Re: transdance/ethnography V

Johannes H. Birringer (
Thu, 15 May 1997 01:40:44 -0500

trancedance/ethnography series V


Postmodern ethnography is not a new departure, not another rupture in the
form of
discourse of the sort we have to expect as the norm of modernist aesthetics'
emphasis on experimental novelty, but a self-conscious return to an earlier
and more
powerful motion of the ethical character of all discourse, as captured in
the ancient
significance of the family of terms "ethos," "ethnos", "ethics."

Because postmodern ethnography privileges "discourse" over "text," it
dialogue as opposed to monologue, and emphasizes the cooperative and
nature of the ethnographic situation in contrast to the ideology of the
observer. In fact, it rejects the ideology of "observer-observed," there
being nothing
observed and no one who is observer.

There is instead the mutual, dialogical production of a discourse, of a
story fo sorts. We better understand the ethnographic context as one of
cooperative story making that, in one of its ideal forms, would result in a
polyphonic text, none of whose participants would have the final word in the
form of a framing story or encompassing synthesis - a discourse on the the

It might be just the dialogue itself, or possibly a series of juxtaposed
paratactic tellings of a shared circumstance, as in the Synoptic Gospels, or
perhaps only a sequnce of separate tellings in search of a common theme, or
even a contrapuntal interweaving of tellings, or of a theme and variations.

Unlike the traditional teller of tales or his folklorist counterpart, the
ethnographer would not focus on monophonic performance and narrativity,
though neither would be
necessarily exclude them if they were appropriate in context.

Such a text would not necessarily resemble an edited collection of authored
papers, one of those authorless books produced by a collective, or an
accidental collage. Polyphony is a means of perspectival relativity and is
not just an evasion of authorial rsponsibility or a guilty excess of
democracy, though it articulates best with that social form, and it does
correspond with the realities of fieldwork in places sensitive to the issue
of power as symbolized in the subject-object relationship between he who
represents and she who is represented. Myths and folktales are authorless
texts too, examples of the form of polyphony, even when related by someone,
even though we must think in that case of a collective extended in time
whose participants never convene to compose the work.

(Adapted from S Tyler).

The issue of "polyphony" could be translated directly into dance/technology
I am wondering whether you have thought about this in terms of composition
and reception, whether a dance/performance could be in-between the
represented/representer, as Susan suggests in her strong reponse to the last

In other words, it is more than a question of design (instatllation,
interactivity). If we work with multivalent material, and say, with others
who are not dancers, and with friends/audiences, how do we involve them,
constructively, and to what ends, if there are no ends.

How do we imagine a "dance dialogue"?

I had people over at my studio tonight, and I threw slides on the wall while
the computer ran a tape of music and of one of our perforrmances. The slides
were of the same performance and of others, and out of sync. In any case,
the audience wandered around, and I am sure, formed their own reaction. Lots
of talking followed. Perhaps the dance is not a dance, but a following, around..