Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Victor Turner - The Anthropology of Performance

In Victor Turner's essay "The Anthropology of Performance," he argues that change involves a re-adjustment, and that this re-adjustment is ceremonial and what he sees as being theatre or performance.   Turner breaks down four phases of public action:  Breach, Crisis, Redressive Action and Reintergration. For Turner, change within a culture occurs when a threshold has been crossed.  As Turner notes, "From the standpoint of relatively well-regulated, more or less accurately operational, methodical, orderly social life, social dramas have a 'Iiminal' or 'threshold' character. The latter term is derived from a Germanic base which means 'thrash'  'thresh,' place where grain is beaten out from its husk, where what has been hidden is thus manifested" (92). 

This passage from Turner is very similar to Roland Barthes' notion of the grain of the voice.  For Barthes, the grain of the voice, which he argues in "The Pleasure of the Text," (which happens to be the subject of my video essay) is when the voice aligns itself with the flesh or body.   It is at point where meaning is shifted to the energy of the performer.   It is when the body becomes the voice.   


Musicologist such as Simon Frith and Richard Middleton have tuned into Barthes' notion of the grain of the voice for its political implications in music.  For example,  Frith sees Elvis Presley's body and hip shakes in his early performance on television in the 1950s disturbing and disrupting the status quo.   And here is where Turner's conception of performance fits well with Barthes' grain of the voice - because we all know that Elvis' trangressive body language forever changed music ...

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