A Summary and Application of Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural Politics in Contemporary American Performance

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A Summary and Application of Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural Politics in Contemporary American Performance Here it is a book seen from the outside. A book is only a book when seen from the outside. Seen from the inside, a book is not a book, but a train ride at night - Michael Goulish In his book Presence and Resistance, Philip Auslander responds to the claims of many prominent cultural theorists that recent performance has been unable to engage in political critique. He argues contemporary performance can - and has - mounted a critique of postmodern politics. He holds up performance of the 1980’s as an example of politically critical (what he terms ‘’resistant’’) performance, claiming it carved a space for political critique by questioning, or reconstructing, the authority of the performer’s presence. He breaks his argument into two parts. First, he positions resistant performance of the 1980’s within postmodern mass media culture and identifies it as a response to the failure of the 1960’s avant-garde. Second, he examines the resistant strategies performers of the 1980’s employed to deconstruct presence and mount political critique. He focuses mainly on performers Laurie Anderson, Spalding Gray, and The Wooster Group, and secondarily on comedians Andy Kauffman and Sandra Bernhard to illustrate his points. Part I will summarize Auslander’s argument, and Part II will use his insights to discuss Michael Goulish’s book, 39 Microlectures in Proximity of Performance, which gains relevance as a resistant text in light of Auslander’s analysis. Part I Auslander takes time to situate the performances of the 1980’s within the context of postmodern culture before launching his main argument on the strategies resistant performance employed. The ‘’mediatized,’’ information-saturated, environment of mass media culture, he argues, is paralyzing. Paralysis extends to the political sphere, where even the most vehement political critique is neutralized by the fact that one “must participate in the very activity that is being denounced... to denounce it’’ (Jameson qtd. Auslander 23). Auslander acknowledges mechanized culture’s impact on political critique but refuses to accept the conclusions of other major cultural/media theorists that a politically resistant performance aesthetic has not yet been developed, or that performers can only find a voice by rejecting mainstream culture altogether. Instead, he argues that performers of the 1980’s succeeded in critiquing postmodern cultural politics and did so, necessarily, from within mediatized postmodern culture. Auslander explains the significance of internal critique, arguing that resistant performance of the 1980’s grew from a rejection of the fringe approach of the 1960’s avant garde.

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