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Talk Performance: Extemporaneous Speech, Artistic Discipline, and Media in the Post-1960s American Avant-garde

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This dissertation narrates the circulation and institutionalization of an emergent category of talk performance within the late-twentieth century US avant-garde through the career trajectories of three artists from disparate disciplinary backgrounds working in and around the 1970s: theatrical monologist Spalding Gray, poet David Antin, and dance artist and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. All established themselves through more obviously discipline-coherent work before turning to extemporaneous talk as a performance strategy within the shifting critical and cultural environments of post-1960s avant-gardes. Undertaking a comparative study collecting these practices under the label talk performance, this project uncovers the processes by which these artists both resisted and relied upon disciplinary structures, and the media technologies and formats that attend those structures, to configure their work within particular arts discourses. Talk performance becomes a provocative site for understanding how minimalist interventions into formal disciplinary categories helped define the reapportionment of the overall art situation in the aftermath of the 1960s along lines of rhetorical and institutional distinction that still persist. Employing newly available multimedia archives and a historiographic approach to the various narrow disciplinary accounts of the late-twentieth-century American avant-garde that have become standard, this project recuperates traces of an unacknowledged, interdisciplinary set of talk performance practices. Premised on their status as ephemeral, embodied, and collectively negotiated, the practices of these three artists actually prove to be deeply entwined with forms of media other than live performance, as found material on which extemporaneous performance is scaffolded, as means to represent and circulate extemporaneous talk, or as an editorial model for the role that talk plays in realizing a performance. In each case, the aesthetic and procedural tendencies these artists established went on to circulate in or be adapted to secondary media formats that drew on traditional models of authorship to establish their reputations. Paradoxically, these works then tend to circulate more widely and even enter the mainstream based on the authenticating power of their embedded extemporaneity and the status bestowed by their apparent disciplinary resistance. Talk Performance articulates a performance history that understands arts disciplines as contingent categories determined by historical situation, critical intervention, and material possibility, upon which the creative and intellectual exigencies of performance practice, scholarship, and criticism are nonetheless built.

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  • 02/11/2019
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