In this weeks reading by Della Pollack I was intrigued on the ideas of oral history performances cultivating “theories of the flesh”. “the root metaphors and ideas about the world that both emerge from and “bridge the contradictions” of experience” (Pollack , 4) The call for an aesthetic of detachment and contact was also refreshing. I also like the idea that the politics of oral history represent the politics of the near claiming a purpose.
This reminds me of a song that erykah Badu did called Window seat. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hVp47f5YZg
Pollack does a wonderful job discussing the many aspects and importance of recapturing history through oral traditions and performances. I found it interesting that she noted how performance is “not so much an interesting or entertaining option as much as it is an obligation”. This is true because oral traditions are vital to maintaining a culture’s identity. Performances, no matter how big or small, can retell and even add aspects the actors feel necessary to deliver to their audiences.
Pollack also writes that performances serve as repetition or “repeating past action in the time of acting.” While this would be true in the form of retelling oral histories, I actually believe that performances can also be unique. In the case of our performances, while yes we were combining past history with a present moment today, we all had different ideas of how to showcase that. And all of our performances had never been done before. No one sat at an imaginary desk like Roland twirling a pencil or played puppeteer like Jonathan in that exact space. These performances were not repetitive of anything, rather just ideas being translated into a small space with an infinite amount of small motions that made each one original.
Della Pollock’s introduction of her “Oral History Performance” piece has a lot of powerful content. Perhaps it was because I had just watched last week’s episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit right before I read her article, but the entire time I was reading I thought of how sexual assault victims’ testimonies could be considered examples of oral histories. In the particular episode of L&O: SVU, called “True Believers,” a young woman was sexually assaulted in her apartment by a stranger. Her rape crisis counselor was essentially advising her not to take the case to court, telling her that her chances of getting a conviction were not very high. However, the show’s lead detective, Olivia Benson, encouraged her to proceed with the case. Ultimately, the accused man was found not-guilty and the victim was furious screaming at Detective Benson, “Don’t you dare tell me that was worth it!” Detective Benson tries to calm her down by telling her that she didn’t let him get away with it, that she accused him in public. She told her “healing begins when someone bears witness; I saw you, I believe you.”
I think this situation exemplifies the quote from Slim and Thompson that Pollock includes in her article on the first page, that it ensures that “those who have given up their time to talk, know that their words have been taken seriously.” Many times rape victims are able to begin their healing process by sharing their story with others, and that others listened. I also heard the testimony of a fellow UNC student at the SpeakOut! event hosted by UNC’s Project Dinah about a month ago about her first-hand encounter of sexual assault. Her story was an oral history; she provided us with her story and we shared her pain. Her story caused us to imagine “what might be, could be, should be” – in this case, a campus without any sexual assault (Pollock 2). We then have the “response-ability” as listeners to the oral history by acting on it, even if we just told her story again to others so that they could share in its meaning and become aware of the problem of sexual assault in the community.
Here is a link to the episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (fast forward to 39 minutes and 10 seconds in to see the dialogue I’m referring to):
Here is a link to the Project Dinah Facebook page:
The one idea of this piece that stood out to me was the idea of oral history as a transformational process relating to both real events and the witnesses that experienced them. I think that this transformational process happens all of the time. One way I see the product of this process is through the news. Every time a news station reports a story, the real event has to be processed by a direct witness, who will then relay the story to the news station, who will then decide how they want to present the story. In this way, we receive a watered-down version of the real event because it has already been diluted by witnesses and others who pass on the information. This makes it hard to keep a real event ‘real’. To maintain the realness of an event for yourself, you have to witness it firsthand, and even then you may have a skewed interpretation depending on how well you were able to pay attention or how many of the details you caught. The same diluting of a real event happens when you here your friend tell you a story. What you’re hearing is not the real event, but your friend’s interpretation of the event or the way your friend wishes to present it. For example, if your friend got into a conflict with another person and he/she wants you to take his/her side, he/she will most likely skew the details and facts so that it sounds like he/she is in the right. Also, the “grapevine” is a dangerous way to get information, because there’s no telling how many times the real event has been reinterpreted before it is presented to you. Unfortunately, it is impossible to maintain realness of events in history, since those who experienced it firsthand will eventually die. It has to be passed on somehow. Since there is no way to experience all (or even most) important events for yourself, you just have to trust that the sources have interpreted and presented the event in a way that best maintains accuracy.
In the Pollock reading, I made a connection with the fact that Pollock talks about oral history. Oral history is such an interesting way of passing history on from generation to generation. As a student, I get most of my historical information from a text book or a lecture hall. Oral history is a first hand account–a dialogue from people who truly experienced a moment. I liked how Pollock introduced this as a way to perform for change or for a purpose.
This can directly relate to my performance because I believe that oral history from the voice of those who have experienced a situation is a great way to incorporate real, meaningful experiences into curriculum and into a history classroom. No person can truly know what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes. History professors can be informed of facts but until they receive information from the source, they cannot know what to say to truly evoke a situation or a feeling.
Performance as oral history is an important method of catalyzing social change. Pollock’s method of using the “original” is a great way to start informing people about situations that need real attention in our world.
In reading Della Pollock’s Oral History Performance piece, I came away with refreshed sense of what it means to remember; and similarly what the process of recalling does in the present to incite action. As Pollock notes of the power in oral histories, “The performance of oral history is itself a transformational process. At the very least, it translates subjectively remembered events into embodied memory acts, moving memory into re-membering. That passage not only risks but endows the emerging history/narrative with change” (2). Thus, in connecting with a historical moment—in bringing it up, in reliving its legacy— witnesses are able to play on similarities in their present to derive power, motivation, and will for change. As Pollock again describes, “the peculiar temporality of the representational real: an engine embedded in historical time, it invokes the beyond time of possibility, making possibility real or at least staking the grounds of real possibilities” (7). This process also connects back to our discussions of mimesis and poeisis and the duality of the two in oral histories can create new possibilities or realities in the present.
This principle reminded me of an organization that I work with called The Sunflower County Freedom Project. SCFP is an educational and leadership non-profit in Sunflower, MS that offers students supplemental academic and leadership development opportunities. The organization was designed and structured around the Freedom Schools of the 1960s and incorporates the legacy of Civil Rights history, as enacted many outlets including performance, as a major component in the curriculum. In having the privilege to work with the students of SCFP on several occasions, I have seen the transformative power that emerges from the performance of history. Through the recalling of Civil Rights stories, the students are able to learn and recreate leadership, empowerment, and change for themselves and their world. A have attached a video of one of SCFP’s performances as well as a link to their website.
While Della Pollock’s entire article was insightful, I found her argument about the process of making history into dialogue particularly captivating (Pollock 2). With this in mind, she explains throughout the piece how both the performers and the audience are involved in this process. Pollock describes how change is possible through performance because it causes audiences to imagine other possibilities of how the world should work. In this way, the audience members are not just left with the tone and memory of the performance but rather the responsibility of taking the performance and transforming it into change.
Pollock continues by discussing how no one can own a story and so the story is told over and over again in history. With this in mind, the story changes from situation to situation allowing the performer to demonstrate how history can alter the meaning and the audience’s reaction to it as well. She continues this argument with the discussion of Rivka Eisner who used “doubling” to reveal that “performance is a repetition” (11). With time always changing, the performance changes as well from moment to moment. This notion reminded me of 30 Rock‘s Tracy Morgan who can never do the same thing twice. While this proves to be difficult when he has to perform the same play again, Tracy finds this keeps him creative and original. However, if he was to study Eisner’s aesthetic views he might find that each performance is unique since time has altered it.
When reading Della Pollock’s Oral History Performance, the point that stuck out to me most was regarded the way performance evokes real possibilities. Oral history performances come from the remembrance of witnesses and/or audience members who have experienced (told or taken part in) historical events. Pollock explains this phenomenon as “the peculiar temporality of the representational real: an engine embedded in historical time, it invokes the beyond time of possibility, making possibility real or at least staking the grounds of real possibilities” (7). This point can be broken down into a chain reaction. A historical event leads to performances which then results in possibilities for the future. The article gives the example of a small southern town shifting from the historically segregated past to the desegregated future.
This also reminds me of the Boal reading from last week. The prisoners performed their personal stories for an audience. The performances evoked a new understanding of the potential and possibilities these inmates had for their future.
A current event that we have been talking about a lot in class is the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. This event ties into the reading and the major point of performances evoking real possibilities. The historical event is tagged as the corporate greed, economic inequality, and corruption of the government. The protestors of Wall Street which have also spread to many other occupiers across the country represent the performances. From these performances, the occupiers are hoping to see change and possibility for the future.
This video gives a glimpse of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and what they are doing in hopes to change the future. One point of the video shows a sign that says “The Beginning is Near” which I think ties closely to the idea that performance creates possibilities.
After reading the short excerpt from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the only thing I could do was think and fathom of all the different concepts he melded together in accordance with dialogue and take a step back. I have been familiar with his notion of dialogue in the context of social change, performance, and personal transformation, but his ideals of dialogue and its components were concepts I did not necessarily equate with dialogue or never really thought of them as being part of the same system. Although, I found his notions of dialogue extremely compelling and powerful, I have some doubts and criticisms of his fundamentals. Dialogue obviously implies an interwoven relation and communication between peoples and communities, which suggest that aspects of dialogue applies to everyone involved; oppressors and oppressed. However, I do not believe that everyone has the “luxury” of love, faith, and hope to engage in dialogues with others. I certainly value those sentiments and emotions and I can see their importance and merit within social movements and discourses for transformation, such as humility and critical thinking. According to Freire, humanists, oppressed, and the oppressors must all have and function within these elements to achieve reciprocal communication and understanding. I side with Freire when he stresses the critical nature of personal and world views and the need to understand each others perspective on the world, which will ultimately help people combat oppression. This is especially true because every situation is different (through culture, history, language) and requires different approaches and dialogues to achieve solid transformation. But, I believe on a universal level that many people can not afford hope in a future or faith in others. So many people are entirely invested in their current situation/survival and do not have the means or the option to have hope and faith, leading to the lack of trust and dialogue. This is outside of Freire’s argument on the pacification of the oppressed and the creation of passive attitudes by the oppressors. Some people are so deep into certain issues that they cannot afford the luxury of faith and hope to engage with humanists or even oppressors outside of their own survival. I completely agree with Freire’s criticism of educational programs and relief programs do little to create actual and long-lasting transformation, while being ignorant of the existence of different culture and values. But certain options can initially help people become more stable and nourished (physically and mentally) in order to better engage in true dialogue.
The Bicycle Thief/Thieves is an Italian neo-realist film that can out after World War II. It is an old film set in a war-torn Italy, which makes it seem archaic and outdated, but the narrative it portrays of a father’s struggle to keep a job and support his family is ever to real and relevant today. It does not stray far from other unstable regions of the world such as Libya, Yemen, and Mexico. Although the film and the genre deals with poverty and has existential elements, it comments on how hope and faith is extremely difficult and near impossible for some people to obtain, hold, and find. Many actors from the film are actually non-professional actors, which allows real workers and the oppressed to portray their own desolation and social depravity as a reflection of their character’s.