Plot vs. Purpose –Performativity, Carmelita Tropicana, and Ana Mendeita

In high school I was taught that stories have plots; with beginnings, conflicts and conclusions, and that the significance of literature, written or performed, is primarily it’s plot. Of course, it is not. Early in this class I realized that theater does not need a plot. But it’s taken me until now, December 2nd, to fully realize the words I want to use. I want to say that plot and purpose are separate entities in performance, especially performance art. And sometimes the purpose is that there’s no purpose at all.

In Diana Taylor’s book about performance art, she quotes Judith Butler, who describes performativity as “both the process of being acted on, and the conditions and possibilities for acting…” In that sense, performativity is an instillation which draws attention to the fact that the external world imposes judgement, notions, and labels on the subject.  So, for example, although there is no plot to Peggy Shaw’s The Menopausal Gentleman, the purpose of the monologue is to contest normative behaviors.  She can be a character who transgresses social norms, and in that space point out supererogatory norms.  Her purpose needed no plot.

Similarly, Carmelita Tropicana defines performance art as something which, “changes the way you look at the world.”  She uses the example of a toilet plunger. One day a performance artist set a fire in a basement and, in dance, put it out with the plunger.  There was no plot to this, but the purpose was re-visioning the use of the plunger, where the realization is heightened by  the revolting overtones the object carries.

In Carmelita Tropicana’s The Conquest of Mexico as Seen through the Eyes of Hernan Cortes’s Horse, she resees not only the conquest but the symbols she uses to signify injustice and defeat.  Not only is the major premise a re- visioning, but the phrase, “No mother, not stars”, referring to the amount of dead bodies the horse can count,  associates sadness and injustice with the heavens. In this peice, there is a plot, because there is a premise, conflict, and conclusion in the battle and death, but that is not the point of her piece. The purpose is seeing the history again from a different perspective.

In Arabic, there is a concept called the Dumnee, which refers to the implicit meaning of actions and texts. The distance between the actual action  and the symbolic invocation  has allowed me to understand purpose.  The underlying logical flow of an argument is the dumnee.  I see many parallels between the concept of dumnee in text and the concept of purpose in performance.

Purpose can be a change in the internal life of a fictional character, or in the plot line, or in the audience’s understanding of an object, of the inane, of nothingness. Purpose is the thrust of the piece which makes you squint.


Originally, I assumed metatheater was any live performance which broke the fourth wall, but that is false. Metatheater is complicated.  It meditates on the play existing as theater. There are multiple ways of understanding it.

One consensus we reached in class is that a drama created by the characters in the primary narrative, such as Teodoro adopting the identity as the son of a noble, is metatheater.  The characters creating characters shows construction of theater in theater.  Does that mean metatheater lies in the complexity of characters? Does it mean whenever a character in a story lies about who they are it’s metatheater? Is Don Quixote metatheater?

Another aspect is that metatheater juxtaposes different threads of conflict, such as in a braided narration. But is a braided narration metatheater? According to our discussion in class, not so much.

Finally, if metatheater is live performance which shows the construction of the play in its narration, does that mean metafilm is a film of making a flim? Apparently not. Metafilm is a different, obscure concept of narratives watching each other.  Dr. Carrion suggested its inextricably linked to camera angles.

Ultimately I understood from this chapter that metatheater is a form of art which deals with existential concepts.

Violence and AV Language (Oct 15 and 17)

This week we explored the audio visual language that surrounds violence in both film and theater. We watched Tesis (Amenábar), we read Lope de Vega’s Punishment Without Revenge and Mulvey’s theoretical piece “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”.

Performance, Performativity, and Performance Art (Oct 10)

Thank you Jan-Mar for prompting discussion last week.  Your blogposts were terrific!

This week we are going to continue our discussion about performance, adding one new term to the mix: performativity.  Tomorrow we are going to bring up for discussion the main arguments of Diana Taylor’s chapters “The New Uses of Performance,” “Performative and Performativity,” “Knowing Through Performance,” and “Artivists (Artist-Activists).”  I would like for Kyle to take the first one, Jan-Mar the second, and Abram, the third.  With the concepts and arguments from those three chapters, we will put our heads together to discuss arts and activism, as Taylor presents in the fourth chapter.  For instance, how can simulated environments and scenarios used to treat PTSD be used further to deactivate militarism?  What role does performance play in such activist proposal?

Please, come to class prepared to present for five minutes what is the central argument (or what are the main arguments) brought forth by Taylor in the respectively assigned chapters.  Think how do new uses of performance relate to performance and performativity (an urgently needed connection in this day and age), and how in turn those connections contribute to knowing through performance.  With that network of knowledge, we’ll return to H.I.J.O.S. and their installations.

By Saturday at 5pm, I would like for you to choose one of these connections, and to think of how that connection mobilizes both art and activism.

Elements of AV Language 2

Watching a movie is uniquely artistic in the way it is experienced: with sound and image. A movie is the experience of watching and listening, and the emotions the spectators experience are cued to them through the audiovisual choices the producers made. In Y Tu Mama Tambien  many of the audiovisual clues came from the juxtaposition between the dialogue and the scene, or the scene showing two point of action at the same time. And the voiceover calls attention to them both.

In  a scene where Luisa, Tenoche, and Julio are in the car together, engaged in a vulgar but amusing conversation about techniques to use in bed, they drive by a scene of police brutality against a poor man on the side of the road. Framed by the car window, the shot gives an element of separation between the upper-class main characters and the conditions of the places they’re driving through. Another example of this juxtaposition is a scene at the beginning of the movie, where Julio and Tenoche are laughing about passing gas while a migrant worker’s dead body is being picked up on the side of the road.  There is a play of duality, an attention to irony, and a call to class distinction.

Many of these scenes which highlight the duality, after the introductions of the second point of action, cut to it. They explain the background of the man on the side of the road using an extradiagetic voice–the voiceover.  These cuts to the other world, or the internal world of a character, further bring attention to irony, duality, suffering, and injustice.  

The visual juxtapositions, the juxtapositions between the audio and visual, and the voice over all serve to heighten the emotion and refine the messages of the movie. They are keen uses of audiovisual language.

Elements of AV language 1: Theatre (September 17-19 )

This week we began a three-week series of readings and discussions about the audiovisual languages of theatre, film, and performance art.  The last two weeks we discussed basic vocabulary of the three media, jointly and separately (acting, performance, stage, camera work, sound, and so on), and now we begin to work with larger building blocks.  What characterizes the audiovisual language of theatre, specifically?  We established the importance of acting, set and costume design, and movement/proxemics.  We discussed the importance of separating the written text (dramatic literature) from the staged performance (spectacular dimension, theatre, hecho teatral), being fully aware that these two dimensions of theatrical semiotics cannot be understood properly unless they are seen interactively.  We analyzed Lope de Vega’s New Art of Writing Plays, the Comedia manifesto in which the playwright established his debt to Ancient theatre, and his thorough knowledge of current theatrical practices: units of space, time, and rhyme; the three acts; the interludes or entremeses; the distribution of the dramatic conflict; and the casos de honra and the difficulty of staging uxoricide.

Wednesday we are going to discuss Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre and Invisible Theatre.  These two concepts are key to understanding the relationship between the audiovisual language of theatre and its development in LatinoAmerica.  Without understanding this, we cannot fully grasp Latinx Performance Art.  Bring your questions, lacuna, comments, epiphanies, and so on to the table in class during our discussion, and here thereafter.

This is the first mandatory post.  It is due on Saturday September 22 at 5PM at the latest, although you can blog at whatever time you want before that.

Performance and Theatre. Film (September 10-12)

This week we began the comparative discussion of Performance (as a general, overarching concept that will sustain our interpretation of the three artistic media we are studying this semester), Theatre, and Film.  We considered Diana Taylor’s concept of “Spect-Actors” drawn from Augusto Boal’s theory of the teatro del oprimido (theatre of the oppressed),  as well as “Artivists (Art-Activists),” and Adam Versényi’s question “What Latin American Theatre?”  We talked about escrache and H.I.J.O.S., and how social dramas inform performance in Latin America not merely as dramatic literature, but as an artistic form and plateau of individual and social agency.

If you wrote any comments, notes, or questions about these matters, please blog them here for further discussion.