Tomaž Toporišic: Traces of the Performative Turn
In his text, Tomaž Toporišic shows how several (theatre) artists explicitly play with characteristics of the so-called ‘performative turn’ (1960s). During this turn, the view was exposed that “all the world’s a stage, and the men and women are merely players”, as Shakespeare already wrote down in 1623 (As You Like It), thereby subordinating the textual to the performative. Most important in this view is the co-creating role of the spectator, as without the ‘agreement’/involvement and presence of the spectator, the performance would not be performative at all. When one performs, or presents himself to a certain public, the ability to perform is determined by the ability of the performer to reach up to (“to repeat”) existing social values (see introduction), thereby creating a self-consciousness, on the part of both the performer and the spectator, about doing and re-doing (part 3). So to express performative utterances, there is not only a performer, but also a spectator, who both create self-awareness around the repetition of social values (which does not mean the performance has to be conventional and cannot challenge the ruling norms! – see part 3), in so doing updating social conventions. The believalibity of the performative utterance is thus in hands of the spectator, and is dependent on the interaction between spectator and performer, who then judges the performative value through his own framework, looking for confirmation, and thereby providing the necessary authority the performative needs in order to be regarded as such.
In his paper, Toporišic both implicitly and explicitly points out how the above mentioned procceses are used in (modern) theatre performances, especially highlighting the wish artists seem to have to emphasize this performative character. Examples are the techniques (exessive repetition, sampling, quotations and misquotations etc) used by Elfride Jelinek and Thomas Bernhard (part 3) and the emphasis on identification in “We Are All Marlene Dietrich FOR” (part 4). Alltogether, Toporišic gives a clear overview how these artists play (or, as Toporišic himself states: “trace, re-enact and reappropriate”, part 5) with the notion of performativity.
“Performance thus creates a visible gap between signifier and signified” (see part 4). Although it is true, at least I think, that the performative utterance is dependent on social frameworks (which creates the gap), I doubt if there really is a visible gap as Toporišic proposes. There is a presence (sign) and an interpretation (signified), yet the two are hard to separate and are interconnected. Especially now, in a culture that could be said to rely heavily on performative utterances (such as the news, which creates our ‘reality’), I’d like to ask you whether and how the performative creates this gap on a conscious level.
Toporišic shows the development of the performative in theatrical settings. How could this notion of the performative be applied to our everyday lives, thereby referring to the theme of this week: body as medium? (For example, to pitch a very broad question, how does Obama’s presence – both live and mediatized – affect the behaviour of ‘spectators’/voters and vice versa?)