Archive for the ‘ Annotations ’ Category

Annotation: Lauren Berlant’s “Cruel Optimism” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Berlant, Lauren. “Cruel Optimism.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 17.3 (2006): 20-36. Print.

In this article Berlant attempts to explicate the critical value of “cruel optimism” (21). She begins her discussion by defining the “object of desire” as a “cluster of promises” that could be embodied in a number of things, from the tangibility of an individual or place to abstract ideas, sounds, or smells (20). Berlant argues that this figuration of the desired object as inextricably linked to promise or hope allows us to interrogate our “endurance in the object” as well as recognize that our attachments to these objects are inherently “optimistic” though they may not always “feel optimistic” (20). This significant distinction ultimately provides Berlant with a foundation for explicating the nature of cruel optimism, which she defines as “a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility” (21). In other words, while an individual’s relation to a specific object of desire may be self-destructive, harmful, or cruel, so intimately is it connected to the way this individual perceives and negotiates the world that its loss may irreparably destroy any further reason for life. Cruel optimism for Berlant then becomes an important lens from which to analyze why people today continue to ignore the deeply injurious and destructive nature of their attachments in favor of optimism. In light of social upheaval and growing economic and environmental distress, she asserts that cruel optimism provides a way for us to recognize the “centrality of optimistic fantasy to reproducing and surviving in zones of compromised ordinariness” (35). Maintaining our attachments to objects of desire or promise, no matter how detrimental they may be, allows us to make it through day-to-day life.

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Annotation: Lauren Berlant’s “Critical Inquiry, Affirmative Culture” (2004)

Peer-Review: 0

Berlant, Lauren. “Critical Inquiry, Affirmative Culture.” Critical Inquiry 30.2 (Winter 2004): 445-451. Print.

In this article Berlant asks us to consider the advantages of relying on “critical optimism” as a mode of critique at a time when political indifference, stagnating economy, environmental degradation, and increasing social violence seem to be catapulting us towards apocalypse (446). But while she makes “emotion” her critical point of entry, Berlant nevertheless works against what Herbert Marcuse terms “affirmative culture,” namely, our tendency to perceive emotion as universal and immediately recognizable (448). Her definition of optimism as “collective attachment” consequently seeks to remind us that ties between the individual and the object of desire do not always “feel good” (449). By forcing us to recognize the nuanced nature of optimism, how even as it draws communities together, there exists a kind of negativity based on a deferral of happiness for future hope, she provides us with a means for grappling with other emotions that are similarly incoherent and difficult to classify. In Berlant’s perspective, a study of “negative emotion” becomes especially useful for challenging the assumptions of affirmative culture and the idea of “cultivating consciousness as a good in itself”(450). She asks us to interrogate, for instance, how contemporary political participation is performed with a slew of ambiguous feelings of negativity, including “detachment, numbness, vagueness, confusion, bravado, exhaustion, [and] apathy” (450). Yet, rather than perceiving these negative emotions as the opposite of optimism, Berlant troubles such easy binary divides by posing the question of what happens if we perceive this negativity as a form of attachment? Is it possible to organize a political consciousness or collective around negative emotion?

Annotation: Don Shewey’s “Theater; Filipino Life, Seen Through a Pop Culture Prism” (2001)

Peer-Review: 0

Shewey, Don. “Theater; Filipino Life, Seen Through a Pop Culture Prism.” New York Times 4 March 2001. Web.

In his article Shewey discusses how director Michael Greif commissioned Jessica Hagedorn to adapt her novel Dogeaters for the stage despite her original reservations about the feasibility to transforming her dense prose into a manageable dramatic form. Shewey suggests that Greif reworked the play from its premier performance in California at the La Jolly Playhouse “through a series of developmental workshops to a full production at the Joseph Papp Public Theater” in New York. The latter production is therefore framed as the complete, finalized version, which is supported by the fact that Hagedorn publishes this performance script as the official play text but for my project I am interested in examining the various revisions she makes from the novel to the two US productions and perhaps also the most recent production of Dogeaters in Manila.

Shewey importantly notes that the staging of Dogeaters in the public theater “brings the play as close to mainstream American culture as any dramatic work about Filipino life has ever gotten” (print 1). I wonder if writing for this mainstream audience in mind affected the types of revisions Hagedorn made to her play text.

Shewey cites Hagedorn’s comment on the postmodern structure of her novel: “Manila is a collage, from the very high to the very low, from the very pious to the incredibly depraved. It’s this wonderful tropical city that can’t be easily described or defined. So why should the novel be linear and regimented? It couldn’t, if I was to properly capture what I was trying to capture’ (print 2). In the New York production, however, Hagedorn eliminates the “novel’s split time frame” which Shewey suggests was in response to the reviews of the California performance where critics and viewers decried that the play was too confusing. Hagedorn cuts the scenes from Rio’s childhood and in my paper I will further explore the implications of this revisions.

Shewey finally concludes his article citing another revealing quote from Hagedorn where she explains Dogeaters’ focus on public and private lives as well as their surrealistic collapse: “I’m striving to show…how reality and what I call the dreamtime – escapism – can actually merge. You can lose yourself in this soap opera, but after a while the soap opera starts to reflect what’s really going on in your life. But what comes first, your real drama or the fake drama? Are we living according to what we’ve seen in movies? Is that how we expect romance to occur because we’ve seen it a million times in the movies?” (print 3).

Annotation: Elyse Sommer’s “A CurtainUp Review: Dogeaters”

Peer-Review: 0

Sommer, Elyse. “A CurtainUp Review: Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. CurtainUp: The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings. 2001 Web.

In her review of The Public Theater, New York production of Dogeaters, Sommers discusses how “David Gallo’s two-level set and John Woo’s projection designs turn the stage into a combination live play and movie theater” (print 2). Her mention of the “movie theater-like” aspect of the play is particularly intriguing because the importance of film in shaping Filipino identity is a central theme in Hagedorn’s novel as well as her stage adaptation. Sommers further describes how Nestor Norales and Barbara Villanueva, “stars of the Phillippines’ [sic] longest running radio soap opera, ‘Love Letters’, and hosts of an American style talk show are the play’s MCs through whom the various events of the play are filtered” (print 2). She accentuates that by blending the events from the fictional radio drama with events from the real world of the play, the audience is introduced to a reality where “fact and fiction become part of a single soap opera” (print 2). In this way Hagedorn demonstrates how fantasy and popular culture are as just as important in constituting Filipino subjectivity as the material conditions of the world in which they live.

Sommers also calls attention to how in her stage adaptation, Hagedorn largely reduced Rio’s role, eliminating much of her childhood in Manila, presenting her as a grown woman returning to her home country as an “outsider looking in” (print). I am interested in examining the possible reasons for this revision, whether Hagedorn wanted to accentuate Rio’s expatriate status and call attention to her exoticized, nostalgic vision of Manila, a city she has grown deeply disconnected from.

Sommers further notes how the play draws together the lives of completely disparate seeming characters such as Daisy Avila, “the young beauty queen and daughter of privilege” and Joey Sands, a DJ and male prostitute who happens to witness the assassination of her father in complete soap operatic fashion. The two eventually band together to form a guerrilla resistance force. I argue that through this deliberate soap operatic treatment of character plotlines Hagedorn challenges the readers’ conception of what is cinematic fantasy and what is reality, demonstrating how the two overlap in extremely complex ways. Media technologies such as the Internet also demonstrates how this random collision of lives is not merely fantastical or improbable.

Sommers concludes her review asserting that because there are so many characters, none of them leave a particularly strong emotional impact on the viewers, and ultimately, “Manila the city is the character we get to know more than its citizens” (print 3). This is an interesting comment that I plan to explore further, namely, the implications, obstacles, and advantages of attempting to perform an entire era, life in Manila during the dictatorial Marcos regime.

Annotation: Dan Bacalzo’s “Dogeaters” (2001)

Peer-Review: 0

Bacalzo, Dan. “Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. Theatre Journal 53.4 (2001): 642-643. Print.

Bacalzo notes how in The Public Theater, New York production of Dogeaters, Hagedorn transforms Nestor Noralez and Barbara Villanueva, who are only minor characters in the original novel, into “perky talk show hosts. They introduce key players in the drama, as well as provide historical background for those in the audience unfamiliar with the history of Philippine politics” (print 1). But Bacalzo emphasizes that these narrators do not only fulfill the practical, functional role of situating the audience into the world of the play but they also tease out “the book’s preoccupation with movies and show business to create a purely theatrical mode of telling the story” (print 1). In my own paper I am interested in further exploring the possible political advantages of the dramatic as opposed to the novelistic form. Bacalzo calls attention to one scene where Noralez and Villanueva interview “the French Jesuit priest Jean Mallat, who is appearing on their show to promote his new book about the Philippines” (print 1). This moment powerfully alludes to imperialism, Orientalist documentation of Third World histories and the capitalist dimensions of those practices. Bacalzo suggests that the play revolves around the story of “Rio Gonzaga, a Filipina-American returning to her native land to attend her grandmother’s funeral” and Joey Sand’s tale “an action-adventure story, filled with danger, death, and revolution” (print 2). He asserts that their contrasting outsider-insider positions offer an interesting, nuanced portrait of Manila.

Bacalzo also notes a significant difference between Hagedorn’s novel, where she “took great pains…not to identify President Marcos and his wife by name, instead referring to them as simply the President and First Lady” but made “numerous mentions of Imelda Marcos” in her stage adaptation. I intend to examine this point further and situate it in the history of Filipino street protest theatre. I wonder whether the overt naming of Imelda Marcos speaks to the politicized nature of that dramatic art form. Bacalzo additionally describes interesting features of the stage design, where slide projections…hel[p] to distinguish changes in locale” and “an industrial catwalk with multiple levels” serves as the overall set (print 2).

Annotation: Nayan Shah’s “Staging Dogeaters”

Peer-Review: 0

Okay so I am shifting gears a little bit and am now working on another project where I analyze the publication/textual history of Jessica Hagedorn’s 1990 novel Dogeaters, which she later adapts into a play. I am interested in examining the specific revisions she makes as she re-fashions her original text into a dramatic form. The production history of the play also reveals interesting changes in Hagedorn’s stage text from its premier performance in San Diego, then New York and finally Manila. So basically expect a lot more annotations about Dogeaters-the novel and play ^^

Shah, Nayan. “Staging Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. Journal of Asian American Studies 2.2 (1999): 218-220. Print.

Shah reviews Michael Greif’s 1998 theatrical production of Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn’s stage adaptation of her 1990 novel by the same name. Shah notes that the performance at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse features the perspective of two major characters, Rio Gonzaga and Joey Sands: “The plot shuffles between 1959 as thirteen-year-old Rio experiences her parents tumultuous separation and 1982 the year when Joey becomes an unwitting witness to the assassination of opposition leader Senator Domingo Avila” (218). While the original novel displays a nonlinear structure, Shah asserts that in her stage adaptation, Hagedorn fully utilizes the advantages of the dramatic art form to further accentuate the overlapping of time and space. Shah specifically calls attention to how the play’s “montages of multiple scenes on stage with the actors speaking almost simultaneously…produces the effect of contradictory, coupled and de-coupled worlds,” reinforcing Hagedorn’s vision of history as not a simple chain of cause-and-effect (219).

Shah also describes how the performance highlights the intersections between “Catholic ritual and film fantasy” as characters fashion their identities through an exploration of their souls and their bodies, where spiritual and sexual experimentation “combine to produce a raw and emotionally intense collage of human expression” (220). Shah further notes the important function of gossip as a mode of communication and information transmission in the play. He asserts that gossip emerges as an informal, counter-discourse to the official discourse of the state. While “[g]ay men and women respond to gossip playfully, and creatively interpret its contents…elites respond to gossip as accusations to be denied and disposed of” (220).

Shah concludes his review by emphasizing how “Hagedorn refuses to turn the contradictory, chaotic, and funky beauty of the Philippines into digestible entertainment,” how she deliberately makes it difficult for her audiences to consume so that it will not be easily commodified (220). Yet reviews such as “Ordinary Living in a Mardi Gras of Corruption” by Bruce Weber, while written in response to a later production of Dogeaters in New York, suggests that Hagedorn’s play is not only commodified but also exoticized in a disturbingly Orientalist way. Weber asserts that for the audience, Dogeaters “is as titillating as a great vacation that leads you willingly into danger,” accentuating throughout the article, the strange “exotic, strange” features of 1982 Manila. In my essay I am interested in exploring the digestibility of Hagedorn’s play, the politics of deliberately writing a play that is difficult to consume—many reviewers have noted how the play is too complex, convoluted, etc—and what happens when it becomes subject to Orientalist consumption.

Annotation: Sianne Ngai’s “Animatedness” (2005)

Peer-Review: 0

Ngai, Sianne. “Animatedness.” Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2005. 89-125. Print.

In this essay Ngai asserts that stop-motion animation technology captures the ambiguous nature of human agency in the Fordist era, which she describes as “animatedness.” She particularly explores how animatedness, as a “seemingly neutral state of ‘being moved’” has been ‘twisted into the image of the overemotional racialized subject, abetting his or her construction as unusually receptive to external control” (91). Ngai argues, “to be ‘animated’ in American culture is to be racialized in some way” (95). She notes how African Americans have been popularly represented in literature and various forms of media as overly, excessively emotional. Ngai particularly calls attention to how “animatedness” as an emotional or physical response becomes racialized, corporeally attached to the visual stereotype of the African American body. She asserts that while Asian Americans seem to fall at the opposite end of the spectrum, popularly depicted as unfeeling and excessively unemotional, they are still clearly racialized for their lack of animation.

Ngai discusses the productivity of “animatedness” as a theoretical frame because the term recalls the “definitions of ‘animate’ and ‘animated’” ranging from “biological existence (‘endowed with life or the qualities of life: ALIVE”), to socially positive emotional qualities (‘lively,’ ‘full of vigor and spirit,’ ‘zest’), and finally to the historically specific mode of screen representation (‘made in the form of an animated cartoon’)” (94-95). Ngai therefore demonstrates how “animatedness” links organic life to emotional states and machine technologies.

She suggests that these connections are made even more explicit through the concept of automaziation Rey Chow presents in her essay “Postmodern Automatons.” Chow describes automatization as a condition where “one’s body and voice [is] controlled by an invisible other,” particularly reveals itself “the moment the body is made into the object of a gaze; being animated thus entails ‘becoming a spectacle whose ‘aesthetic’ power increases with one’s increasing awkwardness and helplessness’” (99). In her own essay Ngai attempts to answer Chow’s “question of how to turn automatization into autonomy and independence” (99). She asserts that while “animatedness” connotes the emotional and physical constrictions of mechanical, automatic assembly line labor, it also alludes to the potential for spontaneous, unrestricted and unexpected affective and bodily movement.

In her essay Ngai goes on to analyze a scene from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man where the “narrator suddenly finds himself part of a larger audience watching a black doll puppeteered by Tod Clifton, a Harlem community leader and activist he has admired” (111). Ngai asserts that in this scene Clifton’s ventriloquism and manipulation of the doll forces his body and voice to perform unnatural actions, thereby highlighting his own automatization. Even as he animates the black doll, he is also animated by invisible, external forces. Ngai therefore suggests that one ambiguous means through which automatized human beings can exert their agency in the Fordist era is to call attention to and essentially make a spectacle of their own automatization.

She finally concludes her essay with a discussion of The PJs, “the first prime-time program in American television history to feature a completely non-white, non-middle-class, and non-live-action cast, as well as the first to depict its characters in foamation, a three-dimensional, stop-motion animation technique” (102-103). Ngai asserts that The PJs foamation dolls are automatized by technicians who physically manipulate them into appropriate positions for camera shots and by the human actors who ventriloquize their voices. Despite their illusion of wholeness on the television screen, the dolls are dissected and pieced together. Yet Ngai notes that as different mouths are continually put on and taken off of the dolls, the mouth sometimes “slides a bit from its initial position,” which the directors refer to as “‘slippery mouth’ syndrome” (116). Ngai reads this effect as uncanny movements, where the mouths “assum[e] a liveliness that is distinct from the ‘life’ given to them by the animators and that exceeds their design and control” (117). She asserts that this “unaccounted-for autonomy” is representative of the ways in which agency operates in the Fordist era and should not be overlooked or trivialized.