The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas

The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas

by Diana Taylor

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In The Archive and the Repertoire preeminent performance studies scholar Diana Taylor provides a new understanding of the vital role of performance in the Americas. From plays to official events to grassroots protests, performance, she argues, must be taken seriously as a means of storing and transmitting knowledge. Taylor reveals how the repertoire of embodied


In The Archive and the Repertoire preeminent performance studies scholar Diana Taylor provides a new understanding of the vital role of performance in the Americas. From plays to official events to grassroots protests, performance, she argues, must be taken seriously as a means of storing and transmitting knowledge. Taylor reveals how the repertoire of embodied memory—conveyed in gestures, the spoken word, movement, dance, song, and other performances—offers alternative perspectives to those derived from the written archive and is particularly useful to a reconsideration of historical processes of transnational contact. The Archive and the Repertoire invites a remapping of the Americas based on traditions of embodied practice.

Examining various genres of performance including demonstrations by the children of the disappeared in Argentina, the Peruvian theatre group Yuyachkani, and televised astrological readings by Univision personality Walter Mercado, Taylor explores how the archive and the repertoire work together to make political claims, transmit traumatic memory, and forge a new sense of cultural identity. Through her consideration of performances such as Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s show Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit . . . , Taylor illuminates how scenarios of discovery and conquest haunt the Americas, trapping even those who attempt to dismantle them. Meditating on events like those of September 11, 2001 and media representations of them, she examines both the crucial role of performance in contemporary culture and her own role as witness to and participant in hemispheric dramas. The Archive and the Repertoire is a compelling demonstration of the many ways that the study of performance enables a deeper understanding of the past and present, of ourselves and others.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Diana Taylor is perhaps the most lucid and original Latin American performance theorist. In her new book, she tackles a very complex topic: the relationship between writing, performance, and historical memory on our continent. Her interdisciplinary approach provides us with new bridges and pathways between cultures, metiers, and disciplines. My colleagues and I have long been waiting for such a book.”—Guillermo Gómez-Peña, performance artist and writer

“Diana Taylor is that rare scholar—a master of theory who speaks from experience and writes with passion. She tells us that as a child she ‘learned that the Americas were one.’ In this extraordinary book Taylor explores—from the pre-Columbian to the postmodern—America’s oneness of contradictions, revelations, wounds, celebrations, rituals, and arts.”—Richard Schechner, University Professor of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and author of Performance Studies: An Introduction

“Diana Taylor’s ideas, carefully etched out here to great effect, provide a new vocabulary to understand the work that performance does in culture and broadens our sense of how performance achieves its effect. Full of insight and information, The Archive and the Repertoire should finally unsettle the hegemony of narrative in Latin American literary and cultural studies.”—David Román, author of Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS

“The Archive and the Repertoire is an original and brilliant contribution. It will take the study of Latin American performance to a new level with its attention not only to politics and to history and its consequences, but also to memory, the media, and aesthetic/political practices that take into account the hemispheric and the global.”—Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, author of The Wounded Heart: Writing on Cherríe Moraga

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Duke University Press
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The archive and the repertoire

Performing cultural memory in the Americas
By Diana Taylor

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3123-3

Chapter One


From June 14 to 23, 2001, the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics convened artists, activists, and scholars from the Americas for its second annual Encuentro (encounter) to share the ways our work uses performance to intervene in the political scenarios we care about. Everyone understood the "politics," but "performance" was more difficult. For some artists, performance (as it is called in Latin America) referred to performance art. Others played with the term. Jesusa Rodriguez, Mexico's most outrageous and powerful cabaret/performance artist, referred to the three hundred participants as performenzos (menzos means idiots). Performnuts might be the best translation, and most of her spectators would agree that you have to be crazy to do what she does, confronting the Mexican state and the Catholic Church head-on. Tito Vasconcelos, one of the first out gay performers from the early 1980s in Mexico, came onstage as Marta Sahagun, then lover, now wife of Mexico's president, Vicente Fox. In her white suit andmatching pumps, she welcomed the audience to the conference of perfumance. Smiling, she admitted that she didn't understand what it was about, and acknowledged that nobody gave a damn about what we did, but she welcomed us to do it anyway.PerFORwhat? the confused woman in Diana Raznovich's cartoon asks. The jokes and puns, though good humored, revealed both an anxiety of definition and the promise of a new arena for further interventions.


This study, like the Hemispheric Institute, proposes that performance studies can contribute to our understanding of Latin American-and hemispheric-performance traditions by rethinking nineteenth-century disciplinary and national boundaries and by focusing on embodied behaviors. Conversely, the debates dating back to the sixteenth century about the nature and function of performance practices in the Americas can expand the theoretical scope of a postdiscipline-come-lately that has, due to its context, focused more on the future and ends of performance than on its historical practice. Finally, it is urgent to focus on the specific characteristics of performance in a cultural environment in which corporations promote "world" music and international organizations (such as UNESCO) and funding organizations make decisions about "world" cultural rights and "intangible heritage."

Performances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated, or what Richard Schechner has called "twice-behaved behavior." "Performance," on one level, constitutes the object/process of analysis in performance studies, that is, the many practices and events-dance, theatre, ritual, political rallies, funerals-that involve theatrical, rehearsed, or conventional/event-appropriate behaviors. These practices are usually bracketed off from those around them to constitute discrete foci of analysis. Sometimes, that framing is part of the event itself-a particular dance or a rally has a beginning and an end; it does not run continuously or seamlessly into other forms of cultural expression. To say something is a performance amounts to an ontological affirmation, though a thoroughly localized one. What one society considers a performance might be a nonevent elsewhere.

On another level, performance also constitutes the methodological lens that enables scholars to analyze events as performance. Civic obedience, resistance, citizenship, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity, for example, are rehearsed and performed daily in the public sphere. To understand these as performance suggests that performance also functions as an epistemology. Embodied practice, along with and bound up with other cultural practices, offers a way of knowing. The bracketing for these performances comes from outside, from the methodological lens that organizes them into an analyzable "whole." Performance and aesthetics of everyday life vary from community to community, reflecting cultural and historical specificity as much in the enactment as in the viewing/reception. (Whereas reception changes in both the live and the media performance, only in the live does the act itself change.) Performances travel, challenging and influencing other performances. Yet they are, in a sense, always in situ: intelligible in the framework of the immediate environment and issues surrounding them. The is/as underlines the understanding of performance as simultaneously "real" and "constructed," as practices that bring together what have historically been kept separate as discrete, supposedly free-standing, ontological and epistemological discourses.

The many uses of the word performance point to the complex, seemingly contradictory, and at times mutually sustaining or complicated layers of referentiality. Victor Turner bases his understanding on the French etymological root, parfournir, "to furnish forth," "'to complete' or 'carry out thoroughly.'" From French, the term moved into English as performance in the 1500s, and since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been used much as it is today. For Turner, writing in the 1960s and 1970s, performances revealed culture's deepest, truest, and most individual character. Guided by a belief in their universality and relative transparency, he claimed that populations could grow to understand each other through their performances. For others, of course, performance means just the opposite: the constructedness of performance signals its artificiality-it is "put on," antithetical to the "real" and "true." In some cases, the emphasis on the constructedness of performance reveals an antitheatrical prejudice; in more complex readings, the constructed is recognized as coterminous with the real. Although a dance, a ritual, or a manifestation requires bracketing or framing that differentiate it from other social practices surrounding it, this does not imply that the performance is not real or true. On the contrary, the idea that performance distills a "truer" truth than life itself runs from Aristotle through Shakespeare and Calderon de la Barca, through Artaud and Grotowski and into the present. People in business fields seem to use the term more than anyone else, though usually to mean that a person, or more often a thing, acts up to one's potential. Supervisors evaluate workers' efficacy on the job, their performance, just as cars and computers and the markets supposedly vie to outperform their rivals. Perform or Else, Jon McKenzie's title, aptly captures the imperative to reach required business (and cultural) standards. Political consultants understand that performance as style rather than as carrying through or accomplishment often determines political outcome. Science too has begun exploration into reiterated human behavior and expressive culture through memes: "Memes are stories, songs, habits, skills, inventions, and ways of doing things that we copy from person to person by imitation"-in short, the reiterative acts that I have been calling performance, though clearly performance does not necessarily involve mimetic behaviors.

In performance studies thus, notions about the definition, role, and function of performance vary widely. Is performance always and only about embodiment? Or does it call into question the very contours of the body, challenging traditional notions of embodiment? Since ancient times, performance has manipulated, extended, and played with embodiment-this intense experimentation did not begin with Laurie Anderson. Digital technologies will further ask us to reformulate our understanding of "presence," site (now the unlocalizable online "site"), the ephemeral, and embodiment. The debates proliferate.

One example of the spectrum of understanding is the debate over performance's staying power. Coming from a Lacanian position, Peggy Phelan delimits the life of performance to the present: "Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representation.... Performance's being, like the ontology of subjectivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance." Joseph Roach, on the other hand, extends the understanding of performance by making it coterminous with memory and history. As such, it participates in the transfer and continuity of knowledge: "Performance genealogies draw on the idea of expressive movements as mnemonic reserves, including patterned movements made and remembered by bodies, residual movements retained implicitly in images or words (or in the silences between them), and imaginary movements dreamed in minds not prior to language but constitutive of it." Debates about the "ephemerality" of performance are, of course, profoundly political. Whose memories, traditions, and claims to history disappear if performance practices lack the staying power to transmit vital knowledge?

Scholars coming from philosophy and rhetoric (such as J. L. Austin, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler) have coined terms such as performative and performativity. A performative, for Austin, refers to cases in which "the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action." In some cases, the reiteration and bracketing I associated with performance earlier is clear: it is within the conventional framework of a marriage ceremony that the words "I do" carry legal weight. Others have continued to develop Austin's notion of the performative in many diverse ways. Derrida, for example, goes further in underlining the importance of the citationality and iterability in the "event of speech," questioning whether "a performative statement [could] succeed if its formulation did not repeat a 'coded' or iterable statement." 13 However, the framing that sustains Butler's use of performativity-the process of socialization whereby gender and sexuality identities (for example) are produced through regulating and citational practices-is harder to identify because normalization has rendered it invisible. Whereas in Austin, performative points to language that acts, in Butler it goes in the opposite direction, subsuming subjectivity and cultural agency into normative discursive practice. In this trajectory, the performative becomes less a quality (or adjective) of "performance" than of discourse. Although it may be too late to reclaim performative for the nondiscursive realm of performance, I suggest that we borrow a word from the contemporary Spanish usage of performance-performatico or performatic in English-to denote the adjectival form of the nondiscursive realm of performance. Why is this important? Because it is vital to signal the performatic, digital, and visual fields as separate from, though always embroiled with, the discursive one so privileged by Western logocentricism. The fact that we don't have a word to signal that performatic space is a product of that same logocentricism rather than a confirmation that there's no there there.

Thus, one of the problems in using performance, and its misleading cognates performative and performativity, comes from the extraordinarily broad range of behaviors it covers, from the discrete dance, to technologically mediated performance, to conventional cultural behavior. However, this multi-layeredness indicates the deep interconnections of all these systems of intelligibility and the productive frictions among them. As the different uses of the term/concept-scholarly, political, scientific, and business-related-rarely engage each other directly, performance also has a history of untranslatability. Ironically, the word itself has been locked into the disciplinary and geographic boxes it defies, denied the universality and transparency that some claim it promises its foci of analysis. Of course, these many points of untranslatability are what make the term and the practices theoretically enabling and culturally revealing. Performancesmay not, as Turner had hoped, give us access and insight into another culture, but they certainly tell us a great deal about our desire for access, and reflect the politics of our interpretations.

Part of this undefinability characterizes performance studies as a field. When it emerged in the 1970s, a product of the social and disciplinary upheavals of the late 1960s that rocked academe, it sought to bridge the disciplinary divide between anthropology and theatre by looking at social dramas, liminality, and enactment as a way out of structuralist notions of normativity. Performance studies, which, as I indicated above, is certainly no one thing, clearly grew out of these disciplines even as it rejected their boundaries. In doing so, it inherited some of the assumptions and methodological blind spots of anthropology and theatre studies even as it attempted to transcend their ideological formation. However, it is equally important to keep in mind that anthropology and theatre studies were (and are) composed of various different, often conflicted, streams. Here, then, I can offer only a few quick examples of how some of the disciplinary preoccupations and methodological limitations get transferred in thinking about performance.

From the anthropology of the 1970s, performance studies inherited its radical break with notions of normative behavior promulgated by sociologist Emile Durkheim, who argued that the social condition of humans (rather than individual agency) accounts for behaviors and beliefs. Those who disagreed with this structuralist position argued that culture was not a reified given but an arena of social dispute in which social actors came together to struggle for survival. From the wing commonly referred to as the "dramaturgical," anthropologists such as Turner, Milton Singer, Erving Goffman, and Clifford Geertz began to write of individuals as agents in their own dramas. Norms, they argued, are contested, not merely applied. Analyzing enactment became crucial in establishing claims to cultural agency. Humans do not simply adapt to systems. They shape them. How do we recognize elements such as choice, timing, and self-presentation except through the ways in which individuals and groups perform them? The dramaturgical model also highlighted aesthetic and ludic components of social events as well as the in-betweenness of liminality and symbolic reversal.

Part of the linguistic stream, anthropologists such as Dell Hymes, Richard Bauman, Charles Briggs, Gregory Bateson, and Michele Rosaldo were influenced by thinkers such as J. L. Austin, John Searle, and Ferdinand de Saussure, who focused on the performative function of communication-parole, in Saussure's term. Again, as with the dramaturgical model, the linguistic emphasized the cultural agency at work in the use of language: How, to play on Austin's title, did people do things with words? Like the dramaturgical model, this too stressed the creativity at play in the use of language, as speakers and their audiences worked together to produce successful verbal performances. The linguistic stream was also invested in recognizing the creativity in the everyday life of other people, ways of using language that were resourceful, specific, and "authentic."


Excerpted from The archive and the repertoire by Diana Taylor Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Diana Taylor is Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish and Director of the Hemispheric Institute on Performance and Politics at New York University. Among her books are Holy Terrors: Latin American Women Perform (coedited with Roselyn Costantino), Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War,” and Negotiating Performance: Gender, Sexuality, and Theatricality in Latin/o America (with Juan Villegas), all also published by Duke University Press.

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