What-There-Is: Theater as Method, Theory as Theater
Even as performativity is invoked to counter impasses in philosophy, queer studies, science and technology studies, history, and literary theory, theorists are quick to differentiate between processual performativity and representationalist theater. As Shannon Jackson has observed, this opposition is pervasive across much of the philosophical literature that underpins the field of Performance Studies, including works of J.L. Austin, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Derrida. Most recently, American physicist and feminist theorist Karen Barad has also offered performativity as an alternative to representation, which she sees as the troubled basis of both realism and social constructivism. Barad’s posthumanist performativity differs from previous frameworks (c.f. Foucault, Derrida, Butler, Pickering, Hayles, Latour) in its realist insistence that theory is a material-discursive arrangement that gives rise to agents and entities. Key is her rejection of ontological categories that precede entanglement, and thus of the categorical split between ontology and epistemology. What promise does Barad’s view hold? Instead of a posthumanist de-centralizing of the human vis-à-vis the non-human (Latour), Barad’s agential realism highlights the process by which entities come to be delineated as such in the first place. Further, instead of an analysis constrained by an appeal to human-scale (Foucault), Barad’s case is extended across scale, and indeed makes scale itself contingent on encounters of differentiation. Barad, like others, has disavowed a connection between her performativity and “theatrical performances.” In this performative presentation, I will draw on her notion of performativity while also asking what work is accomplished through the bracketing of theater from theory. Rejecting the view of theater as essentially representational, I argue for (and enact) ways in which formal and material performance structures can delineate theoretical positions, agents, and processes of causality.
Yelena Gluzman devises scholarship, publications, and events with the conviction that performance is a form ideally suited to collective theorization. With Esther Neff, she convened “Proofs, Theorems, Rebuttals and Propositions: A Conference of Theoretical Theater,” a scholarly conference in which plenary lectures were given in the form of performances, and conference participants were asked to present performance-responses (2013). She is an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse and founded the annual Emergency Index, a print compendium of performances made across genres of art, activism, research, and theory (2012, ongoing). She also edits Emergency Playscripts (2009, ongoing), a series of primary performance texts highlighting issues of notation. Since 1999, she has created numerous experimental “Science Projects”; these projects are site-specific, where site could be a situation (e.g., an audition, a theft), a genre (pornography, film), or an institution (academia, publishing). Recent performance projects include Worman (2012, Prelude Festival, NYC), I Am Not Everything That Is Beside Me (2012, Whenever Wherever Festival, Tokyo), The Bacchae (2011, Collapsable Hole, NYC), and School for Salomés (2011, Collapsable Hole, Semiospectacle II, NYC). Her paper “One Acts: Reductive Performances Make a Difference” was published in Platform Journal (Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 2011, 41-52) and her talk “After the Show: A Mess” is forthcoming from Theater journal. She holds a BA in Neuroscience, and MFA in Theater Directing, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Communication, Science Studies, and Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego.