Performance and Permanence in Sixties Literature

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Performance and Permanence in Sixties Literature

What is art? Any generation of artists defines itself by the way it answers this question. The artists of the 1960s found their answer in the idea of art as experience. Art was not something that happened; it was something that happened around you, with you, to you. In the moment of creation, and in that moment alone, there was art. For artists of the Sixties, art was vibrant and alive, and thus to say a product was finished was simply to say it was dead. For literary artists this obsession with the fleeting now translated to a fascination with performance itself-a fascination that in turn cuts at the very heart of art itself. For if work must be performed to be truly experienced, then art is transient and irreproducible, and therefore barren. Art becomes local and mortal, tied to the life and influence of a single artist-unable to speak to those who were not there at the time. One cannot have it both ways; if we accept the preeminence of "the happening" and reject the notion of reproducibility, then art seemingly becomes smaller, diminished. This struggle between performance and permanence, between moment and monument, can be see as one of the central questions of the literature of the 1960s.

Experimental theater provides a useful example of the extreme form of this perception about performance art. Drama has sometimes been praised, sometimes been maligned, but it has undeniably been a type of literature for as long as literary study has existed, as important in its own way as poetry, and prose. Experimental theater challenged this notion in its sheer irreproducibility; it begs the question, "Can something be literary which only happens once, which fails to...

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...who would never and could never be touched by a single performance in a single place. For all its raw emotional power, perfomance art is unreachable to many in the present and totally inaccessible to audiences in the future. To truly matter-to exert any real change over the present, to reach past its moment of creation into the future-art must be more than its performance alone.

Works Cited

Biner, Pierre. The Living Theater. Takin' It To The Streets: A Sixties Reader, pp. 288-293. ed.

Alexander Bloom and Wini Breines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Pengiun Books, 1958.

Rader, Dotson. "Notes of Andy Warhol: His Life and Work as Death in America." Takin' It To

The Streets: A Sixties Reader, pp. 305-309. ed. Alexander Bloom and Wini Breines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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