Vitality and Obsolescence in the Theatre of the Humanities: Or, #SandraBland and Hamlet

Rebecca Schneider Brown University
Abstract: This essay takes up the Humanities Futures project's call to critically assess "vital" areas of study in the Humanities in relationship to threats of so-called "obsolescence" coming from interdisciplines. Troubling the habitual distinction between vitality and obsolescence prevalent in the economized neoliberal university, the essay thinks through the dymanics of call and response, or the hail and the turn, in several key "texts" (Hamlet and Althusser) in relationship to recent cases of police brutalization of people of color in the U.S.  The discipline of performance studies is mobilized in response to this call and the question of the vitality of obsolescence is raised from the perspective of theatre, dance, and performance studies in order to ask about the political potential in deploying obsolescence tactically.

The Hail and the Turn

My many thanks to Rey Chow, Michael Hardt, and the Franklin Humanities Institute for extending the invitation to participate in this event. I was honored to receive the call, and will respond to it here. In fact, call and response—or the hail and the turn—have become central to the essay at hand, which is itself both a response to the call I received, and a call of its own in (re)turn.

This quotation comes from the call I received in the mail:

Contribute an original . . .‘thought piece’ [that] should address what you understand to be a vital area of contemporary research in your field, including reflections on its significance for the future of the discipline within which the field is located.

The questions that form the basis for this call were presented as follows:

As the emerging interdisciplines introduce novel objects of study (e.g., neuro-cognition, climate change), new methodologies, (e.g., data mining, geospatial analysis), and new cultures of research (e.g., collaborative work of the sort fostered by the FHI’s Humanities Laboratories) will the long-standing humanities disciplines absorb these new challenges? Or will these new questions and new methods prove so profoundly incommensurate with earlier research agendas and interpretive methods that they threaten to render earlier disciplinary and interdisciplinary paradigms of the humanities obsolescent?

I have added emphasis to the words "vital" and "obsolescent." It seems to me that a vital area of contemporary research may in fact be obsolescence, just as an obsolescent area of humanities research—vitality—seems to be making a return in what some term "the new materialism," albeit one that often looks more like neovitalism (Bennett 2010).

In the call I received, "vital" areas with "significance" for the "future" are requested, seemingly to shore against the possibility that "long-standing humanities disciplines" will otherwise be rendered "obsolescent." Many of my comments here are motivated by the fact that I am not convinced that vitality and obsolescence are necessarily in opposition. What exactly is the fear of obsolescence? And why does it seem to be pitted against vitality? As asked, I have worked to produce a "thought piece" that takes these questions up and, like thought, twists them into possibilities less for answers than for more thought. One call, through response, leads and follows another.

Let’s look at the call again. I am hailed—addressed—and asked to address in return. I am asked to turn and state my coordinates (you will have already guessed that I am playing with interpellation here, in this case, interpellation into/as a citizen of the academy). Hey, you there:

address what you understand to be a vital area of contemporary research in your field, including reflections on its significance for the future of the discipline within which the field is located.

To address this request in its own terms, I should not only identify "my field" but "the discipline within which" that field is "located." I should say clearly who I am, whom I serve, where I come from, and where I am going. There’s nothing essentially wrong with this, of course. Perspectives will be diverse, as Nietzsche argued. Allowing that one’s perspective may diverge from another’s enables, does it not, diversity? That I am not from art history may be important when I make claims about the futures of the academy. That I am not from English, or French, or comparative literature, will set the (seminar) table in the room appropriately. These are "long-standing humanities disciplines," and I am not among them.

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Screen shot from 1948 film Hamlet starring Lawrence Olivier.

Before I attempt to answer with coordinates, however, let’s review two famous scenes of hailing. Recall that the question "Who’s there?" starts the tragedy Hamlet, and from there events progress to repeat themselves predictably (as is the given circumstance of scripts). The opening scene takes place between two sentries (policemen of sorts) who are standing watch, replacing each other in turns, and the scene unfolds in a house built for watching—the theatre—where people repeatedly stand in for other people while yet other people watch. In response to "Who’s there?" a simple, disciplined answer should suffice. And indeed, a much truncated 1603 first quarto of Hamlet, believed to be remembered by actors and thus "bad," reads: "Stand: who is that?" followed by the simple response, "Tis I." The 1604–05 second quarto of Hamlet, believed to be Shakespeare’s, unfolds a more complicated scene. In the second quarto, the response to "Who’s there?" ricochets, offering a refusal and a question in return: "Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself." In the second quarto, that is, the initial policeman’s hail is met with dissent: Nay. In addition, the question of which is hail and which is response is thrown into relief. To the question of "Who’s there?" the response is, essentially, "Who’s there?" In productions of Hamlet, the self-replacing sentries are often set in rolling theatrical stage fog. Because it’s theatre, this foggy scene at the site of surrogation reoccurs night after night after night whenever Hamlet is staged for a run. Scenes happen, that is, but without succession. Scenes happen, again, the next night and the next, just as the night before and before (rendering vitality and obsolescence already complicatedly hand-in-hand).

Though no fog is involved, the hail from behind is the way Louis Althusser illustrates his theory of how subjects are formed in relationship to ideology. He calls his example a "little theoretical theatre." In his scene, a policeman calls "Hey, you there!" to a passerby in front of him on the street who is expected to turn "one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees" and respond appropriately.

There are individuals walking along. Somewhere (usually behind them) the hail rings out: ‘Hey, you there!’ One individual (nine times out of ten it is the right one) turns round, believing/suspecting/ knowing that it is for him, i.e. recognizing that ‘it really is he’ who is meant by the hailing. But in reality these things happen without any succession. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing (Althusser 1971,163).

But much has been written about these scenes—so why should we rehearse them here? Shakespeare and Althusser are not new. There has been so much attention to them, in fact, that by rights they should be obsolete. At least in terms of Shakespeare one could argue that obsolescence is gloriously rehearsed and maintained by the reanimation machine of theatre, again in a complicated love affair between vitality and obsolescence, like the living and the dead. But when should the question of call and response in scenarios of policing be brought "out" of obsolescence, if they were ever actually there, to front and center stage again?

In fact, my own writing was arrested by events. Scenes of police hailings have intervened in my response to this Humanities Center call. I delivered a live version of this paper at Duke on March 25, 2015, and received many helpful questions from the audience. Thus, in the process of rewriting for publication the question of the hail was amplified in the complex ricochet of academic exchange that makes thought collective. In addition, across the spring and early summer of 2015, in the midst of rewriting, news of black Americans arrested for minor traffic or swimming pool violations and, in some cases, dying in police custody, irrupted across our screens again and again and again. For example, the transcript of Chicagoan Sandra Bland’s encounter with Texas police officer Brian Encinia, who pulled her over for a minor traffic violation on July 10 of 2015, circulated on the Internet in the aftermath of her July 13 death in jail. The transcript shows that police violence "escalated" when Bland answered Encinia’s hail with questions of her own. As of today, the circumstances of Bland’s death—deemed a "suicide" after a "routine" stop—are still foggy at best. In response to the event (if an event is a hail), in the two days after her death was announced, 31,000 people tweeted using the hashtag #SandraBland and an online petition called for an investigation of her death (Rogers 2015). "Say Her Name" began as a May 2015 report from the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Policy Studies at Columbia University (Crenshaw and Ritchie, updated after Bland’s death in July 2015). Influenced by #BlackLivesMatter movement—a black queer womanist movement that arose in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder in 2012—"Say Her Name" as an action gained momentum after the June 2015 brutalization of Dajerria Becton at a pool party in Texas. Three days after Bland’s death, 200,000 people had tweeted #SandraBland (Blake 2015), orchestrating a "watch" in the form of a multitude answering (and calling) "Who’s There?"

Of course, brutalization at the scene of (black) hailing is not new. Facebook and Twitter and other social media have been full of the voices of outraged Americans reminding us all that violence against people of color happens repeatedly, without succession, again and again. Though events such as Bland’s death cannot be called a theoretical theatre, nevertheless the recurrence of the "ritual" (Althusser’s other word for the scene of interpellation [1971,158]) requires analyses of how the violence of interpellation recurs under the normalized cloak of disregard and can pass, "nine times out of ten," as if completely "routine," even non-noteworthy. As if obsolete. Violence against blacks is a vestige of another time, isn’t it? The confederate flag is only a Civil War memorial of something now obsolete, isn’t it? That war is over, isn’t it? And yet violence moves in undercurrents of disregard, passing as routine, without succession. So-called "obsolescence," recurs as routine, again and again and again. The prison industrial complex, which Angela Davis links to antebellum slavery, may be "obsolete" (as she argues), but its very obsolescence has not spelled the end of its violent practice (2003). Obsolescence, that is, has a mighty way of remaining vital.

Kinda Disciplinary, Kinda Antidisciplinary

Intervals between any calls and any responses—the space of turns in Althusser’s story—contain all the threat and potential of crisis, even as the interval is normalized to the point of appearing unworthy of mention. The real cloak-work of ideology is to pass as unremarkable. To continue well after the obsolescence of its novelty—long into its assumption as habit—is the ongoing reproductive work of ideology. So, in regard to disciplinary formation, perhaps the question is not whether long-standing disciplines may become obsolete, but under what conditions their obsolescence is both preserved and policed as, perhaps, vital to the production of knowledge that is, or has been, the humanities. The humanities may be, in fact, the best place from which to think, deeply and critically, about obsolescence and it operations.

It may sound as if I am against obsolescence and against the humanities! In fact, I take both extremely seriously. And here we may need to consider my perspective—my disciplinary location—to understand why that may be so. What is my discipline?  Within which field?  Who’s there?

My field unfolds, in many ways, between texts and bodies, or scripts and live enactment, and so the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn is something of a choreography for thought. The "between" or "among" or "though" in intervals for response is at the heart of my work. With ongoing routine violence at the scene of the hail on street sides across the U.S.A, it is hard to remain disciplined if disciplined in part means calm, cool, and collected. What is disciplinarity in the face of these events? Clearly, one might object that I confuse the spaces between the street, the stage, the seminar room, and the text. One site of hail and response is not the same as another. The disparate sites I discuss together here (stage, street, seminar room, text, or script) are not sites with equal stakes, nor is privilege evenly distributed among these sites. As a white American academic I am not a young black woman from Chicago heading to Texas for a new job, and the call I receive from Duke is not the hail of a police officer. This is obvious and true. And yet one charge as I see it of my "disciplinary" locale is to trouble the space—the interval—between stage and house, between stage and street, between street and seminar room, between disciplines, and between bodies in difference and in relation, between sites of privilege and sites of disenfranchisement, between texts and bodies. The coming undone—the questioning—of otherwise discrete borders can seem to only raise questions upon questions, but these comings undone are vital to operations of dissensus, which, as Jacques Rancière has rigorously argued, is the stuff of politics (in contrast to policing) (2010).

The discipline, or anti-discipline, from which I hail is performance studies, and it does not have a "proper" or singular field in which it can self-locate. Like area studies (women’s studies, postcolonial studies, queer studies, Africana studies, American studies, visual studies) it is one of the late twentieth-century interdisciplines that began to crop up in the wake of the civil rights movement and in relation to globalization, decolonization, new technologies or representation, and the growth of multinational capital at the dawn of neoliberalism. In this sense it is one of the interdisciplines and not a "long-standing humanities discipline" as referred to in the call.In fact, performance studies may not be a "discipline" at all, but more properly a mode of inquiry with relational ties to other overlapping or intersecting modes of inquiry. Either way, performance studies is famous for a behaving promiscuously when it comes to academic boundaries. It is a slippery field in the fog at best, suited to its slippery topics: affect, performance, theatricality, embodied acts, gesturing, posing, feigning, policing, dissenting, masquerading, role-playing, avowing, promising, stating, claiming, speaking, dancing, acting, and myriad other action verbs like relating, ritualizing, exchanging, materializing, dematerializing, intra-acting, and speaking the speech trippingly on the tongue. The "proper objects" of the discipline are largely not objects at all, let alone rooted or planted in one field and not another. Thus responding to "Hey, you there" regarding field coordinates "within which" my discipline may be located is fraught. Standing watch at the borders runs into problems when attempting to keep the rogue "performance" in line, as Hamlet himself makes clear in his famous "speak the speech" speech to actors (who are onstage actors playing actors) (Hamlet 3.2.1-36). Policing as "choreographic activity" is in fact the recent subject of study by colleagues in performance studies—from routine police actions to "Hands Up" responses to police brutality in Baltimore (Lepecki 2013a, Kedhar 2014, Bragin 2014). Performance, that is, can run far afield of borders that might keep it tied to discrete works of art or works of literature, though "theatricality" and "choreography" remain in these analyses even when "artists" are not the agents of action. Performance studies tends to move across borders formerly segregating "long-standing" arts and literature objects from subjects considered outside the humanities purview: sociology, anthropology, history, psychology, and recently, critical geography, ecology, and science studies. Performance studies, that is, has been something of a streetwalker—kinda disciplinary, kinda antidisciplinary.By choosing "kinda," in the sentence above, I lift an improper word from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s well-known phrase about queer performativity: "kinda subversive, kinda hegemonic" (1993,15). Sedgwick was referring to queer drag performance in relationship to long-standing disciplines of heteronormativity. "Kinda" signifies incompleteness, or partiality, and thus occupies an interval between otherwise binarized pairs. That it is slang, and thus improper, is tactical in its operation of "binary terrorism" (Schneider 1997,13). Suspending precise location in an interval means that a definitive state of being one-thing-and-not-another-thing is never achieved. This is kin to Homi Bahbha’s "almost but not quite" as regards the basic threat of mimesis wielded by the "kinda" complicit colonial subject (1994,122). To be kinda one thing and kinda its opposite, kinda complicit and kinda resistant, kinda fake and kinda real, is interstitial, incomplete, and not performative. It is also not simply "in between" (Moten 2003). Something is not done, nothing is fully achieved, and the stance is infelicitous (to use J. L. Austin’s word). Like slang and other forms of alternative futuring, the enterprise that is "kinda" is queer, and more theatrical than performative (Munoz 2009). More unproductive than productive. More unbecoming than becoming. More intervallic and undecidable than arrived. Border states, like emergence and obsolescence—always on the shores of appearance or disappearance—have both potential and threat knit into their condition of constitutive deferral. This is, of course, another definition of thought. But I digress and have only added fog to the stage of reply: Who’s there? The modern academy has a "long-standing" investment in knowledge production—with emphasis on production. This production must be unending, without succession, and is intimately linked to what Max Weber termed the "spirit of capitalism" (Weber 1930, see also Chow 2002, Boltanski and Chiapello 2005). And yet it also must continually surpass itself in an ongoing cycle of the production of obsolescence. That is, science, linked to "progress," depends upon continually rendering its historical products obsolete in relation to its new findings (Weber 1930, 137–38). But the process of the production of obsolescence itself must never become rendered obsolete. The humanities, on the other hand, traditionally have lived closer to the archive, nearer to the library than to the laboratory (or at least have regularly crossed the streets between), thinking and writing and speaking and gesturing about things easy to mark as obsolete. The humanities appear to have been invested in preservation, or staying forever on the shores of obsolescence— keeping, if you will, the outmoded alive. In this sense, obsolescence can be seen as a threat to science. The maintenance or interrogation of the long-standing obsolescent (rather than the continual production of the newly obsolescent) can seem challenging to neoliberal university mandates of ever new economizing "excellence" outcomes that, according to Wendy Brown, "abjure humanistic inquiry" (2015, 196). In relationship to the "new" neoliberal spirit of capitalism and the economizing of intellectual labor (Hardt and Negri 2000, 289–294; Lazarrato 2006) and, indeed "performance" (Virno 2004, 55; Jackson 2011), the always potentially outmoded domain of the humanities may appear as if on the shores of disappearance, sitting in an interval and digging in its heels, refusing productivity.

But, again, when is the obsolete truly obsolete? And when, and why, might the obsolete in fact recur—and recur as threat? This is to ask whether an "obsolete" discipline or disciplinary subject or object or an obsolete idea or obsolete practice might be, in some ways, a site of potential? A site, as well, of dissent in relationship to neoliberalism’s economization of ideals of "knowledge production." How else would we explain the recent (re)turns to purportedly obsolescent pre-colonial forms of thinking with "animism," "fetishism," and "totemism" in the affective turn (Mitchell 2006) or to "primitivism" in the molecularizations of some "new" materialisms (Rosenberg 2014)? The threat of obsolescence may in fact be that it is a ruse—it never actually occurs. Rather, always on "the shores of disappearance," or under the cloak or "routine," or in irruptive capacities of what Foucault called bodily "counter-memory," obsolescence recurs (Foucault 1977; Schneider 2011). Kinda past kinda future. Reason enough, one could submit, to submit it to rigorous humanistic study. Or kinda humanistic, and also kinda nonhuman-istic (Grusin 2015).


If the first lines of Hamlet take the form of a hail—"Who’s there?"—nine times out of ten he who turns to answer will be . . . an actor! Not he, or not only he, who she purports to be. It may not be entirely different on the street. Hailed by the police, one is expected to turn and perform not only oneself but also and simultaneously the "proper citizen" role, responding to authority pre-determined by rituals of surrogation as one sentry replaces the next. The risk of "responding while Black," repeatedly demonstrated across the bodies of people of color, tragically underscores the Hamletian tangle of "being and seeming" in negotiation. The risk of not acting according to a precedent script of what being black is supposed to perform in dramas of long-standing white privilege is, in a word, death. This is the reality of theatricality, and it occurs on stage and off. That is, the hail and the turn to respond on the street is both a matter of theatrical or scripted performance and a matter of life and death. The scene of policing, on the street and in the academy, is essentially theatrical but no less real. Is the theatre of action regarding legitimate or "long-standing" humanities also essentially a matter of policing—a matter of orchestrating a choreography of appropriate interpellative turning? When, and how, can it be brought forward as political, in Rancière’s sense? What kind of academic choreography for the humanities would enable the inappropriate or unexpected turns, the dissenting turns as, the promise of our collective "fields"?

It is certainly the case that many of the "emerging interdisciplines" and "new methodologies" cited in the FHI call are the product of recent "turns" in the academy (to transplant the turn from Althusser’s street to the academic context). Most recently we have collectively experienced (across disciplines) the affective turn, the nonhuman turn, the ecocritical turn, and the "eco-poco" or postcolonial-ecocritical turn. The "linguistic turn" is often sited as the first, but note that "turn" was a phrase used by Richard Rorty in 1967 to describe with hindsight already established intellectual movements that had invested in the notion that language constructs reality. In fact, early twentieth-century schools of thought didn’t become referred to as "turns" until 1967. It would be interesting to theorize whether it was the "linguistic turn" that set things a-spin, or the influence of the "performative turn" that was already underway by the time Rorty coined the word "turn" and set it spinning back to Saussure. Of course, if humanistic lines or methods or disciplines of inquiry transpose into turns mid-century, how should this be related to the onset of neoliberalism? And, in fact, much as already been written about "performance" as an operative agent in the "experience economy," perhaps uniquely suited to the neoliberal "turn" (McKenzie 2002, Jackson 2011, Schneider 2011). Certainly over the last ten years, we have seen a steady increase and overlap in academic turns. All the turning can make you dizzy (or ecstatic), and indeed Richard Grusin has recently written on a possible "turn fatigue" in the academy (2015, xiv–xxi).

It cannot be inconsequential that academic "turns," toward and away, around and through, not only appear in relationship to neoliberalism, but also increase at a juncture that troubles linear time in favor of folded, swerving, or recursive time and mobilizes largely indigenous ideas of non-static place (Freeman 2010, Schneider 2011, Basso 1996, Tuck and McKenzie 2013). It is also hardly inconsequential that the word "choreography" occurs quite often in another interdisciplinary formation—the new materialism. Though the word’s relationship to dance history is generally unremarked, the term carries something of the body with it across its use. Diana Coole, for example, uses "choreography" as a term basically interchangeable with patterns of thought, suggesting that the border between linguistic and material/bodily sense-making has collapsed with the new materialism—what before was all language is now, on the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree flip of the turn, all material. If choreography might suggest embodied or otherwise materialized thought, in Coole’s case it signifies primarily thought on the "irreducible intermeshing of human and nonhuman" in "co-production" (2013, 3–4). Interestingly, "coproduction" is also Kim Tallbear’s word, taken from science and technology studies and rearticulated through James Clifford and Stuart Hall. Tallbear uses coproduction to describe the complete intermeshing of science (so-called natural) and the social (so-called cultural) in her book tracing the problematic contemporary reduction of Native America to genetic molecular materiality (2013, 11–13). Karen Barad might use the word "intra-active" for "coproduction" (Barad 2003), but in each of these cases there is a profound co-relationality that effectively dissolves borders between formerly discrete subjects and objects of study.[1] Of course the argument could be made that theatre, dance, and performance art have always troubled the borders of the so-called human and the so-called non, the so-called subject and the so-called object. We can think, simply, of the man/animal/god Dionysus, or masks, or puppets, or non-Aristotelian rituals of possession trance and dance to suggest the expandable limits of what is "vital" or "animate" to the inanimate (Chen 2012) or "inter(in)animate" (Schneider 2011).

I admit that my thoughts, set to spin, do not congeal into answers. I admit, as well, to being very interested in obsolescence as a state of becoming that we should, perhaps, engage, if we are to engage politically. This is in part because, as Rancière writes, politics is "always of the moment and its subjects are always precarious. A political difference is always on the shore of its own disappearance." This is so because, unlike policing, the aim of politics is to "invent new ways of making sense of the sensible. . .in short, new bodily capacities" (Ranciere 2010, 39, 139). This is why politics emerges as always already "choreographic activity" (Lepecki 2013b, 25). But my interest in obsolescence as vital may also be due to my own disciplinary background in theatre—a "live" art form famously hailed as obsolete (and even dead), again and again and again. As I wrote in 2012 in a TDR issue I co-edited on performance and precarity:

Live theatre has long imagined itself to be dead. Cinema was said to have killed it again, after a precedent slaying by photography. Its modern visionaries of note—Zola, Stanislavsky, Artaud—constantly descried the habit of theatre’s own conventions to strangle it from within. Theatre, it appears, has long been its own voracious parasite and the source of its own perpetual ruin. Any artwork that traffics in theatre or the theatrical (which is not the same as performance or the performative) can be ruined by that traffic, or (worse by some accounts) can be traffic in ruin (Schneider 2012, 159).

And yet, I wrote, theatre persists. It cites itself and thrives at the threshold of obsolescence. It feeds on some kind of undecideable passageway—in the lag time—between the live and the dead. And though, like dissensus (which is to say politics) it may require its own ephemerality, it is always only "on the shore" of its own disappearance. It does not go away. Or, as Herbert Blau has written of theatre, "it’s there when we look again" (1982, 137). It neither achieves disappearance, nor full appearance. It doesn’t achieve anything. It is not productive. Not even performative. We can track a persistent investment in theatre’s ruin value running through philosophy, the arts, and the letters. It’s the obsolete that recurs, the interval, the time lag—not so much to challenge or battle or overcome obsolescence, but to trouble our ready categories, whatever they may be, of subject/object, human/nonhuman, live/dead, vital/obsolete—not getting rid of these oppositions, but gesturing to the zone in which they become indistinguishable. Appearing as already dead, the "live" of theatre is one you just can’t kill. And as Dionysus, the God of Theatre, says in the fullness of his half-human vitality to the empire-builder Pentheus in The Bacchae: "The God you call dead is. . .Dionysus."

Though Hardt and Negri celebrated Dionysus as the joyful god of "living labor" in their first book, reserving him for something of a completely resistant neovitalism (1994), the god is also, we might recall, the seriously grumpy twice born undead gender trouble effigy of the mask who interrupts our habits of legislating precise lines between decrescence and emergence, between bios and necros. The actor, as intra-dead or intra-live (or extra-dead or extra-live) reminds us, paradoxically, that dead labor lives. Or, said another way, that depreciation, un-productivity, decrescence, in all its theatricalities, is not merely animate nor definitively inanimate but, complexly, inter(in)animate. Vital and obsolescent. Or also like Dionysus: Human and non.

We might think of this as vitalobsolescence. In the collapse of space between these words, I am borrowing here from Andre LePecki and Erin Manning. "Leadingfollowing" is how Lepecki describes Manning describing the complexities of intra-action in much dance practice where follower(s) in fact cue leader(s) and a follower can be said, more often than not, to initiate (Lepecki 2013b, Manning 2009, 108). The same might be said of call and response—where the response is also a call that invites a change in the meaning of the original hail (and here I insert the word callresponse). In either case—between the bodies of dancers or in the interval between a call and response —there is virtuality: anything can happen.[2] Responding to Manning, Lepecki posits the undecidability of leadingfollowing as "dancing in the interval" (2013, 36). By "dancing in the interval" Lepecki is leadingfollowing the thoughts of Rancière: The interval is open for dissensus. That is, the interval is political.

In the interval, turning or not turning to answer (or not answer) a call, we are rendered subjectobject. No matter whether we turn or hold still or walk or refuse an instruction we are already subjectobject to the unfolding habits and rituals that compose the fabric of everyday life in the social. We are already parts of the assemblages of human and nonhuman that co-construct the social in patterns where the shores of seemingly obsolescent rituals meet the vital pulse of recurrence. Even as everything might happen differently in every interval, the ongoing ricochet of call and response keeps the scene unfolding, keeps the scene cross-temporal, and defines the social (human and non) as relational.

Thus, from my own "kinda" disciplinary perspectives—theatre, dance, and performance studies—the question of obsolescence in relationship to "vital areas" of research is very complex. We are already working in and on obsolescence. As such, at best we may be zombie forms that refuse to recognize the proper boundaries of private (disciplinary) property. Roaming, we make thoughts that are not explicitly productive— and do not conform, either, to the mandates that language (or text) are the sovereign means of access to subjectobjects of study. That obsolescence (or, if you prefer, primitivity and femininity) is in fact on offer in the unbecoming "fields" of theatre, dance, and performance studies may be the very promise of those "fields." Our obsolescence (staying always on the shores of disappearance) may be the way we can best analyze the operations of obsolescence that otherwise function in the service of capital. Our out and about obsolescence—kinda vital, kinda obsolete—may be our most vitally obsolete contributionthreats to the production machine of the late late capitalist academy.


  1. Some schools of thought loosely associated with new materialisms, the affective turn, and the ecocritical turn have little or no engagement with feminism, postcolonialism, queer theory, or modes of thought that investigate the historical tracks of identity (and thus might be interested in theatricalitly). Staunchly against "corelationism," speculative realism and object oriented ontology (OOO) offer stand-alone theories on radical autonomy. Other new materialisms, invested in assemblage theory, argue for the autonomy of matter but also engage the historical tracks of human identity that can "drag" (to use a theatrical term) cross-temporal material force. On such drag see Freeman 2010 and Manuel DeLanda in Dolphijn and van der Tuin 2012:39.
  2. Ironically, the interval is provoked to thought by collapsing the literal interval between words as in leadingfollowing, callresponse, subjectobject, livingdead, manwoman, and so on. This may be a redistribution of the sensible that invites dissent from habits of normative alignment in sense-making regimes but also, again perhaps ironically, mirrors modes of address in the digital age where the speed of intervals has been rapidly diminishing (think of publicprivate) even as other gaps have grown (think of richpoor). Think as well of #SandraBland.


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