Sunday, July 11, 2010

The research institutes that make up the "Kulturen des Performativen" at the Freie Universitat Berlin are coming to an end; it's a "project" that has lasted some six years, with a lot of people on the faculty of FU being able to do research projects instead of just teaching. So, to draw to a close or to celebrate (depending on one's point of view), the "Kulturen des Performativen" had a big conference held at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (which is the cultural center smack dab in the middle of the Tiergarten). There were many invited speakers from many disciplines, and it was a lot of fun (in a way). Am still mulling over many of the talks given by people, and also am amused by the behavior of some people. Elaine Scarry's talk, "Thinking in an Emergency", was quite provocative in trying to understand the abdication of law when faced with a catastrophic event, such as 9/11 or the recent Gulf Coast oil spill, in which the federal government and BP are colluding to curtail First Amendment rights. But the last day (Saturday, 10 July) brought some of the most entertaining lectures. The concluding session, with the anthropologist Johannes Fabian, and then with Judith Butler, provided much hilarity. Fabian because his scrupulously discursive auotobiographical talk (in which he analyzed the problematic of "theory" in anthropology in the 1970s, as the old model of anthropology in which the anthropologist is seen as an almost omniscent observer was challenged and critiqued) eventually led to his conclusion which was that the field of "Performance Studies" was itself flawed because of the inconsistent use of theoretical models. The silence in the auditorium after he spoke was deafening! Wow! An auditorium filled with Performance Studies academics, and he's telling them, you're full of crap. It doesn't get much better than that! Erika Fischer-Lichte tried to get him to grant that some of the research has proven valuable, but Fabian was insistent: if your work does not withstand theoretical rigor, how can it be useful?

Then Erika Fischer-Lichte introduced Judith Butler. Now, i have to admit, i felt a little... naughty? Because almost 20 years ago, when we were editing PAJ, we published what we thought was a wonderful article, which basically demolished Butler's theoretical pretensions, and also (and here was the salt-in-the-wound rub) detailed her diva-like behavior at conferences, etc. ("It's Judy at home, Judith in public": one of the classic lines!) Let me just say: Judith Butler did not disappoint! Still the same diva-bitch!

Listen: you can't get better entertainment. And on the day when Germany was going up against Uruguay for third place in the World Cup. As we all know (if you've been following the World Cup at all, and, yes, i did watch) Germany won, 3 to 2. Let me tell you: the vuvuzelas were deafening last night! Plus people were setting off firecrackers!

Performance Studies can be summed up: "The world is a stage/The stage is a world/Of entertainment!" (Cue Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant dancing!) Now that IS entertainment!


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