The Spectacle of Performance. The Postmodern Hyperreal and Medieval European Play
Keywords:Performance, Postmodernism, Representation, Theater, Dramaturgy, Social construction, Genealogy, Cultural history
A postmodernist claim concerning contemporary displacement of reality by "simulacra" that subsume reality can inspire a broader genealogy of reality, representation, play, and imaginaries. This essay examines: (1) the supposed postmodern displacement of modern boundaries between reality and representation; (2) medieval European performance; and (3) implications for understanding reality construction as a genealogical project. Any overly binary distinction between the modern and the postmodern is problematic. The social construction of reality, representation, play, and imaginaries occurs in societies in general. Consideration of medieval European venues (the Church, courts, and others) reveals contestation about performances of jugglers and acrobats, minstrels and mimes, courtly poets, and religious performers of spectacular ritual. Myriad medieval practices created a "near imaginary" of enchantment that permeated even quotidian reality with magic, angels, devils, and monsters, nevertheless resisting dramatization as such. Modernization, marked culturally by the emergence of realist Renaissance theater, established stronger boundaries between reality and imaginaries. Postmodern developments undermine rationalized modern policings of objective reality and representation. However, in contrast to medieval enchantment through a near-imaginary, simulacra organize life through more free-floating representations. This analysis offers a prototype for further histories of cultural constructions of reality in relation to performance and imaginaries.
Baudrillard, J. (1988a). America (C. Brown, Trans.). New York, NY: Verso.
Baudrillard, J. (1988b). Selected Writings (J. Mourrain, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Bell, D. (1976). The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York, NY: Basic.
Berger, P. & Luckmann, T. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Boorstin, D.J. (1962). The Image, or What Happened to the American Dream. New York, NY: Atheneum.
Brown, R.H. (1990). Rhetoric, Textuality, and the Postmodern Turn in Sociological Theory. Sociological Theory, 8(2), 188–97. https://doi.org/10.2307/202204
Cantor, N.F. (1988). Twentieth-Century Culture. Modernism to Deconstruction. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Chambers, E.K. (1948). The Mediaeval Stage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1903)
Collins, R. (1989). Sociology: Proscience or Antiscience?. American Sociological Review, 54(1), 124–39. https://doi.org/10.2307/2095666
Corrigan, P., & Sayer, D. (1985). The Great Arch. English State Formation as Cultural Revolution. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell.
Davis, M. (1990). City of Quartz. Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. New York, NY: Verso.
Desrosières, A. (1991). How to Make Things Which Hold Together: Social Science, Statistics and the State. In P. Wagner, B. Wittrock, & R. Whitley (Eds.) Discourses on Society: The Shaping of the Social Science Disciplines (pp. 195–218). Dordrecht: Springer.
Eagleton. T. (1983). Literary Theory. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell.
Foucault, M. (1965). Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (R. Howard, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon. (Original work published 1961)
Foucault, M. (1972). The Archeology of Knowledge (A.M. Sheridan-Smith, Trans.). London: Tavistock. (Original work published 1969)
Fraser, N. (1987). Women, Welfare and the Politics of Need Interpretation. Hypatia, 2(1), 103–21. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3809862
Gans, H.J. (1974). Popular Culture and High Culture. New York, NY: Basic.
Gans, H.J. (1979). Deciding What’s News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York, NY: Random House.
Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York, NY: Basic.
Gitlin, T. (1980). The Whole World is Watching. Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Glassner, B. (1990). Fit for Postmodern Selfhood. In H.S. Becker & M. McCall (Eds.), Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies (pp. 215–243). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Goldberger, P. (1992). 25 Years of Unabashed Elitism. The New York Times, 2 February. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/02/arts/architecture-view-25-years-of-unabashed-elitism.html
Greenblatt, S. (1990). Learning to Curse. Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York, NY: Routledge.
Greenblatt, S. (1991). Marvelous Possessions. The Wonder of the New World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Griswold, W. (1986). Renaissance Revivals: City Comedy and Revenge Tragedy in the London Theater, 1576-1980. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Griswold, W. (1987). A Methodological Framework for the Study of Sulture. Sociological Methodology, 17, 1–35. https://doi.org/10.2307/271027
Hall, J.R. (1990). Social Interaction, Culture, and Historical Studies. In H.S. Becker & M. McCall (Eds.), Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies (pp. 16–45). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Hall, J.R. (1993). Cultural History. In P.N. Sterns (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Social History (pp. 185–87). New York, NY: Garland.
Hall, J.R., & Neitz, M.J. (1993). Culture: Sociological Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Hochschild, A.R. (1983). The Managed Heart. Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Holub, R.C. (1984). Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction. North Yorkshire: Methuen.
Huyyssen, A. (1986). After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
IMDb. (n.d.). Murphy Brown. IMDb.com. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094514/episodes/
Kirby, E.T. (1975). Ur-Drama. The Origins of Theater. New York, NY: New York University Press,
Lechner, F. (1990). Fundamentalism Revisited. In T. Robbins & D. Anthony (Eds.), In Gods We Trust (2nd ed.) (pp. 77–97). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.
Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge (G. Bennington & B Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Maclean, M. (1988). Narrative as Performance. The Baudelairean Experiment. New York, NY: Routledge.
McCloskey, D. (1985). The Rhetoric of Economics. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Mullaney, S. (1988). The Place of the Stage. License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Singal, D.J. (1987). Toward a Definition of American Modernism. American Quarterly, 39(1), 7–26. https://doi.org/10.2307/2712627
Swidler, A. (1980). Love and Adulthood in American Culture. In N. Smelser & E.H. Erikson (Eds.), Themes of Work and Love in Adulthood (pp. 120–147). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tydeman, W. (1978). The Theatre in the Middle Ages. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Venturi, R., Brown, D.S., & Izenour, S. (1977). Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Weber, M. (1958). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (T. Parsons, Trans.). New York, NY: Scribner’s. (Original work published in 1905)
White, H. (1987). The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality. In H. White (Ed.), The Content of the Form (1–25). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wickham, G. (1974). The Medieval Theatre. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 John R. Hall
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.