|Translating Performance Across
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
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
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.