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A little less than a happy high
Carnivalesque echolalia
Yesterday, I was reading an article in the most recent Art New England entitled The New Performativity: Harvesting sincerity from irony, and giving it up to the people and my eyes kept straying to the title. In fact, I was having a difficult time getting past the word, performativity. The word seems clumsy and inelegant, akin to something GWB would coin while not discussing the grand master plan for an American hegemony.

Unlike "disarmabilitation," however, the term does seems to see legitimate use, and a quick search brings links to scholarly articles like Performativity and Performance and Poetry as Performativity and Excess.

For all my searching, I'm only beginning to understand the concept, though it's unclear to me why "performativity" is a better choice than "how meaning happens."


Honestly, this has left me feeling weirdly intimidated. I don't love being conceptually backward.
5 comments or Leave a comment
canonfire From: canonfire Date: May 13th, 2003 01:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
i almost prefer "performation", myself...
komos From: komos Date: May 14th, 2003 08:45 am (UTC) (Link)
It's performarific!
shutupbetsy From: shutupbetsy Date: May 13th, 2003 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Man, academics just fucking love the word performativity. It's often used in reference to gender, but also race, class, and pretty much bloody everything. I do think that performativity points to the artifice of how meaning happens, and to the social construction of it. This is particular relevent to the performativity of gender (because that's what I know most about). If gender is performable, then it is ultimately maleable and imitatable. Does that make any sense? My theoryspeak is a bit rusty.
komos From: komos Date: May 15th, 2003 07:21 am (UTC) (Link)
It does, actually, but it still feels like the word is unnecessarily imprecise. It may simply be that I still haven't entirely wrapped my mind around it, but it seems to carry a slightly different meaning in each of the realms where it is used. Just running with your example, would it be safe to say that it is through the acceptance and "performance" of socially-defined gender roles that leads to the "performativity" of gender? When those roles are broken/transcended/changed, does the creation of meaning change as well, or is it more of a fixed conceptualization?

(My dancing bear-like waltzing with the term is demonstrating that a full decade out of academia has made me soft and weak. ^_^)
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 13th, 2003 09:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank god I fled school a decade before such terms hijacked the humanities departments. Which means that I must rely on the internet for some notion of what the word means. I found two attempts at definition:

1) "Performativity is the process for individuals of repeating and mimicking societal markers of gender." (http://icg.harvard.edu/~lit105/Class_Dictionary/Performativity.htm)
This definition claims to be the one used commonly in gender studies. One wonders why "socialization" wasn't good enough for them. Perhaps because the latter term is too generally understood, hence fails to fulfill the essential obfuscation function.

2) "Performativity: Modern criteria by which judgement is made on the basis of pragmatic performance or outcome. It is not acceptable to most postmodernists, who see it as an extension of the modern faith in reason. Postmodernists argue that performativity discourages diversity and autonomy, flexibility and openness."
Umm, uh, what? This definition fails to fulfill the most basic criterion of "definition", which is to be written in a language. It seems to be saying that performativity (singular) = judgemental criteria (plural), as in, "When I apply performativity to your paper, I keep coming up with a failing grade." You can see why "it" would not be acceptable to those who have no faith in the faith in reason.

I think "perfervidity" is a much better word.
5 comments or Leave a comment