Complementarity and performance

Simon Jones, 2003: The Courage of Complementarity
(On the phase-transitional problems of the paradigm shift in performance studies provoked by Practice-as-research.)

performance itself re-minds us in the academy that objects, even those of study, do not really exist, what we call things being relatively slower events than what we call events, hence empiric reality is an illusion

an event in the world is that which is or is subsequently recognized as phrased. From the outside or before the event, performance is in this commonsense way recognized as separate from other known events in the world. However, during performance, that which most affects us about performance is precisely that which we do not recognize and cannot phrase, that which can only be felt uncannily.

After the performance, when we have returned to the everyday world of events, we can write it up as event by phrasing it. This incorporates the experience into discourse and allows that which was felt uncannily to be addressed indirectly. In effect, we write cannily about the uncanny. We come to know performance by way of not knowing. What remains un-phraseable of the performance is essentially a non-event and continues to work uncannily and can only be known by what it is not and only approached as if one were approaching a miracle.

As the product of the processes of research is both objectified and fetishized, so the academic performs or disappears. However, in effect, the practitioner-as-researcher has both to perform AND disappear. They have nothing to show for their work the morning after the performance. This disappearance of the research output, its co-called ephemerality, so beautifully described in the writings of Peggy Phelan, is compensated for by a perceived need to be constantly active, constantly performing. As memories are short, the practitioner-as-researcher must constantly perform their own disappearance within the academy.

Our greatest challenge is to find ways, and I stress here the plural, /…/ of housing the mix of performative and textual practices alongside each other.

We could think of the epistemological difficulties /…/ as analogous to those encountered by physicists in their own attempts to measure the world of quantum mechanics using the experimental machinery developed to demonstrate Classical or Newtonian mechanics. The apora between these realities – the everyday and the quantum – challenged the belief that systems could be finally known through measurement.

So, whilst many academics find it acceptable to incorporate certain notions from quantum mechanics, such as the proposition that no observer can stand outside of the event they are observing, that they who only sit and watch affect what’s happening on stage; it is interesting to follow the implications of complementarity a little further. The wave-particle experiment demonstrated that light behaves either as a wave or as a particle depending on the kind of recording device the scientist chooses to use.

according to the theories, light cannot behave as both a particle and a wave; the two realities, according to physicists who know, are mutually exclusive. Hence the phrasing of complementarity, that potentially light is both particle and wave, until the scientist, through his choice of measuring device, that is, a particular technology that couples a particular theory with a particular know-how, chooses which reality to materialize.

“At the quantum level, the most general physical properties of any system must be expressed in terms of complementary pairs of variables [e.g. momentum & position; energy & time; continuity and discontinuity], each of which can be better defined only at the expense of a corresponding loss in the degree of definition of the other.”
[David BOHM, Quantum Theory, Prentice Hall, London, 1960, p.160]


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