Let me Tell you: An essay
I am interested in utilizing certain concepts of Foucault as a lens through which to analyze a performance of mine entitled, "Let me Tell you: A story." Or in other words, I want to try and test the effectivity of Foucault's ideas in their application. It is my belief that one of Foucault's strengths is that he is very useful for theoretical work. To attempt this test as it were, I have written a script and performed it for two audiences. In this paper, I will first explain the theory behind the genesis of the script. I will then describe my intentions for this performance. Finally, I will look at the post-performance reactions and its effectivity with the audiences.
The ideas for my performance started taking shape with my reading of the Foucault/Derrida debate and were reshaped during my reading of the Foucault/Habermas debate. I will address the former debate then the latter. To grossly summarize, the Foucault/Derrida debate, which centers around Foucault's Madness and Civilization, deals with madness and reason via Descartes. I think that the fundamental issue at stake in their debate could be seen as a search for how to speak the unspeakable. In his article, "Cogito and the History of Madness," Derrida sees philosophy as a device in the exclusion of madness, or as he quotes Herder, "'there had to be folly so that wisdom might overcome it'" (45). Foucault, on the other hand, strongly questions this act of placing reason over madness.
The particular idea around this debate that I want to explore is how it might apply to the potential of a painting having the capability to speak the unspeakable. Almost as an aside, Foucault makes the contention that art and literature may be a means through which we can experience and express madness and/or the unspeakable. Shoshana Felman picks up on this point in her article, "Madness and Philosophy of Literature's Reason." Like Foucault, Felman claims that literature can express the unspeakable. She reads Foucault as saying that art and literature are meant to "re-place madness: metaphorically (substitutively) and metonymically (contiguously)" (220). Or in other words, art and literature may evoke the unspeakable.
I believe that the same can be said not only for painting, but for performance as well. In This Is Not a Pipe, Foucault discusses thoughts and ideas about Magritte's paintings and what they "say" about representation and expression. Foucault notes that the statement, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" is "perfectly true, since it is quite apparent that the drawing representing the pipe is not the pipe itself" (19). Meaning is attained through the (negation of the) text and image in the painting. Nowhere in this painting is there a pipe (29). "What you see is that" which is not there (34). There is no pipe. It is through words and image that a painting makes an expression. Similarly, a performance uses words and images through the script, the props and the physical setting.
Both painting and performance can allow for words and images to express meaning(s) on a multiplicity of levels, both spatially and semantically, creating new meanings out of their juxtapositions (38). As Foucault notes of Magritte's painting, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," a painting can utilize words in two ways. First of all, there is the semantic meaning of the sentence, "This is not a pipe." Secondly, by being placed in the medium of a painting, the shape of the words can be seen to have spatial connotations. The words are shapes, like circles or squares, and meaning can be found in their spacing and arrangement on a canvas. Similarly, a performance has the potential for spatial and semantic meanings. The dialogue of a script carries linguistic connotations, while spatial meaning can be found in the staging of the performance and blocking of the performers within that setting.
This dance of potential meaning(s) whirls around a lack of one to one representation. Magritte goes so far to say that, "only thought can [represent]. It [represents] by being what it sees, hears, or knows; it becomes what the world offers it" (47). While Magritte's statement does end with an emphasis on our thoughts being shaped by the world, I find it interesting to think of how our thoughts shape our perception of the world. Or in other words, how an audience opens a painting, or a performance, as we represent them in our thoughts. I also find Magritte's quote limiting in that it only refers to thoughts and not emotions and/or actions. I believe that our thoughts, feelings and actions all have some sort of influence on the meaning we perceive.
So, the effectivity of a painting/performance rests in the viewers thoughts, feelings and actions that occur around it. For me, this act of viewing is a performative one. The idea of a performativity of viewing stems from my understanding of Peggy Phelan's definition of performance that can be found in, "The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction," from, Unmarked. In it, she defines performance in the closely linked terms of presents and presence.
Phelan uses the term, presents, to note that a performance lives and dies in the present. A performance only occurs this way, this time. Regardless of an audience's and/or a performer's expectations and intentions, a performance piece will vary from performance to performance. To see a performance more than once, will be to see different performances of that performance piece. For example, you can see Romeo and Juliet many times, and even though it is the same script, it will be a different performance each time. For Phelan, this leads to a series of presents, in that each performance is a part of a process of presents, each one different from the last. This, in turn, leads to the presence of performance.
The presence of performance is the result of its presents in that each performance takes on a uniqueness of its own. The live event of a performance has a presence. An example of this is the idea that it is better to go see a band live, than to just listening to their record. There is the possibility for a live performance to offer a new and unique take on the material. This potential variability and uniqueness of a live performance gives it its presence.
Phelan believes that the presence of performance is metonymical. A metonym is a word or phrase that represents something by close association. For example, you can say, "the kettle is boiling" when in fact it is the water in the kettle that is boiling (Phelan 150). A performance not only represents the script of the performance, but it represents itself. For instance, even though Romeo and Juliet is considered a great play, you can see a bad performance of it. This double representation of performance resembles the "'double writing'" Edward Said discusses in his article, "The Problem of Textuality" (676). Said states that Foucault's writings both (re)present in his description of the text studied and also present a new text that does and says what the other text did not and/or prevented (676).
Also, Phelan's concept of the presents/presence of a performance is similar to Judith Butler's idea of performativity as she discusses it in her "Introduction" to Bodies That Matter. Butler defines a performative act as a "discursive practice that enacts or produces that which it names" (13). This seems quite similar to the Phelan's presence. Butler also states that a performative act is "not a singular 'act'" (12). She notes that it "acquires an act-like status in the present," but it is always in relation to "a norm or set of norms" (12). This seems to be somewhat equivocal to Phelan's presents.
Now, it is my contention that Phelan's definitions of performance are applicable to the act of viewing a performance, as well as a painting. It should be clarified that in this instance I am referring to a viewing act in which a viewer develops an interpretation of the image viewed, or in Magritte's terms, the performance will be represented in the viewer's thoughts (This Is Not A Pipe 47). This viewing act lives in the present; it occurs when the viewer assumes a position in relation to a performance.
Being in the present, it is possible to have a bad viewing of a good performance. The viewer could be in a foul mood, or could just not get what the performance is about; either way, the context of the viewing act influences what is perceived, and what is represented. Now, it should be noted that this context is not seated in the audience, instead it is more of a creation that happens in the conjunction of audience and performance. Both have a part in the process of creating this influential context within which the viewing occurs.
The viewing of a performance has a presence to it as well. A good explanation of this presence can be seen in John Berger's discussion of photographs of paintings. For the purpose of my argument here, I am substituting the use of videos in place of Berger's use of photographs and the use of performances in place of his use of paintings. I believe this substitution does not mitigate the uniqueness of the separate media because Berger is looking at how photographs are used to document paintings and I merely an suggesting that videos serving a similar documentary function in relation to performances. Thus, a video of a performance subverts the "uniqueness" of the performance as it is reproduced ( Ways of Seeing 19). Viewers no longer must travel to see a performance; a performance travels to them through videos of it (20).
As a result, the possible meanings of a performance multiply and fragment (19). As a performance travels, meaning is diversified depending on the context(s) in which it is viewed (20). Again, these contexts are created in the conjunction and relationship of audience and performance. There is a contextual difference between viewing a performance in a theater and viewing it on the television in your living room that affects the viewing of a performance. Walter Benjamin, discusses these potential differences in his article, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." He notes that the mass reproduction of an art work, through photographs (and videos), has helped to give an aura of authenticity to the original (220). Thus, the act of seeing a photograph, or watching a video, will always be filled with a sense of lack for it is not authentic (220). So, the uniqueness, or presence, of a performance now lies, in part, to it being the original of a reproduction. Viewers may have seen a video of a performance, but that is not like seeing it live on Broadway.
Similarly, Foucault, in his article, "Las Meninas," focuses on the position(s) of the viewer(s). Looking at Velasquez' painting, Las Meninas, Foucault describes "a point to which, even though it is invisible, we, the spectators, can easily assign an object, since it is we, ourselves who are at the point (4). This point is the position of the viewer in relation to the painting and Foucault believes that it links us to the image (4). He quotes Pachero, saying that, "the image should stand out from the frame" (8). The image is represented in the viewer's thoughts, feelings and actions. It is from this point that we must begin our attempt to express what is seen. Foucault finds the attempt to translate images to words very problematic. He believes that
the relation of language to painting is an infinite relation. It is not that words are imperfect, or that, when confronted by the visible, they prove insuperably inadequate. Neither can be reduced to the other's terms: it is in vain that we say what we see; what we see never resides in what we say. And it is in vain that we attempt to show, by the use of images, metaphors, or similes, what we are saying; the space where they achieve their splendour is not that deployed by our eyes but that defined by the sequential elements of syntax. And the . . . name . . . is merely an artifice. It gives us a finger to point with . . . to pass surreptitiously from the space where one speaks to the space where one looks; in other words, to fold one over the other as though they were equivalents. But if one wishes to keep the relation of language to vision open, if one wishes to treat their incompatibility as a starting-point for speech instead of as an obstacle to be avoided, so as to stay as close as possible to both, then one must erase those . . . names and preserve the infinity of the task. It is perhaps through the medium of this grey, anonymous language, always over-meticulous and repetitive because too broad, that painting may, little by little, release its illumination (9-10).
So, it is around words that an image may be (partially) evoked. These words give us windows through which we can see into and out of an image, passing through the two inseparably different spaces of seeing and of speaking. The viewer has to start, and end, with the image without words, but in between is where words are tossed around the image. Like the viewers of a painting, I believe that the viewers of a performance are caught in a similar word/image conundrum. The audience struggles to express and evoke, through words around images, their thoughts and feelings of the images and words.
Foucault notes that Las Meninas calls attention to this process of seeing/reading/expressing a painting. It "presents us with the entire cycle of representation: the gaze, the palette and brush, the canvas innocent of signs . . . the paintings, the reflections, the real man . . . then representation dissolves again (11). A painting, and a performance, dissolve into the viewer(s). The effect of a painting, and a performance, is found in its various audience(s).
The above paragraphs are an attempt to illustrate that a performance's effectivity is found in the audience's performative viewing of it. The idea of the effectivity of a performance started to develop for me while reading the Foucault/Habermas debate. I have earlier held to an idea of a performativity in the viewing act (and I still do), but this debate has led me to think of the act of viewing in terms of the rhetorical effectivity of a performance that can be found in the audience's interpretation of it. Or in other words, how a performance's potential meaning(s) are perceived and developed by its audience(s).
In this debate, Habermas makes several claims with a potentially damaging one being that Foucault has no normative ground from which to base his arguments. In his article, "Some Questions Concerning the Theory of Power: Foucault Again," Habermas notes that Foucault seems to have a system of "criticism that cannot account for its normative foundations" (89). Unlike Foucault, Habermas sees philosophical reason as a ground from which to critique and change the (corrupting) effects of power. Foucault, on the other hand, sees power indivisibly entwined with reason and vice-versa. This is problematic for Habermas. He seems to believe that if Foucault takes the position that nothing is outside of power, then there is no ground from which Foucault can critique and argue. With no normative ground, Habermas wonders why Foucault fights at all (96). Or, in other words, why even bother trying to critique if there is no good or bad?
Habermas' question of whether Foucault lacks a normative ground or not is the issue of his critique that has colored my earlier reading of the Foucault/Derrida debate. In his critique of Foucault's views on power, Habermas seems to be inferring that power is necessarily bad, whereas Foucault is explicit in saying otherwise. In his interview entitled, "On the Genealogy of Ethics," Foucault says that his "point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do" (231-232). There is a lot to be bothered about and a lot to critique.
Revolving around the idea of a normative ground in the Foucault/Habermas debate is the issue of effectivity. Richard J. Bernstein addresses the issue of effectivity in his article, "Foucault: Critique as a Philosophical Ethos." While never specifically using effectivity as a term, Bernstein discusses the possibility of seeing Foucault's work in terms of a "rhetoric of disruption" that asks the audience to "listen to a different claim" (222). This notion of effectivity is similar to reader-response theory in that both are focused on the reader's interpretation of a text.
Jane Tompkins notes in her "Introduction" that, in general, reader-response critics investigate the "reader, the reading process and response[s]" of readers (Tompkins, ix). Outside of this broad statement, reader-response criticism has a "variety of theoretical orientations" from phenomenology to psychoanalysis (ix). Even so, I think the notion of an effectivity fits into the genre of reader-response criticism.
Although, I think Foucault's work is more of a challenge to the reader than an exploration of the reader's response(s). Bernstein notes that Foucault uses hyperbole to force the audience to question traditional understandings of concepts (224). Foucault wants the reader to be skeptical of the everything, thus attaining a freedom from our own predispositions (230). Bernstein finds this interesting but very problematic. He sees Foucault's ambiguous stance as "a skeptical freedom that limits itself to talk of new possibilities for thinking and acting but heroically or ironically refuses to provide any evaluative orientation as to which possibilities and changes are desirable" (232). So, Foucault's work "forces us to ask hard questions about our most cherished beliefs and comforting convictions" (233-234). The audience is "left with hard issues that are not resolved" (234). Bernstein would like to see Foucault offer some resolutions.
While Bernstein finds this open-endedness problematic, I believe he succinctly describes this idea of effectivity. I think it would be fair to say that Foucault might not want to give the audience answers, in fact, he may be suspicious of the privilege given to an answer. Instead, it seems he wants us to find our own answers, or more importantly, to ask tough questions of our beliefs and convictions. For me this lack of giving any answers and demanding tough questions from the audience is what makes Foucault's work so useful.
This idea of effectivity has helped me rethink, or reword, the Foucault/Derrida debate. I believe the notion of an effectivity of a text is somewhat equivalent to my idea of a performative viewing of a text. This connection inspired me to look at, and script, a performance that viscerally deals with its effectivity with an audience. In both, the audience is foregrounded. Although I see the performance of viewing as a descriptive concept of the viewing act, while the notion of effectivity seems to have the connotation of a challenge placed on the audience to act.
I have chosen the medium of performance because I believe that a performance has an almost instantaneous effectivity with its audience in its presents and presence. I also appreciate how a performance allows me to utilize both words and visuals to evoke my thoughts and feelings around this matter. I wrote "Let me Tell you" A story" with an emphasis on foregrounding the audience's part in the process of creating meaning (see attached). Rhetorically, I think of my script as a framework in which the audience will tell a story. Although, within this framework I do not actually want to tell a story per se. The title of this story is meant to be somewhat ironic, I am not telling them a story, they are doing the telling and they are not really telling a story. In other words, I want to leave the performance open ended and ambiguous, forcing the audience to ask questions about the performance.
I think it is important to now describe my intentions for this performance, and I definitely see the irony that I am about to discuss what I think the meaning of this performance is; a performance that is about the audience's part in the development of meaning, and its meaning is supposed to be developed by them. The point of discussing my intentions is that the performance is also a part of this process. Whatever meanings the audience does develop with this performance will happen within the context created in the conjunction of the audience and the performance. As paradoxical as it may seem, it is my intention to not only foreground the audience, but have them do it for themselves.
This foregrounding of the audience is attempted not only through the words of the script but through props on stage, the games played, and the casting of the audience. Ideally, I would like this performance to happen in an open space where the audience can wrap around in a semi-circle, breaking the fourth wall dichotomy of performer/audience. I also want the script on stage with me, I would like for it to implicitly represent the authority that controls the performance; a pantextacon, if you will.
The performance begins with a game of, "Simon Says" that is played with the audience as a whole. I find this game theoretically fascinating. It is a game where the audience has to watch, listen and mime. Most importantly, they have to listen. The point of the game is for them to listen to what Simon says and not to just mime what I do. In terms of this performance, I mean for it to further break the fourth wall and get the audience up and actively participating and performing. In "Simon Says," you have to pay attention and act accordingly. This is meant to show that what the audience does, effects the game, as their actions will also effect the performance.
Along this line of thought, I cast a few of the audience members to do some things. There is the heroine of this unstory. She is meant to take the spotlight away from me and be the star of the performance. The stage manager serves a similar effect. This person is meant to control the audience's cheers, boos and oohs and aahs by flashing the correspondent cards. S/he will do so on their own judgment, thus, potentially usurping my intentions of the connotative meanings of moments during the performance. A rowdy booing definitely gives a different feeling to a moment than a lusty cheer, or wondrous oohs and aahs. So, the audience via the stage manager will shape the feeling of moments throughout the performance.
I then set up two scenes within the large, door way size black frames. The frames are meant to visually represent the lines we draw to frame ideas and actions. Within these two frames I set up two essentially unrelated scenes borrowed and adapted from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (66-68). In one scene, I will have two audience members, one sitting in a chair and another behind holding an ax over the other's head. In the other scene, I place the heroine.
I then ask the audience if they think that the person under the ax escapes or dies? And what does our heroine have to do with it all? I put it to a vote, letting the audience decide if the person lives or dies, allowing them to shape the performance. I also point out that what happens between these two scenes is unshown, so it is up to them to decide what happened, they are the ones who imagine the live or death scenario. The point being that the frames we use to look at things sometimes leave things out.
The next part of the performance also deals with the idea of drawing lines. The heroine draws on a cardboard every time I say "mark" during a section of the performance that deals with the choices involved in the representation of ideas. The point being that the audience's decision, and mine, to start telling a story always already leaves something out. Its meaning comes at the price of the repression of other potential meanings. I further explore this idea of meaning in a story by having the heroine look up a word in a dictionary. The dictionary serves as an authority to which we often defer, and maybe not always to our benefit. Her word gives the performance a meaning, although it is certainly not the definitive meaning of the performance.
After using the dictionary, I turn to look at the visual by drawing attention to the lines our heroine drew. I want to contrast, and mix, words with images in attempting to understand how we verbalize the visual. Or, in other words, I want to look at how we talk about something that is not expressed in words. To do this, I have the heroine tell me what she think her work of art means. I will get her to give me about a sentence based off of her drawing. I will then use her sentence to play the telephone game with the first couple of rows of the audience. This is meant to show how the audience changes and creates meaning by not only simply mishearing, but also adding bits here and there.
I end the performance by stringing together parts of the performance, summing up the unstory. I construct a sentence using the audience's decision on whether the character lived or died by the ax, the two versions, the heroines' and the post-telephone game's, of the art work's meaning, and the dictionary word. This summary sentence reads as follows, "In this story, Simon said that life and death hung in the balance, with (life/death) winning for now, and art, art was shown to simply be (heroine's sentence about her art work) and yet it's also (post-telephone game sentence of her sentence), but our heroine gave us the meaning of it all, it's just (word heroine looked up in the dictionary)."
So, a potential sentence would be, "In this story, Simon said that life and death hung in the balance, with 'life' winning for now, and art, art was showing to simply be 'disconnected and absurd, neither linear nor circular' and yet its also 'just disconnected and something else,' but our heroine gave us the meaning off it all, it's just 'slapstick.'" That is what has happened, at least that is what Simon says.
This is not really the end, because the performance is implicitly open to the audience to ask questions and critique. They are supposed to be the ones to finally decide what the performance meant and thereby end the story, for now at least. And I close with the challenge that if they did not like the performance, then there is so much more, and it is up to them to leave a mark. The choice is laid in the audience's laps, or more importantly, in their thoughts and emotions. This open ending is meant to serve as a final illustration of the performance's effectivity and/or the audience's active part in the performance.
The above paragraphs describe my intentions for this performance. Again, the irony being that they show that a lot of thought went into how to leave the meaning of the performance up to the audience. Now, I do not think it is too important to wonder whether the audience will get my intentions or not. I think that can be somewhat beside the point. Instead, I want to look at the effectivity the performance had with its audience(s). Like Foucault, the effectivity of the performance for the audience is more important to me. I want to foreground their part in this process. So, intentions aside, I performed "Let me Tell you: A story" for two audiences with some rather interesting results.
The first performance was in a room where I had little control over where to place the audience and they were placed in rows separated from the stage area in a traditional fourth wall set up. The audience consisted heavily of undergraduate students who were in introductory performance classes and were required to come. The performance went well except for a few lapses of memory, but that just meant I had to refer to the script, deferring to its authority as it were. I was surprised that during the telephone game, the audience passed the sentence around without any variation. This is quite rare, normally the sentence gets slightly mangled. Nonetheless, after the performance the reactions were mixed, many of the graduate students present thoroughly enjoyed the performance and how it invited them to participate. Although they did note that they thought the performance ran a little long.
The undergraduates reacted more strongly to the performance. Due to various reception conditions, such as the staging and the different games, many of the comments I received were filled with confusion. They did not understand what they were supposed to do, were they supposed to watch me, or the stage manager, or the heroine? They had fun, but they really seemed to want a fourth wall up so that they could passively sit their and watch the performance, and/or they wanted to be told what to do. Like Bernstein's reaction to Foucault, the undergraduates seemed to be uncomfortable with the unresolved story, and the open-ended structure of the performance. They seemed to want me to offer them resolutions.
This run of the performance served as a sort of first draft in public and it allowed me to edit the script in response to the comments received. The comment that the performance was a little long was the one I felt needed to be addressed before the next run of the performance. So, I tightened the dialogue in the script to streamline the piece more. This brings up an interesting point in terms of aesthetics. It seems that part of the strength and frustration with Foucault is his highly lyrical writing style. Bernstein notes that Foucault is very adept at writing and because of this, he wants to see Foucault explain himself more (226). He does not want to get lost in the prose. Instead, Bernstein wants to be able to see the argument clearly. And yet, it seems to me that this aesthetic writing style helps Foucault achieve effectivity.
In this regard, I do not mean to presume that a text is given effectivity by its author, instead I believe that an author does play a role in the potential meanings a text has. So, even though a text always has an effectivity in simply being, an author can craft the text to strengthen its effectivity. Foucault has a style of writing that I believe he utilizes in order to excite a reaction from the reader (222). My editing of the script is similar in that it is also an issue of aesthetics and style. In terms of scripting a performance, more than writing a paper, I am always concerned with the aesthetics of the piece; if the dialogue within the script feels natural enough, aesthetically, to be performed in front of a crowd. In other words, does the dialogue feel normal and conversational and not stilted and forced.
I do not want the script's dialogue to be obtuse and potentially distance the audience from the performance. I also wanted to keep the performance tight and short so as not to lose their attention. I want the audience involved. So, I think it could be said that in both Foucault's writing and my scripting, the texts are sculpted aesthetically to develop a style that will help support and shape the texts effectivity. Again, I concede that a text always has an effectivity, I just believe that an author can have a part in its development.
So, when I performed "Let me Tell you: A story" a second time, it was slightly modified due to my aesthetic choices of having it be short and focused and having natural dialogue. Even though it was shorter, I did all of the same games and cast the same amount of audience members. The changes made were solely in the dialogue and were meant to keep the performance sharp, help it flow better and to maximize the audience's involvement. This run of the performance went well with no lapses of memory. It was done outside of a building with the audience sitting around on steps and on the ground, the fourth wall was broken down more than the first performance, but there was still a stage area that was separate from the audience. The audience consisted mostly of graduate students, professors and their young children.
During the performance it was interesting to note that the professors and graduate students were not too good at "Simon Says" while their kids were great at it. Regardless, this time there was variation of the sentence during the telephone game. And the reactions to this performance were much more positive. This audience seemed to enjoy the invitation to participate. Several people commented on the framing aspects of the performance and others thought it was interesting to have played such an active role in it. One woman said that she liked how the performance did not tell her a story but instead gave her with the desire to think of one herself.
Now, I do not mean to imply that one performance was better than the other, or that one audience was better than the other. Regardless of the editing in between the two performances, the audiences saw a very similar piece, and even if it had been the exact same script, it still would have been a different performance. I also do not want to imply that the undergraduates did not understand the performance, while the graduate students and professors did. Instead, I think it would be fair to say that the performances had different effectivities for the two audiences, and for different individuals.
I belief this performance represented viscerally the process of the potentially different effectivities of a text. I was able to see different people at different times, respond to the performance. The unstories that were told in the two performances were told differently. It is an open-ended performance and process and I do not think it is a matter of one audience being right with the other one being wrong, nor is it a matter of one performance being good while the other was bad. Instead, I think it is a matter of asking questions of the performance. Similarly with Foucault, it is not about giving resolutions, it is about the audiences asking questions of their beliefs and convictions.
It is here that a very tough question arises; how does one assess and evaluate a performance's effectivity with an audience? Ideally, I believe that this assessment needs to be accomplished beyond just theorizing about potential effectivities and noting like/dislike reactions to the performance. An audience may create an almost infinite number of meanings in relation to this performance, but it comes to reason that not all meanings created are necessarily valid. How do you make that judgment?
I would contend that one possible way would be to hold talk back sessions after the performances, in this format, the audience members could ask questions of the performer/author and vice-versa. Or, you could do more formal interviews with some pre-prepared question to ask of the audience members. And it might be interesting to do both, to hold talk backs right after the performance and do follow up interviews about a week later, giving the audience time to think about what they saw. With the data gathered from these methods I believe that one might be able to make some claims about the effectivity of the performance. Due to time restrictions and lack of foresight on my part, interviews were not conducted for this paper.
Looking back, there are some things I would like to try differently if I did this performance again. First of all, I would have liked to organize talk back sessions and also done some interviews with various audience members. This would give me some data from which to attempt to assess and evaluate the performance's effectivity. It would also serve to explicitly ask questions of the audience, further illustrating their part in the performance.
In terms of the performance, I would like to more fully utilize my visual elements during the performance. Specifically, I would like to make more use of the large black frames. They are such a strong visual element and I really only used them for the ax scene. I think that I might be able to use them more throughout the performance and better utilize my visual imagery to help further mix words and images and thereby strengthen my points. I would also like to foreground the audience even more strongly. If you think of my script as a frame and think of the audience's interaction as a painting painted within my frame, then I would like to have an even sparser frame with a bigger painting from the audience. As the performance was, I think it was a good aesthetic balance. I do not believe that my frame overshadowed their painting. But I think it would be interesting, and quite challenge, to work on the style of the performance so as to further allow the audience to paint a bigger painting. That way the effectivity of the performance for them would potentially be even more pronounced.
Exploring the juxtapositions I see between the Foucault/Derrida and Foucault/Habermas debate has been very effective exercise for me. It inspired me to script a performance, "Let me Tell you: A story," that was filled with words and images to express the idea of the effectivity of a performance. An irony in all of this is that I do not have the answers as to what this all means and whether it is good or bad. I feel that I do not have a normative ground to make this claim and that to impose one would be an arbitrary decision that possibly would be a submission to what Foucault's call the blackmail of enlightenment ("What is...?" 43).
Having no normative ground is an unsettling feeling and it gives me a greater respect for the risk I perceive Foucault may have taken in grounding his work in its effectivity with an audience. If he has left it up to us to ask the questions, he has risked the (dangerous) assumption that we will respond to his challenge. But, it is like Foucault says, the "point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do" ("On Genealogy..." 231-232).
So, there is a challenge in both being a writer and a reader, and both writer and reader have plenty to do. The challenge of this performance was to the audience in trying to almost force them to tell the story. I believe the danger of this performance is twofold. First, it is not within the tradition form of academia and is hard to analyze as such. Second, it is not based on a normative ground, so I am still unsure as to how to evaluate it and/or its effectivity.
After thinking through these issues I realize that I may be exactly where I should be, not with the answers, but with lots of good questions, with lots to do. For instance: Does any and every performance foreground its audience just by the very nature of performance? Have I utilized the idea of a performance of viewing for all its worth, or is there more, or less? What responsibilities do readers have as, and to, writers, and vice-versa? Can a text's effectivity with an audience really serve, in any way, as a rhetorical, normative ground, and if so, how?
Also, how does one assess the rhetorical implications of aesthetic decisions, and vice-versa? How does one assess and evaluate a text's effectivity, or is that beside the point? Can a performance, and a painting, through the conjunction of images and words, express the unspeakable, and if so, how do you then discuss that? Does this performance and this paper represent the evocation of the effectivity of Foucault's work, or not? Does this paper and the performance say something useful, something effective, or do they say nothing, or do they have effectivity merely by being, or what? Does ending this paper with a question avoid a sense of closure and strengthen its potential effectivity, or does it give a sense of closure, or is that beside the point?
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