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Performance in/and Kozameh

Diana Taylor argues that "performances act as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated behavior" (2). This point took me to the chapter "A Flat and Jaded Description of a New Year's Eve" in Steps Under Water.

In this chapter, Sara describes the tensions surrounding the second annual New Year's Eve dinner that she is about to share with the other prisoners. Referring to how the dinner was thwarted last year after one of the women loss control, Kozameh strongly depicts Sara’s compulsion to carry out the dinner rite:

“I sweat. My armpits are drenched. I feel faint, blood pressure dropping, words coming to me, over and over again. Pillaging cannibalism. Acculturation. I don’t feel good…My ears go cold. My neck. Andrea and Griselda are late in joining the others. They talk, almost whispering, as if there were no other moments in their lives. Just now, when it’s imperative that we mingle. My brow is dripping wet. I hope I get over this before somebody notices. Better not have any embarrassing moments on this December 31, at dinnertime. Grist for the piss-eye-chologists. Plenty of them. This isn’t going away. And some of them even enjoy the approval of the majorities here. This crap, make it go away. Go away.? (125)

Kozameh’s reference to the psychologists illustrates how New Year’s Eve dinner has come to occupy a naturalized, normalized place in culture, one that is expected to remain unaffected by the less-then-ordinary conditions in which the women prisoners find themselves. Hence, Sara and the other prisoners are compelled to repeat the ritual in order to 1) remain recognizably “human,? and 2) avoid becoming fodder for the psychologists. Thus, there is nothing “voluntary? about partaking in the dinner, but rather, as Sara suggests, “it’s imperative that we mingle? (125). As the intense physical descriptions of Sara’s panic and desperation reiterate, cultural performances are always “simultaneously ‘real’ and ‘constructed’? (Taylor 4).

In “Critically Queer,? Butler goes into much detail about how subjects become compelled to cite, specifically through her discussion of Derrida’s notion of the importance of repetition. Here Butler highlights “that discourse has a history,? and thus “action echoes prior actions, and accumulates the force of authority through the repetition or citation of a prior, authoritative set of practices? (227).

Although Kozameh positions Sara to be much more cognizant of the cultural power of these repetitious acts than Butler suggests is probable, the tensions between her inner resistance, physical effects, and outward compulsion to cite illustrates how despite the inherent contradictions within the performative, a guise of naturalness becomes maintained:

“Veronica looks at me, I smile at her because I’m sure she spots a shade of paleness in my face. I smile and hopefully manage to hide something with my grin. But I’m not trying to keep a straight face. I’m trying to keep this show of lack of composure under wraps because it’s not a question of blowing my image. That’s it: collaboration with one’s self. With one’s own image. Because the book on me would be predictable: ‘Sara, petite, bourgeoise with ideological weaknesses. Blood pressure drops during New Year’s get-together’. Very funny? (127).

This “collaboration with one’s self,? however, also points to the inherently intersubjective and permeable nature of the performative; if we are compelled to “cite,? that is, perform, in certain ways, then we are always already presuming the presence of anOther. In this light, Taylor’s notion of performance as an act of transfer relates directly to her question of whether performance “call[s] into question the very contours of the body? (4). But how does this relate to her notion of “accion,? which she describes as “more directed and intentional, and thus less socially and politically embroiled than performance??