PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art

Photo by Matthew Ragan

PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art

Edited by Bonnie MarrancaPublished by The MIT Press

PAJ: A Journal of Performance Art can be examined from three distinct vantage points: the journal itself – who publishes, edits, and distributes this piece of academic discourse; its aim – the general issues and special topics explored within the journal; and an examination of representative articles – an investigation of the journal in terms of the topics and viewpoints that create a thematic through line. 

The Journal

PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art published by the MIT Press is a fine example of an internationally admired journal that is focused on “cutting-edge explorations… [ and ] new directions in performance, video, drama, dance, installations, media, film, and music, bringing together ideas of theatre and the visual arts” (MIT Press). Issues published tri-annually cover a wide range of topics including “artists’ writings, critical essays, historical documentation, interviews, performance texts and plays, reports on international festivals and events, and book reviews” (MIT Press). The editor, Bonnie Marranca, is currently teaching Theatre at The New School / Eugene Lange College for Liberal Arts in New York. Marranca is an accomplished scholar, writer, and teacher who co-founded PAJ in 1976 (Marranca, Home). Marranca began the publication with the intent that PAJ would “publish important, original works in the arts and the critical commentary about them, as an ongoing dialogue between art, artists, and the public” (The MIT Press). Additionally, it is clear that it has met its intent to reach an “international readership of critics, scholars, and artists crosses the borders between art forms, and the arts and humanities and science/technology” (The MIT Press) as it has currently published “plays and performance texts, by now more than 1000, translated from twenty languages” (Marranca, Being Here). 

PAJ aims to reach a broad sampling of artists and scholars who are invested in creating an ongoing dialogue of both performance and scholarship. Despite editing a publication with widely defined notion of theatre, Marranca seems to have a much narrower ideological stance on the topic of performance. In her article Being Here, which introduces the 100th issue of PAJ, she celebrates the unwavering focus of the journal while also sharing anecdotal evidence that suggests a tangible bias in her worldview. 
PAJ Publications never abandoned the dramatic text, even though a changing theatre culture and the rise of Performance Studies have contributed to the slow erosion of interest in drama in recent decades. It is disconcerting to watch the move away from dramatic literature and its heritage, the more apparent when one is able to see a superb realization of a great play. Not surprisingly, drama’s current decline coincides with the diminishing role of the voice in everyday personal communication. Against the background of more and more text messaging, people seem to have lost interest in the sound of the human voice…In the past friends said to one another, ‘It’s so good to hear your voice.’ I wonder, too, if this move away from drama has also to do with the fact that drama is often based on secrets, and we live in an age when the public is valued over the private life of an individual. (Marranca, Being Here 11)
One should certainly not take issue with Marranca’s dedication to the preservation of a journal whose focus is on dramatic text; it is, however, worth questioning the motives and biases of an editor who seems to be ignoring ever present conversations about the value of personal information and privacy in a Facebook driven world. While it is true that advances in telecommunication services have erased illusions of privacy, they have also kindled numerous conversations about the value and nature of what is truly private. While it is clear that the PAJ is dedicated to a broad sampling of work, one should note the absence of perspectives that broadly embrace the use of varied technologies in performance. Instead, the editor’s strong words leave the reader feeling distinctly as though technology is an evil that must be suffered in order to make art in this age. 

The Aim of the PAJ

The aim of the PAJ is not only present in the types of material published in general issues, but also in its special topics publications. Further, in examining the history of the publication, Marranca reflects that, “PAJ started out as a theatre periodical (originally called Performing Arts Journal), with an added interest in dance, music and performance arts” (Marranca, Being Here 3). A survey of material from artists and scholars across a broad swath of expressive fields can be difficult to categorize, but here Marranca succinctly describes the theoretical through lines that have been central to the journal’s discourse: “Over the years attention turned from originality to appropriation, from group to solo, from play to fragment, from live to meditated, from authenticity to social construction; and from, ritual to genocide, from pleasure to trauma, from borders to globalization” (Marranca, Being Here 6). In a summative look at the trajectory of the PAJ and its contributors, the 100th issue “was published with the special theme ‘Performance New York’, featuring commentary, dialogues, and art work by more than fifty artists representing several generations working in multiple art forms” (MIT Press).

The 100th issue, however, was certainly not the first time that the PAJ narrowed its sights to a specific topic. The years and issues worth examination include: 1997’s The American Imagination, 1985’s The American Theatre Condition, and 1991’s The Interculturalism Issue. This last issue “gathered together important new perspectives on theatre, anthropology, and culture from diverse national traditions and art forms” (Marranca, Being Here 7). In addition to special issues, the PAJ has often worked to pull in contributions from fields outside of its original scope. Here Marranca notes that it has “been an editorial direction to welcome more visual art thinking into the journal and books…in 2008 PAJ also began to publish Performance Drawings portfolios” (Marranca, Being Here 11).

This demonstrated inclusionism aside, there is a demographic that is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to publication in the pages of the PAJ. In the preface of the 100th issue Marranca unabashedly declares that, “performance by visual artists is problematic because it has never fully evolved a substantial critical vocabulary, unlike the development of theatre writing in a comparable period since the sixties… I think this has to do with their lack of sophistication in performance ideas, in addition to the limitation of art history narratives” (Marranca, Being Here 13). Here Marranca’s perspective seems very clear: visual artists with a penchant for performance need not apply. 

An Examination of Representative Articles

In examining the scholarly scope of the PAJ a representative sample of its content can be found in: Soraya Murray’s Cybernated Aesthetics Lee Bul and the Body Transfigured, an examination of “visual incongruity within a cluster of aesthetic divergences,” (Murray 38); Philip Auslander’s Digital liveness A Historico-Philosophical Perspective, an exploratory discussion on a “phenomonilogical perspective on digital liveness,” (Auslander 3); and Johan Callens’ The Double Recursiveness of Postmodern Dance, a critical account of Erase-E(X) which he saw “showcased at the Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels,” (Callens 70). Important to all three authors’ is the focus on meaning-making in relation to the art they are the most connected to. 

In Cybernated Aesthetics, Murray looks to describe, “an aesthetics that accounts for the impact of electronics and the digital,” (Murray 39). In examining the work of Lee Bul, Murray pulls apart the recurrent use of machine imagery in order to highlight the underlying message that the “development of new media forms are not completely erratic, but situated within the set of possibilities set forth by its ideologies” (Murray 39). That is to say that nothing, even an aesthetic that seems disconnected from existing artistic forms, exists in a vacuum. Murray takes this idea and expands it to more broadly approach the formal aspects of new media, again encouraging the reader / viewer to remember that “[ new media ] are still forms of cultural production, and as such can be considered within the context of the expressions that have preceded them” (Murray 48). This broader vision approach to the examination of art and artist as active members in a critical dialogue about meaning-making is central to the work of the PAJ as a publication that focuses on the connective tissue in the arts community.

Auslander, too, in Digital Liveness is looking to place an emphasis on what connects artists and audiences. Auslander, however, goes one step further in looking to isolate the value audiences place on the notion of “live” performance. Historically, the idea of a “live” performance is relatively new. Here Auslander reminds us that “prior to the advent of these [ recording ] technologies (e.g., sound recording and motion pictures), there was no need for a category of ‘live’ performance” (Auslander 3). It is Auslander’s contention that audiences understand live performance only as a product of their exposure to recorded media. In further dissecting the nature of the live performance, Auslander finally comes to the conclusion that “liveness is an interaction produced through our engagement with [ an ] object and our willingness to accept its claim [ to be considered live ]” (Auslander 9). Like Murray, Auslander is working to make observations that further develop the richness of a connective linguistic architecture for the state of the arts today.

In comparison to Auslander and Murray, The Double Recursiveness of Postmodern Dance feels distinctly different. Callens approach is centered on observation and critique. While projection and media are used in Erase-E(X), Callens only mentions them briefly. Instead his focus is centered on the physical dialogue of the performer / dancers, choreographers, and other contributors. Detailing the chronology of the dance, and its numerous quotations from other works Callens notes that “the postmodern artists assumes and declines authorial responsibility, is present and absent…the artistic hybridity of postmodern art, its ‘in-betweenness’ or the degree to which it eludes medium-specificity and instant legibility, proves crucial to its performative character” (Callens 72). Callens’ perspective on Erase-E(X) rings as that of a dance historian when he observes that “the recursive sequentially of Erase-E(X)remembers the earlier installments in order to forget them, since the dancer cannot forget what the body keeps remembering” (Callens 80).

It is the variety of the contributions in the PAJ that makes it an interesting specimen for examination. It is clear that the journal aims to reach a broad sampling of artists and scholars, all of whom are invested in creating an ongoing dialogue of both performance and scholarship. To that end, it seems worth noting that while the PAJ is focused on a diverse listing of topics, it also harbors biases for and against a variety of creative works and artists. 

Works Cited

Auslander, Philip. “Digital Liveness A Historico-Philosophical Perspective.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 34.3 (2012).

Callens, Johan. “The Double Recursiveness of Postmodern Dance .” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 30.3 (2008).

Marranca, Bonnie. “Being Here – PAJ at 100.” A Journal of Performance Art 34.1 (2012).

—. Home. 21 10 2012 <http://bonniemarranca.com/>.


MIT Press. MIT Press Journals, A Journal of Performance and Art. Ed. Bonnie Marranca. 2012. The MIT Press. 21 October 2012 <http://www.mitpressjournals.org/loi/pajj>.

Murray, Soraya. “Cybernated Aesthetics Lee Bul and the Body Transfigured.” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 30.2 (2008).

The MIT Press. MIT Press Journals. 2012. The MIT Press. 21 October 2012 <http://www.mitpressjournals.org/page/about/paj>.

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