A colonial regime of truth works by establishing a system of equivalences (meaning = text; history = document) and antagonisms (self not = other; body not = mind), erasing and deeming invaluable those forms of knowledge and meaning making processes coming from embodied practices and performance. In this text, Taylor takes us through the spaces where those equivalences and antagonisms have been dissembled and disabled, and have functioned as methods, sites, and means of survival for the historically disenfranchised, specifically in the geopolitical formation she calls the Americas. Thus, Taylor seeks to confer acts of performance and embodied practices epistemological and ontological valence, so that we come to understand them as “a way of knowing as well as a way of storing and transmitting cultural knowledge and identity” (278).

How is performance ontoepistemologically activated?

Using performance as an analytical lens, we can “bracket” an act/event, with a beginning and an end and therefore with a degree of independent cohesion, yet resisting the need to confer relevancy to a given moment by insulating it from other moments/events. Thus, the epistemological value of a performance approach is partially derived from how it helps us to see performances as interrelated, not insulated, each performance an “episodic” unit connected through spacetime with other units: the “incommensurabe” within an event/performance is seen in its wider context, and various performances are “placed together in a loose, episodic relationship [that] makes evident their […] relationship.” (275). (In that last ellipsis, I remove the word “hemispheric,” and for my purposes think about it instead in terms of transatlantic relationships.) This book is itself an episodic kind of narrative: the events and materials that she takes up across the chapters share a relationship of episodic commonality: from the Early Modern pre-post-Conquest archive, to 20th century social movements in Argentina, to 9/11, and to Latin American contemporary theater, these events orchestrate the geopolitical configuration of “the Americas” in the historical long duration.

Through this method, we can look at different historical as well as contemporary moments, think of them as performances, and ask different questions of it: How does a performance create meaning outside of the established semantic codes of colonial regimes? What worlds do these meaning and knowledge making acts point to?

As a methodological lens, then, performance reveals modes of knowability/knowing where the embodied/the body participate in rendering social, historical, and interpersonal value to the here and now, as well as to the reiteration of a specific behavior or act. In turn, it attunes us to the relational as part of these processes of making, transferring, and valorizing embodied meaning and ways of being.

Performance differs from theater even as it differs from choreography, but these can overlap. What is valuable here is that under the rubric of performance, meaning can be found beyond the text, beyond orthodox narratives structures, giving way to other frameworks of meaning

An example is how a particular performance can reveal an inner operation of theatricality in a historical encounter or episode, for instance in the colonial encounter. Understood as performance, we can analyze the colonial encounter as a theatrics of power. From the colonizer standpoint, the colonial encounter is a fungible act (like a theatrical show) that requires that a certain set of rules be reiterated invariably across spatiotemporal contexts. It reiterates the same characterization of superior self and inferior other, based on the same epistemological assumptions of what it means to know, what can be justified in the name of this knowledge, and on the inalienable right of its own perpetual self-reproduction. Here, performance helps us to recognize when the politics of mechanizing and controlling (which characterize the theatrical, which is close to what I think of as a social choreography) an encounter are present versus when not (hint: in the colonial encounter, they are), and, from there, attempting to understand the epistemological implications of a specific performance act.

As Taylor says, the fungibility of this encounter (which is not an encounter at all, at least not in its reciprocal nature) relies on a “a conscious, controlled, and, thus, always political dimension” that, unlike performance without theatricality, thrives on limiting possibilities rather than expanding them.

How does performance (as an analytical) expand possibilities?

Ideally, analyzing events as performances (and, by the way, Taylor makes clear than any one event cannot be a performance, that there are certain baseline elements needed) can yield epistemological and historical insights that escape the colonial record in an indefinitely expansive manner. She gives the example of the Mexica’s rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices at the time of Sahagun’s writings. Whereas a colonial gaze would see–and therefore, create and construct–idolatrous, indecipherable performances. But if we think of these acts as performing a repertoir that is meant as ephemera, always bound to disappear, new possibilities open up: the embodied rituals of the Mexica were not predicated on the valorization of the durable/textual: their value came from enacting a participation with acts of creation through which a worldview, a cosmology where the Divine as manifested in the earthly, was performed, affirmed, transmitted, and further ingrained into the social fabric of the community.

The performances of the marginalized operate at various levels of codification—they have to, in order to survive. Indigenous performances through the EM period had to be enacted through the symbolic system of catholicism: “Religion proved a vital conduit of social (as well as religious) behavior” and not just as a compliment to other, non-catholic performances, but as one of many codes within which those performances, those knowledges and behaviors, were transmitted. Taylor gives us the term “multicoded” to qualify those new rituals that the Indigenous adopted and adapted after Conquest as a means to preserve, with variations, pre-Conquest customs and rituals.

To me, this multicodedness bespeaks a double consciousness, an acute and strategic awareness of the imposing, policing gaze of the oppressor that informs rather than eradicates the modalities of subject and collective formations adopted by the (seemingly) oppressed. Multicodedness is one way to operationalize double consciousness in a systematic and tangible way.

Another way to think of this is: surface vs substance.

Views from the outside can and have historically been varied: for a while, intermittently, a multicoded performance would/may appear as an impressively accurate and passive act of mimesis. But soon suspicions and fears would (in the case of the post-Conquest Amerindian populations and the Catholics) and do appear: whether it be fear toward the truthfulness of the mimetic religious act, or whether it be a realization that the purported passive mimicry signaled a kind of bestiality (as in monkey’s ability for mimicry), a deep nervousness prevailed regarding Indigenous performance.

In Chapter 3, Taylor analyzes Mexican dramatist Emilio Carballido’s (1965) play Yo también hablo de la rosa (I, Too, Speak of the Rose), specifically the opening lines by the mestiza character, the Intermediaria, who self-consciously thinks of herself and “her body as the receptor, storehouse, and transmitter of knowledge that comes from the archive” (81-82). In the analysis, she theorizes performance as embodied knowledge transmission as well as, I think, performance as worldmaking. I say worldmaking through performance because Taylor very much expresses this kind of expansive intention through the analytical position from where she reads the play. She asks, for example, in regards to the opening monologue of the Intermediaria: “How does one come to inhabit and envision one’s body as coextensive with one’s environment and one’s past, emphasizing the porous nature of skin rather than its boundedness?” (82). Thus not only the past and the present, as historical and social categories, but also as ways of being, knowing, and situating the body, is what the Intermediaria enacts through her monologue and other paratextual elements of her performance. Notably, the fact that this character is a mestiza woman is not tangential or marginal to her performance. The bulk of the chapter goes on to explicate how racialization and gendering processes also carry histories of transmission. This makes clear the need to localize and historizise racial and gender categories.

I find this character and Taylor’s analysis very relevant for my questions. As a transmitter of knowledge through embodiment, the Intermediaria makes apparent the link between history, memory, the archive/repertoire, and the body. Taylor helps me to think these links as intricately connected to notions of racial identity, as she says that “from the moment Columbus purported to “observe” and “describe” native bodies, racialized identities sprang from discursive and performance systems of presentation and representation” (93).

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