Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Performing the Imaginative

I’m particularly interested in Tsing’s discussion of performance/performativity and what it means to perform the imaginative. She discusses how start-up companies must dramatize their dreams to attract capital, junior prospecting companies must exaggerate the possibilities of their mineral finds. She writes, “dramatic performance is the prerequisite for economic performances” (57). We have been discussing performance since our course began: we performed a flash mob. In V for Vendetta, the mass gathering, with our without masks, (depending on the film or book) performed unity.  And yet I think Tsing deepens our understanding of performance. It seems as though performance can be dangerous. If start-up companies must dramatize their dreams to attract capital, this dramatization must also be linked to a marketing campaign that covers over/masks part of the environment/its inhabitants.

Tsing, like Parks, in her discussion of Google Earth in Darfur, examines the way the way models become self-perpetuating. Tsing writes, “economic projects cannot limit themselves to conjuring at different scales—they must conjure the scales themselves.” (57) “Projects that make us imagine locality, or the space of regions or nations, in order to see their success are also scale-making projects. …The global worlds that most affect us are those that manage tentatively productive linkages with those other scale-making projects” (57, 58).  It is this discussion that I find beneficial to understanding Parks and her critique of Google Earth’s Darfur project. If we create a specific scale-making project, then our understanding will be based on this scale. If we create a specific model (in the case of Parks), “success” will be determined based on this model. Both Parks’ and Tsing engage with the critical importance of space—what happens when we freeze an image in space? Or when we cannot imagine a scale different than the scale of the model we have created? If we create a scale-making project on a local level, what happens to our vision of the global? Or if we create a scale-making project on a global level, what happens to our understanding of the Indonesian forests? And yet does Tsing believe that there is power in these scales too? She writes, “The links among them cross scales and strengthen each project’s ability to remake the world… Coming together as they did for a moment, they created a great fire.” (60)

I want to turn back to the idea of performance. Dramatizing and exaggerating dreams allows companies to gain capital and become part of systems of trade and capital production. Is performance what allows the imagination to gain power? Tsing writes,
“A distinctive feature of this frontier regionality is its magical vision; it asks participants to see a landscape that doesn’t exist, at least not yet. It must continually erase old residents’ rights to create its wild and empty spaces were discovering resources, not stealing them, is possible… Why does the frontier story have any power at all, considering what it erases? How can it imagine the Kalimantan landscapes wrongly? These tromp l’oeils became possible because of national discipline: the violence of the military, which spreads regional lawlessness, the legal regulations that privileged company rights and profits yet allowed illegal migrants to accumulate in the spreading wildness, the confusion between private entrepreneurship and public office that forged the national government. This is not the only kind of nation making that can exist” (68-69).
Tsing points to the multiple levels at which a “national” imagination becomes institutionalized and then gains power because it uses mechanisms of control. Indeed, the idea that the national government can craft rhetoric around “discovering” resources speaks to the power of language coupled with violence and regulation. But what is critical, I think, is the way that this frontier story becomes saturated in everyday spaces. It gains power because it becomes collectively imagined. How can we turn toward a different kind of nation making? In what way can imagination and performance aid us with this?

Lastly, I would like to discuss Chapter Five and Tsing’s engagement with “the gap.” It seems that our understanding of national resource policy necessitates turning toward history and specifically colonial policy (194). I’m interested in her discussion of resource management and human management and native land v. land for European exploitation. In class, I hope to talk more about how gaps, described as “critical spaces and sites for emergent voices and dreams,” (196) come into being. 

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