Yesterday I presented “Improvisation and Everyday Performance” at the Cultural Studies Association conference in New Orleans. Our panel was a part of the performance studies working group, so my main point was to try to understand how improvisation relates to questions of performance and performativity.
Briefly put, my argument is that improvisation studies is overdetermined by a view of improvisation as a “special” kind of activity, and that we need to pay more attention to the ways in which improvisation can be banal, repetitive, destructive, and ordinary. To that end, I discussed Michel de Certeau’s notion of an everyday practice and Sara Ahmed’s idea of an orientation to identify the contingencies involved in everyday activities. Following from my idea that improvisation is strictly co-extensive with contingency, I argued that–if perception itself is a practice that is improvised–then improvisation should be considered not only as profoundly ordinary, but also as foundational to our experience of the world.
What happens when improvisation moves away from a creative capacity proper to the acting subject and toward an constitutive feature of being in the world? What do we gain or lose by bringing improvisation into conversation with habitus, performance, practice, and other terms that try to think human agency in relation to memory, history, contingency, and power?