February 9, 2016: T.L. Cowan

Transmedial Drag: Cabaret Methods, Digital Platforms and Technologies of Fabulous

Jess Dobkin, How Many Performance Artists Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? (2015). Photo by David Hawe.

Jess Dobkin, How Many Performance Artists Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb? (2015). Photo by David Hawe.

For over a century, cabaret—or the often satirical, adult-oriented variety show— has been of central importance to trans- feminist and queer subcultural social, political and aesthetic formations in cities and towns around the world. This presentation considers the long-standing cabaret method as one that has necessarily thematized ‘presence’ and ‘the live’ as essential characteristics of these events, while simultaneously drawing attention to the mediated qualities of that presence and liveness. Through their perpetual disappearance, many cabarets are never documented, or retain only fleeting ephemeral traces of their existence. And because cabarets tend to happen quite regularly, just as one would fade away, a new one would come into existence. The cabaret cycle of presence and disappearance has, at times, been interrupted by rare video and photo documentation, often accompanied by anecdotal evidence. With the emergence of consumer mobile photo and video technologies, online social media, digital archiving and other forms of ‘new media,’ it might seem that cabaret socialities, politics and aesthetics are dramatically shifting, and that the new possibilities for digital presence through transmedia reproduction might eclipse an earlier devotion to ‘liveness.’ This presentation focuses on this old/new tension and argues that cabaret methods continue to shape translocal trans- feminist and queer subcultures, and that cabaret’s transmedial history provides necessary community experience for the political and ethical dilemmas posed by digital culture.

T.L. Cowan is the 2015-2016 Bicentennial Lecturer of Canadian Studies in the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and Digital Humanities Fellow at Yale University. T.L. is visiting from The New School, where she is Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies and Lecturer of Culture & Media at Eugene Lang College. T.L. is also co-facilitator of the Feminist Technology Network. T.L.’s recent publications include articles in ephemera: theory and politics in organization (2014), Transgender Studies Quarterly (2014), Women’s Studies Quarterly (2014), and Ada: Gender, New Media, and Technology (2014), as well as chapters in Queer Dramaturges: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer (Palgrave 2015) and MOOCs and Open Education Around the World (Routledge 2015). T.L.’s first book, entitled Poetry’s Bastard: The Illegitimate Genealogies, Cultures and Politics of Text-Based Performance in Canada is under contract with Wilfrid Laurier UP. She is currently completing two additional books: a monograph entitled Sliding Scale: Transfeminist and Queer Cabaret Methods – Mexico City, Montreal, New York City, and a co-authored book, with Jasmine Rault, entitled Checking In: Transfeminist and Queer Labour in Networked Economies.

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