Karen Junod, Didier Maillat (eds.). Performing the Self. SPELL 24, 2010

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(available online one year after publication)


Performing the Self offers a cross-disciplinary dialogue about fundamental issues related to identity construction and identity performance. Written by linguistic and literary scholars, the present collection of essays argues against an essentialist view of the self and demonstrates in various ways how identities– whether they are defined as national, sexual, gendered, cultural, professional, virtual, linguistic or in some other way personal– are the products of multiple constructions and interconnected performances. Indeed, ‘performing the self’ is shown to be an act ofconstant questioning and staging, a relentless process which one perpetually revises and readjusts.



Table of Contents

 Introduction, 11

Angela Esterhammer (Zurich)
Performing Identities in Byron and Bourdieu, 21

Adrian Pablé (Hong Kong) and Marc Haas (Oxford)
Essentialism, Codification and the Sociolinguistics of Identity, 33

Alexa Weik (Fribourg)
From the Great Plains to the Red Apple Country: Identity and Ecology in Zitkala-Ša’s American Indian Stories, 47

Céline Guignard (Fribourg)
Recovering and Reshaping a Lost Identity: The Gaels’ Linguistic and Literary Struggle, 61

Kellie Gonçalves (Bern)
Negotiating Identities and Doing Swiss in Intercultural Couples, 75

Amit Chaudhuri (East Anglia)
Ray and Ghatak and Other Filmmaking Pairs: the Structure of Asian Modernity, 91

Michael Dobson (London)
Falstaff in Switzerland, Hamlet in Bavaria: Expatriate Shakespeare and the Question of Cultural Transmission, 101

Nikolas Coupland (Cardiff)
Language, Ideology, Media and Social Change, 127 

Barbara Straumann (Zurich)
“There are many that I can be”: The Poetics of Self-Performance in Isak Dinesen’s “The Dreamers”, 153

Brook Bolander (Basel) and Miriam Locher (Basel)
Constructing Identity on Facebook: Report on a Pilot Study, 165

Notes on Contributors, 189

Index of Names, 193


Performing Identities in Byron and Bourdieu

Angela Esterhammer


In order to explore the distinctively modern performances of identity found in the later poetry of Byron, this paper focuses on Beppo, the hundred-stanza poem that Byron wrote in Venice in October 1817. Beppo is well known as Byron’s first use of the serio-comic, conversa-tional narrative voice that came to characterize his later poetry; but the “plot” of this poem, an anecdote related by an expatriate English narrator about the habits of Venetian society, has received relatively little at-tention. By exposing interpersonal relationships and the construction ofidentities as performative and improvisatory processes, this anecdote in-triguingly anticipates the perspective of postmodern sociology. PierreBourdieu’s theory of habitus as the disposition inculcated in individualsby their socio-economic environment is a particularly relevant model forreading the behaviour of Byron’s Venetian characters and their interac-tions within a Carnivalesque setting. Beppo throws open questions aboutindividual and national identities: how fixed or durable they are, whetherthey are conceptual or embodied, how they are negotiated in interper-sonal situations. Adopting an ironically sociological perspective, Byrondepicts social role-playing as a conjunction of environmental determin-ism with individual improvisation.



Essentialism, Codification and the Sociolinguistics of Identity

Adrian Pablé and Marc Haas


This paper critically examines the work and discourse of two American anthropologists and linguists, Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall, from the vantage point of an integrational critique of linguistics. The focal point of our critique is the conviction that “identities,” as first-order commu-nicational phenomena, cannot be the object of scientific empirical re-search because doing so presupposes that indexical values are viewed as micro-contextually determined and available to outsiders with an “in-sider view” (i.e. the ethnographer). As a consequence, Bucholtz and Hall’s insistence that they are not “fixed-code” linguists seems little credible, precisely because, unlike integrationists, they cannot subscribe to the view that signs are radically indeterminate: ethnography of com-munication, after all, relies on data collection and data analysis. The in-tegrationist, in turn, sees “identity” as a metadiscursive label used by lay speakers to cope with their everyday first-order experience: the focus, therefore, ought to be on lay (and professional) discourses about such labels.



From the Great Plains to the Red Apple Country: Identity and Ecology in Zitkala-Ša’s American Indian Stories

 Alexa Weik


Identity and ecology are closely interwoven in the autobiographical texts of Lakota writer Zitkala-Ša. Born on a reservation in the prairies of South Dakota, Zitkala-Ša was educated in Quaker mission schools in the “Red Apple Country” of Indiana, and later became a teacher at Car-lisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Interpellated by strongly conflicting ideologies from a very young age, Zitkala-Ša gradually devel-oped her own, Native-American version of W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous concept of “double consciousness.” While the Western, American as-pect of her identity is expressed not least in the fact that she wrote all of her essays and stories in English, her Indian self-understanding was an-chored in her special relationship to nature. In my essay, I demonstrate how representations of the imperiled ecological space of the Great Plains are of central importance to Zitkala-Ša’s autobiographical texts, and how her Native-American double consciousness aided her in her political fight for Native American civil rights and environmental justice.



Recovering and Reshaping a Lost Identity: The Gaels’ Linguistic and Literary Struggle

Céline Guignard


Language has long been considered to be at the heart of the concept of national identity and the relationship between language and identity was at the centre of the literary debate that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century in Scotland. In the context of such a debate, three authors in particular - William Sharp, Neil Munro and Fionn MacColla - believed that it was possible to write about Gaelic identity and culture in the English language, despite the fact that English was seen as the very language which threatened to hasten the decline of Scottish Gaelic. This essay examines the literary techniques which they developed in order to make the Gaelic nature of their texts shine through their English prose. Part of the essay will also focus on the way the two languages are repre-sented in the three authors’ fiction and on the relationship their Gaelic and English protagonists entertain with the language.



Negotiating Identities and Doing Swiss in Intercultural Couples

Kellie Gonçalves


This article adopts a post-modern approach to identity construction as multiple, dynamic, performed and discursively co-constructed in social interaction. Data collected in 2006 from nine intercultural couples, namely Anglophone women married to native German-speaking Swiss men indicate a discrepancy between implicit and explicit identity claims and see them as multiple and hybrid. The informants’ rejection, accep-tance and embracing of a Swiss identity based on language use and other socio-cultural practices often correlates to negative and positive assess-ments and stereotypes attached to the reification of Swiss as well as in-dividuals’ first-order perceptions of their stable, fixed and essential selves. Linguistic devices such as reference, adjuncts, and stance markers are used to index individuals’ attitudes concerning their identities and what it means to do Swiss. A discourse analytic approach is taken to scrutinize individuals’ first-order perceptions of themselves by consider-ing their essentialist stances, emerging identities, and various modes of positioning within the context of a recorded conversation. Although post-modern definitions of identity are understood as multivalent, I ar-gue that any discussion of identity should not discard the notion of es-sentialism since individuals more often than not discursively construct themselves and each other as stable and unitary beings.



Ray and Ghatak and Other Filmmaking Pairs: the Structure of Asian Modernity

Amit Chaudhuri


How did a cultural encounter in the time of modernity – in particular, one that involves a new artwork – actually occur? When the encounter is taking place between historically opposed, or at least different, enti-ties, such as the “East” and the “West,” is it possible to escape, as one views or experiences the artwork, the familiar language of cultural dif-ference? Is it possible to use the parameter of modernity as a way out of that language, as well as from the notion of a universal human nature through which to understand a variety of (sometimes challenging and resistant) experiences? But, if we introduce the notion of modernity in a situation involving both “East” and “West,” is it possible to avoid a nar-rative to do with “Western” and “non-Western” modernities, or a mod-ernity that’s engendered by the West and then transported elsewhere? Many of these questions underlie, I think, the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s reflections on his first encounter with Japanese cinema, and I re-turn to them here. I also look at the way in which major filmmakers in Asian countries often seem to emerge in pairs – pairs that, in turn, com-plicate the bases on which we make our distinctions between “Western” and “Eastern” sensibilities and histories.



Falstaff in Switzerland, Hamlet in Bavaria: Expatriate Shakespeare and the Question of Cultural Transmission

Michael Dobson


This paper considers some of the consequences of the late eighteenth-century canonization of Shakespeare as an indigenously British writer for the performance of his plays in Continental Europe, particularly their hitherto under-studied history of non-professional anglophone performance among expatriates. It examines the conflict between two principal ways of understanding the workings of cultural transmission (essentially, between the notion of Shakespeare as belonging genetically to the English-speaking peoples, and a notion of Shakespeare as amena-ble to naturalization regardless of ethnicity), as it plays itself out during two periods of international conflict: that of Romanticism and revolu-tion, and that of modernism and world war. Drawing on diplomatic memoirs, geography textbooks, prologues, vanity-published journals and military archives, it looks particularly at Shakespearean perform-ances by English expatriates and Swiss Anglophiles in Geneva in the af-termath of the Napoleonic wars, and at productions of Shakespeare mounted by Allied prisoners of war in Bavaria during World War Two. Whose different notions of high culture, ethnic identity and national heritage did these different mobilizations of Shakespeare serve?


Language, Ideology, Media and Social Change

Nikolas Coupland


Social change is rarely treated in sociolinguistics, even though other per-spectives on change, and the specific interpretation of language change developed in variationist traditions, are fundamental. A concept of “so-ciolinguistic change” should be able to embed analyses of language change, taken to include change in the ideological loadings of linguistic varieties, within accounts of social change. The mass media, generally precluded from analyses of language change, are a powerful resource promoting and disseminating sociolinguistic change. “Standard” and “non-standard” language, interpreted as ideological attributions, are re-assessed in relation to social change in Britain over the last 50 years, par-ticularly changes in the constitution of social class. The framing and sig-nificance of class-related voices are then briefly explored in a sequence from the popular-culture, high-reach, British TV show, Strictly Come Dancing. Conventional sociolinguistic accounts of “standard” and “non-standard” speech fail to capture the characterological work done in the TV performance, and arguably much more generally in the less socially structured and more multi-centred and globalised circumstances of late modernity.



“There are many that I can be”: The Poetics of Self-Performance in Isak Dinesen’s “The Dreamers”

Barbara Straumann


This paper looks at issues of identity in relation to artistic performances of the feminine self. Isak Dinesen’s story “The Dreamers” from her col-lection Seven Gothic Tales (1934) is remarkably in tune with contemporary theories of identity construction, notably with Judith Butler’s concept of gender performance. Pellegrina Leoni, the protagonist of Dinesen’s tale, is an acclaimed opera singer who loses her voice in a tragic accident. Af-ter having herself symbolically buried, she assumes an infinite series of masks and masquerades. My reading demonstrates how by abandoning her rigid star persona, Dinesen’s heroine comes to perform a far more mobile selfhood. Her relentless role-play stands in stark contrast to a narrative desire which seeks to impose a stable identity upon her and by which she is eventually killed in a fatal scene of interpellation. By read-ing “The Dreamers” as a quasi-manifesto of Isak Dinesen’s art, I argue that her poetic project feeds on a complex dialectics of self-masking and self-presentation. It is in and through her masquerade that this modern-ist writer develops a compelling form of feminine self-expression.



Constructing Identity on Facebook: Report on a Pilot Study

Brook Bolander and Miriam A. Locher


In this paper we examine the construction of identity on the social net-work site (SNS) Facebook. We thereby focus on the language use in per-sonal profiles and status updates (SUs) of ten individuals from Switzer-land. This paper thus presents the results of a pilot study, which is part of a larger project on language and identity in Facebook. Drawing on previous work on SNSs by Zhao et al. and Nastri et al., this paper high-lights that Facebookers use a variety of strategies to construct their iden-tities, i.e., visual, enumerative, narrative (cf. Zhao et al.) and self-labelling practices, as well as what we term “Creative language usage.” Results show that identity construction on Facebook tends to be medi-ated more extensively via implicit identity claims than explicit ones, which corroborates the results of Zhao et al. We hypothesize that this may be related to the fact that individuals in Facebook tend to have “anchored relationships” (cf. Zhao et al.), which means their Facebook relationships are grounded in offline life. The paper also points to par-ticular factors relating to the medium and the social context of interac-tion which appear to influence language use in this SNS, and which will need to be studied in further depth as the project proceeds.

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