The Times of the Field / The Field of the Times
Freie Universität Berlin
June. The tiredness of a summer field. As if a mother to be, a bit slower than these past months of life, catching her breath a little more often, but softly so, grounded with knowing that only so much longer it shall be. I struggle to remember the sounds of the tailwinds of retreating planes. Maybe it is the sight of vapour alone and there was no sound. Birds. Little molehills. Mouse holes. Bees. I offer an apple to one of the horses I stood observing. A fly might have sat on the fruit and disappeared in the mare’s mouth. Her teeth squelching the sugary fruit without reluctance. We look into each other’s eyes, or so I think, and four nostrils flare in goodbye.
February. The same route. The canal, the path along the former Wall around West Berlin. The German Museum of Pigs. Soon after, the horses, the fields. The February sunshine makes their wet soil glisten. Brown glitter. Warm steam from the life below. The tentative green. Four deer run around me, carefully measured distance kept — probably I am the threat that keeps them from entering the nearby woods. A truck passes by, the driver and I, we lazily lift our hands in greeting, in this way that seems perhaps the most universal traffic sign — I see you, you see me, a nod, stir up fingers lightly from the wheel in our hands.
In the summer of 2016, I filmed and recorded a field full of grains. In the winter of 2017, I returned to the field in preparation for the course module I am proposing here: “The Times of the Field / The Field of the Times.”
By juxtaposing the frustration I have harboured about the academic field I am part of — theatre studies in Germany, which we must, for many reasons, assume to be distinct if familiar to a more globally-perceived notion of performance studies — with the naively-assumed innocence of an actual field in different seasons, I learned to see both fields’ beauties, their potentialities — tied and unique, a plea to answer, to attune to with care. Why did it seem easier, perhaps even more worthwhile, to turn my full attention — and over a lot of time — to the intricacies of a random field of grains? Why is it that with such resistance and hesitation I am looking at the academic field I move in and feel I don’t understand where it wants to go? I decided to ask my peers where they saw its future. The module proposed here unfolds these future directions and concerns, hastily captured, but nevertheless indicators of where we might go.
The course module wants to propose as the crucial condition for taking seriously these concerns — taking seriously this world we are a part of — is the obligation to take time, and to give time. Any future becoming requires for us to be there, to be there fully, and fully attentive, so that the kind of “co-performative witnessing,” about which Conquergood speaks, does not only have a time to be, but a place to be as well — in our field and actions.
We will devote a session each to the following positions as they were recorded for the video essay “In the Field,” and will problematize them with readings, suggestions for further engagement.
- “I think we all have to concern ourselves with bodies much more.” Which questions can I ask a body if the only time I can give is my limited time that is running short, always? What if the “I”/the body in question lacks empathy or is willing and capable to engage in horrors alone? We will study Judith Butler’s Frames of War and Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones as timely reminders of the precarity of empathy, of the ease with which a body ends.
- “If we start moving into the field of art history, we will be the lesser art historians. If we start moving into the field of philosophy, we will be the worse philosophers. If we move into media studies… and so on. There is only one way: to take the subject of theatre studies seriously, and to really stand up for it.” Contrasting and/or complimenting this assumption of a more separatist, almost protective disciplinary agenda, we will look at the disheartening structures to which Claire Bishop and Jen Harvie allude in their seminal studies on participatory theatres entrenched in neoliberal machineries.
- “I believe that the field of theatre studies is swallowed by the neighbouring field.” Looking into the edited volumes Sensible Politics and Culture Jamming, we will investigate how the neighbouring fields of art and media theory approach a world that demands of them to be involved.
- “Yes, it is true, I think we have to open ourselves up. The theatre is doing it, and those are parallel developments.” What do we learn from paying close attention to a world that seems in constant crisis? Tactics and strategies as Practices of Everyday Life might help us look differently at where we stand. And what can Performance(s) in Place of War tell us about where the theatre might go? And to where — subsequently? — our discipline might move?
- “The future lies in a globalization. In a wide perspective on theatre, on art, on culture, and how they develop. This should not privilege one perspective, one region, or one continent. It is also crucial to further develop and work on and in interdisciplinary contexts.” Before assuming this position as a future perspective, we must turn back and read up on our privileges: Said’s Orientalism and El-Tayeb’s European Others might guide us through this.
- “I hope that the field continues to grow. I also hope for and can imagine stronger ties with practical theatre work, also within theatre studies. In a way, a further opening to the practical field of work in theatres. And this is more clearly connected to our studies. And to our research, too, actually.” Different to performance studies departments elsewhere, theatre studies in Germany often times focuses on theory and the training of theorists. The challenges and opportunities of such an approach form the last part of this course module, and our discussion will be informed by Dwight Conquergood’s Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis.
Balfour, Michael, Hughes, Jenny and James Thompson, editors. Performance in Place of War. Seagull, 2009.
Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. Verso, 2012.
Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? Verso, 2010.
Conquergood, Dwight. Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. University of Michigan Press, 2013.
Kotef, Hagar. Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility. Duke University Press, 2015.
de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, 2011.
DeLaure, Marilyn and Moritz Fink, editors. Culture Jamming. Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance. New York University Press, 2017.
El-Tayeb, Fatima. European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Harvie, Jen. Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. Palgrave Press, 2013.
Littell, Jonathan. The Kindly Ones. Vintage, 2010.
McLagan, Meg and Yates McKee, editors. Sensible Politics. The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism. Zone Books, 2012.
Said, Edward. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Penguin Press, 2001.