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5. Performance Orientation

It is fairly easy to see that plays and music and also dance notation and architectural plans are less than complete until they have been transformed or "interpreted" as performances or transferred from their notational (textual) conceptions into their fulfillments in events or buildings or landscapes. Thus, if the endgame of the work is seen as a performance or as the construction of something for which the text is a set of instructions, a recipe, or a score, it is likely that the drafts, fragments, plans, and printed texts for the work will be looked


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at in a radically different way from that which is adopted when a reader sees in a text a means of experiencing the work by merely reading it. The line between these two modes of textual function is not always very clear, however, because a poem might be seen as something to be read aloud, making it more like a song than a physical or symbolic object to be contemplated for itself. But beyond that, it seems plausible also to speak of a novel as an "object" that can only be experienced through the performing act of reading, even though silently to one's self. The point, however, of these observations is that a performative orientation toward the textual materials for a work might focus attention on their value in helping us to imagine how the work has been performed in the past or in helping us to imagine how the work could or should be performed now.

The key word in performance is "enactment."28 What distinguishes the performance orientation from others is its focus on how a work's instructions for performance are carried out. For texts that are "merely read," performative acts are individual and vary from one reader to another depending on skill and reading style. Editors can have little to do with that kind of performance, though historians of reading find an endless fascination in tracing evidence of reading habits. In this vein, reviews of works can be seen as reports on reading performances, but again editors may be justified in ignoring this kind of evidence when considering what it is that constitutes works to be read. However, that is not the case with plays, orations, public poetry, music, or dance, because in each of these cases each performance of the work constitutes a crucial ontological form of the work. Because performances in these genres were unrecorded before the invention of recording devices, our only access to performed works of earlier periods is reports and reviews of their enactments and internal evidence. According to researchers such as Jean-Marie Thomasseau, traditional history of the theatre often reduced the theatrical to the literary. Instead, he proposes to think differently of "the theatre as an object within historical determinants, without reducing it to a mere analysis of the different manuscript states of the text leading to the edition."29 While Thomasseau's suggestions deal with "non-contemporary" theatre, contemporary trends such as post-dramatic theater30 pose yet another set of challenges to editing. As Almuth Grésillon notes, the emphasis on performance


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also raises interesting questions with regard to other semiotic systems, such as: who is the "author" of a movie? where does the genesis of an architectural project end? how does one establish the "text" of a piece of free jazz? how does one define the "work" of an installation in performance art?31

From an editorial point of view, the only thing that can be edited is the text of the surviving documents and of any stage directions or notations designed to influence the manner of performance. Such documents can be edited from the material, temporal, causal, or genetic orientations, but when edited from a performance orientation, significant attention will be devoted to the "work" that is being indicated beyond the material text—that which is the "end product" intended or envisioned by the work's creator(s). It would require a dexterous argument to defend restoring to a performance text an aspect of the work that had been judged unperformable, even if that judgment were made by some "unauthorized" but experienced performer rather than the author.

It is a further aspect of the performance orientation that a far keener interest attends the history of performance through extended periods including the present than attends the posthumous repackaging of reading texts for commercial sale. Book historians are, of course, interested in the history of a work's repackaging, but editors will frequently ignore editions produced after the death of the author unless new authorial materials were involved or unless they are particularly interested in adaptations. In editing performance texts, on the other hand, it is easier to justify the effort to create histories of variant performances as part of the scholarly edition.


Almuth Grésillon, "Genèses théâtrales," La mise en oeuvre: Itinéraires génétiques (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2008): 245–267. A more extensive treatment of the topic, with various contributions, can be found in the edited volume: Almuth Grésillon, Marie-Madeleine Mervant- Roux and Dominique Budor, eds., Genèses théâtrales (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2010).


Almuth Grésillon and Jean-Marie Thomasseau, "Scènes de genèses théâtrales," Genesis 26 (2006): 19–34.


Jean-Marie Thomasseau, "Towards a Genetic Understanding of Non-contemporary Theatre: Traces, Objects, Methods," Theatre Research International 33.3 (2008): 234–249; esp. 236.


Ronald Broude, in "Musical Works, Musical Texts, and Musical Editions" (Scholarly Editing 33 [2012], on-line journal;, distinguishes "historicizing" editions from "enabling" editions; and in "Performance and the Socialized Text" (Textual Cultures 6 [2011]: 23–47), Broude writes of such texts as socialized, but the emphasis is on performance editions. See also Laura J. Murray and Keren Rice, eds., Talking on the Page: Editing Aboriginal Oral Texts (Toronto, ON: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999); Andrew Gurr, "Maximal and Minimal Texts: Shakespeare v. the Globe," Shakespeare Survey 52 (1999): 68–87; Lukas Erne and Margaret Jane Kidnie, eds., Textual Performances: The Modern Reproduction of Shakespeare's Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004); Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey, "Text and Stage: Shakespeare, Bibliography, and Performance Studies," New Theatre Quarterly 9.34 (1993): 179–191; and Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel, eds., From Performance to Print in Shakespeare's England (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).


Thomasseau, "Towards a Genetic Understanding of Non-contemporary Theatre," 236.


Hans-Thies Lehmann, "From Logos to Landscape: Text in Contemporary Dramaturgy," Performance Research 2.1 (1997): 55–60.