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The objective of this dissertation is to explain wayang kontemporer. This requires analyzing the issues raised by the performances and describing the ways in which the wayang tradition is re-interpreted in them. In order to accomplish this, I traveled through Java, talking to people, trying to learn different skills and making audiovisual records of these performances.
My personal answer to the question "what is wayang kontemporer?" is somewhere in those records and those experiences. But how can I communicate it? Several approaches are possible. A very straightforward solution would have been to analyze each performance individually. However, I chose a comparative approach since I believe that highlighting the internal differences and similarities between a set of performances reveals more about the ways they are made and the meanings they can take in their context. Often, things don't reveal themselves in isolation as clearly as they do when they are juxtaposed. The variety of wayang characters attests to this very fact; Pak Parjaya often said that you can only appreciate the nuanced moral behavior of the Pandawa (who are all "good" characters) when contrasted against each other. Wayang kontemporer performances are similar to one another yet profoundly diverse. The tension between that similarity and difference is part of what makes these performances compelling to watch and to analyze. Therefore, this is what this analysis will focus on.
As preparation for developing a framework for this comparative endeavor, I made extensive notes as I talked to people and watched performances (both live and on video). As I reviewed those notes, patterns of connection and divergence slowly started to arise. Gradually, a series of analytical categories emerged from those comparative notes. Some of them are thematic and some of them are formal. In the introduction, I have already specified the usefulness of this distinction, arguing that for historical and cultural reasons, it is a valid and productive way to approach these performances in Indonesia.
In order to represent the analytical categories, I drew diagrams and wrote long texts about each of the categories. These two activities are complementary but they also entail very different intellectual operations. The diagrams isolate, the texts bring together. The diagrams are visual, spatial representations of isomorphic qualities (each diagram is constructed according to the same parameters and rules). The texts are associative and sequential. They explore a "quality" or an idea as it changes across the different performances, following minute transformations of emphasis, and adjusting definitions and theories in order to trace these slight metamorphoses and accents of meaning.
In my mind there is no contradiction between these methods. But I have learned that not everyone is sympathetic to this approach, perhaps because many people don't readily see the connection between both things. Some people won't like the diagrams, no matter how hard I try to justify their usage. Others won't see the need for this excessively apologetic exegesis. Perhaps, the diagrams and the texts are indicative of two different academic approaches to the study of culture. One is formalist, the other interpretive. This difference is reminiscent of that which Dwight Conquergood identified, following Michel de Certeau, between the map and the story.
[Michel] de Certeau's aphorism, ‘what the map cuts up, the story cuts across' points to transgressive travel between two different domains of knowledge: one official, objective, and abstract – ‘the map'; the other practical, embodied, and popular – ‘the story.' This promiscuous traffic between different ways of knowing carries the most radical promise of performance studies research. Performance studies struggles to open the space between analysis and action, and to pull the pin on the binary opposition between theory and practice. This embrace of different ways of knowing is radical because it cuts to the root of how knowledge is organized in the academy (Conquergood 2007: 369-70).
This would suggest that performance scholars would be sensitive to the combination of both approaches, of an attempt to bridge the apparent objectivity of the diagram (or map) and the interpretive freedom of the essay (or the story). But this is not always the case, and my approach has often been criticized on epistemological grounds. The criticism I receive is akin to the points of contention raised by other projects that use digital technologies. The opposition between different ways of conceptualizing the aim of studying culture is at the heart of debates stirred up by digital humanities (DH) projects such as this dissertation. In order to provide a response to these points of contention, I will briefly consider some of the key aspects of the digital humanities debate.
There is no unitary understanding of what constitutes the digital humanities. However, most genealogies trace it back to the work of Roberto Busa, a Jesuit priest who used early computers in the 1940s in order to identify concordances in the works of Thomas Aquinas. Today, the DH are generally understood to denote the usage of digital technologies to carry out research in the humanities, regardless of the specific methods or aims of that research. Many projects depend on the usage of statistical or other computational methods in order to analyze cultural production. This side of the DH has received wide media coverage due to high-profile projects such as the Google ngram viewer (Michel et al 2011). For other scholars, the DH imply analyzing the ways digital technologies have influenced cultural production. As Dave Parry notes: "There are at least two digital humanisms: one that sees the digital as a set of tools to be applied to humanistic inquiry (design, project, tools, data) and another that sees the digital as an object of study (social media, digital games, mobile computing)" (Parry 2012: 436). As Johanna Drucker notes:
[M]uch of the intellectual charge against digital humanities has come from the confrontation between the seemingly ambiguous nature of imaginative artifacts and the requirements for formal dis-ambiguation essential for data structures and schema (Drucker 2004: 433).
Johanna Drucker herself has suggested a middle road, a combination of digital technologies and interpretive ludism she terms "speculative computing" and playfully describes as a combination of "generative aesthetics, pataphysics, speculative thought and quantum poetics" (Drucker 2004: 433). As she suggests:
Current methods don't allow much flexibility - a little like learning to dance by fitting your feet to footsteps molded into concrete. Speculative computing suggests that the concrete be replaced by plasticine that remains malleable, receptive to the traces of interpretative moves (Drucker 2004: 433).
I also struggle with these opposing needs. Classifying a performance as traditional or not requires cutting through a terrain fraught with certain ambiguity and subject to different opinions. I acknowledge this disambiguation as an interpretive act and, like Drucker, I try to balance playfulness and computing muscle. My own solution was to develop an essayistic ontology. By this I mean that I combine a structured systematic information schema (called an ontology in computer science) and an essayistic approach. I think of the essay as a literary genre that is a playful attempt at explaining an idea based on subjective experience and associative thinking.
In the rest of this section I describe what is an ontology and spotlight some epistemological issues that can be raised against them from traditional humanistic approaches (see Drucker 2004). Then I present an overview of the literary essay as I will apply it here. Lastly, I describe the way in which these two different approaches come together in my approach.
According to Sperberg-McQueen all works of scholarship imply some level of classification. At the most general level, all inquiries in the humanities are the result of a classification process that distinguishes that which is relevant to the research from that which is not. Therefore, classification is "hardly distinguishable from coherent discourse in general" (Sperberg-McQueen 2004: 161).
My goal is to explain aspects of the performances in a way that is systematic, comparative, and at the same time subjective and flexible. I will call this a subjective data scheme. My approach won't be without its critics and I suspect many readers will remain unconvinced by my choices. However, I have tried to consider objections to this approach seriously. The following paragraphs are a result of these considerations. I address several issues that for historical and epistemological reasons should force any budding taxonomer of Indonesian theatre to pause and consider such an approach carefully and skeptically. I have identified three arguments against classification that I wish to address: 1) it limits any humanistic investigation, 2) it is a limited lens to appreciate the experience of a theatre performance, and 3) it bears the imprint of colonial endeavors.
Philosophers have rightly observed that all humanistic inquiries (and perhaps any inquiry of any kind) suffer from the simplification imposed on them by classifications. Edgar Morin decries this as a "blind intelligence" that results from segmenting complexity:
What is complexity? At first glance, complexity is a fabric (complexus: that which is woven together), of heterogeneous constituents that are inseparably associated: complexity poses the paradox of the one and the many. Next, complexity is in fact the fabric of events, actions, interactions, retroactions, determinations, and chance that constitute our phenomenal world. But complexity presents itself with the disturbing traits of a mess, of the inextricable, of disorder, of ambiguity, of uncertainty. Hence the necessity to put phenomena in order by repressing disorder, by pushing aside the uncertain. In other words, to select the elements of order and certainty, and to eliminate ambiguity, to clarify, distinguish, and hierarchize. But such operations, necessary for intelligibility, risk leading us to blindness if they eliminate other characteristics of the complexus. And in fact, as I have argued, they have made us blind (Morin 2008: 5).
The paragraph above perfectly captures the complexity of wayang and the way I am approaching it, forsaking the richness of the complexus for the benefit of intelligibility. But is there a way to follow this approach without being oblivious to this blindness? Morin himself offers an answer, a possibility for a self-reflexive epistemology. By weaving "a principle of uncertainty and self-reference" into the fabric of the complexus, the researcher's analysis would retain "a self-critical and self-reflective principle" (Morin 2008: 27).
In my own project, the principles of uncertainty and self-reference guide the writing of the different sections. I continuously describe my own position, experiences and doubts as I analyze the performances. In doing so, I believe my writing participates in the self-critical and self-reflexive principle identified by Morin.
Thus far, I have argued that it is possible to say something about a complex reality through a simplifying approach. But does this general consideration prove useful when analyzing theatre performances? Isn't theatre itself an experience that is best approached by means that don't cut reality up? Theatre scholars have been divided on that matter for a long time. Theatre studies as a specific discipline is of modern invention, which can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century (Jackson 2004: 40) but writing about theatre has a long history. In the western tradition, Aristotle was the first person to write a systematic description of theatre. His analysis is meant as descriptive and impartial, not unlike much of Aristotle's other works. As theatre scholars well know, when this text was rediscovered in the European Renaissance by figures such as Julius Caesar Scaliger and Ludovico Castelvetro, narrow interpretations of the text led to heated disputes about the form theatre should take. The passionate exchanges between prescriptive academics and innovation-infatuated artists often led to public and legal confrontations. Most notable amongst these is perhaps the curious episode where Pierre Corneille's Le Cid was declared by the L'Académie Française to violate the Aristotelian principle of verisimilitude and unworthy of public performance (McConachie 2006: 184).
This story sets a good precedent for the reasons anyone attempting to study theatre should be careful of not making too prescriptive an argument. In many ways, performance studies is a reaction against classification, favoring instead a "broad spectrum" approach. This is expressed most clearly by the fluid notion of performance, an "essentially contested subject" to use the often quoted formulation from Strine et al (1990: 183). The lack of clarity in the classification of culture, of what exactly constitutes a performance and what doesn't, is what is productive about performance studies. As much as I can appreciate the possibilities of such an approach, I would contend that this also presents a perennial problem for any performance studies approach. Any research within this discipline needs to explain, at least tacitly, what accent of meaning of the word performance is used. In that sense, classification shows up again as a necessary ordering principle, a denial of classifications can only go so far before a shortcircuit of meaning ends up summoning it again. Instead, I propose grabbing the epistemological bull by the horns and trying to seek clarity about the ways in which classification, and other intellectual operations, will come to inform the analysis being developed. According to Stephen Ramsay, it is this drive towards making methods explicit that sets DH projects apart from other projects in the humanities. He suggests thinking of the work of the digital humanist as algorithmic criticism:
The sense of which selections, isolations, and noticing will yield suggestive patterns can only be expressed in terms of heuristics. It is an intuitive, experiential, social, contextual endeavor. We might also say, with Wittgenstein, that the operations those heuristics produce (operations that we can very often represent on a computer) are like the steps of a ladder that we can throw away once we 'climb up beyond them' (Wittgenstein, 1994). Throwing away the ladder in this way has, in fact, been the consistent method of literary criticism, which, as a rhetorical practice, is indeed often concerned with finding ways to conceal these steps by making it seem as if the author went from the open possibilities of signification in Lear to the hidden significance of the Fool in a single bound. The computational substrate upon which algorithmic criticism rests, however, demands that one pay attention to the hidden details of pattern formation. Algorithmic criticism might indeed be conceived as an activity that seeks to scrutinize the discarded ladder.
What Ramsay says about literary criticism applies equally to theatre and performance studies. My interest in this section is to subscribe to his appeal and to scrutinize the discarded ladder that led to the writing of my dissertation. Scrutinizing the discarded ladder is important since it also highlights the troubled histories that often haunt the usage of specific ladders. It is with this idea in mind that I now turn to the last objection towards classification to be discussed here and consider the implications of a classificatory project that focuses on Indonesia.
The deployment of classification as an analytical strategy for the case of Indonesia is haunted by the history of the colonial enterprise. It has widely been noted that the 19th century, the height of colonialism in what is today Indonesia (and elsewhere in Asia) coincided with the formalization of anthropology as the study of other cultures (see for example Cooper and Stoler 1997). Colonizers were certainly motivated by personal economic gain. But some participants of the colonizing impetus also believed they were carrying out a "civilizing" function as much as a scientific one. A chief example of this is the figure of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. In Singapore, from where I write these lines, he is mainly remembered for the founding of modern Singapore (which he accomplished in 1819). But before establishing this colony he had previously been based in Penang (in what is now Malaysia), in Bengkulu (formerly Bencoolen, in Sumatra) and Java. He arrived in Java in 1811, when the Dutch where fighting the French at the height of the Napoleonic wars.
Later, the English considered it necessary to give Java back to the Dutch, in order to foster cooperation with a series of states (which included present-day Belgium) that they thought could act as a buffer against their arch-enemies of the time: the French. Much to his dismay, Raffles would be forced a couple of years later to cede Java back to Dutch control. However, during his short tenure there he ferociously roamed the island, collecting plant specimens and information about its culture. Amongst other things, he "discovered" Borobudur, which is to say, he coordinated an effort to dig it up, following a story he heard of a temple under a hill. In 1816 he sailed back to England with a large collection of cultural artifacts (which included wayang puppets) and plant and animal specimens. This biological collection would later come to be owned by the Zoological Society of London, an institution he co-founded shortly before his death in 1826.
But that would be much later. While in England for eight months in 1816-1817 he kept himself surprisingly busy, managing to find a new wife (his previous one had died in Java in 1813), as well as to write and publish the two-volume edition of the History of Java in 1817. The list of chapters alone gives an indication of the expansive nature of this scholarly project: Geography, Origin of the Natives, Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Character of the People, Ceremonies, and Language. Despite the conspicuous presence of the word 'history' in the title of the volumes, only one of the chapters (Chapter 2, "Origin of the Natives") deals with a historical account. Most of the other chapters are arranged as a catalog of descriptions. The layout itself, where the sections are written on the margins (a common 19th century editorial practice) serves to emphasize the sense that one is reading a catalog rather than a history. Chapter VII, the most interesting to a theatre scholar, deals with "Ceremonies of the Court" and includes descriptions of the "national drama", under which he bundles together "buffoonery", "wajang" (wayang in the Dutch spelling) and dance. His descriptions of wayang kulit and other forms of wayang are succinct but perfectly accurate.
A posteriori accounts often dismiss Raffles as an amateur scholar, but one must remember that his book was considered groundbreaking at the time of its original publication. He took his work seriously and, more importantly, he was taken seriously by the incipient academic establishment of 19th century London. Nancy Florida asserts that many of his descriptions were not original but that he was nonetheless influential:
What was novel about Raffles' work was its scientific form and specially its publicity. With Raffles' History, 'Java' became a proper subject for Anglo-European Orientalism (Florida 1995: 23).
Raffles saw himself as both a colonial administrator and a scholar. He spoke Malay fluently, which made him an oddity amongst colonial administrators of his day. He died in 1826, in the midst of disputes with his former employers (who failed to see the profitability of Singapore until much later). He was in fact demanded to pay a retribution to the East India company and his creditors were surprised to see his almost complete lack of money and possessions. He had spent the best part of his wealth in the independent sponsorship of scientific expeditions for cultural and biological discovery (sadly for him, most of his impressive collection of manuscripts and animals was lost in 1824 when the Fame, the vessel carrying him to England, caught fire just off the coast of Sumatra).
When confronted with the naiveté of Raffles' account, the contemporary reader is tempted to link his expansive archival impetus and his reductionist taxonomy to the colonial enterprise that he was a part of. The Javanese world, Raffles seems to imply, can be contained in eight, neatly arranged chapters. The most sketchy discourse analysis would have a field day with his book, easily unpacking a conception of Java as a thoroughly knowable entity, which is readily classifiable and usable. Java is not more than a repository of raw material for the production of sophisticated products - scholarship being one of them. Was it not the same organizing principle visible in Raffles' account and in the colonizing of Java? Several scholars believe so. Nancy Florida writes:
Dutch administrators, upon their return to power in Java were not blind to the usefulness of this new knowledge and in the coming decades strove to emulate British scholarship, citing in particular the proven political utility of British cultural policies in India. Dutch authority now saw how "understanding the natives" could facilitate both the civil administration of - and the efficient extraction of profits from - what was, at long last, becoming a true colony" (Florida 1995: 23).
The last remark refers to the fact that the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, which had been established in 1602), declared itself bankrupt in 1798 and the territory it controlled would become a colonial territory over the following century. It is in this context that new approaches to colonial administration became a necessity for the VOC. The 19th century saw the rise of a structured, systematic attempt to learn about Java. The methodological backbone of this approach was first philological and subsequently ethnographic. Critics of these early Dutch scholars accuse their work of complicity with the needs of the colonial mechanisms of control. Both Nancy Florida and John Pemberton (1994: 64) have argued that after the Java War of 1825-1830, which was led by prince Diponegoro as a jihad against the Dutch (see Spirituality), the colonial philologists tried to persuade the Javanese cultural elite to move away from Islamic fundamentalist thought. They promoted an interest in classic (which is to say Pre-Islamic) literature and helped create a rarefied, politically emasculated elite that devoted itself entirely to cultural pursuits.
Can we interpret this as the creation of 'Java' as a politically motivated category? If so, then this is a classification system that by tearing apart the Javanese from the non-Javanese served to further the goals of the empire. Are elisions in intellectual categorization a reflection of engineered elisions in society? The opinions of Pemberton and Florida, as well as ample historical evidence, suggest we can answer this question in the affirmative. Divide et impera had long been the modus operandi of the Dutch. In 1755, they convinced the Mataram prince to divide his kingdom into Surakarta (Solo) and Yogyakarta. Thoroughly distinct cultural categories have emerged from this division. Artists can distinguish minute differences between Yogyanese and Solonese styles of performance and puppet carving. A sense of confrontation and difference between these two places was politically important in the 19th century, since the elite were too busy working out the subtleties of their antagonistic identities to organize any coordinated resistance against the Dutch.
Postcolonial critiques easily identify a connection between colonial administration and colonial-era scholarship. Sometimes, the scholars in question seem to provide arguments to support this connection. One of the best known examples of such a case is Bronislaw Malinowski, the champion of the ethnographic method and one of the most famous anthropologists in history. He explicitly advocated intervention, described as "practical anthropology", which outlined political organization, jurisprudence, land tenure, financial systems and taxation as subjects of research (Malinowski, 1929). However, we should also be careful of extrapolating this attitude to provide a description of the entire anthropological enterprise undertaken in colonial times. As Bremen and Shimizu note:
Anthropology is a complex thing. It thrived in the colonial period, but it's not inherently of it [...] Anthropology is transgenerational and transnational. It is not fully congruent with all the contexts in which it is found. (Bremen and Shimizu, 1999: 2)
Or as Talal Asad mentions in the introduction to Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter:
I believe it is a mistake to view social anthropology in the colonial era as primarily an aid to colonial administration, or as the simple reflection of colonial ideology. I say this not because I subscribe to the anthropological establishment's comfortable view of itself, but because bourgeois consciousness, of which social anthropology is merely one fragment, has always contained within itself profound contradictions and ambiguities and therefore the potentialities for transcending itself (Asad 1973: 20).
Take for example the work of W.H. Rassers, the now practically forgotten wayang researcher. His work was careful, methodical and profoundly respectful of the tradition he was investigating:
Only patient and close study of "the Javanese facts" offers us any prospect of obtaining reliable, objective results (Rassers 1957: 115).
The firm belief in the attainability of objectivity seems odd in retrospect, but we should remember that he was part of the Leiden University, the main site of structural anthropology in the Netherlands. He was eagerly trying to develop a "culture science" [cultuurwetenschap], much in the tradition of J.B.P de Josselin de Jong and G.A.J. Hazeu. But leaving this aside, what is striking about his approach is his insistence on Javanese facts, by which he means paying attention to the performances themselves and to what Javanese spectators have to say about them. In his book he constantly takes issue with the opinions of one J.W. Winter (who published an article about wayang in 1824, just one year before the outbreak of the Java War) for doing exactly the opposite and forcing his own interpretations onto wayang without considering local exegesis.
Dutch wayang scholarship has come under much criticism recently (for example in Sears 1996 and Kleinsmiede 2002). Part of this criticism is grounded on the accusation that Dutch scholars invented a particular version of wayang to suit their needs (for an exaggerated version of this argument see Schechner 1993), and that they did so by overemphasizing the linguistic realm. But a closer look at the work of Hassers demonstrates this was not always the case. Despite his training in philology, he proves himself a thoughtful, sensitive observer of non-linguistic aspects of wayang (in fact, much of what he says has to do with the kayon and its pictorial significance and with the spatial organization of the audience in a performance). Further analysis of the work of cultural scientists from the Leiden University in the early 20th century should also convince us that the links between anthropology and colonialism are varied. In fact, the structuralists of Leiden opposed colonialism and were amongst the most vocal proponents of the "ethical policy" (Wolf 1999: 311).
My objective here is not to provide an apology for colonial-era anthropologists and their work. If I mention them, it is in the hope that a nuanced analysis of the relationship between anthropology and the colonial past would dismantle reductionist readings of the usage of taxonomies as necessarily instrumentalist, simplistic or otherwise contaminated by distinctly colonial endeavors. Those ideas, though, certainly haunt the taxonomic impetus and it is useful to remain aware their histories. Yet, on its own, this is not an argument against the usage of taxonomies in the research of wayang.
We should also be wise to remember that classification is not a European prerogative. Javanese interpretation of the world abounds in classifications. One need only remember the classification of wayang stories, performance segments, characters and movements that are common in Java. For example, characters are often divided into luruh (polite), lanyap (aggressive), gagah (muscular), danawa (ogres), wanara (apes), and dagelan (clowns). In other words, one should be wary of the uses of classification, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
The essay as an approach
When I talk about the essay, I am referring to the literary essay as a genre that seems fitting to my particular needs. In my work I combine the systematic approach to description granted by a formal ontology with an essayistic style. By this, I mean that my texts are partial explorations of an idea based on subjective experiences. As Graham Good notes,
Ultimately, the essayist's authority is not his learning, but his experience. The essay's claim to truth is not through its consistency in method and result with an established body of writing. Its method is not collaborative and its findings do not need corroboration. Its claim is to yield flexibly to individual experience. Instead of imposing a discursive order on experience, the essay lets its discourse take the shape of experience. (Good 1988: 7)
Here we find a method that would satisfy Johanna Drucker's quest for plasticine. It is also a way to reconcile the problems of a strict classificatory project with the principle of a self-reflexive epistemology advocated by Morin. This subjective knowledge is, in fact, what gives rise to the essaystic discourse:
The truth of the essay is a limited truth, limited by the concrete experience, itself limited, which gave rise to it. The essay is a provisional reflection on an ephemeral experience of an event or object. If one event followed another, we would have a narrative; if one object followed another, we would have a descriptive catalog; if one thought followed another, we would have a logical argument. But in the essay, event and reflection, object and idea, are interwoven and limit each other's development. (Good 1998: 7)
Although I am applying the essay as method, there is an important difference between a conventional literary essay and the essays I wrote. Note the way in which Good describes the structure of the essay:
The essay is a provisional reflection on an ephemeral experience of an event or object. If one event followed another, we would have a narrative; if one object followed another, we would have a descriptive catalog; if one thought followed another, we would have a logical argument. But in the essay, event and reflection, object and idea, are interwoven and limit each other's development (Good 1998: 7).
In the essays I wrote, “object and idea” are only partially interwoven. In fact, the texts resemble the “descriptive catalog” mentioned by Good, where one object follows another (see Chapter 2). However, attempting to write the texts through an essayistic approach allowed me to pay more attention to the nuanced differences between performances in the same category. This highlighted the need for greater granularity and explanation in the ontology.
In my dissertation I combine two modes of analysis, two modes of invention. I make maps and tell stories. I cut up the world of wayang into distinct categories and then traverse those categories as an essayist, interpreting patterns of distribution based on experiences and intuitions. This combination is, however, not tidy and easy. The dissertation is a struggle between these two different regimes of representation. And this struggle is analogous to two other clashes, the one between tradition and modernity that is at the heart of each of the performances and the conflict between the cultural "inside" and "outside" in which I participate as a foreign researcher. These series of struggles can be understood as "interfaces" for reasons I will now turn to.
This dissertation is presented as a digital interface which I designed and programmed, but the way in which I want to use the term in the present discussion should be extended to a more general conception of the interface. In the vernacular understanding of the term, an interface is usually associated with a screen which displays information and allows for some degree of interactivity. But this is just one kind of interface, a Graphic User Interface (GUI). In computer science, the term would include other artifacts (particular programming constructs, software/hardware interfaces, etc.). Here, however, I am interested in considering interfaces with a degree of philosophical imagination, as sites where struggles for meaning are enacted and not fully resolved. In this, I follow Alexander Galloway, who argues that:
The interface is a medium that does not mediate. It is unworkable. The difficulty, however, lies not in this dilemma but in the fact that the interface never admits it. It is true that it is false. It describes itself as a door or a window or some other threshold across which we must simply step to receive the bounty beyond. But a thing and its opposite are never joined by the interface in such a neat and tidy manner. What are called “writing”, or “image”, or “object”, are merely the attempts to resolve this unworkability (Galloway 2012: 53).
As mentioned above, the interface between essays and ontologies is neither tidy nor easy. But thinking of their oppositions and frictions as an interface highlights the internal differences between their opposing epistemology. Rather than ironing out such differences, I would suggest that projects which use digital tools should strive to bring attention to such oppositions, as I have tried to do throughout this dissertation. This also opens up different ways of considering the performances and my participation in them as an observer. Thus, the performances can be thought of as interfaces between the past of tradition and the present occasion for a performance. My exegetic work, as interpreter and translator, is an interface between the Javanese world and the international academic world at which this dissertation is aimed. The approach I describe above, results in an interface between the ontology and the essay which is enacted, if not resolved, by a digital interactive interface.
The method of this dissertation, as much as its format, is that of the interface. By constructing it in such a way, I present it not only as a reflection on the performances but also on what academic writing, as the creation of interfaces, can become. I believe this is an important challenge in many areas of inquiry but it is of particular importance in theatre and performance studies, as performance documentation becomes increasingly codified in digital archives that require new interventions in critical interpretation.