chapter  6
19 Pages

Making sense of food in performance: the table and the stage

ByBarbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

What would theatre history look like if it were to be written backwards from the Futurist banquets and Dali dinners and performance art? Canonical histories of theatre take as their point of departure that which counts as theatre in the modern period – namely, theatre as an autonomous art form – and search for its “origins” in fused art forms. Central to the notion of theatre as an independent art are plays, and as an indication of the maturing of this form, a dedicated architecture or theatre (literally a place of seeing). Canonical theatre histories are written with the aim of understanding how modern theatre came to be. Understandably, the search is for corollaries in the past. Thus, Oscar G. Brockett’s History of Theatre is a history of drama and its performance: it does not view courtly banquets, tournaments, royal entries, and street pageants as performance genres in their own right but as occasions for plays and playlets. Such histories attend not to the fusion but to the seeds of what would become an independent art form called theatre. It has taken considerable cultural work to isolate the senses, create genres of art specific to each, insist on their autonomy, and cultivate modes of attentiveness that give some senses priority over others. To produce the separate and independent arts that we know today, it was necessary to break fused forms like the banquet apart and to disarticulate the sensory modalities associated with them. Not until the various components of such events (music, dance, drama, food, sculpture, painting) were separated and specialized did they become sense-specific art forms in dedicated spaces (theatre, auditorium, museum, gallery) with distinct protocols for structuring attention and perception. It was at this point that food disappeared from musical and theatrical performances. No food or drink is allowed in the theatre, concert hall, museum, or library. In the process, new kinds of sociality supported sensory discernment specific to gustation, the literary practice of gastronomy, and increasing culinary refinement. Food became a sense-specific art form in its own right, as Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook so vividly demonstrates (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1989).