Ideas are for moving bodies and the magical incantation of the manifesto: Q&A with Laura Cull & Will Daddario

Manifesto Now! maps the current rebirth of the manifesto as it appears at the crossroads of philosophy, performance and politics. Intellect asks the co-editors why they believe this resurgence demands a renewed interrogation of the form...and is a call to action.

Intellect: What is a manifesto and why explore it as performance scholars?
WD: Manifestos dwell within the nexus of text, action, imagination, past, present, and future.They are written documents, usually drafted by people seeking to advance a system of beliefs or a plan of action. But looking closer, [the manifesto] defies typical categories of language. They do more than report on a situation; they are more of a direct address, as though they were scripts for a speech or live monologue. Manifestos mean nothing at all if the listener or reader takes no action after reading, and in this way the document launches into the terrain of performance.
Intellect: How does the manifesto engage performance studies?
WD: Manifestos are not simply “performative” texts because they don’t merely do what they say. Instead, they coax actions that seem downright impossible within  current political situations. Manifestos tend toward magical incantation insofar as they conjure imagined futures in which great change has already occurred, even though the socio-political conditions that make each individual manifesto possible reveal the fact that such magnitude of change seems highly unlikely.
LCÓM: Back in 2010, for Performance Studies international #16, Beth Hoffmann and Idevised "Public Philosophy: A Manifesto Workshop" in collaboration with six core participants: Franziska Bork Petersen, Shane Boyle, Will Daddario, Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson, and Esa Kirkkopelto. This workshop explored manifestos as an act of self-situating and self-explicating; as a kind of writing towards an invisible public or a people-to- come; as both a genre and a highly contextualized act. We wondered whether the manifesto might help expose the kinds of publics that our own work as a “performance studies community” addresses but also fails to address. What has attracted many artists and scholars to the field of performance has been precisely this sense of openness, indefiniteness and inclusivity. But even ostensibly inclusive categories like performance have their exclusions and develop their habits and conventions at certain times. I came to performance from a background in the visual arts – but one where I’d always been interested in how nonhuman things perform or act, including materials like paint, light, fabric and so on. The sense of the “stuff” of visual art as having a life of its own and its own way of thinking – which was often resistant to or in excess of what I was trying to do with or to it – was always something that interested or attracted me practically as well as conceptually.
WD: I think Laura and I share the belief that artfulness has always been embedded within philosophical writing. When I read a particularly curmudgeonly chapter from Adorno, for example, I think, “But wait, he dictated an early draft of this sentence to his wife as he walked around his living room, and then he went back and took that record of his live speech and fiddled with it until it was sharp enough to cut through my mind.” How, then, am I to read Adorno if I truly recognize the live speech that sits at the center of all of his writing, writing that seems so writerly and erudite but must always be read as a spoken pronouncement? What happens if I re-read all of Adorno with this notion that he is performing his philosophy? I mean, if students were introduced to Foucault by watching videos of him speaking instead of reading some of his books, they would have a completely different understanding of this work. His body can’t keep still when he talks because his thought is animating his every limb. Thus, when I read Foucault, I have to comport myself to that particular energy and try to allow the BIG ideas to sit inside me until they move me-- in some way. None of this is metaphorical: ideas are for moving bodies.
Intellect: What launched Manifesto Now!?
LCÓM: It originated with that PSi #16 workshop, which focused on the idea of the
manifesto as explicitly concerned with an act of ‘making public’ – the word manifesto which comes from the Latin, manifestare: “to make public; to reveal”. The session combined people talking ‘about’ manifestos and people performing manifestos. Manifesto Now!, like the session, combines and expands upon this– and questions the extent to which all texts perform, even when they conceive themselves as description or explanation (of manifestos, or anything else).
Intellect: Is the manifesto experiencing a resurgence?
LCÓM: For my own part, I’d been writing and performing manifestos for a while – both as an individual, and as part of the artists collective SpRoUt which contributed to the Manifesto Marathon. In the book, we consider whether the manifesto is enjoying something of a revival – thinking, for instance, of such UK- based examples as Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 2008 Manifesto Marathon at the Serpentine Gallery, London; the international activist network, The Manifesto Club, founded in 2006; the comedian Mark Thomas’ project The People’s Manifesto; and the manifesto statement announcing Nicolas Bourriaud’s Altermodern exhibition as the 2009 Tate Triennial. The ongoing sense of crisis in contemporary politics – which, if anything, seems to have become even darker and more poisonous post-Trump– might support an ongoing concern with the manifesto, albeit not a naively optimistic or nostalgic, we hope.
WD: The art of protest has become more and more important in the last five years. There is a strong critique of academia that runs throughout the entire book, and as we know too well these critiques have proven prescient. As such, they all take the form of instructions for readers who seek methods of resisting and opposing the status quo. Due to the confluence of word and action in the manifesto, the critiques in Manifesto Now! are goads to performance, participation, and action.
Manifesto Now! features contributions from trailblazing artists, scholars and activists currently working in the United States, the United Kingdom and Finland, Manifesto Now! is indispensible to scholars across the disciplines. Filled with examples of manifestos and critical thinking about manifestos, it contains a wide variety of critical methodologies that students can analyse, deconstruct and emulate.
You can find out more about Manifesto Now! here
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