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Art Biography Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Theory

X-RECEPTION: Re-mediating Trans-Feminist and Queer Performance Art

By T.L. Cowan, 2020

What does it mean to move performance art, its archives, and repertoires-in this case the archives and repertoires of Trans-Feminist and Queer (TFQ) performance art-from a small stage with a limited, friendly, mostly insider audience to online platforms that offer a far wider audience? What are the possible consequences of these translocations and remediations, and what do these questions have to do with scholarly activities in the digital humanities? In order to think through these questions I begin, perhaps anachronistically, with H.R. Jauss’s Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, particularly his influential essay “Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory.” I consider Jauss’s conceptions of historically contingent reception aesthetics, how audiences make meaning based on previous experience with like or unlike works, and how they create meaning through what Jauss calls a “horizon of expectation.” I extend Jauss’s reception aesthetics to my study of TFQ performance art and digital humanities as a means of understanding how horizons of expectation and reception aesthetics of expressive culture change over time. I am particularly interested in how such practices and possibilities change based on historical context, platform scale, and culture (potential size, character, values, and reception behaviors of a platform’s audience), and how digital humanities practices of the trans-and re-mediation (cross-platform transfer) of performance art materials, are, ultimately, experiments in what I shall call “X-reception.” This builds upon Beth Coleman’s paradigm-shifting framing of “X-reality” as “a continuum of exchanges between virtual and real spaces” and as an “extension of agency.” Echoing Irit Rogoff ‘s call, a theory of X-reception urges both performance studies scholars and digital humanists to think with humility and criticality; that is, to inhabit the conditions and contexts of offline and online research environments. I argue that X-reception theory helps us to conceptualize the responsibilities, research ethics, accountabilities, and managed risk that need to become part of how we understand, express, and evaluate rigor as practiced at the intersection of digital humanities and performance studies.

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