In her introduction to Oral History and Performance, Della Pollock discusses various dialectics inherent in the performative act of oral historicization. I found Pollock’s discussion of the interrelation between performer and audience, specifically the intersection between subjective experience and collective memory, to be especially vital to the importance of oral history performance. Pollock goes on to describe the subjective teller of oral history as a witness to history- providing their own testimony for its possibility of relation to another. Thus, the act of remembrance undertaken in the performance of oral history becomes wrapped up in a Hegelian dialectic of identity mediation between the self and an other, through which both may come to recognize and identify with each other. This process functions not only in it’s historicization, but also in the space for change that it opens. Both the performer and audience are made to recognize, through the performance of oral history, the multiplicity of possibilities for the future through the revelation of previously unheard, though unavoidably translatable, experiences of the past.
I found Pollocks example of the “Leaves of Magnolia” performance to be the most poignant of all the performances she sights. Through telling their histories of criminality and consequent subjugation, the Anson County inmates are able to provide a vital warning for the at-risk youth brought in to bear witness to their witnessing. The fact that the inmates themselves were barred from performing would seem to detract from the immediate urgency of the performance; however, the fact that they were not allowed to participate also seems emblematic of their totally encompassing experience of oppression. The act of placing the youth on the line the prisoners walk not only allows them to witness the plight of the penal system, but also to experience its physically and mentally consuming domination. The “Leaves of Magnolia” project reminded me a lot of the show “Beyond Scared Straight” on A&E. In “Beyond Scared Straight” inmates speak to at risk-youth that are brought into the prison, not by simply presenting their story, but also by vocally and physically confronting and challenging their youthfully naive audience members. The youth are also carted throughout the prison and forced to participate in several routines the inmates experience on a daily basis. Through this performance, the inmates are not only able to relate their own subjective history, but also relate that history to an audience who can then identify a possible future for themselves in the incarcerated subjugation of the inmates.
Link to Beyond Scared Straight ‘testimony:’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CthN6Pem74I