Lost in Translation: The Mirror or the Hammer

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This article was downloaded by: [Syracuse University Library]On: 14 November 2014, At: 09:41Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKText and Performance QuarterlyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtpq20Lost in Translation: The Mirror or theHammerD. Soyini MadisonPublished online: 10 Dec 2013.To cite this article: D. Soyini Madison (2014) Lost in Translation: The Mirror or the Hammer, Textand Performance Quarterly, 34:1, 111-112, DOI: 10.1080/10462937.2013.853826To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10462937.2013.853826PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtpq20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/10462937.2013.853826http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10462937.2013.853826http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsLost in Translation: The Mirror or theHammerD. Soyini MadisonWe celebrate the fact that performance enriches rhetoric through embodied purpose,heartfelt empathy, and symbolic action while rhetoric politicizes performance throughcontested assumptions, discursive power, and critical publicity. We understand thatrhetoric and performance are inextricable. Or, are they? What is split open whenrhetoric and performance unwittingly break apartwhen they shatter in a heap ofbad faith, in messages and meanings that pierce old wounds? What happens whenrhetoric eclipses performance, or performance eclipses rhetoric, creating disappoint-ing effects beyond a dull-witted performance or an unpersuasive rhetorical event?This occurred over 13 years ago, and I have not been able to forget it. I taught acourse entitled Oral Traditions and Performance, which emphasized how the broadrange of oral storytelling circulates through families, communities, and nations. Itwas the last day of class and the assignment was to perform excerpts from oralhistory interviews with elderly persons based on their memories of community,belonging, and difference. The performances were deeply informative and genuinelymoving. The class time was ending; we had completed our discussions and analysesof student performances. I was about to say farewell and express my appreciation fortheir hard work. But, before I could speak, a group of enthusiastic students requestedthat we stay for one more performance. They had seen the performance earlier andwere exuberant. They insisted that the rest of us must also see this magnificentperformance. We all agreed to stay.Through the cheers and encouragement of a group of white and black students, awhite female performed an excerpt from her grandmothers oral history interview.The young woman replicated her grandmothers expressions, gestures, and intona-tions. The performer became her grandmother. A naturalist attempt, an authenticdepiction, a mirror copy. This virtuosic grandmother spoke without hesitation,D. Soyini Madison is Professor and Chair of the Department of Performance Studies in the School ofCommunication at Northwestern University. She is an affiliate professor with the Program in African Studiesand the Departments of African American Studies and Anthropology. Correspondence to: D. Soyini Madison,Department of Performance Studies, Northwestern University, Annie May Swift Hall, 1920 Campus Drive,Evanston, IL 60208, USA. Email: dsmadison@northwestern.edu.Text and Performance QuarterlyVol. 34, No. 1, January 2014, pp. 111112ISSN 1046-2937 (print)/ISSN 1479-5760 (online) 2014 National Communication Associationhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10462937.2013.853826Downloaded by [Syracuse University Library] at 09:41 14 November 2014 mailto:dsmadison@northwestern.eduhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10462937.2013.853826doubt, or irony: Niggers are ugly and dumb. Yes, they are the dumbest and theugliest of all. The grandmother commanded the stage as she recalled specialmoments in her life with family, community, Southern hospitality, and Niggers sheremembered around her Southern town. The grandmother, now portrayed asrepresentative rhetor of the old South, encapsulated blackness as ugly and dumb.This embodiment of an all too familiar racial rhetoric confidently walked center stageand, with a deep breath, a pause, and a voice that filled the room, ended the scene bybellowing out, NIIIIGGEEEERR!The young woman bowed. Her black friends enthusiastically applauded withembraces and handshakes. These were students I knew, had worked with, andrespected. They loved the performance and they loved her. I believe I heard applausefrom others in the room, but I cannot be sure. I was in a state of shock. It was latepast class time. All I remember saying was something like, Class is over I think.Over the years, I have been haunted by my own paralysis in the moment after thatperformance; by the weight of a missed opportunitya violent historical woundmocked and scorned without correction, impunity, accountability, or question. Now,as I write, I come to realize that at the core of that unforgettable performance was arupture between performance and rhetoric resulting in something lost in translationbetween me (as teacher-audience) and them, both black and white (as student-audience).For the students, I believe the performance itself was a rhetorical mirror reflectingthe grandmothers story in clear view and thereby illuminating, writ large, the bigotryand racism of her life and speech. For me, it was a performance fenced off fromrhetoric or, more precisely, from conscious rhetorical performance. The performancewas arguably an uninterrupted reflection upholding the violence of a foundational,racist rhetoric that lacked, in turn, a rhetorical performance hammer to crack thatreflection. This hammer would manifest in added performance devices: gesture,symbol, language, tempo, movement, sound, etcetera. This rhetorical performancehammer is constituted by a critical aesthetic, by moments of intentional anddeliberate creative intervention. Here, a classic debate within the dynamic tensionsbetween rhetoric and performance: to show or tell; to illuminate or incite; to create orcomment; to enact or argue. The beautiful power of (rhetorical) performance isthe seamless blending of these dichotomies, even when we choose to make thedichotomies part the performance. To honor this blending, the grandmotherperformance needed a hammer against its reflection. The reflection served to framethe story, leaving the picture intact. It did not traverse to the outer borders of its ownframe to disturb performatively or trouble its content, its center space. In thisinstance, to disturb is to interrupt and speak against the embellished content. Itrequires a more active rhetorical and performative move. It transgresses past theborders of a framed reflection and moves into the center space for performed andrhetorical imaginings, artistry, symbols, and embodiments that smash the violent,bigoted, and historical hegemonies that are reflected in mere mirrors.112 D. S. MadisonDownloaded by [Syracuse University Library] at 09:41 14 November 2014


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