[csaa-forum] Jane Goodall seminar at UNSW

James Donald j.donald at unsw.edu.au
Fri Mar 24 15:46:38 CST 2006

UNSW  School of Media Film and Theatre
5 p.m. Wednesday 29 March
Webster Building 327

The Supreme Attribute
Stage Presence in Western Modernity
Jane Goodall

This paper is a discussion of work in progress. I am experimenting 
with a cultural history approach to the notion of stage presence in 
western modernity, based on descriptions of stage performers who have 
gained a reputation for possessing what Patrice Pavis termed the 
'supreme attribute.' The rationale for this approach is to some 
extent provocative. Why do theatre practitioners and commentators 
from Europe and America so often rush to the orient or to non-western 
indigenous traditions of theatre for their examples and definitions 
of 'presence'? Why do we always have to talk about 'absence' in order 
to think about 'presence'?

Until the advent of cinema, the actor's art was celebrated as one 
confined to the time and place of the performance. The great 
performer's gift was tragically ephemeral, and poets celebrated the 
paradox of a superhumanly powerful impact that could not last outside 
the moment. Nevertheless, these elegies to lost genius also 
celebrated a mysterious compensatory quality, an expansiveness 
belonging to the here and now of performance that gave it a reach 
beyond what ordinary mortal humanity could achieve. In these writings 
about presence, there is a curious mix of magic and science. The 
vocabulary is drawn predominantly from the sciences of electricity 
and magnetism whilst there is typically an attempt to convey 
something that is quasi-divine or supernatural.

I want to raise some questions about how and why the concept of 
presence has tended to shift into an 'orientalist' framework in more 
recent criticism, but the aim here is not to make accusations of 
intercultural distortion. Rather, the interest is in how skeptical 
frameworks of analysis derived from a scientific world view have 
eroded a sense of confidence in the relationship between the physical 
and the metaphysical that is expressed through the presence of the 
stage performer.

Jane Goodall is in the Writing and Society research program of the 
University of Western Sydney. She is the author of Artaud and the 
Gnostic Drama (1994) and Performance and Evolution in the Age of 
Darwin (2002) and co-editor of a forthcoming collection of essays, 
Frankenstein's Science (due for publication later this year). She has 
also published two psychological thrillers, The Walker (2004) and The 
Visitor (2005), both with Hodder.

Dr James Donald
Associate Dean (Education), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Professor of Film Studies, School of Media, Film and Theatre
University of New South Wales
NSW 2052

Telephone	(02)9385 4858
Mobile		0433 126445
Facsimile		(02)9662 2335

Telephone	+612 9385 4858
Mobile		+61433 126445
Facsimile		+612 9662 2335

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