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

Diana Taylor diana.taylor at nyu.edu
Thu Apr 10 03:28:40 EST 2014

Dear Gabriela--
Thank you so much for joining my discussion about the promises and
complications entailed in using digital technologies for the work we do
with 'performance' (broadly understood) across the Americas.  At Hemi, we
actually began our most sustained efforts with team-taught courses across
the hemisphere (as you describe your work too). It was clear then, and you
seem to find it true now, that students could not really work in an
engaged, seamless, and collaborative way through digital platforms. The way
we dealt with that was by having the faculty at each site actually teach
the course in a rather traditional, face to face manner. Additionally,
however, we introduced ourselves to each other and came up with lines of
convergence. Say--those participants interested in theories of performance;
those interested in particular objects of analysis--say music; others
interested in the racialized, gendered, class-related etc nature of
cultural production. We organized them in workgroups, and had online
'office hours' and forums to work through their projects. So let's say this
was a hybrid format--the bulk of the work took place in class in a specific
place, and the focus groups occured online. This worked rather well, and
gave us the ideas for working groups that we later developed for our
Encuentros (the 8 day meeting/festival that Hemi now hosts every two
years). The process at the Encuentro is reversed--intense face-to-face work
that then leads (at times) to follow-up work online.  So I agree its
imperfect, but astonishing things do happen. Our thousands of participants
know far more about each other now than 15 years ago; we are all
consciously involved in 'field-building' though its not clear that we're
all talking about the exact same thing or 'field.' The discussions about
terminology (i.e. 'performance') are far more sophisticated and nuanced now
than back then. Many more of us feel we have a lot to learn from each
other.  The digital has been a part of that.
So while I agree we need to keep working on more user friendly platforms
and intuitive ways of interacting online, I am encouraged by people's
willingness to use every and all venues for communication open to us. I
love what you wrote about us having "to pause to re-think about what we are
doing, and see our whole body of work from a different perspective." That
for me is the very essence of education and communication. Again, thank you
for your reflections.

On Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 5:06 PM, Gabriela Vargas-Cetina <
gabyvargasc at prodigy.net.mx> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>  Dear all, I am a big fan of Professor Taylor's work, and have used her
> books published on paper and some of her digital work in my courses at the
> Autonomous University of Yucatan.  Yes, there are many problems with the
> notion of 'performance' as it is used in English when the texts are read in
> other languages; the readings in English and in Spanish do not always seem
> to be talking of the same thing, and I am not sure there is quite a good
> solution to this dilemma yet.
> Also, my colleague Michelle Bigenho (at Colgate) and I have tried to use
> your work on performance to look at our data on music and musicians, and we
> have found it very useful; however, many people find it difficult to
> understand what we are trying to convey, because 'performing music' is
> already an established concept, somewhat different from 'performance' as in
> the borderlands concepts she is developing.  Perhaps one of the most
> important results from all this is that both music studies scholars and
> people doing work on different types of performance in Spanish speaking
> nations, especially in academia, have to pause to re-think about what we
> are doing, and see our whole body of work from a different perspective.
> The Scalar platform Prof. Taylor uses does not appear to be so
> self-explanatory to students.  Prof. Taylor, I can see why you are using it
> and can see its advantages, but perhaps we still rely too much on some kind
> of presential contact and this is something that has to be worked out on
> one's own.  I sometimes teach with another professor and group of students
> at the other side of a satellite-connected large digital screen.  It is
> hard to explain the workings of Scalar other than through having students
> look at a single screen, operated by a demonstrator, then let them
> experiment on their own, and then come back to the same single screen.  It
> is difficult to have two classrooms at different places of the world do
> this jointly, and it has worked only partially for me and my co-instructor
> in our anthropology of performance class, who is at UC Irvine, so we join
> our groups via satellite video.  Some students complain that the class
> becomes too unstructured, since there is no prescribed way to wade through
> the materials and each student comes out with his or her version of them,
> so that some times many of them do not understand what the others are
> talking about.
> The other thing is that we necessarily need to use concurrently platforms
> that are easy to understand and use, for the students' projects.  Maybe in
> the future something with less of a high learning slope can be devised, so
> that students can also exchange more easily their own work with other
> students without straying too far away from the study materials?  I guess
> many of these may have become mute issues for those who use Scalar and
> other such complex platforms all the time, but this is not the case for
> everyone just yet.  We still have a long way to go, even in our current
> digital world.
> Gabriela Vargas-Cetina
> Professor of Anthropology
> Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas
> Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán
> Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
> -- http://antropuntodevista.blogspot.mxamazon.com/author/gvargascetina
> On 4/8/14, 9:01 AM, Diana Taylor wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>  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 16
> th century 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
> www.hemisphericinstitute.org
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forumempyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.auhttp://www.subtle.net/empyre
> -- http://antropuntodevista.blogspot.mxamazon.com/author/gvargascetina
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> --
> 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
> www.hemisphericinstitute.org
>  <http://www.subtle.net/empyre>
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