Saturday, October 22

Cuttings 27 - Erving Goffman

I've been reading Goffman's books with intrigue..

'The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life'

Here the theory is that we are all performing, consciously or not, all the time. Goffman refers to people are 'performers' and the theatre is a freely adopted metaphor for society.

'And the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn't are not easy to specify.'

'performances of everyday life are not 'acted' or 'put on' in the sense that the performer knows in advance just what he is going to do, and does this solely because of the effect it is likely to have.'

-yet they are 'performances'..

'Some performances are carried off successfully with complete dishonestly, others with complete honesty'

-This is interesting.. what is it that makes a performance honest or not? Awareness of the fact that it is a performance?

'At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When his audience is also convinced in thiw way about the show he puts on - and this seems to be the typical case - then for the moment at least, only the sociologist of the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the 'realness' of what is presented.'
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'Frame Analysis - An Essay on the Organisation of Experience'

The chapter called 'The Theatrical Frame' categorises human activity and interaction as performances and distunguishes them according to their purity ('that is, the exclusiveness of the claim of the watchers on the activity they watch.') Here is a rough order:

-Dramatic scriptings, nightclub acts, ballet, orchestral music etc - pure
-Ad hoc performances, within domestic circles, party guests, storytelling, personal
-Contests or matches presented for viewing - the players must act as though something is at stake beyond entertainment (nonperformance features such as league ranking, prize money etc)
-Personal ceremonies, weddings, funerals, guests are invited, not fee-paying.
-Lectures and talks - this can very in pureness
-Work performances, construction sites, rehearsals, players show no regard for the dramatic elements of their labour though watched by viewers - most impure

By moving from what we recognise as theatrical or performance-based frameworks like the ballet, to situations which are not usually considered performances, like the work place, and by displaying all the stages in between, Goffman illuminates that only some elements change between these activites, and that in essense, they are largely similar - people watching people, people enganging with other people.. at least that is what is makes me think..

'When we say of a person that he has given a 'real performance', we can mean that he has taken more that usual care and employed more that usual design and continuity in the presentation of what is ostensibly not a performance at all.'

So there is actually more observation, calculation and acting involved in giving a 'real' performance. And the word 'ostensibly' suggests that actually there is no such thing as giving no performance at all - if everything in life is a performance, then Certainly a performance of songs will be a performance - it completely rules out the idea of placing reality on stage - for what is reality? Is the term 'an honest performance' an oxymoron?