2017, Oct 9: SEMINAR 2: CUS Research Postgraduates

Lai-Tze Fan edited this page Oct 12, 2017 · 9 revisions

SY = Professor Soo Ryon Yoon
LF = Professor Lai-Tze Fan

Cultural Studies -- Research Postgraduate Seminar #2

"Performance," Lingnan University

LF's Preceding Notes on the Readings

JL Austin - "How to do Things with Words" (1955)

  • precursor to Blanchot, Derrida, and Butler on instrumental language and violent language
  • performative element of utterance in the linguistic tradition (à la Saussure)
    • LF: Adamic language and Heidegger
  • "performative sentence" or utterance--calling it a "performative"
  • (95) distinction between phonetic (sounds), phatic (words), and rhetic (with reference) acts
  • (101) distinction between locution (He said, "shoot her"), illocution (he urged me to shoot her), and perlocation (he persuaded me to shoot her)
  • (105) "Since our acts are acts, we must always remember the distinction between producing effects or consequences which are intended or unintended; and (i) when the speaker intends to produce an effect it may nevertheless not occur, and (ii) when he does not intend to produce it or intends not to produce it it may nevertheless occur."

D Soyini Madison - Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance (2010)

  • relationship between performance and LOCAL ACTIVISM in service of human rights and social justice
  • question of execution from personal/communal philosophical expression to "body-to-body activities" to performance
    • Madison inquires into the adaptation of these efforts back to the stage
  • breaks down performance as methodology--and the politics (identity, ethical, economic) that form the methodology
  • (2) "creating a means and a space from whatever elements or resources are available in order to resist or subvert the strategies of more powerful institutions, ideologies, or processes"
  • (6) unique phenomenological experience described in the performance by way of time: "deep involvement"
  • (6) on publicness and public performance
    • LF: compare with the function of Habermas' public sphere vs. ideology
    • in what ways are they like-minded?
  • (8) Ghana anecdote reminds me of the hippies putting flowers in officers' guns
  • (10) "people were putting their bodies on the line, where they were creating a 'changing scrip' envisioning another way of being by challening treatening traitions as well as working against the macro forces of a neoliberal global economy"
  • (10-11) act of bearing witness as a necessity to respond -- compare with Austin's speech act
    • (11) where ETHICS "also includes providing opportunities for others to gain access to the ability to respond"
    • powerful: (11) "That person may then choose to do something or stand by but he may not turn away in ignorance" // response, response-ability, and responsibility"
    • LF: liability of the act of witnessing: to witness is to engage in already--at partial action, you have been hailed. A sort of anti-ideological interpollation?
  • I'm intrigued by the constant mirror commentary, esp re: Bertolt Brecht's mirror that becomes the hammer (12)
  • (12-3) performance ethnography requires that the researcher is self-reflexive and accountable; "doubly reflexive"
  • performance on pages 14-5: why is it especially powerful to enact the struggle of activists? Personalizes the issues as well in the form of storytelling
    • LF: reminds me of the power of standup: the time I saw a woman doing standup talking about rape statistics, because she had the audience's attention
  • (20) responses to neoliberalism, especially impact on the university (fees and strikes
  • (22) the discursive exchange is rhetorically interesting on this page, as the repeated statement and the prof's personal statement comes in the form of a speech act
  • (25) co-performative witnessing > participant-observers

Sean Metzger - Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race (2014)

  • missing page numbers; just going with pages of PDF
  • (3) contrast between 1955 "baleful, blue dungaree uniform" and 1956 report of smart women in bright clothes "'instead of the sexless jackets and pants of recent years'" (in Time magazine)
    • "liberation uniform" associated with revolution in 1949
  • "satorial codes of the military" especially described on pg 4 with regards to the masculinized and militarized women's dress
  • mass-produced (80,000) outfits of the "pusu" (fashion frugality)
  • (5) descriptions of clothing that are not just appropriative but like downright racist
    • the point is that they are published in a magazine of international standing: libel is just as bad as slander; the utterance is enacted still
    • btw, how about fashion appropriation and utterance? Jeremy Lin's dreads right now
  • (7) aesthetics of performing yellowface, including musical choices that are "Chinese-themed"
  • (9) Flower Drum Song's shift from character Mei Li's "peasant garb" to an American-capitalist inspired qipao (Cantonese: kay po)
  • didn't get to type up the rest ... sorry!

Seminar Discussion


  • SR introduces the class as well as me

  • Wai Wai and Iting will be presenting today

  • share visceral reactions of the texts

  • background info:

  • JL Austin was a British philosopher of language

    • how language shapes our formations of identity
    • this was a particularly famous series of lectures delivered at Harvard
    • has become the foundation of other essays on speech act as well as performance
  • performance as a field of research and as a mode of methodology to emphasize and augment ethnographic work

    • Madison and Metzger as examples here: human rights work and performance vs. the Chinese look as represented in theatre and film
    • Madison as ethnographer
    • Metzger as more of a film historian, more archival work

General visceral impressions

  • Kristine: on Austin, engaging language because it was funny

    • reminds her of Wittgenstein's theories of language
    • meaning of words as they are used in language; sentence meaning vs. speaker meaning
    • on Madison: thinking about activism with regards to language
    • curious about how author performs performance analytic
    • problem of critical objectivity and distance vs. intimate/personal engagement
    • Q. how to navigate tension between intimacy and distance?
  • Toto: on Madison, cringed to descriptions of performance

    • echoes about performance itself when integrating as a way to represent your research especially through writing
    • how to justify this?
    • at times found the language too poetic
  • SR: what's at stake in terms of performance and ethnography

  • Chau/Chow: intimate habitations--distinguishing methods of witnessing vs. participant observation

    • description is rather abstract to him, seems like an indirect treatment of the ethnographic material; observes and goes home to make notes
    • LF: use of recorder as a distancing machine that allows one to be in the moment
  • SY: position of the researcher and ethnographer in the field and work of documenting these performances; how to translate this into writing and staged work?

  • "co-performative witnesses" researcher as a method Madison draws from Dwight Conquergood on performance ethnography

    • people in communities in Chicago who couldn't address their own issues
    • worked with them to create their own performance
  • highlights positionality of the researcher and the importance of the level field in which researcher and interlocuters are occupying

    • enables the presence of oneself; research yourself and criticize your own biases
    • LF: use of the mirror image over and over
  • "how to perform a researcher's position on stage"

    • emphasizes vulnerability of the researcher herself
    • singularity of voices is more prevalent than multitude of voices
  • researcher's own voice disappears and becomes an authoritative figure--negotiation of this tension

  • LF: Recorder description, recording device as a distancing machine, allows you to leave the moment and escape the moment, the affect, the experience of the moment and the community

    • "doubly reflexive" in showing the use and failure of the recorder to capture in true ethnographic work
  • SY: responsibility of researcher

    • responsibility and response-ability
    • how do you illicit a response of these audience members?
  • Toto: discomfort in reading the script, as performance is a medium that involves abstraction

  • SY: thick description doesn't achieve that level of embodiment

    • we do our best, but the text still fails to embody emphemeral bodily
    • accents and enunciations becomes the evidence of certain nuances that may be lost in textual write-up and representation later
    • performance doesn't substitute for writings, but failures of the textual representation of the field vs. performance as a means to make the failure visible
  • Toto: would filming or documentation have been better?

    • SY: theatrical performance is also one method
    • scholars have debated that performances are never the same, never a reproduced re-enactment: intonation and audience change, for example
    • reveals a particular vulnerability of what's being represented
  • SY: staging the actual interlocuters goes against the idea of protecting their identities

  • making themselves more vulnerable by staging themselves

  • performance as a particular aesthetic form rather than just a re-enactment

  • Kristine: textual representations of the performance are not meant to make you engage politically like the audience members, but evoking affect in the reader--about visceral instead of intellectual understandings

    • might make you want to learn more about it
  • SY: to Madison, if a performance fails to generate response & responsibility from audience members and spectators, it's not necessarily doing its job

  • Kristine: more comfortable to write than to try to perform yourself, perform myself

    • mode of performance ethnography makes academic become destabilized in vulnerabiity
    • makes the researcher more open to really listening to and engaging with interlocuters
    • otherwise so easy to distance and intellectualize their work
  • SY: writing as a core method for European colonialism to talk about their relations with Indigenous cultures

    • but orality is an equally important method to Indigenous cultures for representation
  • describes having to perform her own research at Northwestern; difficult to talk about works in progress, but also fruitful because changes your approach to research entirely

    • not just about writing but implicating yourself--you're in on it, you're a co-conspirator in this scheme
  • tried to put herself in the shoes of a person based on interviews, scholarly texts on racial politics in Korea

  • Iting: not about formation, but about how we use medium: text, art, drawing, literature

    • you can also transform spaces into a kind of literature
    • how can we work without those materials? how can this perform to have certain effects to more people?

Presentation 1: Wai Wai on summaries of text and posing questions/problems

JL Austin

  • wondering to whom Austin is speaking/arguing

    • arguing against linear relationship between ontology, epistemology, and language
    • LF: yes, responding to positivism (based on verifiability) that would have held probabaly since Kant
  • Austin: not a linear relationship, but a "plus relationship": objective world + thinking + language, and as we act out, we live ourselves

  • Wai Wai offers summary of the text

  • interested in more dynamic and complex understanding of utterance in language

  • distinguishes between statements and ones that are not true

    • ex. "Her mother is in England" when her mother is deceased
    • ex. "I'm sorry" when you don't actually feel sorry
  • describes perlocution as reaction: promising to meet someone as a form of assurance made in reaction

  • "language as a means to observe human behaviours"

  • Judith Butler later describes the overlap of Austin's three types of locution--and complexity isn't really there

  • WW's criticism: lacks cultural context and understanding

    • doesn't get too much into the content of the sentence

Madison: performative witnessing and intimate habitation

  • how do researchers neutralize performance in their tactics; additional questions of ethics, radicalism, political economy
  • of these five research questions, WW focuses on political economy of Ghana--important to her as she sees that anthropology doesn't integrate political economies into their work
    • in particular, helps to explain why activism rises up in Ghana
  • considers failure of representation of performance to represent nuances of Ghana politics and political economy
    • not a true conversation with Ghanese people
  • views description of the University of Ghana protest and intruding students as a performance itself
    • echoes as a eluctionary act in the style of Austin
    • and students echo the same command, and she repeats their command
    • she thinks this breaks down power relations of professor and student to make them equals


  • qualitative movie analysis
  • WW thinks this analysis is messy with all of the texts analyzed
  • covers thematics of film representation: race, gender, politics
  • core idea in the "fashion, performance, and race" subtitle

Presentation 2: Iting on the relation between three texts

  • covers Austin's four conditions of "the performative" on pages 14-5

  • Metzger's distinction between Mao Zedong and Zhang Zheshi; qipao vs. Mao suit vs. American capitalist fashion

    • distinction was key factor of identifying what Chineseness was and looked like during the Cold War era
  • Western media doing this kind of performative

  • additional development of a homogeneous American image developed in reaction to non-Soviet and non-Communist sensibilities

  • using media to try to unite others and make others imagine themselves as part of a homogeneity--achieved through performance

    • LF: an American melting pot
    • Y: building of an imaginary homogeneity
    • LF: see Benedict Anderson
  • putting theory into action: discusses bottom of pg 5 in Madison

    • "feelings and emotions inspired by a shared cause -- body to body and soul to soul -- become palpable, viscerally pressing forth toward collective, symbolic, and enlived (e)motions"
  • Richard Schechner: new third world or fourth world

    • salient questions of how to become someone else and yourself at the same time, how to unite and have solidarity with other people, cross the given boundaries
  • can we make changes by imagining ourselves in the position of people in other places

    • the problem of asking if a Caucasian man can position himself as an Asian woman
    • changing via activism by saying I am, I do: LGBTQ+ people saying "I do" to get married
  • but does that change the legal situations of people like prostitutes by saying "I am a prostitute," "I do"? Is that effort enough?

    • Iting's research is on prostitution

Discussion period

  • SY: while JL Austin seems to presuppose there's a context outside the doing/speech act, for Derrida and Butler, context is what is shaped by the speech act itself

    • Derrida: "There's nothing outside the text."
    • LF: knowing and instrumental language as violent language
  • biggest takeaway from Austin is to enlarge or expand the performative or performance

  • imagining everyday acts as performance

  • Lily: responding to presentations

    • utterance of affect and emotion; where is the doing of uttering emotion or affect?
    • when saying "I am happy," where is the doing? Saying "I love you" with a wrong tone--saying it angrily, is that a misfire?
    • LF: Blanchot on instrumental language and to be (dead)--or to become (to live)
  • Kristine: I am happy is a constative; but there is no way for you to verify

    • it does not mean you are doing anything, you are not necessarily becoming happy
    • but "I love you" is a performative thing
    • Butler: "Notes on Love and Commitment": in saying I love you, I am acting in a way I hope you receive and that I hope enacts a change in you
    • line between constative and performative is not a hard and fast line
  • Iting: to say a constative "I am happy" during a seminar would be inappropriate bc it's out of context, and therefore it still has effect--and is therefore performative

  • is there a stage of non-performance? Especially if you're talking to yourself

  • SY: Madison: even if you're yelling in the forest and no one's around, it's still performance

    • but other people would say you need someone to listen
    • "navel-gazing" vs. self-reflexive performance
  • SY: not the point to say that everything is performance and therefore everything is fake

    • you can study everything as performance but not everything is performance
    • you can't necessarily read everything as fake if it's deliberate action on your part
    • Richard Schechner: not-not-you: by repeating the actions that constitute everyday performance, you're not not you; twice-behaved behaviours
    • LF: #ilooklikeaprofessor vs. white man with elbow patches
  • Lily: connotations of Mao suit in different historical period: invisibility in 50s and then re-appearance in 60s in relation to Communism

  • Mao suit as a signifier but can be ambiguous in this sense

  • LF: legibility of the signifier through concretization

  • SY: skein of race playing off of skin of race; perceptions of one's racial identity by looking at the surface

    • making process of looking at one's surface as something of a product: political economic historicization
    • uses to problematize given presuppositions of the look: what race looks like
  • Iting: end of chapter 5 of Metzger: "seeing and not seeing" the garment

    • how to parse this out further?
  • Kristine: Madison referring to what kind of performance? Ritual? Theatre? Identity? Behaviour? Speech acts?

    • SR: but also as a form of methodology
    • by staging research topics as a performance, how are you articulating your theoretical as well as empirical methodology?
  • Toto: poetic representation for activists' uses of public spaces

    • couldn't help but think of right wing rallies
  • Kelvin: Austin on not talking about true or false

    • your subject is always in conversation with itself--not always in utterance but partially just in what you do
    • activists doing a kind of performance; the meaning of what they are doing: not acting to be someone else, but co-habiting that adds to deeper meaning of what you're doing there
  • documentary Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer--asking perpetuators of 1965-66 Indonesian mass killings to re-enact how they killed people; ethical issue

    • apparently made perpetuators reflect and remorse; but someone can say they are sorry, as we have mentioned, and not mean it
    • but documentary is itself a representation with performance
  • points out research difficulties; what does this mean, do these words mean anything?

  • SY: further complicate the intentionality of the researcher: how are we framing things? How are we interpreting the sincerity of sentences?

  • Wai Wai: if we stick to sincerity of interviewee, we fall into the trap of "are you really"

    • and might have to compensate by always assuming partial falseness
    • SY: gives us context to try to understand the meanings of these sentences
    • and also make visible the contexts, staging it for people who might be watching
Clone this wiki locally
You can’t perform that action at this time.
You signed in with another tab or window. Reload to refresh your session. You signed out in another tab or window. Reload to refresh your session.
Press h to open a hovercard with more details.