Never Mere Observation: Performance, Technology, and the Act of Looking
MARSH, SARAH G
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Herbert Blau, in defining the act of looking as “never mere observation,” describes how the action of the visual faculty is not simply about seeing, but the engagement in an active, circulatory exchange between culture and viewer. Never Mere Observation posits a dialectical relationship between spectatorship, performance, and emerging technologies. In this study, my aim is to track a pattern of ideas and use to assert the possible connections between the evolution of technology and the evolution of narrative structure. The biomechanical function of the act of looking and its analogous relationship to the mechanical devices of concurrent periods reveals how texts and performances function as indices of the cultural saturation of technological advancement. The technologies within this study are devices that obliquely highlight the act of looking, emphasizing the process of the acculturation of technology rather than the results of it. Chapter One draws on seventeenth-century scientific theory to demonstrate how the practice of microscopy was manifest in a shift in theatrical convention through a comparative analysis of Sir George Etherege’s The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter to Sir Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso. Chapter Two focuses on the technology of the piston and cylinder locomotive engine and spectacular melodrama’s relation to filmic viewing to explore the slow transformation of looking in the late nineteenth-century. The multiple components of this analysis are connected through a publicity stunt/meeting between the actress Sarah Bernhardt and preeminent Industrial Revolution inventor Thomas Edison as a link between performance and the steam engine driven railways. Chapter Three compares two autobiographical solo performance pieces—the text of Spalding Gray’s 1985 monologue Swimming to Cambodia and the 2005 performance of punk rock raconteur Henry Rollins—to show how the postmodern-influenced Information Age is registered theatrically. The dramaturgical construction of both performances invites consideration of the intersection between participant and viewer on the Internet. Across these periods of social and technological revolution, performances act as an index of the cultural saturation of a given technology, registered dramaturgically through the act of looking.
- Drama