Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between

The Paradigmatic Role of Performance

However, the self-attribution of the cultures concerned plays a pivotal role in moderating the inevitable Eurocentric perspective. The specific criteria by which the directors, performers, critics, and audiences of a particular society judge themselves and their performances as modern must first be determined. Therefore, the theorization of given concepts of modernity and the modern is necessary. While Eisenstadt’s focus lies on the multiplicity of cultures and the differences between them, I am interested in the interweaving of cultures in performance. Admittedly, a tension exists between the idea of multiplicity and cultural difference, on the one hand, and the notion of historical and contemporary processes of interweaving, on the other, which occurs between both Western and non-Western cultures and between different non-Western or Western cultures.

Furthermore, I am proceeding from the assumption that processes of modernization can develop multi-dimensionally. They refer to specific constellations of certain aesthetic, political, social, technological, or economic dimensions. On a large scale, processes of transformation do not occur in isolation; nor do they result from simple causal relationships. I would like to argue that since the 1970s (and likewise between 1900 and 1935) the interweaving of cultures in performance has neither led to the westernization of non-Western performances nor to the homogenization of performances globally. Instead, it has generated new forms of diversity.

In this context it must be emphasized that all processes of interweaving different cultures in performance can be regarded as political processes. Performance takes place in public. Each and every performance creates both an aesthetic and a political situation. As stated in the introduction, two groups of people meet and negotiate their relationship in a performance – the ‘doers’ and the ‘onlookers’. Their relationship might be defined as one between subject and object or as one between co-subjects. One group might attempt to impose a certain behaviour or conviction on the other. Both groups may form a community or be in conflict with each other. That is to say, as soon as a power struggle between groups or within one group erupts, the performance is to be regarded not only as an aesthetic, artistic process but also as a social, indeed political, one.

In this respect, performances take on a paradigmatic role for society. All that occurs publicly in them – both between the performers and between performers and spectators – may reflect, condemn, or negate the surrounding social conditions or anticipate future ones. In performance, new forms of social co-existence are tried and tested. Performance’s multiple paradigmatic functions are particularly visible in the processes of interweaving cultures. Such processes provide an experimental framework for experiencing the potential of culturally diverse and globalized societies. The interweaving of cultures in performances quite often creates an innovative performance aesthetic, which establishes and gives shape to new collaborative policies in society. It probes the emergence, stabilization, and de-stabilization of cultural identity. Here, the aesthetic and the political merge.

The globalization of cultures is mirrored and partly anticipated in the global performance landscape that increasingly functions within a framework of transcultural entanglements. Interweaving cultures in performance does not mean erasing their differences or homogenizing them. Rather, because of the multiple states of in-betweenness elaborated above, performances are particularly suitable as sites for different cultures to meet and negotiate their relationships through various processes of interweaving that result in something completely new and beyond the scope of any single participating culture.

The state of in-betweenness into which the performance transfers its participants allows them to anticipate and experience a future wherein the journey itself, the permanence of transition, and the state of liminality constitutes the goal. What is here perceived as aesthetic experience will be experienced as everyday life in the future.

Interweaving cultures in performance can thus be described as an aesthetic ‘Vor-Schein’, as the philosopher Ernst Bloch put it:12 an anticipation in and by the arts of something that will become social reality much later, if at all. In this case, such an anticipation is not based on particular contents, ideologies, Weltanschauungen, and so on, but on the very processes of interweaving cultures that occur in performance. Here, moving between cultures is celebrated as a state of in-betweenness that will change spaces, disciplines, and the subject as well as her/his body in a way that exceeds the imaginable.

By interweaving cultures without erasing their differences, performances, as sites of in-betweenness, are able to constitute new realities – realities of the future, where the state of being in-between describes the ‘normal’ state of the citizens of this world.

  1. Ernst Bloch, Ästhetik des Vor-Scheins, 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974). []


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