Institute of English, Szczecin University, 18-20 October 2017
“We are part of an ontohistorical formation which, in accordance with my geological metaphor, might be called the ‘performative deposit'” — writes Tomasz Kubikowski, translator of Perform, Or Else. From Discipline to Performance in the “Foreword” to the Polish edition of Jon McKenzie’s 2001 book. Introducing performance in the “rhizomatic” language of Deleuze and Guattari, Kubikowski further admits that translating a book on the idea of performativity, the idea which plays out theory as an (aesthetic/ethical) aspect rather than an explanation of the existing knowledge, was one of his most difficult professional challenges. It was neither McKenzie’s writing style, Kubikowski divulges, nor the many exotic theoretical concepts that Perform, Or Else… re/constructs that turned out unruly in translation — the basic vocabulary pertaining to performance did.
Apart from having about twenty Polish translational equivalents, the English term “performance” is also capable of becoming synonymous with almost forty other English words, depending upon their particular context, idiolect, situation etc. It therefore appears to be one of the most interesting — for highly “incandescent,” as Susan Sontag would say — cultural phenomena to date, and no wonder Kubikowski had troubles trying to grasp the term’s complex vibrato. As the “object of study,” performance becomes even more problematic, for, realized in four, very broadly understood, ways, i.e., as “behaviour,” “artistic practice,” “fieldwork,” and “social practices and advocacies” (Schechner 2006: 1-2), it crops up as a transcultural mixture of “many voices, themes, opinions, methods, and subjects” (Schechner 2006: 1) and hence, to use Schechner’s idiom again, an “overriding[ly] and underlying]ly” (Performance Studies…1) open field; a democracy itself in the making, as it were.
Despite — or maybe because of — its openness, performance is, historically and theoretically, part and parcel of the American context. Therefore, how this context has lived and operated becomes crucial for understanding the real, in the sense of praxis-oriented, meaning of performance itself. In an effort to see (to) it, the Polish Association for American Studies are inviting to its annual October meeting all who want to explore the multiple ways in which America and performance have been re/doing one another.
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