I’m immersed this week in final preparations for the 9th Performing the World event, PTW ’16: Can We Perform Our Way to Power? (September 23-25) and in working on the science chapter for my online book The Overweight Brain. One thing led to another, as they always do. I was beginning to write about the way science evolved to separate fact and value, remembered something Fred Newman wrote way back when, searched my computer files, and VOILA! I found it.
Fred wrote “A Performatory Manifesto” 17 years ago, for the 1999 Congress of the Interamerican Society of Psychology in Caracas Venezuela, He and I were both invited to present. When it turned out Fred couldn’t go, he wrote this as his presentation, and I and a Spanish speaker delivered it in English and Spanish.
As always, spending time with Fred—these days through his writings—is a gift, an inspiration and a challenge. Duly nourished, it’s back to PTW ’16 preparations and my chapter on science!
A PERFORMATORY MANIFESTO
by Fred Newman
June 1, 1999
Despite varied efforts to describe the complex relationships between the two, Psychology and Theatre are strategically at odds with each other. Modern theatre remains, for the most part, the art of creating illusion, i.e., of supporting human beings to be who they are not. Modern psychology, in contrast, has been fixated, for much of this century, on authenticity, a pseudo-science endeavoring to get people to see who they really are. Moreover, the two human life activities – psychology and theatre – traditionally differ in what they are paradigmatically disposed to uncover: Psychology as victimology exposes the hidden evils of human beings and Theatre as social resolution reveals the romanticized virtues.
Obviously, there are exceptions to these generalizations – indeed, many exceptions – but they do, I believe, fairly accurately describe how these two cultural institutions are broadly viewed within western culture. It is an unfortunate and destructive dichotomy and has led over the last 100 years to much bad psychology and much bad theatre. Furthermore, it has left both institutions — profoundly important developmental institutions – calcified.
In the spirit of overstated generalizations it is not unfair to say that theatre tells us how humans should be while psychology purports to tell us how we are. Yet in life we are neither who we are nor who we should be; we are, as Vygotsky insists, who we are becoming. But not only has becoming been under-studied in western culture; it has been specifically negated in the name of objectivity. Hence, in theatre the process of creating the illusion is self-consciously hidden from view in the name of creating the illusion. In psychology, the moral dimension of life activity is ruled out of order in the name of good science. Fact and value are arbitrarily distinguished even though in the “becoming” of life “ought” and “is” are dialectically intertwined. And theatre and psychology have become, not surprisingly, less and less relevant to human life and growth. A new science/art is needed – a revolutionary science/art – to help us navigate through the swirling waters of a new and complex millenium. What shall it be called? I have no idea. What shall it study? What is its ontology? Performance. How shall it study Performance? As activity. What method shall it employ? Dialectics. And the duty of the psychologist is to make this revolution. Our task is to neither interpret the world nor to change it; it is to perform it.