[-empyre-] Translating 'Performance' (Digitally)

Diana Taylor diana.taylor at nyu.edu
Wed Apr 9 00:01:47 EST 2014

Translating 'Performance' (Digitally)

I'm a humanist who turned to the digital as a way to solve problems posed
by Americas wide scholarship on performance: how to build a digital library
of performance videos in order to openly share access to materials? How to
publish multilingual and multi-media journals and books online so we could
read and understand each other? How to offer team-taught, multilingual
graduate courses using digital platforms that allowed for real interaction
and reciprocity in pedagogy? The Hemispheric Institute which I founded in
1998 (see hemisphericinstitute.org) addressed these problems in attempts to
lay down a digital, hemispheric infra-structure for ongoing, multi-sited,
and multilingual communication. For many of us now, the digital 'solutions'
to these issues are so oh hum we can't even remember when they were
problems.  We know how to put video online now and build digital archives
and teaching platforms.

Nonetheless, the technological 'solutions' posed new ways of doing research
and in turn created new scholarly problems and challenges. Digital
platforms, we learned from Hemi's Digital Video Library (HIDVL),
participate in the creation of new objects of analysis and creative
processes to be interpreted and understood by scholars.  We can now study
performance practices in ways deemed impossible even twenty years ago,
especially transnationally.

Given Hemi's reliance on digital technologies for the production and
sharing of performance work in the Americas, we recently began to develop
digital books in the hope of transcending the structural limitations posed
by the lack of multilingual, transnational publishing.  Work being done in
Argentina is not known in neighboring Chile, and far less in neighboring
Brazil because of the language barrier. In the U.S. we know more about
16thcentury practices in Mesoamerica than contemporary performance
acts in our
hemisphere.  We needed digital books. Scholarly writing about performance
becomes more intelligible when readers can simultaneously see the
performances drawn from the digital video library. It's great that they can
click to the resources page and find the online interviews, transcripts,
scripts, photo galleries, and supporting archival materials.  In these
books we position the reader as a archival actor, surrounded by pertinent
forms of documentation that will allow him or her to more fully understand
why and how these performance works are important.  But we might go so far
as to suggest that the books are not just 'archival'--they are potentially
experiential, staging a 'living' archive of materials to be accessed and
reactivated by the 'reader.'  Or do we now refer to the 'user' who enjoys a
more immersive sense of these materials, animated through the act of moving
through them?  We have choreographed some of the pathways into the
materials but others they might discover on their own.  The digital, then,
promotes not only new ways of transmitting and interacting with materials,
but also enables new objects of analysis and ways of thinking.

Yet the fact that our books are multilingual (English/Spanish/Portuguese),
unexpectedly and additionally provoked a profound change in the nature of
the 'book.' (For the moment, I will not go into the debates about whether
or not we should call them 'books' or something else.)  While the text
needs to be translated, the media remain the 'same'--only the subtitles and
captions change.  So our books now tend to be built around the media, not
the other way around.  *What is Performance Studies*, our book built around
thirty interviews with scholars throughout the Americas, is massive
(165,000 words) but reads like a 'slim' book, as one reader's report put
it. The emphasis on media skews our traditional notions of scholarship.  Is
scholarship one "pull-down" menu option among others?  If the 'same'
academic work is part of this rich multi-media creation, is this still
scholarship? Or what if the scholarship looks different-- say shorter
pieces favored by online reading instead of the longer scholarly essay of
print culture? Does the format trivialize the analytical project?

Multilinguality and translation also asks scholars to re-think some of
their basic tenets. Much of the vocabulary in contemporary performance
studies comes from English.  The words 'performance' and 'embodiment' for
example, so central to theorizations of corporeal practice in the
English-speaking academy, do not exist in any of the other languages we
work with. Are these words redundant? Or do they convey ways of thinking
about the body as itself a product of social regimes and
performativity?  Again,
thoughtful scholarship that develops around and within these linguistic
issues will expand the limits of all our scholarly universes.  But, again,
these theoretical questions trigger different problems that affects our
tags, annotations, visualization options and so on.

So while we aspire to create books that elucidate (and even help create) a
field of hemispheric performance studies, we want them to reflect the
challenges and promise of thinking through multilinguality and the digital,
not simply rendering traditional scholarship in digital formats. These
attempts create new problems, new 'solutions,' and (happily) new things to
think about.

Diana Taylor, NYU

Diana Taylor
University Professor
Professor, Performance Studies and Spanish
Director, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics
New York University
721 Broadway, 6th floor
NY, NY, 10003
212 998 1632
212 995 4571 fax
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