Category Archives: Academia

Reflective Response to Diana Taylor’s Performance

As I’ve already detailed elsewhere on this blog, I’ve not currently got much time available to dedicate to research. In spite of this, I do have a work schedule to uphold as I have a monograph, on performance and politics in contemporary Spanish cinema, under contract (if interested, you can read the proposal here). The monograph is based in part on one of the chapters of my PhD thesis but it radically reworks and expands that material, also incorporating new research. The manuscript is due to be submitted in April 2018. Of late I’ve been trying to spend any research time I have reading as I have a wealth of sources I’m keen to work through prior to getting down to some serious writing. That said, I’d also ideally like to keep up something of a writing habit if at all possible. Inspired by a conversation on Twitter with Dr Nathan Ryder and Dr Helen Kara last week, I thought I’d write a wee reflective blog post on the source I most recently finished reading: Performance by Diana Taylor (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

Diana Taylor Performance Book Cover

Originally published in Spanish in 2012, Performance (2016) constitutes not just a translation but rather ‘part introduction and part reflection on some of the uses of performance that interest [the author] most – the power of performance to enable individuals and collectives to reimagine and restage the social rules, codes, and conventions that prove most oppressive and damaging’ (xiv). The original volume was, in the author’s own words, ‘a little glossy book on performance’ and won a design award (xiii). The reworked volume is also very visually appealing, a textual and visual performance in itself due to its layout. Rather than being presented in a conventional format, the book has an engaging textual interface that combines distinct fonts and font sizes alongside bold and capitalised text. There are in addition a plethora of images throughout the work. These images interact with the text in interesting ways, offering illustrative examples of the theoretical frameworks and ideas under discussion. From a disciplinary perspective, Performance presents a playful and innovative means of academic engagement with image and text.

 

In terms of content, Taylor focuses primarily on performance in the context of performance art though she does also consider other activities under this rubric. While my book project concentrates more specifically on cinematic representations of performance, Taylor’s interventions are still of interest to the material that forms the core of my analyses. Her first chapter, ‘Framing [Performance]’, offers an analysis of how she understands and defines performance. She begins by pinpointing the role of the body in art from the 1960s onwards (1) before stressing the wide-reaching character of performance: ‘PERFORMANCE is not always about art. It’s a wide-ranging and difficult practice to define and holds many, at times conflicting, meanings and possibilities’ (6). She offers an overview of how performance has been defined by various people including artists and theorists. She suggests that performance ‘is not limited to mimetic repetition’ but also ‘includes the possibility of change, critique, and creativity within frameworks of repetition’ (15). This therefore reserves a certain potency in performance. It is a mode that challenges existing paradigms precisely through the manipulation of those same paradigms. She also charts the value of performance as ‘vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated actions’ (25). She glosses Judith Butler in a discussion of the relationship between performance and gender (32) before defining performance as ‘a practice and an epistemology, a creative doing, a methodological lens, a way of transmitting memory and identity, and a way of understanding the world’ (39). At the same time, however, she acknowledges the importance of context: ‘Performances are neither universal nor transparent; their meanings change depending on the time and context and framing of their realization’ (40). This introductory chapter serves as a succinct and yet detailed overview of various definitions of performance and will be of interest to those seeking a way into thinking about performance in its diverse iterations.

 

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are all of notable interest for my book project. Chapter 2, ‘Performance Histories’, surveys the history of performance art. Crucial for my purposes is her assertion of a strong historical link between performance and politics: she defines performance art as ‘anti-institutional, anti-elitist, anticonsumerist’ and contends that it is in this way that performance ‘came to constitute, almost by definition, a provocation and a political act’ (49). Again of interest to my work is her third chapter, ‘Spect-Actors’ in which Taylor unpacks the significance of spectatorship in relation to performance. She charts theoretical paradigms of spectatorship in the works of Plato, Aristotle, Artaud, Rancière among others, reaching the conclusion that ‘Performances ask that spectators do something, even if that something is doing nothing’ (86). Taylor’s fourth chapter is titled ‘The New Uses of Performance’ and surveys contemporary deployments of the rhetoric of performance with a particular emphasis on the political: ‘Political advisers know that performance as STYLE (rather than ACCOMPLISHMENT) generally wins elections’ (90). Through these chapters, the author charts both the emergence of performance as concept via the history of performance art and its contemporary deployments.

 

The middle section of Performance concentrates on the current status of performance art and performance more broadly. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 deal with distinct modes of performance. Chapter 5, ‘Performative and Performativity’, engages with the paradigm of performativity in relation to gender and the body, unpacking the role played by language with regards performance. Chapter 6 explores two key concepts, the scenario and the simulation, and analyses the ways in which performance facilitates the garnering of knowledge. Finally, Chapter 7, ‘Artivists (Artist-Activists), or, What’s to Be Done?’, provides detailed consideration of key works that subscribe to the notion that ‘Performance […] is the continuation of politics by other means’ (147). Read together, these three chapters outline the main conceptual paradigms at work in contemporary understandings of performance.

 

The final two chapters offer a nod to what awaits both performance as mode and performance studies as a discipline. Chapter 8 considers the future of performance, but of course to invoke the future is also to invoke the past. Taylor explores the significance of the archive in relation to performance and performance art, paying particular attention to the Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present as an instance of how both past and future are imbricated in performances. Chapter 9 continues with the notion of the future in relation to performance by surveying the discipline of performance studies. She proposes that ‘If the norm of performance is breaking norms, the norm of performance studies is to break disciplinary boundaries’ (200). After examining distinct ways in which performance is thought of within the field, she concludes that ‘What they have in common is their shared object of study: performance – in the broadest possible sense – as a process, a praxis, an episteme, a mode of transmission, an accomplishment, and a means of intervening in the world’ (202). Ultimately, Taylor contends that ‘performance constitutes a means of communication, a doing, and a doing with and to’ (208) and that ‘Performance is world-making. We need to understand it’ (208).

 

In sum, this is an engaging and insightful volume that offers a reflective overview of the concept of performance in contemporary society. Taylor does focus on the field of performance art specifically which, for my purposes, makes the work less relevant to my book project on performance and its representations in contemporary Spanish cinema. That said, the author does also provide an original take on the theoretical paradigms governing understandings of performance both historically and nowadays.

 

Book Proposal: Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance

My main research project at present is the production of a monograph entitled Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance. The book takes inspiration from one of the chapters of my PhD thesis, but significantly reworks this material alongside new research. Inspired by a recent post by Ellie Mackin, I have decided to share the book proposal I submitted to I. B. Tauris last year to give an overview of the project and in the case that it should be useful for others currently working on a book proposal. I was offered a book contract and I am currently preparing the manuscript for submission in April 2018.

IB TAURIS BOOK PROPOSAL – The Politics of Performance in Contemporary Spanish Cinema

(The) Power (of) Walking

(Image taken from: http://www.active.com/walking)

Due to a change in personal circumstances, I am not currently working in the academic sphere nor am I able to dedicate much, if any, time to my academic work. This is not to suggest that I’ve given up on academia. Far from it. In the last few months, I have edited and submitted the final version of a journal article following peer review (I wrote about this here), peer-reviewed three articles and I’m at present completing a book review. I have also very recently signed a book contract for my first monograph. With limited protected time for academic work, my usual working processes are no longer an option. Instead I’m having to find new ways and means of carving out valuable thinking and writing time.

One of the main ways I’m doing this is through walking. I’ve always, or at least for as long as I can remember, found walking both therapeutic and productive. I’m clearly not alone in this given the recent attention paid to concepts such as walking desks, walking meetings and the like (you can read about these phenomena here and here). When I was completing my PhD, I went for a walk every day. It was sometimes only a brief 10-minute stroll around the block, sometimes slightly longer. The main purpose of this walk, which I usually took after eating lunch, was to get out in the fresh air. But I also found the act of walking coupled with time spent not consciously thinking about whatever I was working on would often lead to breakthroughs in terms of my thoughts and ideas connected to my research. The act of allowing my mind to wander unanchored in conjunction with the physical exertion demanded by walking facilitate, for me at least, the emergence of new synergies.

To give a concrete example, earlier this year I was working on an article following peer review. The article contains two main strands of argumentation and one of the peer reviewers had commented that I should explicitly connect these two lines of thought and that this would reinforce my argument. Though in agreement, I could not see, in the little time I had to spend working on the edits, how I might do this. I spent a good few hours puzzling over this during some elusive #acwri time. I got nowhere. It was only when I went out for a walk, during the sleepy mid-afternoon period, that things clicked into place.

I am very lucky to live in an area with beautiful walks on my doorstep. I particularly enjoy walking away from roads where possible. I’ve recently devised a route around the village that takes me along a disused railway line which backs onto fields and then into our local country park before heading along a wooded path back home. There is something very relaxing about being surrounded by nature and away from houses, cars, roads, people. My plan is to keep walking in the hope that the thoughts, ideas and inspirations continue to flow in spite of the limited time I have available to act upon them.

What about you? Does walking aid your thinking? Are there any other activities you find similarly productive? I would love to hear others thoughts on this!

Transnational Cinemas: Deborah Shaw Talk and Workshop, Durham University

Last week – amidst the chaos of A LOT of exam marking – I had the pleasure of attending a talk and workshop on the topic of transnational cinema delivered by the brilliant Deborah Shaw, Reader in Film at the University of Portsmouth. These events were organised by the World Cinema and Cosmopolitics research group, an interdisciplinary research cluster in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University, coordinated by Abir Hamdar, Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián and Dusan Radunovic. Having found these events particularly productive and inspiring at such a challenging and intensive time of year, I wanted to write a post to reflect on some of the topics of discussion that arose from Deborah’s talk and the related workshop. This post by no means accounts for the breadth and depth of the discussions that took place over the two events but rather focuses on what, at least for myself, were the salient points addressed.

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Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas Conference (Royal Holloway, University of London, April 2016)

 

RHUL-CNWC-Logo

I’m currently sitting in departures at Heathrow Terminal 5 having spent the last few days at Royal Holloway, University of London attending the Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas: Borders and Encounters since 1980 conference. With plenty time to kill before my flight, now seems as good a time as any to write up my experience of the conference – which, in short, was one of, if not the best conference I’ve been to in my academic career so far.

Continue reading Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas Conference (Royal Holloway, University of London, April 2016)

#AcWriMo 2015: Day 15

So today marks two weeks since the start of #AcWriMo 2015 and the halfway point of the initiative.  This is the first time I’ve engaged in #AcWriMo – short for Academic Writing Month – despite following the trend on Twitter for the past few years.  I signed up for it on a bit of a whim in the last week of October, thinking that I didn’t have much on the go.  November has conversely turned out to be an extremely busy month for me work-wise: I’m checking page proofs of a co-edited book on the avant-garde which will be published in Spring 2016; I’m participating in a Pecha Kucha event next week at the Belmont Cinema in Aberdeen; I’ve a book review due in at the end of the month; I’ve an abstract for a journal article due mid-December; not to mention all the other various publication projects I’ve currently got on the go in relation to my PhD thesis!  I also work part-time (three full days a week) which limits the time I have to work on academic stuff.  So signing up for #AcWriMo and pledging to produce the first draft of an article that I’ve not yet done a whole lot of research for was perhaps not the smartest move I’ve ever made.

Continue reading #AcWriMo 2015: Day 15

“I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Three

This is the third in a series of posts (you can read the first two here and here) about the viva.  In this entry, I’m going to list the bibliography of resources I used, the list of questions I came up with to ask myself as practice questions, a handy checklist of equipment you might need and my final hints and tips, in the hope that it might prove useful!

Continue reading “I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Three

“I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Two

While my last post focused on viva survival from the perspective of preparation, in this post I deal with my experience of the event itself.  As I mentioned in my earlier entry, every viva is unique.  So while I anticipate this personal account might not be of much use to others, I think it’s important to share our stories – as Dr Nathan Ryder encourages in his “Viva Survivor” podcast series – about the examination in order to debunk some of the myths that surround the whole experience.

My viva took place at 10am on a Monday morning, which, for me, was ideal.  I am a morning person.  I work better in the mornings than in the afternoon/evenings.  I’m most productive and alert in the morning.  And I was also extremely nervous on the day of the examination, so knowing that it would be taking place first thing was definitely a plus for me.  In terms of nerves, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous.  Prior to the viva I had been fortunate enough to have been interviewed for a few academic jobs, which had stirred similar feelings of anxiety.  However, the interview feels like less of an unknown, given that there is a host of material online about how to approach academic interviews, the sorts of questions you might be asked and so on.  The viva felt like much more of a mystery to me.

Continue reading “I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Two

“I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part One

“As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, earlier this year I successfully defended my PhD thesis on the topic of childhood, performance and immigration in post-Franco Spanish cinema.  Since then, I’ve been meaning to write a post or two about this, including my experience of the viva, how I prepared for it and a list of handy resources for those yet to face the dreaded examination.  My thought had initially been that writing these posts immediately after the viva would be favourable, given that the whole experience would be fresh in my mind.  Life, inevitably, got in the way so here I am writing these posts nearly five months after the event.  Taking inspiration from both Gloria Gaynor and Dr Nathan Ryder’s superb podcast and workshop series “Viva Survivors”, I’ve titled the posts ‘“I Will Survive” (The Viva)’.  In this post, I concentrate on how I prepared for the viva.

To a certain extent, viva preparation is shrouded in mystery.  It is something I genuinely did not spend time thinking about prior to the submission of the thesis (other than way back in 2011 when I “helped” a friend prep for her viva – and all I succeeded in doing was freaking myself out that I would never be able to produce a piece of work THAT BIG!).  In addition, the viva was not discussed in any capacity within an institutional framework, other than a brief chat with my supervisor about prospective examiners.  I do not say this to sound critical, but rather to highlight that the impetus tends to rest with the production of the manuscript of the thesis rather than on what follows.

The other curious aspect of viva preparation is that it, like theses and viva examinations, varies from candidate to candidate.  Just as each candidate, thesis, viva examiner and viva examination are distinct, so too is the preparation that each candidate undertakes.  This can make approaching viva preparation extremely daunting.  Where do I start?  What should I do?  How should I divide my time?  None of these questions have easy answers.  I make this point not to intimidate, but rather to encourage those still to sit their viva that they should have the confidence, power and authority to shape their viva preparation as they see fit.

That said, there can be a lot of crossovers amongst approaches to the viva both within and across disciplines and fields.  With this in mind, I’m sharing here the ways in which I prepared for the viva.

Continue reading “I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part One