Interfaces: encounters beyond the page/screen/stage

 Interfaces is the title of a conference at which I will be giving a paper in January. Hosted by the School of English, University of Exeter, the event will examine ways of looking beyond the text in the investigation of objects and artefacts that constitute non-textual interfaces between film, literature and theatre.

My paper will be included in a panel on performativity and transitory forms created by performance. I intend to examine themes of inclusion and exclusion, visiblility and invisibility, in contemporary visual texts depicting male-to-female transvestism within the Francophone Afro-Caribbean diaspora with particular reference to Claire Denis’ film I Can’t Sleep (J’ai pas sommeil,1994) and to a lesser extent, Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning (1991).

In my examination of these films I will discuss whether, as Peggy Phelan suggests, “the binary between the power of visibility and the impotency of invisibility is falsifying. There is real power in remaining unmarked.” (1993:6) Through an analysis of the ways in which the filmmaker frames spaces of inside and outside in these works, I will consider the bodies, costumes and guises that yield power and value for members of the Antillean diaspora living in metropolitan France.

4 responses to “Interfaces: encounters beyond the page/screen/stage

  1. As I suspected the direction of my paper has veered off slightly from my original intentions. Now focusing solely on Denis’ ‘J’ai Pas Sommeil’ due to time constraints (20 mins is really no time at all), the paper will be twofold, firstly grounding the intermittent salience of Martinican identity in French public discourse. It will then consider aesthetic strategies of stylistic masquerade and ‘performative’ identification within the film itself, in parallel to the content, and their effect on the visibility of the minoritised protagonists.

    There’s so much I could expand on. It’s been really difficult to edit this down without my whole line of argument collapsing. Just hope it will provoke some interesting questions/discussion.

  2. I just wanted to add some thoughts on last week’s conference at Exeter. Firstly I thought the papers on our panel worked really well together and seemed to get a good response…apart from maybe the bizarre lute-playing turn on first who was convinced he had a one hour slot. Next Siobhan O’Gorman from Galway spoke on gendered costuming in the plays of Marina Carr and Suzan-Lori Parks. While the other panelist Russell Williams gave a paper on Michel Houellebecq’s persona as celebrity, transgressor and general bastard in the French public eye. Lastly I gave my paper entitled, ‘(In)visible Performances: opacity, gender and the diasporic body in Claire Denis’ J’ai Pas Sommeil’, which was followed by a discussion at the end on notions of essentialism, authenticity and masquerade.

    The rest of the day included a keynote address by Dr Judith Buchanan from the University of York. Her talk, entitled ‘Eloquent Debris: the things a movie leaves behind’, was on the material things and symbols which had permeated the frame of the 1925 film version of ‘Ben Hur’. It was really interesting in terms of thinking about how a visual, tangible reminder may evoke the ‘real’ and connect the audience to the experience between performances.

    Discussions during the first panel on media interfaces continued on from many of Buchanan’s points and I was particularly interested in the questions raised to do with the corrosion of objects. Is it possible to reconstruct and perform seemingly insignificant objects back into being? Thinking of how memories have been reinscribed through performance in a Caribbean context, when the song is forgotten but the accompanying dance steps are not, the song can usually be danced back into existence.

    Buchanan also talked of her pleasure in pursuing the object as a fragment, chasing the gaps and ‘the existential hum some objects seem to emit’ (De Waal). This seems in opposition to Denis who probes into the past cautiously and the Paulin affair seems to choose her rather than the other way round.

    The conference also included an archive workshop at the university’s Bill Douglas Centre, which houses film, theatre and tv ephemera. The pre-cinema optical gear including peepshows, shadow puppets and magic lanterns was a bit of a highlight for me.

  3. Hope the research is going well! I’m on the verge of submission and was doing a final check for scholarship on my playwrights and I came across this. I’ll be checking in more often. Your paper was fantastic, by the way.
    Siobhán.

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