Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Textual and Performative Interventions: Autobiographical Stage Writing as a Rescription of the Self

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Textual and Performative Interventions: Autobiographical Stage Writing as a Rescription of the Self

Article excerpt


Lived experience is core to the constitution of subjectivity (or sense of self) and identity. Quite literally, we are what we do. Joan Scott (1991) argues that subjects are constituted directly through experience, that who we are alters with each new experience. The practice or act of writing, like all creative practices, is a significantly reflective experience. These kinds of creative and reflective experiences have the potential to be profoundly transformative, to change who we are. Identities are narrative constructions adapted through self-talk (Sarup 1996). Our identities are the products of our own self-telling (Baker 2017). In other words, when we write about ourselves transformation is inevitable. As I have written elsewhere:

What we know transforms us. When we write, we write from what we know. We come to know through investigation, discovery and reflection, which is research. Just as often, we come to know a thing more deeply as we write about it. Writing is its own research method, its own form of inquiry ... Thus, writing transforms us (Baker 2017: n.p.).

It is well established that some types of performance and theatre both document and catalyse social and/or cultural change (Mitchell, Dupuis and Jonas-Simpson et al. 2011). This idea is so influential, many anthropologists use the notion of theatre or performance to describe the way that whole social and cultural systems work (Schechner 2004; Turner 1982; Goffman 1956). Similarly, certain types of writing document and catalyse individual or personal change processes (Baker 2017). In other words, writing can be understood as an intervention into subjectivity or identity in the way that performance and theatre are interventions into social systems and cultural practices.

The idea that the act of writing can change who we are is potent when we understand that subjectivity and identity are performative and mutable rather than fixed (Baker 2010). Drawing on Michel Foucault, Judith Butler (1990: 184) writes that 'to understand identity as a practice, and as a signifying practice, is to understand culturally intelligible subjects as the resulting effect of a rulebound discourse that inserts itself in the pervasive and mundane signifying acts of linguistic life' (emphasis in original). To put it more simply, subjectivity, and identity, are practices that are dynamic, reflective and, most importantly, changeable.

Judith Butler (2004: 1) further argues that an experience of an alternate or different subjectivity can 'undo a prior conception of who one is only to inaugurate a relatively newer one'. In other words, an experience of a subjectivity different to our own in discourse, text or performance can, to use Butler's terminology, 'undo' one's personhood and facilitate the emergence of a new subjectivity. Foucault described a similar process by which new subjectivities formed through the 'appropriation, the unification, of a fragmentary and selected already said' (1997: 209, emphasis added). Elsewhere I defined the 'already said' as: 'the discourse currently in circulation to which the subject can be or has been exposed. It is this "already said" from which writers write' (Baker 2017 n.p.). The act of writing, the engagement with, or reflection on, this already said, on alternate or different subjectivities, leads to a transformation (or rescripting) of the self. The writer's subjectivity or identity shifts in (resonant or resistant) response to exposure to other identities or subjectivities.

I have researched and written extensively about the act of writing as an intervention into the self, a rescription of subjectivity, an ongoing making and re-making of identity (Baker 2017, 2012, 2010). Michel Foucault (1997) described this process as self-writing or selfbricolage. Foucault (1997) argues that who one is emerges out of the problems with which one struggles. Foucault advocates an ongoing investigation or struggle with the self through writing - an ongoing assembly and disassembly of subjectivity - that constitutes a kind of self-bricolage; a making and re-making of subjectivity (Rabinow 1997). …

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