[-empyre-] a brief comment to Rustom
sondheim at panix.com
Mon Nov 24 04:16:13 EST 2014
Thank you so much, Rustom; I do have a comment and questions.
On Sun, 23 Nov 2014, Rustom Bharucha wrote:
"For whom are they a 'performance', or, more specifically, 'theatre'?
Does this apply only to those who 'believe in the religious ideology of
ISIS', as Alan assumes, even though there is no empirical evidence to
suggest that this is, in actuality, the case? Perhaps, it would be more
accurate to say that it is 'we' - representatives of a spectrum of
dissenting views whose liberal assumptions are antithetical to the
ideology of ISIS - who are in a better position to claim that these
beheadings are performances."
I find myself in the discussion, at times, in the midst of theatrical
theory or performance studies, and I also find myself incapable of drawing
these distinctions which perhaps matter so much. I think the beheadings
are a performance, as you say, they are staged; they are regulated,
structured, concerned with the mise en scene, etc. There's a long
tradition in art of bloodletting, torture, and so forth - any number of
performers in the late 60s/70s worked with these process, from Nina Pane
to Chris Burden, to artists committing suicide as acts. The fundamental
difference is that these were done to the self, not to others, of course.
In the long run, perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the effects of
symbolic acts themselves, and here is the crux, for me; the beheading is
symbolic, is interpreted from any number of positions, but is deeply
effectual: for at least one of the participants, it is the last act she or
he will ever know.
The right, as I mentioned before, is brilliant at this; in a past Bush
election, a rumor was spread in the rural areas of West Virginia, that if
elected, the Democrats would "take away our Bibles" and throw anyone in
jail caught reading them. The Democrats lost, and they usually didn't. In
a popular book at the time, What's the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank
described the process of getting people to vote against their interests:
"According to the book, the political discourse of recent decades has
dramatically shifted from social and economic equality to the use of
'explosive' cultural issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, which are
used to redirect anger toward 'liberal elites.'" (Wikipedia) These
cultural issues are used as symbols - just as the "Tea Party" title itself
is symbolic - and I'd argue that these uses are also performances of slow
terror - if the Democrats get in, our very form of life will be changed
for the worst. So the right talks about Obamacare as promoting, requiring,
"death panels" to get rid of seniors, and so forth.
In the long run, aren't these all symbolic acts, symbolic processes, and
perhaps it doesn't matter whether or not a "performance" is involved? Are
we stuck on this terminology, which is useful within the enclave of formal
and informal cultural production, but perhaps itself creates a situation
of exclusion, so that beheadings, for example are bad art or not really
art, or bad performance or not really performance - when in fact they move
peoples and audiences in far more frightening and perhaps meaningful ways
than what we ourselves do? I'm speaking, myself, as a 'failed artist' in
this regard - and there is so much good intention in the expression "never
again" - and then "it" happens, again and again and again...
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