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Immanent Shakespearing: Politics, Performance, Pedagogy


Unlike much of the secondary literature on Shakespeare, "Immanent Shakespeares: Politics, Performance, and Pedagogy" labors less to determine what Shakespearean texts might mean than to explore the cultural work these texts do while working in conjunction with contemporary institutions of learning and technologies of performance. Shakespeare studies too often takes the determination (or destabilization) of meaning as its telos, even when it's largely informed by performance criticism. This project sets meaning aside to focus on how Shakespeare's textuality gets mobilized through performance in order to produce material effects--effects that exceed and shape semantic meaning. Semantic and hermeneutic vocabularies leave performance scholars very few terms with which they might interrogate performance's most salient features: duration, embodiment, light, discipline or affect. Making and coming to terms with what Shakespeare can do inevitably involves refiguring the relationship between Shakespeare's text and performance practices. In the dissertation, I argue that the field of Shakespeare studies too often figures the difference between textuality and performance spatially. These spatial models figure performance in prepositional relation to textuality: performances arise from the text or are interpretations of textuality. Performance has largely been understood as an interpretation of a Shakespearean meaning residing within a static (albeit polysemic) textuality. On stage or on screen, performance is continually represented as exterior to--and is considered over-determined by--textuality. My project, instead, figures the difference between stage/screen and page in terms of time.

This move, from figures of space to figures of time, forces a reconsideration of many disciplinary assumptions (in literary, film and performance studies). Cultural studies' spatializing tendency, inseparable from the way it often figures difference (as "difference between" two discrete identities), is rooted in a long history of transcendental dialectics. Textuality and performance are framed, spatially, in terms of transcendence (even when stage-centered criticism tries to invert this relation, prioritizing performance, it nevertheless continues to understand difference within a transcendental relation). My project moves from a transcendental, spatial understanding of difference to one rooted in immanent, temporal duration. Giorgio Agamben recently identified "two different trajectories in contemporary French philosophy, both of which pass through Heidegger: a trajectory of transcendence, which includes Levinas and Derrida and goes back through Hussurl to Kant; and a trajectory of immanence, which includes Foucault and Deleuze, and goes back through Nietzsche to Spinoza." The dissertation works throughout to illustrate how this shift--from transcendental, spatial constraint to immanent, temporal production--allows for more nuanced discussions of elements constitutive of performance.

The project considers Shakespearean performance within a variety of institutional arenas; different chapters consider reading practices, teaching practices, student performance, theatrical enactment, and new (and old) media engagement. This approach entails a series of interlocking, close, rhetorical readings of particular performances, theatrical/filmic/video/digital media technologies, arts/educational legislation, as well as the institutional discourses accompanying each. These close readings work to refigure the problem of textuality and performance in civic, aesthetic and pedagogical discourses; each chapter, subsequent to this refiguration, ends by proposing innovative, practice-based solutions.

In Chapter One, I build on the critique of spatialized understandings of text and performance outlined in the introduction in order to argue that the humanities' figuration of difference and power (alongside attendant assumptions about the relationship between self and structure) continues to hide more than it reveals about culture, history, power and performance. In the chapter, I argue for and illustrate what an alternative, immanent critique might look like. The chapter focuses on two "objects" (a methodological term which seems to point to how performance is always already spatialized): 1) a "radical" or "transgressive" performance of Macbush, a contemporary re-imagining of Macbeth, and 2) a seemingly co-opted, official, "normative" performance of Macbeth sponsored by Boeing, the "right-wing" NEA, and the US Department of Defense. The chapter examines these two ostensibly opposed productions by rehearsing a dialectical or "transcendental" critique and using a common (hackneyed) reading of de Certeau's strategy/tactic distinction--one which emphasizes and prioritizes de Certeau's interest in space. I then complicate this reading by showing how de Certeau's figuration of power and performance within the panoptic city already includes an inclination towards an immanent understanding of power's circulation--one that emphasizes time and complicates the spatial cartographies upon which dialectical movement finds its ground and proper "identity." Through this immanent reading, I argue that dialectical understandings of culture and power rely upon a particular way of understanding the priority of space, one strengthened by Cold War discourses of cultural fronts and quantitative, incursive movements through homogenous space (both Macbeth and Bush, in prioritizing the stability of space over the contingencies of time, make this same tragic flaw in different ways). Ultimately, I argue that an immanent understanding of culture and power corresponds with contemporary changes in the shape of Empire and new ways of conceptualizing the flows of global capital, ways rooted in performance's duration and affect. Further, this immanent reading (and the shape of Empire and history correlative to this approach) highlights the dangers of the Left's reliance upon historical analogies that flatten important differences between Vietnam and Iraq or between Bush and Macbeth.

Chapter Two develops the notion of immanent critique by revisiting dualistic notions of self and structure in film theory and performance studies. In this chapter, I look at the spatial arrangement of spectators, specific media, and apparatuses of projection. Through a reading of Prospero's Books, a 1991 "new media" film using proto-HDTV technologies and bourgeoning CGI graphics software, this chapter looks at film's ability, through these technologies, to trouble film theory's traditionally spatial understanding of filmic semiotics and the spectator's relation to the (transcendent) filmic apparatus. This chapter introduces an immanent performance theory to film theory by offering a new reading of the latter's key texts--from Munsterberg and Armheim, to Balazs and Metz, to Benjamin's Artwork essay--highlighting along the way each theorist's relation to the "immanent turn" in cultural studies. Key here will be the role each theorist gives to temporal relations. Particularly useful in rethinking the spectator's relationship to the (new or old media) apparatus is Benjamin's notion of "creative innervation"--a term he uses to show how the spectator's body is productively enlivened, rather than negatively determined, by a technological apparatus which becomes, for him or her, a prosthesis. This chapter puts Benjamin into contact with Deleuze to sketch out what an immanent model of reception might entail once traditional notions of the filmic apparatus' (over-) determinism have collapsed. This immanent understanding of filmic reception--a productive reception modeled in Prospero's Books--builds upon various notions of "pseudopresences" and theories of "affective faciality/physiognomy" sketched out by twentieth century film theorists in order to rethink the presence/absence binary and the various ways in which this binary gets unevenly mapped onto the disciplines of theatre and film.

Chapter Three looks at how changing technologies continue to reconstitute the disciplinary gulf between film and theatre. In this chapter, I look at two interlocking performances: Richard Burton's 1964 Electronovision Hamlet and the Wooster Group's "new media" Hamlet. Working with Deleuze's idea of "the theatre of repetition," and continuing to work with Walter Benjamin's notion of "creative innervation," this chapter examines the technologies of repetition each Hamlet employs in order to read, write, and perform with the pre-recorded yet affective and "pseudopresent" specters of history. In July of 1964, three performances of the Burton-Gielgud Hamlet were recorded and edited together thanks to "miracle of Electronovision." The resulting "Theatrofilm" was then screened for two days in over one thousand theaters in order to give audiences the "liveness" of a Broadway show right in their own local theater. Recently, the Wooster Group has been staging another version of Hamlet, one that utilizes the Isadora and Final Cut Pro platforms to digitally remix and reframe the Burton-Gielgud production as an historical background upon which the company acts. Onstage, The Wooster Group imitates the 1964 Hamlet gesture for gesture in what the group likens to an archeological reconstruction, but I argue for an alternate figuration, one that is less spatial and more temporal in its figuration of history. This chapter uses these two performances (and their contemporary technologies) to ask how the so-called "new" media differently mediate our relationship with the past. I argue that new technological interfaces enable us to engage in historiographical research on stages and screens in ways that are singularly durational and within registers that are incommensurate to the textual historiographies of journals and monographs. Each of the Hamlet productions I treat figures a relation to history, treating the past as an interactive ensemble of images that are engageable yet immutably scripted.

Chapter Four begins my engagement with critical pedagogy as I attempt to rework Freirean accounts of the classroom as a space of cultural contradiction and potential "liberation." The chapter asks how we might instead see classroom practices as productive of political, economic and ethical behaviors. Since the 1980s, critical pedagogy has rallied for the inclusion of "hip hop in the classroom" as part of a culturally relevant, Freirean model of connecting language with the lived experience of inner-city youth. But the movement begins to achieve success at the very moment hip hop begins losing its geographic specificity. Recently, a number of programs ("Shakespeare is Hip Hop," "Shakespeare: the Remix," and "Shakespeare in Urban Slang") have sought to connect Shakespeare and hip hop as a way of bridging the divide between the spaces of high and low culture. In this chapter, I examine the strange effects of local, culturally specific pedagogical practices fusing Shakespeare and hip hop which--like the music itself--have been removed, practiced and copied outside of what was once their "proper" space. What happens when suburban youth are asked by their teachers to perform Macbeth in hip hop vernacular? YouTube abounds with blackface Shakespeare. More importantly, though, the chapter rethinks intercultural borrowing and how the logic of "appropriation" falsely frames culture as private property at the same time that young people who identify with remix culture increasingly strive for a "creative commons" and continually challenge the spatial proprieties of culture. This chapter puts the "culture wars" into dialogue with the "copyright wars" and argues that, in a world where the line between public and private properties and spaces is increasingly blurred by virtual glocalities, digital rights management software and copyleft legal theories, cultural studies needs to rethink the spatial logic of cultural appropriation.

Chapter Five brings immanent critique to the space of the classroom by examining another the Shakespeare teaching docudrama. These films, both fictional and documentary, chronicle "successful" pedagogues and the at-risk students whose lives they transform. In this chapter, I look at a few of these films alongside the No Child Left Behind Act's legislation on "character education." Performing a genealogy of the "character education movement" from the Greeks to 21st century US contexts, this chapter looks at the way in which Shakespearean repetitions operate to construct both a particularly American Shakespeare as well as a particularly American characterization of the student body. Centering on Prince Hal's Saint Crispin's Day speech, this chapter also explores the way in which discourses of national "character" and their corresponding pedagogies rely upon a particularly vertical (patrilineal, spatial, transcendental) notion of repetition and differentiation, one which might be refigured by Hardt and Negri's notion of how the immanent multitude operates in time. This chapter moves from the performance of character to a notion of "performing character." Much as earlier chapters refigured text/performance or apparatus/performance oppositions, this chapter shows how dialectical pedagogies might give way to durational, embodied performance pedagogies.

The dissertation's concluding chapter, its post-script, uses the pedants of Love's Labour's Lost to engage in an interdisciplinary genealogy of the geek. I focus on three figures of the student body's relation to technology (the bookworm, the computer nerd, and the drama queen) in order to better understand how the "geek" has gained increased importance as a category of social difference and exclusion. The conclusion asks: How does the alterity of the geek historically produce and trouble the mutual exclusivity of love and labor, humans and machines, males and females, the curricular and the extracurricular, and/or the physical and the metaphysical? As a means of overcoming learning's alienation from the social, the dissertation concludes by introducing a "geek chic" performance pedagogy. This pedagogy uses training in digital video editing to include the social, and often virtual, extracurricular lives of students. Through editing their own performances (as they often already do within the world of social networking sites), students will rehearse the behaviors, gestures, expressions and temporal movements that constitute what we perceive as character. By examining these "character effects," students are trained to understand character differently--less as an originary space or cause of performance and more as a legible effect of performative behavior.

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