Contribution to Roundtable on Liveness
Philip Auslander’s book Liveness refutes the idea that theatre performance is ontologically privileged as a site for critical thinking in comparison to mediatized representations. This Utopian idea that many performance theorists hold is certainly something that should be critically reviewed. Especially in the current mediatized society, Auslander shows that it is impossible to maintain that performance remains untouched by the media. In the roundtable contributions on Liveness various scholars discuss and critique this book, to which Auslander then tries to answer.
Part of the debate comes forth from confusion about Auslander’s use of the term “live performance”. Most reactions concern the specificity of live theatre, the contested ontological difference with mediatized performance and the possibilities it offers as a site for critical thought. Auslander considers live performance to entail more than theatre, but also for example live broadcasts. Therefore, he maintains that live performance has no ontology, only the common element of simultaneity. Liveness is a historical and cultural construct that is subject to change. Moreover, it can only be defined in opposition to recorded, which is why according to Auslander ancient Greek theatre could at the time not be considered live.
Auslander argues that live performance is always already inscribed with mediatization, since in the current mediatized society live performance mimics and incorporates mediatized performance, which has the dominant position in the cultural economy. This conflation of live and mediatized is critiqued by the contributors. Auslander’s arguments are still based on a certain distinction between live and mediatized. Aside from that, most scholars feel that theater is fundamentally different from mediatized representations. The simultaneous presence in space and time of the performers and spectators offers a framework that enables the audience to maintain a critical viewpoint and for the live images not to be dominated by the mediatized ones.
If we consider the framework of the representation, the meaning of live performance seems to gain a new perspective. A live broadcast is framed by the medium of television or radio. Live theatre and rock concerts to take an example from Auslander, are framed not by media but incorporate them. The mediatization in the performance is visible, the construction of certain simulations is visible for the audience. Does this mean that live performance is not a simulation but on some level “real” because the framework is not simulated? Does this make theatre and concerts more authentic?