It is January– late January, even– and I have waited far, far too long to post this simple announcement: I am now an Assistant Professor of Performance Studies in the Department of Drama & Dance at Colorado College.
To recite a tired truism of the trade as an excuse and explanation: academic life is an addictive maelstrom, and Colorado College is no exception. Quite to the contrary of potential expectations, life at this far-flung liberal arts institution is anything but sleepy, and its relentless mode of organization has a name: the Block Plan. For the uninitiated, the Block Plan may seem like a strange character note, a sort of institutional tic that might serve identity and branding purposes. Skeptics be warned: the Block Plan is real, and it defines academic life here, whose rigor and ceaseless insistence shocks me on a daily basis– after all, class is held for at least three hours every day during each three and half week class period (i.e., “block”). It permits precious little time for procrastination, doubt, or delay. Each day is entirely new, and its demands begin immediately upon completion of one’s previous tasks.
In short, I am already very much addicted to the intensity of this ceaseless mode of intellectual inquiry, which permits no quarter. Indeed, the Block Plan has a certain affinity with an upcoming article I intend to write on the narrative structure– or anti-narrative structure– of immersive aesthetics. Incidentally or not, it also seems to foster an atmosphere that generates well-above-superior students, as I have witnessed in Jonathan Lee’s superb course on Lacan, and more recently, my own course, Introduction to Performance Studies, which proved to be akin to an introductory graduate seminar.
Pedagogically speaking, what am I up to?
Here are a few upcoming highlights:
1) Locution, Location, & Locomotion: Movement in Modern Drama and Contemporary Performance
As laid out in the current course description below, the unusual historical continuum of artistic materials included in this course– ranging from Georg Büchner and Kurt Jooss to Marie Chouinard, Merce Cunningham, and W.G. Sebald — are derived from a generous elaboration of my dissertation, which predicates the connection between media and performance on movement. In fact, the not-so-secret focus of this course is actually the prosthetic, which indicates the intrusion– and subsequent transformation– of technology in the aesthetic. In this particular history, the transformation of the technological begins with a brief investigation of the function of walking in literary discourse, a mode of movement that ultimately returns in an improbably virtual form of flanerie.
In the future, I anticipate that this course will undergo a few subtle changes in order to foreground the thematic importance of technology, which will likely force an inevitable encounter with current new media tropes, such as cyborgs, cybernetics, and the posthuman. The word “force” is intended to indicate a slight reluctance on my part to embrace these terms, which I believe are easily misconstrued and abused, especially if approached from an overbearingly literal perspective. In particular, the posthuman lends itself to reductive, dogmatic attacks on modernism– indeed, one wonders whether the posthuman will someday soon sound as outdated as “the postmodern.” I deeply appreciated a recent critical skirmish in which a distinguished visiting lecturer was asked to defend their use of “posthuman”…
Anyway, here’s the current course description, now a year old and soon to be subject to changes:
DA 300 Topics: Locution, Location & Locomotion in Modern Drama and Contemporary Performance – Creative activity has presupposed the capacity to freely move and speak. This course traces an artistic counter-tradition that imposes obstacles upon language, movement, and space across multiple disciplines: puppetry, surrealist poetics, novels, experimental theatre, contemporary American plays, performance art, and dance. Contrary to their apparently disruptive purpose, these obstacles aid artistic expression. Recent examples of walking– such as Merce Cunningham’s Biped, novelist W.G. Sebald’s historical strolls, and Terence Davies’ cinematic tour of Manchester– will allow us to study the potential of prosthetics to repair personal and historical trauma, even as they impair speech and mobility. The course may also include works by Büchner, Kleist, Ibsen, Jarry, Beckett, Mabou Mines, Jelinek, Kentridge, Schwitters, Kantor, Beuys, Acconci, Nauman, Bausch, Fornes, Suzan-Lori Parks, Spalding Gray, Tim Etchells, Vera Mantero, and Marie Chouinard. 1 unit – Platt
2) Mourning Representation: The Aesthetics of AIDS
This is a course in current repertoire that I have not taught in several years. It was a big hit at my previous home base, Cornell University. I think that it has recently experienced significant upgrades, surpassing its previous incarnation as a mere survey into a more conceptually well-grounded course that uses queer theory to contrast opposing aesthetic strategies: mourning and melancholia– to use Douglas Crimp’s phrase– versus activism and anger. I have also re-invested in new theoretical developments in the field, as well as a few gems that I had overlooked, such as this top-notch anthology from 1993, Writing AIDS, which includes an essay by Emily Apter on the first work in the course, Hervé Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. Of course, I haven’t given the works that made this course popular in the first place: the hit musical Rent (if you know me, you may recognize a whisper of irony in that reference) and Tony Kushner’s blockbuster play, Angels in America.
(But wait a second… have I perhaps become old-fashioned in just a few year’s time? Is it possible that Rent and Angels are no longer sufficient as popular draws?)
Artistic representations of AIDS convey undeniably real experiences of personal suffering and loss. In order to fully account for AIDS’ unsettling intimacy in art, this course will consider works from multiple disciplines, including fiction (Guibert), film (Rent, Jarman), drama (Kushner, Abdoh), dance (Jones, Greenberg), and performance art (Miller, Athey). This interdisciplinary approach will permit us to articulate ways in which AIDS and illness metaphorically trouble representational stability, especially as mobilized by the theatrical avant-garde. However, in contrast to other diseases, AIDS bears a specific social stigma: the taint of homosexuality. Accordingly, the course will also use queer theory—drawing on critics such as Michael Warner, David Halperin, Douglas Crimp, and Jose Esteban Muñoz—to address the use of shame, melancholy, and militancy as artistic positions in representations of AIDS.
A Preview of Course Highlights for 2011-12:
(notes and previews pending updates)
1) Contemporary Performance (Block 1)
(Possibly to include a trip to the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s TBA Festival…)
2) Experimental & Expanded Cinema (Block 7)
3) Feminist Performance (Block 8)
As the product of investment in my own personal research and writing, this course promises an unusual approach to the study of “feminist” performance. Above all, it views body art– especially as practiced in the eighties– as an incomplete area of concern for feminist aesthetics. I thus have developed an interdisciplinary network of female artists, whose work introduces alternative artistic strategies, which in turn gestures towards the possibility of another aesthetic paradigm emerging from feminist performance.
Here’s the current version of its description:
Feminist performance since the sixties has used the body’s material presence and erotic force to disrupt masculine regimes of control and meaning. This course will examine how contemporary critics such as Peggy Phelan, Amelia Jones, and Rebecca Schneider have located dramatists (Churchill, Vogel), performance artists (Schneeman, Sprinkle, Rosenthal), and choreographers (Halprin) within this feminist tradition of affirmative resistance. However, the course will also investigate female artists whose autobiographical accounts of social marginalization convey an impression of disappearance or loss. Beginning with Gertrude Stein’s elusive poetic idiom, we will traces this aesthetic of disappearance into the sixties and seventies through novels, plays, and films (Wolf, Surraute, Duras, Ernaux, Akerman), as well as performance artists (Mendieta, Piper, Laurie Anderson) and choreographers (Rainer, Brown, and Monk). In conclusion, the course will investigate three interdisciplinary artists (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Yoko Tawada, and Cecilia Vicuña) whose multi-linguistic texts and performances turn feminist aesthetics towards a global horizon.