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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Performance theory (2)

Here is the second set of notes I wrote. Oddly prophetic of all the work I'm doing now.

(1) Performativeness (degrees of). Here the idea is that less performative performances are equally performative. In other words, performances that de-emphasize "drama," that are drier and more oriented toward a reproduction of what's on the page, are equally worthy of attention. By the same token, very stylized performances are not necessarily more performative than ones that strive for "realism." This whole question has to be rethought.

(2) Pedagogy. Elocution, in my Grandmother's generation, was the way literature was taught. She could give dramatic readings of texts she had memorized well into her 90s. Performance implies a new pedagogy, in which students themselves should be performers. But, as Steve Evans points out in his interview with ??? [Al Filreis], performance is still kind of an afterthought. The poem on the page still reigns supreme, and we need to find a way of making more than a mere supplement.

(3) Improvisation. Not all performance is improvisation, but improvisation is always a performance. All performance does involve an element of "liveness," of attentiveness to the present. Improvisation brings that attentitiveness to the forefront. It might also be interesting to look at performance in terms of preparation, of logistics.

(4) Duende. The duende is in the first instance a theory of performance, not of artistic creation or inspiration. What interests me here is the way in which a theory of performance can be paradigmatic, primary rather than secondary, in poetics. I also want to explore the slippage between performance and creation in Lorca's theory of the duende.

(5) Song setting. What is fascinating here is the way in which a poem might be derived from a melody or a melody from a text. A kind of translation?

(6) Vocal stylings. Certain singers put across the words in an ideal way, not by overdramatizing, but by using melody, voice, and phrasing to get at the best possible oral interpretation of that particular lyric. On the other hand, there are performance practices that sacrifice the words to vocal techniques. Vowels must be sung a certain way in the interest of sonority, to the detriment of the text. There is fertile ground for theorization here.

(7) Prosody. Usually, once performance happens, prosody is forgotten--paradoxically. That is, there is a kind of false opposition between the prosody on the page and the prosody in the voice. The object of phonology is a written sentence. This needs to be rethought. People wanting to do this field seriously should learn a little more linguistics.

(8) Voice. I'd like to look at the human voice itself as the basis of everthing else. If you had a theory of the voice you would have a theory of the performance of any linguistic performance.

(9) Timbre. I've written a paper on the theory of timbre, that you can probably still see at the Hall Center for the Humanities Website. (Many of these points are overlapping rather than discretely separated.)

(10) Rhythm. Performances happen in time; they are rhythmically organized in some fashion. Actors might wait a "beat" before proceeding. A theory of performance would need a good account of rhythm. My study of percussion over the past 10 years or so has taught me a lot, though I am not at all a good drummer.

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