Tavia Nyong'o (New York University)
Performing for and against the Camera: On Stephen Winter’s “Jason and Shirley” (2015)
This talk will discuss Jason and Shirley, a cinematic fabulation of the film shoot that resulted in Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason (1967). The film has drawn both praise and criticism for its purposefully unreliable narration of historical events. While historical reconstruction is one valid mode of reparation, this talk will argue, fabulation may be another, particularly for those subjects injured by the power of documentary exposure. I draw on film theorist Marc Siegel and black feminist theorist Hortense Spillers to question the “normativity” or “antinormativity” of Winter’s historical reconstruction. Queer theory, it has recently been alleged, is reflexively antinormative, and recklessly glamorizes its rule-breaking and norm- subverting. Partisans of this position sometimes advocate a both/and model of acknowledging the validity of both normative and antinormative strivings. Jason and Shirley’s freewheeling transgressive improvisation upon actual historical events seems, by contrast, to demand critics take up an alternative model of the neither/nor. This mode does not accept the ethos of restoration and reconstruction as a norm, but neither does it glamorize transgression for its own sake.
Tavia Nyong’o is a cultural critic and an Associate Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. His first book, The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (Minnesota, 2009), won the Errol Hill Award for best book in African American theatre and performance studies. He is completing a study of fabulation in black aesthetics. He is co-editor of both the journal Social Text and the Sexual Cultures book series at New York University press. He regularly blogs at Bully Bloggers.