between performative writing and phenomenology: introduction to script selections
by keith c. pounds

Performative writing can mean a lot of things. It is generally used by people trained in the field of performance studies, specifically those who have come to performance from a communication background. While others have made very good efforts to define this emerging genre of scholarly/creative writing I will take the liberty here to offer my own perspective.

Performative writing makes an explicit link to the power of language, and to representation generally, to shape and even create our world. Since Judith Butler linked Austin’s theory of language to communicative acts of gender, homophobia, and legal power, representation can never again just be something that represents. All representation is historically situated, intertwined with power. All writing, to a certain extent, is performative. At least it is in the sense that writing participates in the massive discursive universe that is the world of our understanding, thought, expectations, etc. But not all writing is “performative writing.” That sort of writing comes from someone who has a consciousness of the power of the performative. This doesn’t mean that we are all good writers, nor that what we write pushes the potential of a new genre. What it means, I think, is that for some of us writing is both a critical and creative act. It is also rhetorical. The writing and images are purposeful, the content the stories are supposed to engage the emotions, the themes are usually provocative and, if it is good, give the reader an opening to think for herself about relationships between identity formation, representation history, ideology and interpersonal connection.

For my own performance writing, I have been strongly influenced by a branch of philosophy known as Phenomenology. It is in the works of Emmanuel Levinas and Max Scheler that I find a particular connection that explores the phenomenon of interpersonal “appearance” and “expression.” For Levinas and Scheler, a high value is placed on the close examination of the place(s) where perception, cognition, and the world intersect. Levinas and Scheler are particularly interested in how this operates in interpersonal relationships. Ethics, for them, is not a Kantian universal system of categorical truths. Ethics are a lived experience of being open to the world, an openness toward the people in the world.

To explore this connection I challenged myself as a performer and writer to look for the instances of connection in my own life, particularly the inverse of the position of ethics: I found myself reflecting on the notion of “hatred” and violence. Violence is not something that resides only at the level of “evil.” For too many of us, we experience violence first hand perpetrated by those who are supposed to love and support us. Part of my writing asks “how can this be”? But another part, of course, is personal. It is a partial history of experience, a negative experience, that suggests the way that interlocking conditions of experience and discourse inure one to the degradation of human beings.

The two pieces “Starbucks: Or Why I Crossed a Highway of Death for a Good Cup of Coffee,” and “Everyday Burnings” are part of a larger solo performance entitled Recognition. The whole show consists of four segments, each following their own set of stories. There are intertwinings of themes throughout. I think these two pieces work well side by side.

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