The Explicit Body (Book Cover) by Rebecca Schneider.

Schneider, Rebecca. “After us the savage goddess”. The Explicit Body in Performance. London; Routledge, New York: 1997.

Chapter 5 of this book finds it’s focus upon, what the author refers to as, the “blind spot” in modernist fascinations with ‘the primitive’ (citing Surrealist’s such as Georges Bataille). Schneider observes that ‘the Other’ is paradoxically invisible in various modernist writers and theoretician’s investigations, all the while the Other is the object of their intrigues. The fetishized bodies of these Others are described as those upon whom ‘primitivism’ has been inscribed, whose difference evoked their obsessive inquiries, intrigues with mystery, and sensations of danger. Particularly, the author takes up this proposal with regard to women, and creates a historical lineage for female and feminist artists with these implications in mind. The lineage commences with Alfred Jarry and is extended to various (renown) dissidents of Dadaism and Surrealism, as a break away and movement toward more contemporary trends in explicit body performance.

While providing a comparative analysis, she recounts the process of seeing through a “perspectival” lens; a way of seeing and knowing in context with a subject-object, exterior-thing orientation (a Neitzchean proposal). Her description of an optic-centric subjective, yet objectifying, perspective is supported by most phenomenological scholars. Alternatively, ‘primitivism’ is described as being “in an instant” which reduces or eliminates the space between “the sign and the signified”, is embodied (rather than optic, abstracted, or symbolic) and experienced with an immediacy that defies or complicates opportunities for object/subject relationship. This represents a well crafted argument describing an intimate relationship between (what is often considered) the ‘primitive’ and ‘the performative’.

Schneider provides an phenomenological analogy of what is revealed through absence or invisibility in the works of male interpreters of the past. It is notable also that she makes use of a vocabulary familiar to the field of self-psychology (Object Relations Theory). She describes a split-off subjectivity and references the (surrealist) descriptions of eruptions of sensual terror. The seeds of patriarchal sociopolitical power, she infers, relate directly to the evocation of woman as essentially and inherently dangerous and threatening. Schneider describes an extreme disinterestedness and detached vision that aroused the unconscious splintered-off self (in part relating also to the mind / body Cartesian split) as at the juncture between inner-anxiety and that anxiety attributed outward and upon Other (race and gender). It is then not coincidental that early female performance artists took up this mantle of ‘primitivism’ and explored lost matriarchal heritages.

The author provides quick references to reception of this performance work, which re-positioned the female as source and wielder of her mysterious, suspicious, and foreboding ‘power’; creating a confrontation with ‘the real’ in the face of lofty ideal and / or wish-premised dreams. The lineage provided is described as having contributed the collapse of dualistic and binary essentialism, as well as representing a rejection of aesthetic distance. Instead (in context with this genre of performance work) the artist’s body is intimately implicated and the spectator is complicit in an explicitly anti-ocular, anti¬static, anti-perspectivism intent — making art evident as an act.

The author views attributes of this creative trajectory as a “profane portal” to a sacred hidden interiority, in like manner to Bataille’s orifice analogies and sociopolitical intents. She suggests, however, that the latter had revealed moreso a sadistic underbelly and a profoundly neglected blind-spot.

Importantly, this text addresses directly a contradiction and distinction between perspectivism, or the subject-object engagement, and that of a more performative character. Performativity is cited a means of confusing the subject-object roles and abolishing minimizing distance, without which ‘the gaze’ cannot take hold.


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