The Everyday Immigrant (Draft Intro)

Posted on April 4, 2011


The Everyday Immigrant: An Inquiry into the the Performance of Place

I have chosen to title this thesis The Everyday Immigrant as the term suggests for me a claim over space, not once, but continually without hope of recourse. I am positing this concept of the everyday immigrant as a way to acknowledge a fast-changing environment in line with the presence of a moving body. In this sense, it does seem to me that we are all making attempts to orientate ourselves by finding a point of permanence, but a polysemous state of being is perhaps all that we can muster. I am particularly taken to this form in light of increasing globalization and rapid urban developments, and as one may gather about this age, a relative non-stability in ideologies and socio-economic circumstances. We might also account for this phenomenon through the greater espousal of post-structuralist frameworks. What I am proposing here, is a way of seeing that situates not just the human subject as the mode of inquiry, but also to turn our attention to the places we inhabit as having a defining presence shaping our very being.

In beginning a discourse on human-spatial dynamics, I think there is a need to re-position the place of psychoanalytical theory in critiquing performance methodology. I am not interested in the psychology of character, but rather the psychology of subject. This focus on psychology also extends to a psychology of space, and of experience. Hence, it should be clear that in my approach to performance, I am opposing representational tendencies but am rather more inclined to facilitate an open experience built on changing planes.

The subjectivity of experience is not a new concept. People had already begun exploring metaphysical concepts through theological debates since time immemorial. In formal philosophical considerations, the eighteenth century had Immanuel Kant arguing for transcendental idealism as the way to account for human experience. This mode of thinking prized perception over intrinsic properties of objects. Later, Edmund Husserl founded the study of phenomenology, which saw experience being the source of all knowledge – this being opposed to the positivist inclinations of the nineteenth century. The study of phenomenology was consequently, furthered by Maurice Merleau-Ponty through the rationalizing of perception in relation to real world environs. He explains in his seminal text The Phenomenology of Perception:

“Perception thus impoverished becomes purely a matter of knowledge, a progressive noting down of qualities and of their most habitual distribution, and the perceiving subject approaches the world as the scientist approaches his experiments. If on the other hand we admit that all these ‘projections’, all these associations’, all these ‘transference’ are based on some intrinsic characteristic of the object, the ‘human world’ ceases to be a metaphor and becomes once more what it really is, the seat and as it were the homeland of our thoughts.”[1]

Martin Heideggar as well speaks about this localizing of thought in his book Being and Time:

“To the everydayness of Being-in-the-world there belong certain modes of concern. These permit the entities with which we concern ourselves to be encountered in such a way that the world character of what is within-the-world comes to the fore. When we concern ourselves with something, the entities which are most closely ready-to-end may be met as something unusable, not properly adapted for the use we have decide upon. (…) We discover its unusability, however, not by looking at it and establishing its properties, but rather by the circumspection of the dealings in which we use it.”[2]

I am particularly attracted to this perceptive dependency; playing close attention to the umbrella of influences in the surrounds to better understand a particular state of being.

Artists of the historical avant-garde theatres who challenged the practice of mimicry in realism and naturalism as intrinsic to the theatre experience can perhaps be considered one of the main proponents of such thinking in performance. The Futurists were not most known for their performance works but were possibly the most articulate about their agenda. They had reacted against the popular traditional theatre of their day with an aggressive effort to appreciate and extend the use of our psychological faculties. Performance theorist Michael Kirby identifies an aspect of this as synesthesia, which refers to “the hypothetical concept that the stimulation of one sense can cause a subjective response in another sense”.[3] The Expressionist movement was similarly built on an evocation of emotion through subjective perspectives although their aesthetical approach and treatment of plot was immensely different. And who can forget the Surrealists, who tackled rationality through their fervor for non-sequentiality and the dreamscape, the Dadaists who attacked conformity through provocation, and an endless list of playwrights and artists, who despite being celebrated for their influential body of work, still remain on the fringe of theatre culture, sometimes embraced, but often misunderstood and misrepresented in contemporary productions of their work.

As Eugene Ionesco once wrote of the theatre experience, “A genuine avant-garde movement can only be of value if it is more than a fashion. It can only spring from intuitive discovery, followed by a reassessment of neglected models from the past, which require constant rediscovery and rejuvenation. I believe that in recent times we have forgotten what theatre is.”[4]

[1] Maurice Merlau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, New York & London: Routledge, 1945, p. 28

[2] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (translated by John Macquarie and Edward Robinson), Malden MA, Oxford, Carlton VIC: Blackwell Publishing, 1962, p. 102

[3] Michael Kirby, Futurist Performance, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971, p. 100

[4] Eugene Ionesco, ‘The Experience of the Theatre’ in The Modern Theatre, Robert W. Corrigan, New York: The MacMillan Company, New York, 1964, p. 834

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