Antonio Prieto Stambaugh
Translating Performance Across Borders
Abstract

This paper is a reflection on the many challenges regarding the translation of performance theory into the Spanish language. I examine some of the ways it mutates, is appropriated and recontextualized in Latin American academy, as well as the heated debates that have taken place between critics who espouse performance and those who espouse other theories often better received in Latin America such as teatralidad and etnoescenología.
I begin by playfully arguing that performance is a mutating and nomadic sponge. It is a sponge because of its amazing ability to absorb the disciplines it encounters in its path (linguistics, anthropology, theater studies, gender studies, and so on). The meaning of the word 'performance' has mutated throughout the ages, yet somehow it keeps the traces of all the meanings associated with it. Moreover, in Spanish the word changes gender from one country to the next. Finally, performance is nomadic because of its ability to travel between disciplines and nations, although somehow its journey into the Spanish language has not been as smooth as one might expect.
I then give examples of how the word has been diversely translated in key texts of J.L. Austin and Judith Butler, although acknowledging the tendency in contemporary academy of maintaining the word 'performance' as such, appropriating it into Spanish. The teatralidad vs. performance debates, however, are ongoing especially with critics engaged in theater/performance studies. One example of this debate is found in Diana Taylor's opening remarks and Juan Villegas' closing remarks in the 1994 book Negotiating Performance, Gender, Sexuality and Theatricality in Latin/o America.
Meanwhile, other forms of examining performative circumstances have emerged in France and Latin America, although more focused on ritual studies. The short-lived (1982-84) Seminar of Etnodramatic Studies founded in Mexico City by Gabriel Weisz and Oscar Zorilla was one such effort. More recently (1995), Jean Marie Pradier and Jean Duvignaud founded the International Center of Ethnoscenology in Paris. These schools of thought merge semiotics, anthropology and biology in a clear effort to create a new science that has generated much interest on countries such as Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico. As far as I know, and from the sources consulted, so far ethnoscenology displays little if any concern with issues of gender and postcoloniality, let alone queer studies, all of which are today very fundamental to performance studies.
In conclusion, I suggest an open, non-fundamentalist attitude before these theories, an ability to use them according to the subject examined. Regarding the task of translation, I evoke Walter Benjamin's suggestion that any translation must account for the transformative influence of the other language. Thus, I call for a translation of performance studies that is an act of intercultural pollution, and also anthropophagic appropriation.