Association with libraries has traditionally been perceived as damaging to the body. Chaucer’s Oxfordian Clerke is described as unnaturally thin; Prospero can only be redeemed when he decides to “drown [his] book”; and Faustus’s obsessive study leads to damnation and his final plea for salvation is a promise to “burn [his] books.” Even in the 20th century, libraries were often portrayed as palaces of pure intellect where bodies cease to matter. The Music Man’s Harold Hill supposes (comically) that in the quiet indifference of the library, he could, if he fell and became incapacitated, “lie on [the] floor unnoticed ‘till [his] body had turned to carrion” and She Loves Me’s Ilona meets her love, the “thickly bespectacled” optometrist, when he rescues her from a moment of library-induced “panic and mortification.”
Today, actual libraries often deprecate the body. The physical collocation of the body of the scholar and the original material manifestation of the thing studied is now, for many kinds of research, not strictly necessary. Digitized special collections, e-books, and electronic databases shift the materiality of collections from paper volumes collected in a dedicated space to inscriptions on the hard drives of distributed servers and the ephemeral arrangement of lights on a laptop screen. In the case of physical collections, best practices often require researchers to privilege the extraordinary material body of a fragile object over the comfort of their own human bodies (e.g. by wearing gloves when interacting with photographs, slowly turning fragile rare book pages, etc.).
For this panel, we invite papers examining the performance of the human body in the theatre library and archive. How is the experience of theatre changed when one human body studies the performance of another mediated through material artifacts (or digital surrogates of material artifacts)? Are human bodies treated any differently in theater libraries and archives than in other collections?
Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be submitted to Doug Reside (firstname.lastname@example.org) by June 1, 2017.