Monday, March 28, 2011

Richard Bauman Verbal Art as Performance [L2]

Bauman, Richard. Verbal Art as Performance. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc, 1977. Print. [L2]

The central premise of Bauman's monograph is that the critic of verbal art (i.e. the performed word/language in performance) needs to frame his/her object of study as performance in order to most effectively and responsibly analyze and interpret the art. He takes the notion of framing from Erving Goffman. In short, Goffman suggests that human experience is organized into a series of social/cultural frames that set each aspect of our experience apart from the other aspects. For example, everyday experience is distinguished from a cultural arts event is distinguished from religious ceremony by the ritual formality called for in each event. The formality (or not) of an event's rituals thus frames our experience with each event differently, giving us cues as to how best to behave, interpret behavior and expectations, etc., in the different social circumstances.

Bauman extends this idea to verbal art, observing that spoken expressions of artful language can and ought to be interpreted differently than everyday spoken language and artful written language. This is so, Bauman says, because verbal art is performed. And the performance event ought to be viewed as taking place in a different frame or across a different series of frames or socio-cultural contexts/traditions than those in which everyday events take place or within which written language is constructed. An understanding of verbal art as a mode of performance and of performance as a mode of speaking opens the way to view performative language as something that exists beyond self-contained linguistic structures (as a book, a story, a poem, or even a specific performance). Rather, verbal art is something that tends more toward the extra-ordinary usage and/or patterning of speech as used across a range of texts and contexts.

In this sense, Bauman suggests "that performance sets up, or represents, an interpretive frame within which the messages communicated [through performance events] are to be understood” beyond what the words spoken or the gestures performed literally mean (9). That is, in order to get increased meaning and value from the text-as-performed, the audience needs to think less about what exactly the performer’s words and gestures mean and more about how these words and gestures might relate and respond to the performance’s cultural, historical, and social contexts.


Image source: Waveland Press, Inc.