I’ve been invited to contribute a linked essay on blogging to the web journal, Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. Their next issue is called “Theories/Practices of Blogging,” and includes a special section of posts on blogging, along with about a dozen essays addressing the practice. If you’re interested, do follow the link to see what other writers have to say.
I’ve been blogging now for a year and several months. I was inspired to create my own space in which to write by my desire to comment from a feminist perspective on contemporary theatre and performance, film, television, and novels in a free and unfettered space.
I’d approached editors of Austin’s daily and weekly papers, interested in reviving what had been an earlier part of my career as a more regular critic, which I distinguish from my work as an “academic” critic only by the frequency and limited number of words a trade critic has to make his/her claims. Those limitations of print journalism, though, persuaded me to look for another forum in which to ply my critical wares.
In my critical work, I’m inspired by the same things that persuade any critic to write: the desire to be in dialogue with cultural production and to open another space for social discourse about the representations that fuel us. Theatre, performance, film, television, novels, and other forms of artistic expression and representation tell us who we are and help us imagine who we might be.
By identifying with or against various characters, framed by new narratives or unique perspectives on old ones, we shape ourselves as acquiescent or resistant to normative (that is, popular or dominating) cultural understandings of what we should be, especially around the identity markings of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, age, and ability. Because of culture’s influence on our selves and our relationships, critical engagement with its meanings is imperative.
But it’s also fun and moving and emotionally—as well as intellectually and politically—affecting. I love popular culture as much as I love high art. I’m as easily drawn to write about a television show as I am about a performance piece I see locally, in New York, or elsewhere. Part of my love comes from the community I imagine forged around our habit of watching and then discussing shows likeGrey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty, for instance, or films like Little Miss Sunshine or V is Vendetta, or performances like Anna Deavere Smith’s.
My pleasure in viewing is enhanced by reading about, talking about, and writing about how I’m struck by these shows and films and performances, and how they represent social relationships in new and often insightful ways.
Blogging gives me an outlet for rumination on these artifacts of culture. This more free-form writing lets me reflect on what I’ve seen and felt and fulminated on, and extends my imagined community to a wider sphere.
Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a group of feminist graduate students in the Performance Studies Department at New York University debating about starting a publication called Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. We had a nagging sense that we weren’t the only ones concerned with how gender is produced and represented in theatre and performance. Somehow, we knew that our concerns, inspired by the heyday of second wave American feminism, were probably shared widely.
First we thought a newsletter would be enough, a way of connecting people around common concerns about the status of women theatre artists, as well as about how art inculcates certain notions of gender and other aspects of identity. But our ambitions quickly grew because we knew that feminist performance theory and criticism, nascent as it was in 1981, would be an important academic subfield as well as a popular critical practice.
We decided it deserved the gravitas and visibility of a quarterly or (more likely, given our resources) biannual journal. Sitting with our thoughts in our department’s lounge, the eight or ten of us knew that we represented hundreds or thousands more, people eager for a feminist critical perspective on the performance that shapes and propels our lives.
I have that same feeling these many years later when I sit down to write in my blog. “The Feminist Spectator” is named after my first book, The Feminist Spectator as Critic (1988), in which I launched a feminist critique of performance, poaching theory from film studies and anthropology and psychology.
The book argues that we need to look at art and representation as feminists, to turn the lens on culture away from conventional, dominant understandings. I argue that we need to look from the margins, to see what culture reveals about expectations of gendered relations, and about the possibility for radically reconfiguring what our social roles and identities mean.
A feminist perspective on culture is, happily, no longer radical in American life, but it’s still vital. I write “The Feminist Spectator” blog to keep reminding myself that a feminist critique tells us things about ourselves and our world that somehow aren’t seen or said by more conventional critics (whether academic or trade).
Despite my own move back toward what I like to call “radical humanism,” and my own recent to desire to track social commonality instead of differences, my critical perspective still begins with a keen sense that the world could and should be changed, to be made equitable, kinder, inhabitable, loving, and open to innovative ways of leading our lives. I learned that perspective from feminism.
I blog to keep honing my feminist critical skills. I blog to feel myself part of a larger community of readers/spectators/viewers who care about culture and what it means to our everyday lives, as well as to the possibilities of our futures. I blog to work out my own confusion and to chart my own emotions when I’m stirred by cultural productions that affect me strongly.
I blog to reach people with whom I’d like to have a dialogue. I blog to be part of a public sphere I can’t see but can feel on some intimate, ineffable level, the way I feel myself part of something larger than myself when I’m physically present at the theatre. I blog to retain the sense of community that’s necessary before I can believe in social change. I blog because talking about the arts makes life rich and meaningful; writing about it lets me hold onto those feelings just a little longer.
A year and two months past the inauguration of “The Feminist Spectator,” I only wish I could blog more. I’ve promised two entries each month; sometimes I’ve managed more, sometimes less.
But my blog is constantly present as a “place” in my mind, somewhere that lets me devise things to say, to germinate reviews and essays I want to write, to mull observations about culture I want to share and the feedback I hope to receive.
While I’ve always engaged with culture, now I have an always ready imagined audience for whom I’m always thinking of things to write. Being part of this dialogue makes me an even more avid spectator and cultural consumer.
That’s why I blog.
I’ve come to cherish this rather imaginary place, and want to thank anyone reading this for visiting. Come back often, and stick around to comment.
The Feminist Spectator