Notes on: Pelias R (1994) An Autobiographic
Ethnography of Performance in Everyday Discourse.
Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism,
Spring 1994 163--72
[a piece composed of little fragments of isolated
thoughts --aphorisms?-- about performance.
How to describe the performative? 'Rule one: make
sure the self is at the centre of the report. Role
to: make sure the self is sufficiently in the
background. Self-indulgence is not permitted.
Being boring is even worse' (163). The performer
should be 'rhetorical … An engaging persona, one
who seduces readers into believing that they are
in the company they wish to keep. The scholar
aesthete is nothing more than and nothing less
than a negotiation of personality, an actor who
turns life into art'. Teaching could be a
performance, although the audience is not always
engaged. Actors in films sometimes have standings.
A sneeze evokes all sorts of other things — he
chooses those that just begin with a and the list
includes 'argument, authentication, apology,
admiration, autobiography', because 'meaning is
radically contingent' (164).
Performance invites apprehension and fear because
the other can read the self. He has performance
anxiety, stage fright, sometimes disguised with
'politically correct words: communication
All sorts of people have attempted to turn their
life into art, but is this 'more than a marketing
strategy? Is it genuine incarnation? Is it the
individual answer to theatrical spectacle?' (166).
Away from logical argument you can offer
'contingencies, random thoughts, tenuous
connections, solipsistic references, feelings,
personal impressions, selected notes, private
confessions'. But there is an obligation to hold
the interest of the audience engage, be witty and
[Then an aphorism] 'The post-modern mandate is the
sophists' proof' [what].
It is always been difficult to describe what
theatre and acting actually amount to, and there
are clearly boundary cases. Perhaps the key is
intent 'to create an event that will affect an
'The avant-garde exist on the margins… When we (or
should I say, the bourgeois) understand, all is
[A couple of street performers and beggars are
cited as possibly offering art, and there is a
connection with 'the liturgical debate' about the
proper substances to use for communication. He
also engages in 'a shared public performance, a
light comedy we stage periodically. All art is
ideological' when he offered stories about his
'This piece is about my performance in everyday
interactions. Our interaction is a performance
about alternatives to scholarly representation.
Scholarship and fiction are more than related;
they are incestuous cousins'. Sometimes
storytellers wonder if they are the ones who are
He defends his paper on autobiographic ethnography
to a sceptical colleague who asks why anyone
should care about him as a subject. His reply is
he is not just doing self-report but discussing
'modes of proof' (169). He lies to his kids about
the value of their projects in school.
He thinks that reading mediates between two facts,
interpretation mediates between two readings,
understanding mediates between two
interpretations, that truth mediates between two
dialogues, and that presence mediates between two
truths. Between two presences 'is performance'
(170). He thinks of performance as on 'the
continuum from simple action to staged action'.
[Goffman then --no privilege given to critical
performances like Butler on gender] At one level,
all of my behaviour is performance' and it is
inevitable. However things change when he is
'conscious that I'm being observed' and he comes
under pressure to do the action right. This is
increased by asking others to particularly focus,
like when you take to the floor or establish a
role for an audience. Things change if he suggests
that he is doing art. He can tell stories, mimic
others, mock and tease. Further on the continuum
is the public presentation or the lecture, reading
papers. 'These, too, are potentially aesthetic
acts' at the end of the continuum is staged action
'typically considered theatre', taking place in
designated spaces and framed theatrical events.
This describes his sense of his own actions and
'it forgets, as I do in my everyday life, that I
am bound by my culture and history' (170) [quite
It is difficult to escape gender, we all have
biological drives, and there is also familiar
gendered behaviour. Men dominate. Men know
they have to appear sensitive but basically do not
develop real concern. They expect others to
listen. We become aware of the gender of some
speakers, including when we 'engage in the
academic game'. He can look like 'an ass' (171)
[all these different interpretations or different
accounts of what has gone on].
At the end, we have to ask 'has the story been
told?' We have to ask if it was worth telling, we
have to see if 'the dandy's clothes are wrinkled'
and we have to be prepared to try again. 'The
greatest dishonesty is the illusion of disclosure'
In summary, he says 'this performance is an
ethnographic account presented on behalf of myself
in the hope of some understanding. To finalise
stop with TS Eliot's line: "but I gotta use words
when I talk to you"' (172).
[Pretty much like Goffman then overall, but with
the intent to make these everyday banalities both
academic and aesthetic]
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