Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Day Four

Today had limited time for reading, but the project was to immerse myself in the Beats. I didn't do this in a subtle way: I spent the afternoon with Ginsberg's Howl and Kaddish, and flipping through Kerouac's On the Road. I also read bits of a memoir called Minor Characters by the novelist Joyce Johnson, who was living with Kerouac when On the Road came out. The objectification of, the need for mastery over, women surfaces again and again in Kerouac's writing, but as my friend Vince pointed out to me in discussing these texts, it's too easy to say that the Beats (I slipped and typed Beast) were all about virility—Kerouac struggles with it; it seems that Johnson, who would be in a position to know, also thinks it's too simple a take. When I get a copy of Diane Di Prima's memoir I'll return to this.

Also, tonight I started reading Irving Goffman's The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, the classic 1956 work of sociology that tried to look at people's social interactions in terms of performance, using a theatrical metaphor. I wasn't sure that this book would be useful to me at all, but it's quite interesting to read in tandem with How to do Things with Words; it's a sort of theory of performatives expanded to encompass all social behaviour. Interestingly, it is structurally so similar to Austin's theories that it is open to the same critiques that Derrida had for Austin. Goffman relies, not surprisingly, on the same notions of communication as coherent expression of stable feelings and ideas (which can be counterfeited, of course, but the idea of counterfeit expression simply confirms that there is a "true" or original form to whatever is being expressed). He is also is careful to explicitly preserve the hierarchical distinction between performance as it happens in the theatre, and performance in real life. But his text is significant in that it creates the beginnings (if only metaphorical) of a blurring between theatre pure and simple and the ways people perform their lives, their rituals: a new way of thinking "performance" which would eventually develop into performance studies.


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