grey area between sincere and contrived. Most people invest their true self into these roles and add a little to make it more believable. This suggests that in order to truly know someone they must allow you “backstage” to see them no longer performing.