I am not

I am not

quarta-feira, 2 de abril de 2008

performing heritage

Manuel Amado. Claustro (Cloister). Tomar. 2002.

Performing heritage

I am an archaeologist, with a basic training (academic degree) in history. And, as such, I always put myself the question: why should archaeologists (and historians, etc.) aim to represent [ to present again] the so called past, i. e. to know and to see and to a certain point to experience and to show everybody “what really happened”: to narrate it as a story – or a “history”, if you prefer - and to present it in a rational fashion, as if it had a logic, i. e., an almost teleological sense.
It seems that this is also what the public expects us to do, to explain the history of mankind, to tell the story how human beings emerged in this planet and became what they are today. And they are longing to believe us, to hear the truth about what we are, where did we came from, etc.
When knowledge was basically recorded in books, only a few educated persons searched for such overwhelming history. Legends and local explanations (even if they were cosmologies and cosmogonies) satisfied oral "curiosity" and speculation.
But as long as experience and sensorial knowledge started to have an increased importance, the “objectual” (the material) in a certain way superimposed to the written, and the individual experience to the authority of abstraction.
And so archaeology, now transformed into heritage as an industry and as a commodity, became matter of growing general concern. Tourists want to visit sites, landscapes, parks, museums and other places (machines) of memory (of encapsulated time) and they are looking for rapid responses to their instantaneous fascination. What is this? How old is this? Who made it? For what purpose? Is it rare, is it unique, is it precious for any reason? Etc.
Common sense and erudite rationalist knowledge are two faces, or aspects, of the same ontology, of the same quest: the curiosity for the past, for our origins.
But now we prefer to "extract" it directly from the earth, from the excavated or unveiled, than only from the books: the world itself (the so-called material world) became a sort of document of its own history. That hidden history, or at least its general logic or schema, is somewhere (everywhere), mysteriously preserved, even under the figure of a trace. We can, we may, and we shall uncover that mystery, follow the traces back into their matrix and expose it as a spectacle to the masses of public, the heritage consumers.
These heritage consumers do not satisfy only with seeing and getting some pictures or replicas to take home. They want to see the past alive again, as in a theatre, they want us to reconstruct vivid scenes for them, and more than that, they want to participate, not only in the production of the representation (excavations, etc.), but in the representation itself. Briefly, they want to be in, to trespass the mirror, to become performers of the past.
Not just to read it, not just to make sense out of it (mental or visual schemes and pictures of steps of cultural evolution), not only to look at it, they want to become part of it, to jump inside it, to feel within.
What a problem, but also… what a fantastic world to explore and to offer to a increasing demand of adventure, exoticism, tourism, in particular risk tourism, etc. !
So archaeology can make money, heritage is one of the most promising industries, and everything coupled with tourism and the search for personal adventure makes archaeology a field of great potential, as long as each state, each country has the means "to exploit the mine" and to invert money in the business.
Underpinning all this phenomena, there are very old questions that come to our mind, in particular the Western metaphysics of representation.
Actually it seems to be the ultimate conscious or unconscious motivation for all this movement in order to a more vivid and “performative heritage”. Sentiment, emotion, the “real thing” and not only its representations are inherently present is this frenetic quest for the past. This may mean that our representationist kind of thought is the frame and the drive of all this frantic heritage excitation.
Western reason, accentuated in modernity, is intimately concerned with representation, with constructing things that appear as objective truths to the neutral observational subject.
This subject is, if possible, a recorder of data, data that are themselves the result of observations taken out from the “real” according to a shared methodology, and avoiding as most as possible any subjectivity judged as an interference, as “noise” (in terms of information theory) that causes prejudice to valuable knowledge. Truth as something fixed, categorical, submitted to proof, and as much as independent as possible of contingency - that is our ultimate question and quest.
Objectification and subjectiveness go side by side, feeding mutually.
But this bifurcation between art and science, or even between common sense and educated subjectivity, dichotomies so typical of modernity, tended to accentuate to a point that it was no more compatible with current “modern” life and its more sustainable and abstract value, the money.
The regime of the image (of the sign) that supported much of the modern culture (scientific and artistic) does not have any more the old solid correspondence to any visible or quantifiable equivalent. As Marx has previewed, even the most solid things, values and beliefs tended to become evanescent and to dissolve in the air.
That is why performance is replacing theatre, and representation and "experience" are occupying the place of mere contemplation and observation.
Trust in intuition and improvisation, embodiment, movement, self sculpture, easy opinion, the emphasis on “art” (whatever this word may mean) in installation and in the ephemeral.
To sum it up, the old regime of separation between subject and object has melted, and the search for the event and its valorisation appears as a signal of disruption, as a symptom of the disappearance of an old and stabilised order or signs.
Structuralism, then phenomenology, even psychoanalysis have been criticized for belonging to this representationism. Our “libidinal economy” (to use a Lyotard’s expression) is turned into a fugue, trying to escape the stability of the sign, the regime of identity.
Why this mixture of terms of economy and sentiment? Perhaps because the “real” economic practice itself has turned well before the “humanistic field” consciousness into a process of “dematerialization” that is typical of capitalist dynamics and extreme acceleration, changing old forms of subjectiveness.
Let us review the process very schematically, using a schematic triadic distinction in the history of money, i. e., of value (so falling ourselves again in a representationist, categorical, and also “evolutionary” scheme/trap (inspired in Jean-Joseph Goux, quoted by Miranda 2001 - see references).
The value as gold is the imperium of the visible, of the coexistence and convertibility between all forms of material items.
The value as finance is the reign of money as a pure sign, typical of modernity, the regime where the correspondence between image and truth, paper and gold, was still possible.
The digitalization of value transformed it in totally metaphysical, i.e., in something that can find no equivalence in objectual reality: it is pure energy in circulation.
Thus life is a infinite scenario of continuous changes around the same, of circulation of signs signifying nothing but other signs, a mere fluctuation of images taken as reality. To be real is to be in motion, i.e., to be animated, fluid, with moments of extreme energy and others of temporary stop, throughout the circuits of a dynamic, incredible net in constant transfiguration.
Even when people talk about "materialities" that have already separated them as an abstraction, as Ingold refers (see references). That is one of the reasons why to talk about "material culture" is a contradiction in terms.
The transfiguration above mentined actually is no more the irruption of the sublime or the beautiful, the theophany or the ancient “aura”, but of the kitsch itself (turned sometimes into a new form of sublime).
It is an auto-ironic religious eroticism and pornography, i.e., a continuous production of impressions, “scandals”, instantaneous realities which replace, through a desacralized repetition, the old apparition of divinities. Courtains that hide other curtains, spaces that have doors to other spaces, like in a dream or in a David Lynch's film.
The regime of representation, in spite of the effort of philosophers like Deleuze, Derrida, or Lyotard, etc. – making emphasis in “the becoming”, the difference, the dissimulation, etc – is omnipresent.
Everything is falling into the field of the performance, of the ecstasy or trance which is purely hedonistisc, auto-referential, parodic.
The dance of the signs in permanent invention, a sort of hypocritical carnival where all boundaries are dissolved and each individual and experience occurs and circulates in a sort of moebius strip. The very parody, the fantastic burlesque in a constant "imitation", reproduction, representation of itself .
This is the epoch where the setting (be it material or immaterial) has become spectator and gazes at us alternatively as a stage or as an empty auditorium, like in certain paintings of the Portuguese artist Manuel Amado, in-between nostalgia and irony, the absence and the impossibility of calling again to our presence the very absence "in person".
Performance of the emptiness.

Some references

- Badiou, Alain (2007), The Century, Cambridge, Polity Press.
- Baudrillard, Jean (1981), Simulacres et Simulation, Paris, Galilée, 1979.
Baudrillard, Jean (1995), Para uma Crítica da Economia Política do Signo, Lisboa, Ed. 70.
Bolt, Barbara (2004), Art Beyond Representation. The Performative Power of the Image, London, I. B. Taurus.
Butler, Judith (1997), Excitable Speech: Politics of the Performartive, London, Routledge.
Carlson, Marvin (2004 -2nd ed.), Performance. A Critical Introduction, London, Routledge.
- Deleuze, Gilles (2002), Francis Bacon. Logique de la Sensation, Paris, Seuil.
- Derrida, Jacques (2007), Psyche. Inventions of the Other, vol. I (ed. by P. Kamuf and E. Rottenberg), Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Freeman, John (2007), New Performance/New Writing, Houndmills, Palgrave Macmillan.
Foucault, Michel (1966), Les Mots et Les Choses. Une Archéologie des Sciences Humaines, Paris, Gallimard.
Foucault, Michel (1969), L’ Archéologie du Savoir, Paris, Gallimard.
- Gil, José (2001), Movimento Total. O Corpo e a Dança, Lisboa, Relógio d’Água.
- Goffman, Erving (1993), A Apresentação do Eu na Vida de Todos os Dias, Lisboa, Relógio d¹ Água.
- Goody, Jack (2003), La Peur des Représentations, Paris, Éd. de la Découverte.
-Hewitt, Andrew (2005), Social Choreography. Ideology as Performance in Dance and Everyday Movement, Durham, Duke University Press.
-Huxley, Michael and Witts, Noel (2007 -2nd ed.), The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader, London, Routledge.
-Ingold, Tim (2000), The Perception of the Environment. Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, London, Routledge.
- Lyotard, Jean-François (2004), Libidinal Economy, London, Continuum.
- Macey, David (2000), Dictionary of Critical Theory, London, Penguin Books.
-Marin, Louis (1994), De La Représentation, Paris, Seuil/Gallimard.
- Miranda. José A. Bragança de (2001), Uma arte bem instalada, Revista de Comunicação e Linguagens, vol. 30, Lisboa, CECL, pp. 35-45.
-Olkowski, Dorothea (1999), Giles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, Berkeley, University of California Press.
- Pearson, Mike & Shanks, Michael (2001), Theatre/Archaeology, Londres, Routledge.
-Roudinesco, Elisabeth (2006), A Análise e o Arquivo, Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Zahar Ed.
- Schechner, R. & Appel, W. (eds.) (1990), By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual, Cambridge University Press.
- Schechner, Richard (1994), Ritual and performance, Companyon Encyclopedia of Anthropology, London, Routledge, pp. 613-647.
- Zizek, Slavoj (2008), For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor, London, Verso.

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