Performance Practice as Practice of Radical Imagination

(This body is) thinking a lot about performance as practice1; as the moment or frame of engaging the radical imaginary2. The “moment” is the duration of the piece, which could be one second, three minutes, twenty minutes, several days, a lifetime. Inside this moment we “perform,” in other words, the performance moment is framing our body in action or at least, in relation.

We could imagine that inside this moment we are creating a home3. This home is our “safest”4 space, our temporal utopia, the place where we both see and are seen. This is a radical space of possibility where we have the possibility to imagine the world not as what “IT IS” but rather one way that it could be seen, or rather, manifest.

What do we do with this moment, with the body that we present, the image that we present? And what possibilities does this liminal space, this heterotopia5, offer us in terms of radical practice?

This performance requires of us great attention to ourselves (we must listen to the body to understand what it would like to do). It requires presence6 within ourselves in relation to others, to the way that we interact with others, to the micro-entitlements with which we encounter each other. It requires attention to what and how we are presenting, what we are wearing on our bodies, the migratory path of our bodies7 and the migratory path of the things we place on our bodies8.

It requires, or perhaps rather invites us to engage the radical imaginary to see the world differently than we see it. To manifest the world differently than it is ordinarily seen.

I suggest the use of the term manifest to understand that this kind of sight is different from “seeing”. I have previously utilized the term “beyond sight” to express this “way of seeing” rather than actually “seeing”. Or one could say “imagine” rather than “seeing what appears in front of us”. But since reading Povinelli “Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism” I would like to extrapolate from what she writes in regards to seeing (gaden) versus manifest (guman).9

Seeing implies that we use our eyes to see what is presented in front of us. Take for example, gender. Gender relies on the relationship between our eyes, our experiences, and the ways that other bodies present themselves in front of our eyes. Manifest is something closer to understanding the intersectional, complex and dynamic being that appears in front of us in relation to space time in terms of their own journey and how we encounter them; this opens up the possibility for their gender to emerge and be seen by the viewer beyond what (s)he/they might see with their eyes.

Performance offers us a space of practicing this manifestation, this “act of seeing”, which then in turn dialogues with speech acts, with acts of presence, with the performance itself. Inside this liminal space I suggest that in fact we do enter a magical realm, a place where the switch has flipped, the wand has waved, the final word of the spell has been uttered.

I suggest this not because I believe that the final word of the spell has the possibility to empirically change the world in a moment. This is rather, the switch of the radical imaginary, which we flip. It is a temporary reordering of things. A lens through which we simply look. Through this lens we see what has manifested, not what appears. This is the radical imaginary.

And what there can we practice?

Primarily, the radical imagination asks us to see ourselves as connected, linked in the larger fabric of life. In other words, we can practice alive:ness – the idea that the whole world10 is alive to us, that we are all “grievable”11. We can practice seeing our connectivity with all sentient things, in this connectivity, we can practice feeling the ways in which our structures of caring as well as our structures of violence, are linked. This practice gives rise to a number of ways of both seeing as well as speaking/acting.

We can practice not expecting the pattern that we have previously come to learn or to expect, seeing each other as new for the first time, (re)seeing someone in every moment, therefore allowing them to be a dynamic person as we allow ourselves to be dynamic, seemingly contradictory persons. We can continuously call ourselves into subjectivity, anew.

We can practice “seeing” each other as they ask to be seen, not as they present to us with our eyes, as queer dynamic bodies aside from our flesh. We can deprioritize sight.

We can practice seeing and acknowledging what is there as opposed to what is not there. We can practice understanding the gifts that others possess rather than the skills that they lack.

We can practice bringing presence to the situation, which requires modes of active listening, engaging with frameworks for active listening, digesting, and recalling information from others’ experiences.

We can practice creating a performative fabric which is in alignment with our purpose, which means paying attention to what our bodies symbolize as well as what is symbolized by that which lies on our bodies. We can actively chose to engage with materials (physical as well as emotional, auditory, sensory) that are organically chosen by the performative material itself.

How do we know that we can do this temporary reordering of things? We know because we know that we have already ordered everything in our world in certain ways. But why in this way? And if in this way why not in any other? There is room for an exacting moment of revelation, or at least of considering an opposing paradigm.

There are ah-hah moments, there are moments when we decide to use a new pronoun for someone, when we decide to give someone or something a new name, when we acknowledge a death or a birth. And this moment is specific, one might say, a poof moment, a singular moment. There in that sense we can radically imagine a new way of categorizing, a new order that was before not seen. A new paradigm flies open—not because the paradigm is or is not REAL or TRUE, but rather that it exists at all as “one way of seeing.” And if we can allow ourselves to see in that/those other ways, this is a radical vision. Radically visioning.
I take this one step further to ask, if “All the world’s a stage”12, if indeed we are constantly in a state of performance, constantly inside a performative moment, why this performance and not any other? Why this performance of individuation, of war, of possession? Why not one of mutuality, of sharing, of empathy? Why not take this opportunity in our every day practice to give ourselves the courage to expand our radical imagination beyond one moment but to everyday. Can we use the practice of performance within the Performance as a point of entry?

1 Practice, like performance, is actively and attentively acting. For example what in relation to what I have previously written about sexual practice—empowered sexual practice or sexual performance – is actively and attentively being inside sexual exploration with another body.

2 I’ve only recently come to discover that this term has been used by others, most notably, Ghassan Hage Alter-Politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination. Perhaps I do not use this term exactly as he writes about it, but as I’ve personally chosen to develop the term for myself vis a vis “sociological imagination” (C Wright Mills) and “ways of seeing” (Berger). I understand radical imaginary as a way of using imagination as a modus of “seeing” the world in a paradigm that is not our own, or not the one we are socialized to understand. It is also not one that is readily “provable” or even empirically “true,” but rather an imaginative positioning that can offer radical points of view, queering ourselves in relation to the world.

3 This is a poly-home, one of many possible homes; a home that is liminal and temporal. A heterotopia. The use of the term home is double-edged. Of course it is both a stage of our radical action, a safe place, but as well it is a place where that safety breeds a kind of comfort that can lead to abuse and mistreatment, violence, bad behavior. Perhaps in this sense this home is rather termed a “heterotopia”.

4 What is safety? Safety is not without irony as it appears that all too often the safety of comfort breeds disrespect and violence

5 Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias Michel Foucault

6 Presence: no-mind, active listening, attentive posturing, bold empathy

7 I suggest that this migratory path includes the micro-migrations we make each day in our daily routines and journeys as well as the migrations we have made through the years of our lives, which are both physical migrations as well as migrations of ways of seeing. It includes the migrations that our physical body has made in its own physical and mental development. And it includes the migrations that our histories have made, the histories that made us, in other words our familial histories that explain why it is that we were born (manifested) in a particular time space location.

8 What is the migratory path of the hands that made the things that are on our bodies and what is the cultural/historical path of the thing itself which carries symbolic significance vis a vis all these “places”/contexts?

9 “you see them (gaden) but you do not encounter them as a manifestation (guman)” Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism Elizabeth A. Povinelli

10 Inside this we might also ask, what is included in the whole world, and does this change what we think we know about life and nonlife?

11 Frames of War Judith Butler writes about grievability, the idea that a body present enough to us in order to grieve, care about.

12 As You Like It Shakespeare