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Kit Danowski

When Death is the Author:
Performing the Ghost and Collective Memory

In this paper I am looking at contemporary spiritualism and historical spirit mediumship in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, where I’m currently based as a lecturer (and practitioner-researcher). In looking at mediumship, I am examining how haunting performs upon and through the body of the medium, and how this might constitute an archive. I want to suggest that this archive, through its multiple points of access in oral and written history, is a kind of documentation that is as elusive and problematic as most kinds of performance documentation. However, its particular place in folk culture, in popular culture, and in what Karl Bell refers to as the ‘mythic imagination’, makes it a rich site through which to explore issues of documentation and containment (in history, in cultural memory, and in the body).

Taking the cues from Rebecca Schneider, Peggy Phelan, and Herbert Blau, I am looking at notions of haunting in performance when the haunting is explicit. In mediumistic encounters, there is a complex negotiation between the medium and the audience, which may be generative in offering new methods and methodologies for performance documentation. Do ghosts in these contexts inform the archive of memory, and vice versa? How would one begin to document the ghost through the body of the one who incorporates? If ghosts, like characters, have an origin story that is in the anthropic, does the documentation of ghosting serve to merely assert the anthropocentric? Can living human subjectivity conceive of an ontology of the dead outside of its particular cultural and temporal milieu, and if we are haunted, how do we inhabit the present in performance?

Bio: Dr Christopher 'Kit' Danowski:

A lecturer in performance, my background is in playwriting, as a director (and performer) of experimental theatre, and as founder/co-founder of three alternative performance organisations. I have presented performance work and spoken word extensively in Phoenix, which was my home base until I moved to Portsmouth in 2018. I have also performed and presented in art spaces, living rooms, and theatres in Brooklyn, Berlin, and Krakow, among other places. In September, 2018, my book of experimental prose, 'dog's ear', was published by Hoot n' Waddle Press.