Professor Robin Bernstein
Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 26
(Formerly “Gender and Performance,” Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1133)
Mondays and Wednesdays 11am-noon, Harvard Hall 202
When taken for a letter grade, this course counts for
General Education credit in Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding or
Core credit in Literature and Arts B
Email: <rbernst@fas> Lizzy Cooper Davis <davis5@fas> (Head TF)
Office hours: Wednesdays 9-10:30 am Shana Komittee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We are surrounded by performances: film, online video, television, theatre, sports, public rituals such as weddings, and the normal, quotidian events of everyday life such as shopping. The purpose of this course is to help you think in new and deeper ways about these performances. “Race, Gender, and Performance” introduces you to powerful theoretical tools that will enable you to look anew at familiar performances and see things that you never noticed or thought about before. The course also spotlights feminist, queer, and anti-racist performances that are less mainstream and therefore less familiar to most students. Thus the class makes the familiar strange and makes the strange familiar.
Throughout the semester, we examine race, gender, and sexuality in performance and as performance. In other words, we analyze the meanings produced through already-gendered, already-sexually-identified, and already-raced bodies on stage and in audiences, as well as the construction of gender, race, and sexuality through performances on stage and in everyday life. In the first week, titled “Introductions to Performance Studies,” we gain familiarity and dexterity with basic concepts in the field. After this introduction, we dig into three units of study. Unit 1, “Performing Preconstructed Race, Gender, and Sexuality” examines the assumption that bodies are always already raced, gendered, and sexually identified. In Unit 2, “Constructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality through Performance,” we engage with major theorists—including Erving Goffman, Judith Butler, Diana Taylor, and Laura Mulvey—who offer different accounts of how performance constructs norms and makes race, gender, and sexuality real. We end the course with Unit 3, “Reconstructing and Deconstructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality through Performance,” in which we examine feminist, queer, and anti-racist efforts to use performance to create social change.
Required Texts and Performances
Books (all on reserve at Lamont and available for purchase at the Coop):
● Robin Bernstein, ed., Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater
● Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues
● Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
● David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly
● Sourcebook (“SB”)
Films and videos (all streaming and on reserve at Lamont)
● Black Is. . . Black Ain’t
● Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst Is Your Waffen
● The Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Pop Culture
● The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey
● Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP
● Fires in the Mirror
● Stop the Church
● The Vagina Monologues
● Venus Boyz
Every student is required to attend a live theatrical performance and a Harvard Women’s or Men’s basketball game, for which you will receive free tickets.
● Our theatrical performance is Fierce Love, by the Pomo Afro Homos, at the Theater Offensive in
● Each student must attend one of the following basketball games:
Friday, November 11. Harvard Men’s Basketball game versus MIT, 7pm
Tuesday, November 22. Harvard Women’s Basketball game
Sunday, November 27. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Holy Cross, 2pm
Course Requirements and Grading
Performance Analysis #1 (3-5 pages, due in lecture Monday, Sept. 19) 10% of final grade
Performance Analysis #2 (5-7 pages, due Friday, Oct. 21) 10% of final grade
Performance Analysis #3
(5-7 pages, due Tuesday, Nov. 22 OR Tuesday, Nov. 29) 15% of final grade
Attendance at live theatrical performance (Nov. 17, 18, 19, OR 20) 5% of final grade
Attendance at Harvard men’s or women’s basketball game
(Nov. 11, 22, OR 27) 5% of final grade
8 in-section writing exercises (graded credit/no credit) 10% of final grade
Final Exam OR Final Paper 25% of final grade
Productive participation, active listening, punctuality, and respectful
citizenship in section and lecture 20% of final grade
Sections will meet on Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays. Sectioning will occur during the second week of class, and sections will meet for the first time during the week of September 12. We will make every effort to place you in your first choice of section.
Each section will begin with a brief writing exercise based on that week’s reading and/or lectures. Your TF will give you a prompt—a provocative question, for example, or an invitation to put two ideas into conversation—and you’ll write freely for 5-10 minutes. These exercises give you an opportunity to practice writing about performance, and you will brainstorm ideas that you may later expand in your papers. Your TF will collect and read these exercises, but she or he will not grade them. You will receive credit simply for completing 8 exercises over the course of the semester.
Students will take collective responsibility for the success of every section discussion. You are expected not only to complete the required reading and viewings, but also to think about them before class and to arrive in section with thoughts and questions. In section, all students will listen actively to and engage productively with their classmates, and all will express thoughts in a respectful manner that advances the conversation. Practices that disrespect one’s colleagues (for example, texting, interrupting, hogging the floor, launching personal attacks, surfing the web, or answering cell phones) will hinder conversation; such practices, therefore, are unacceptable.
Professor Bernstein and both TFs want to get to know you! Toward that goal, we will have lunch every Monday immediately after class in Kirkland House. You are invited to join us! If you are not on the meal plan, please speak to Scott Poulson-Bryant, who will arrange for you to receive a free meal ticket. These lunches have no agenda: we might talk about the course, or a performance you’ve recently seen or participated in, or we might just chat about subjects of no direct relevance to race, gender, sexuality, or performance. We hope that every student will drop by for lunch at least once or twice during the semester!
Professor Bernstein holds office hours from 9-10:30 am on Wednesdays. You are welcome to drop in, but students with appointments receive priority. You may reserve time online at http://wgs.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k53419&pageid=icb.page449095. If you have class during office hours, please email Professor Bernstein at <rbernst@fas> to make alternative arrangements.
If you need reasonable accommodation for a disability, please let your TF know as soon as possible. We will work with you and the appropriate Harvard offices to make this class accessible to all.
All books (including the Sourcebook) and all films are on reserve at Lamont Library. You may view the films in Lamont or on streaming video (your TF will explain how to access this resource).
Some of the required readings and viewings include nudity and/or explicit sexual content. If you do not wish to engage with such materials, you should not enroll in this course.
Students must arrive on time for lectures and sections, all of which start seven minutes after the hour. If you miss lecture or section for a Harvard-recognized religious holiday or for a documented illness, you will be excused. To be excused for any other absence, you must submit a dean’s note. Extracurricular activities, including those relevant to this course, are not acceptable reasons for missing lecture or section.
Each student will either take a final exam or write a 12-15 page final paper. Most students will take the exam, which is the default option. You should write a paper only if you are burning to work on a specific, relevant project. If you wish to write a paper in lieu of taking the exam, you must submit a proposal to your TF by Wednesday, October 26. If your TF and professor decline your proposal, you must take the exam.
Unless otherwise specified, all papers are due in the office of
the Department of African and African American Studies in the
If you are involved in extracurricular activities related to race, gender, sexuality, and/or performance, you may want to publicize relevant events among your classmates. The course website has a special section titled “Student Announcements” for this purpose. If you wish to publicize an event, please send the information to your TF, who can post the announcement online. Your TF reserves the right to decline to post any announcement.
Introductions to Performance Studies
Wednesday, August 31. What is performance? What does it mean to say that gender, race, or sexuality is performed?
Monday, September 5. LABOR DAY. No classes.
Wednesday, September 7. What is performance studies? How does it relate to the study of race, gender, and sexuality?
● Read pamphlet, “A Student’s Guide to Performance Studies” <http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic235750.files/Peformance_Studies.pdf>.
● Assignment for Performance Analysis #1 distributed in class
Performing Preconstructed Race, Gender, and Sexuality
The texts are listed in a recommended order for reading or viewing.
The italicized questions may guide your reading if you wish.
You are welcome to ignore the italicized questions.
Monday, September 12. Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Performance
● View Black Is. . . Black Ain’t (directed by Marlon Riggs, 1994)
What does the film suggest blackness is or isn’t? Where is blackness? In bodies? In culture? In history? Somewhere else entirely? How does the film show blackness intersecting with gender and sexuality? What is the importance of AIDS in the film? Why do you think Marlon Riggs shows himself running naked through the woods? How would the film have been different if those scenes were excluded?
Wednesday, September 14. I’m Ready for My Close-Up: Sexed Bodies in Performance
● Read Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues
● View The Vagina Monologues (written and directed by Eve Ensler, 2002)
● Recommended: read Esther Morris Leidolf, “An Additional Monologue,” in Sojourner March 2001 (online at http://mrkhorg.homestead.com/files/ORG/AdditionalMonologue.htm)
● Recommended: view Beautiful Daughters, dir. Josh Aronson, at <http://www.logoonline.com/shows/dyn/beautiful_daughters/videos.jhtml>
● Recommended: Read Kate Bornstein and Barbara Carrellas, “Queer Theater, Musicals to Masturbation: A Conversation with Too Tall Blondes,” in Bernstein, pp. 103-111
What relationship does Ensler posit between a woman’s gendered identity and a vagina? How might feminist critiques of essentialism, as described in lecture, apply to Ensler’s work?
Constructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality Through Performance
Monday, September 19. Gender, Race, and Sexuality as Performances in Everyday Life
● PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #1 (3-5 pages) DUE IN CLASS
Erving Goffman, The
Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor
Books, 1959). “Introduction,” pp. 1-16;
● Read Robin D.G. Kelley, “Confessions of a Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head,” in Don Belton, ed., Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), pp. 12-22 (SB)
What is Goffman’s concept of a “front”? What specific fronts does Kelley describe in his essay?
Wednesday, September 21. Gender, Race, and Sexuality as Rituals
● View The Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Pop Culture (dir. Sut Jhally, 2009)
Monday, September 26. Gender as a “stylized repetition of acts”
● Read Judith
● Read Judith Halberstam, “Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene,” in Social Text 52/53, nos 3 and 4 (Fall/Winter 1997), pp. 105-131 (Access online through JSTOR)
● Read MilDréd Diyaa Gerestant, “Exposures of a Multispirited, Haitian-American, Gender-Harmonizing WoMan” in Bernstein, pp. 44-50
● Recommended: view Venus Boyz (dir. Gabriel Baur, 2004)
● Assignment for Performance Analysis #2 distributed in class
As you read “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” try to
paraphrase this sentence: Gender is “a stylized repetition of acts” that
“sediment” on the body over time. You’ll
know that you understand
Wednesday, September 28. Physical Space and the Performance of Race, Gender, and Sexuality
Maurya Wickstrom, “Making
Americans: The American Girl Doll and
● Read John Preston, “The Theatre of Sexual Initiation,” in Laurence Senelick, ed., Gender in Performance: The Presentation of Difference in the Performing Arts (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1992), pp. 324-335 (SB)
● Read Patricia Marx, “Do I Look Fat?” New Yorker, 23 April 2007, Vol. 83, Issue 9, pp. 27-28 (access online through Hollis)
● Recommended: Read Kevin Winkler, “The Divine Mr. K: Reclaiming My ‘Unruly’ Past with Bette Midler and the Baths,” in Bernstein, pp. 60-76
How, according to Wickstrom,
Monday, October 3. The Persistence of Performance
Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing
Cultural Memory in the
● View in class: The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey (video by Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia, featuring performance by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, 1993)
● Recommended: Read Robin Bernstein, “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” Social Text no. 101 (December 2009): 67-94 (access online through Hollis—search for Social Text under “Journal Titles,” then click on “Highwire Press Duke University Press”)
Wednesday, October 5. Looking and Being Looked At
● Read Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 14-26 (SB)
● Read Michael R. Schiavi, “Professional Spectatorship’s Queer Stages,” in Bernstein, pp. 124-139
As you read Mulvey, try to
define, in your own words, “to-be-looked-at-ness.” Read with the goal of understanding how this
phrase fits into Mulvey’s general argument about how
Monday, October 10.
Wednesday, October 12. Looking and Being Looked At: Nations
● Read David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly
Think about Mulvey and M. Butterfly together. How does Mulvey enable us to analyze M. Butterfly? And how does M. Butterfly complicate or contest Mulvey?
Monday, October 17. Hiphop and Masculinity
● Guest lecture by Scott Poulson-Bryant.
Wednesday, October 19. Joy
● Instructions for final paper option distributed in class
October 21: PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #2 DUE to the AAAS office (
Reconstructing and Deconstructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality Through Performance
Wednesday, October 24. Feminism and Realism
Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as
Critic (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Research Press, 1988).
● Assignment for Performance Analysis #3 distributed in class
What is realism? What characteristics of realism appear in ’night, Mother? What are Dolan’s critiques of realism?
Wednesday, October 26. Brecht’s Challenges to Realism and Expressionism
● Read Bertolt Brecht, “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre,” “The Literalization of the Theatre,” “Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction,” and “A Short Organum for the Theatre,” in Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. and trans. by John Willett (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), pp. 33-47, 69-77, 179-205 (SB)
● Proposals for final paper due for students who wish to pursue this option
As you read Brecht, aim to understand how he contrasts “Epic Theatre” (also known as Brechtian theatre) with “dramatic theatre” (which includes realism). What are Brecht’s critiques of realism (or dramatic theatre)? How does Epic Theatre respond to the problems Brecht sees in dramatic theatre?
Monday, October 31. “Gender” and other Quotations
● Read Elin Diamond, “Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism,” in TDR 32.1 (Spring 1988), pp. 82-94 (Access through JSTOR; please note that TDR is the full title of this journal)
What systems does
Wednesday, November 2. Disidentification
● Read José Esteban Muñoz, “Sister Acts: Ela Troyano and Carmelita Tropicana,” in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 119-141 (SB)
● Read Alina Troyano, a.k.a. Carmelita Tropicana, “Author’s Introduction”
and “Performance Art Manifesto,” in I, Carmelita
Tropicana: Performing Between Cultures (
● View in class: Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst Is Your Waffen (directed by Ela Troyano, starring Alina Troyano, 1994)
What is disidentification?
Monday, November 7. Camp
● Guest lecture by Stephen Vider
● Read Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,” in Sontag, Against Interpretation (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1961), pp. 275-292 (SB)
● Read Robert McAlmon,
“Miss Knight,” in The
● Read Esther Newton, “Role Models,” in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, edited by Fabio Cleto (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), pp. 96-109 (SB)
How do Sontag and
Wednesday, November 9. Butch/Femme Lesbian Performance
● Read Sue-Ellen Case, “Toward a Butch-Femme Aesthetic,” in Lynda Hart, ed., Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp. 282-299 (SB)
● Read Peggy Shaw, “How I Learned Theatre,” in Bernstein, pp. 25-29
● Read Louise Carolin with Catherine Bewley, “Girl Talk: Femmes in Discussion,” in Sally R. Munt, ed., Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender (London: Cassell, 1998), pp.109-121 (SB)
● Recommended: Read Bree Coven, “There’s a Place for Us . . . Somewhere,” in Bernstein, pp. 140-149
How do practices of alienation and quotation figure in butch, femme, and butch/femme performance?
Friday, November 11. Harvard Men’s Basketball game versus MIT, 7pm, Harvard Stadium
Monday, November 14. Can Performance Save Lives? A Case Study: AIDS Activism
● Martabel Wasserman, “ACT UP
● Read Michael Kearns, “Heaven and Home,” in Bernstein, pp. 205-209
● Read Catherine Saalfield and Ray Navarro, “Shocking the Pink: Race and Gender on the ACT UP Frontlines,” in Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Diana Fuss (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 341-369 (SB)
● Read Doug Sadownick, “ACT UP Makes a Spectacle of AIDS,” in High Performance 13:1 (1990): 26-31 (SB).
● View in class: Stop the Church (dir. Robert Hilferty, 1991) AND excerpts from Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP (dir. James Wentzy, 2002)
How and why did ACT-UP use performance in activism during the 1980s and 90s?
Wednesday, November 16. Theatre and Social Change
● Guest lecture by Lizzy
November 17, 18, 19, and 20. Fierce Love at the Theater Offensive!
Monday, November 21. Empathy
● Read Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror (NY: Anchor Books, 1993): “Introduction,” “Background Information,” and “Chronology,” pp. xxiii-liii (SB)
● Read Anna Deavere Smith, “The Word Becomes You: An Interview by Carol Martin,” in A Source Book of Feminist Theatre and Performance, ed. Carol Martin (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp.185-204 (SB)
● View Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror
According to Smith, what’s the value of identifying with the other? How do Smith’s performances of identification compare and contrast with Muñoz’s concept of disidentification?
Tuesday, November 22. PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #3 DUE for
students who write about Fierce Love
or the Harvard Men’s Basketball Game. Please hand in your papers to the AAAS
Tuesday, November 22. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Rhode Island, 7pm
Wednesday, November 23. THANKSGIVING BREAK—NO CLASSES
Sunday, November 27. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Holy Cross, 2pm
Monday, November 28. Hope
Jill Dolan, “Feeling the Potential of Elsewhere,” in Dolan, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the
● View CNN video of Nikki Giovanni’s performance at the convocation after the Virginia Tech massacre, April 2007 at http://youtube.com/watch?v=0cSuidxE8os
What is Dolan’s definition of a “utopian performative”? How does a utopian performative differ from a depiction of utopia? How can ordinary people perform utopia?
Tuesday, November 29. PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #3 DUE for
students who write about the Harvard Women’s Basketball Game. Please hand in
your papers to the AAAS office (
Wednesday, November 30. Ridiculous?
● Read http://www.nytimes-se.com/
● Read in class: Charles Ludlam, “Manifesto: Ridiculous Theatre, Scourge of Human Folly,” from Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly: The Essays and Opinions of Charles Ludlam, Steven Samuels, ed. (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1992), pp. 157-158
Can performance change the world?
December 12. Final papers in lieu of the final exam are due in the AAAS office,
DATE TBD: Final Exam
Have a good break!