Organizer and Chair: Charles J. Quinn, Jr., Ohio State University
Discussant: Frederick Turner, University of Texas, Dallas
Most of us learn to participate in the cultures we study, some of us as natives, some not. None of us needs reminding that to investigate an East Asian culture in a way recognized as scholarship, we learn to interpret and analyze in response to a scholarly tradition or discipline. The teleology of scholarship leads through analysis and commentary to ever newer interpretations, even when these challenge the usefulness, morality, or coherence of such work.
Performance is another way of knowing a culture. By performance, we mean the enactment of that tradition, whatever the genre or medium, in quotidian as well as special settings. In approaching another culture, learning to communicate in its language(s) exemplifies this kind of knowledge, since one's intentions and interpretations are bodily manifested. Our studies in theatrical and literary arts, language pedagogy and linguistics find commonalities in performance across a range of activities that from a scholarly perspective can seem unrelated: successful performance displays a capacity for responding to particulars such as setting, purpose and audience, which differ from occasion to occasion. We therefore emphasize the potential of a performative perspective for understanding and teaching the cultures of China, Japan, and Korea in integrated, nonreductive ways that avoid totalizing and stereotyping. If there is a teleology in the performative approach to knowing another culture, it is an open-ended one, and lies in seeking to be always on the way to more responsive and adaptive interaction.
Language Learning as Performance
Shelley Fenno Quinn, Ohio State University
As a teacher of traditional Japanese performance literature, I try to incorporate a performance practicum into my courses whenever possible. Such practical exposure can electrify learners, introducing what Frederick Turner has called "that slight touch of danger, of the possibility of personal transformation." A student learning the movement or vocalization patterns of a segment from a noh play, for instance, does not question that the art form poses the challenge of developing new dimensions of being through training. It is clear to the learner that risks are involved: a commitment to somatic transformation and to the concomitant possibility of cognitive understanding thus engendered. The experience can open a view on the contingency of one's own culture.
Language learning, too, involves cultivating new skills to play new roles. Although lacking the heightened definition of a cultural performance such as noh, any verbal interaction is predicated on culturally informed modes of behavior that must be learned by practice. This paper argues for a foreign language curriculum whose analytical and practical components frame language learning as a process of training in performance. By explicitly casting the language learner as actor (or other), a more playful and reflexive context for taking performative risks becomes possible. At the same time, the learner is pressed to assume responsibility for communicative acts that involve skill building at multiple levels of performance (phonological, kinetic, pragmatic), and that include but go beyond propositional knowledge.
From East Asian Performance Traditions to Foreign Language Pedagogy
Chan-eung Park, Ohio State University
Foreign language skills are not acquired uniformly by all or even most students in a class, even when the instructional variables (instructor, materials, methods) are nearly identical. On the face of it, this fact flies in the face of two common and complementary assumptions: (l) if the instructional variables are good, skills will develop; (2) if skills develop, this must be a consequence of the instructional variables. Of course, neither of these assumptions is necessarily true. And what about variables controlled by the learner?
Like language in the larger sense, a culture's language arts constitute culturally expressive systems. These arts, as they are performed, are no more reducible to a "code" than is a language in use. In both the language of everyday use and in language arts, a hallmark of successful performance is an improvisational competence in which a speaker or writer adapts to a variety of needs and audiences, and this is accomplished within the constraints of a living tradition. The traditional pedagogies of East Asian performing arts, such as the p'ansori sung narratives of Korea, include a number of practices and assumptions about learning and about performed art that we foreign language teachers might do well to examine, such as the belief that learners are apprentices in a lifelong, embodied process, the most important stage of which is the next small step they take. I will argue the utility of such a pedagogy for learners of East Asian languages.
Getting a Culture into the Conversation or a Conversation into the Culture
Galal Walker, Ohio State University
Conversing in a foreign language is dangerous. Ways of behaving that have served us well from an early age can suddenly betray us and land us in a swelter of misunderstanding and embarrassment. We have consciously learned very few of the behaviors that we constantly use in conversations in our native languages and are likely to be unaware that they are distinct learned behaviors; therefore, we are equally unaware that we have to learn to perform different (often contrasting) behaviors to converse effectively in a foreign language.
These behaviors are the means by which we enact the cultures within which we construct ourselves. As such, they are indispensable to creating a knowledge of a culture. How are we to learn these performances? To be useful they have to be a part of our memory that is instantly available in the heat of the game, not recalled at leisure and ruminated over. These behaviors are too numerous to be listed; therefore, cannot be learned efficiently by repeated performance in isolation.
This paper explores the basic concept "story" as the cognitive unit for conveying these performances and describes the intimate relation between story and a specific culture, namely Chinese. It proposes a model for compiling the memory that subtends these behaviors and creates the culture within which we communicate in the language.
On the Way to (Another) Culture: Getting in Sync
Charles J. Quinn, Jr., Ohio State University
Learning to move freely and effectively in a distant culture is a utopian task, in which the horizon recedes as the learner progresses. This follows in part from the very nature of social life, where no two interactions are quite the same, and from the vast rhetorical possibilities of a language in its lived contexts. The difficulty has to do with fit, specifically the live, performed fit of words, morphosyntax, sounds, posture, physical proximity, and more, with particular purposes, audiences, and settings. What is this fit, and how do we inculcate a capacity for creating it in Japanese?
Interaction that fits in this sense is aesthetic, in at least two senses. First, learning to enact the social genres of another culture means expanding one's being into new possibilities. Second, if the aesthetic moments in our lives, as Dewey suggested, are those in which we approach being in sync with the people and events we encounter, learning to participate in the creation of such moments is a proper performative goal of foreign language pedagogy.
In the pursuit of such skills, surer progress is to be had if the learner abjures the chimera of final arrival for a commitment to staying on the way. This view has long been at the heart of vernacular wisdom in the practice of performing arts in East Asia, but in Heidegger's philosophy, too, being (sein) is very much an on-the-way kind of project.