In The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (2003)[326pp], Diana Taylor presents writing and performance as two ways of transmitting knowledge that often exist in tension. In the first chapter “Acts of Transfer”, Taylor exemplifies this tension with the case of the colonial ethnographer Sahagún who set out to make a written record of the practices of the mexica in order to eradicate indigenous practices, but his research instead preserved and transmitted the performances he set out to eliminate (41). Writing is a tool that can replace performance, but it can also complement performance.
|Florentine Codex, Sahagún|
Taylor defines archival memory as “documents, maps, literary texts, letters, archaeological remains, bones, videos, film, CDs, all those items supposedly resistant to change” (19). The repertoire is an archive of sorts, but whereas the archive is text-based, the repertoire is ephemeral and emphasizes what one can do, the embodied practices that transmit memory. “Performances function as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory and a sense of identity through reiterated…’twice-behaved’ behavior” (3). Performance is a rehearsed situation that re-plays time and again. The repertoire is performed through dance, song, ritual, witnessing, healing practices, memory paths, and the many other forms of repeatable behaviors as something that cannot be housed or contained in the archive” (37).
|Tlamatini, the philosophers who interpreted and performed the "red and black ink" (the Nahua writing system)|
Writing the Colony
Both the archive and the repertoire transmit memory and communicate power, but since the Conquest, Taylor argues that the archive constitutes a more hegemonic and unquestioned knowledge. “Writing came at the expense of embodied practices as a way of knowing and making claims. Those who controlled writing, first the friars, then the letrados, gained an inordinate amount of power (See Angel’s Ramas La ciudad letrada.) Writing also allowed European imperial centers-Spain and Portugal-to control their colonial populations from abroad. Writing is about distance…(18). In this way, writing is inherently colonizing because of the way that it can reproduce power over distance. The repertoire cannot do this because the signifier is attached to an individual or a collective body (24).
Taylor suggests that scholars broaden their focus to examine scenarios, specific repertoires of cultural imaginings, instead of texts and narratives as meaning making paradigms. Taylor gives the scenario of conquest as a situation that has been staged time and again (29). Scenarios are reactivated rather than mimetic. “Scenarios conjure up past situations, at times so profoundly internalized by a society that no one remembers the precedence” (32). In Chapter Two, “Scenarios of Discovery” Taylor analyzes the performativity of the “discovery” of the Americas (55-61). The performance of discovery positions the discoverer as the defining subject who organizes the scene(61). Taylor gives the example of how this scenario has repeated itself in Coco Fusco and Gomez-Peña’s “Couple in a Cage.” In this performance, the performers embody the colonial “other” and the spectators become main players in the scene because the focus was on how people responded to the couple in the cage and how they interacted with the performers (69).
|Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña's Couple in a Cage|
In Chapters Four “La raza cosmética” and Five “False identifications” Taylor analyzes two international spectacles: Walter Mercado and Princess Diana. In the case of Walter Mercado, Taylor argues that Mercado’s performance speaks to and affirms the Latino experience because he brings in 120 million viewers per day. Taylor likens Princess Diana’s life to the perfect Aristotelian tragedy and, her death, to a series of tragic media spectacles: Evita, Selena, Marilyn Monroe, and Mother Teresa. (145). In the case of Princess Diana, Taylor asks: “But is this not perhaps an international spectacle, in the Debordian sense, that ‘presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society and as an instrument of unification’ as it ‘concentrates all gazing and all consciousness’?(135) It is curious to me that Taylor argues that Walter Mercado affirms the identities of Latinos in the US, but that the global audience “falsely identifies” with Princess Diana. I’m not sure what the difference is between the two examples.
Taylor discusses several critical examples of performance from Argentina and Peru. “You are Here: HIJOS and the DNA or Performance” examines how mothers and the children of the “disappeared” in Argentina use photography in performances like escraches and protests to make the invisible crimes of the past, visible. Performance transmits traumatic memory by involving the audience as witnesses of embodied trauma. For example, to see a child of the disappeared carrying the picture of her parents involves the spectator as a witness of embodied trauma. “The transmission of traumatic experience more closely resembles contagion on catches and embodies the burden, pain, and responsibility of past behavior/events. Traumatic experiences may be transmittable, but it’s inseparable from the subject who suffers it” (168). In “Staging Traumatic Memory” Taylor looks at the performances of the Peruvian theater collective Yuyachkani and discusses how the group expanded the notion of theatre to include the local norms of the places where they were performing. To include these blurs the distinction between the actor and the spectator and allows for the transmission of memory by creating a space for reiteration of cultural knowledge and identity. Performance is presented as a way to cope with trauma in plays like Yuyachkani’s Rosa Cuchillo and Antígone.
1) “Politics of decipherability” analyzes the performance of Denise Stoklos.
2) “Lost in the field of vision” examines spectatorship tied to September 11.
3) Taylor points out that the authority of the archive is problematic because it is not an unmediated source of history. There are often exclusions and inclusions in the archive that make it a very subjective and limited source. The repertoire is also subjective, but part of its authenticity comes from the fact that people engage with the repertoire constantly and shift the meaning in a trans-historical sense. No single representation makes the claim to absolute truth about the past.
4) “Memory as Cultural Practice” looks at the relationship between theories of mestizaje, hybridity, transculturation and performance. She says that each theory has a different relationship to embodiment.