How does the body do the work of the archive? How does it transmit knowledge? Can it? Can it express an ontoepistemological order or sociopolitical reality?

Firstly, I want to engage with texts that center the body as a repository of a given ontoepistemology, cultural memory, or as a mnemonic device, in the Performance Studies line of thought. I had included some performance in my previous list, so I’m recycling that part.

On the other hand, I also think of how the body can stage a given choreography of social order–an orchestrated, scripted hegemonic embodied act. In the latter case, the body acts as a means of representation that reflects certain epistemological assumptions (the gypsyface body of the actor in seventeenth century court masques in England, i.e.), social norms (gender as performance I think is a good example), and sociopolitical realities. In Scenes, Hartman uses the character of the Sambo, as the enslaved African forced to dance at the auction block, to illustrate an extreme version of this–she calls this forced-to-dance-body a “will-less object” (52). But she also recognizes the ways in which dancing could stage an enslaved person’s own agency when performed on their own terms, a duality that fits these two currents I’m presenting, if a little uneasily.

Aside from embodied knowledge and non-textual histories, what a focus on the body allows me to think through is how, in either case, the body always has the power to express something beyond itself (the open mesh of possibilities?), where the agential source of its movements and performances is never not in a sort of play of double significations. Among these double significations, some are willfully enacted, whether in response to a given script or by the actual agency of the person performing, signifying in multi-coded ways beyond script. But in other cases there is absolutely no human agency involved, so to speak—the body is moved (duende), despite itself, in ways that are not completely irrational but decidedly not willed either.

I am thinking of the difference between La Niña de Los Peines in Lorca’s duende essay, and Carmen Amaya in Franco-era films. Discipline and script applies to both, in very different ways, but the biggest distinction is qualitative: having to do with context–a neighborhood peña in Cadiz, informal but not spontaneously staged, versus Carmen as main actress in a propagandist film (though we know that Amaya danced her own thing even in the films, improvising), and of course the fact that the film emerged out of a fascist propagandist impulse while the peña gathering is the quintessential community-building, meaning-making setting of the Spanish Roma and the Flamencos.

The scripted and the choreographed allows me to ask questions at multiple levels: questions of genre (and transgressions thereof), representation, authenticity, and of course the Big Foucauldian/Stuart Hallian/Gilroyan/Chuhian/Cultural Studies questions: What is (a) body? Can it or can it not be an archive and so on (revisit Chuh’s syllabus), and the gender and racial dynamics of embodiment in all its aspects.

So, I concluded this is where I want this list to go. Not sound nor music necessarily, but not far off either: body, archive, performance. This fills in the gaps if my list with Chuh focuses on Flamenco, but not performance; while also complementing Bennett’s list, which focuses on history but not historiographic questions of what forms an archive and the role of the body in the production of historical knowledge.

List of Works

Barthes, Roland. “The Grain of the Voice” (1972), SSR

Bissell, Bill, and Caruso H., Linda. The Sentient Archive: Bodies, Performance, and Memory. Wesleyan University Press, 2018.

Crawley, Ashon T. Blackpentacostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility

Cox, Christoph. “Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism.” Journal of Visual Culture

Goldberg, K. Meira. Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Hall, Stuart. “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” Social Justice, vol. 20, no. 1/2 (51-52), 1993, pp. 104–14.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Routledge, 2012.

Katz, Marco. “Hearing through Our Eyes: Musical Archives and Authentic Performance.” Popular Music and Society

Lepecki, André. “Choreopolice and Choreopolitics: Or, the Task of the Dancer.” TDR/The Drama

Lepecki, André. “The Body as Archive: Will to Re-Enact and the Afterlives of Dances.” Dance Research Journal, vol. 42

Martin-Cabrera, Luis. “Theses on the Politics of Memory Across the Atlantic” in Theorising the Ibero-American Atlantic, BRILL, 2013. Eds. Harald E. Braun, and Lisa Vollendorf 

Muñoz, José Esteban. “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, vol. 8, no. 2, Jan. 1996, pp. 5–16.

Reid-Pharr, Robert F. Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique. NYU Press, 2016.

Saïd, Edward W. On Late Style: Music And Literature Against the Grain. Pantheon Books, 2006.

Schneider, Rebecca. “Performance Remains.” Performance Research, vol. 6, no. 2, Jan. 2001, pp. 100–08.

Snead, James A. “Repetition as a Figure of Black Culture,” Black Literature & Literary Theory

Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton University Press, 2010.

Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Duke University Press, 2003.

One comment on “Body, Archive, Performance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *