In the first half of Event Factory, I was struck by the prevalence of the concept of performance, and not only in concept – the word itself is used many times. But in the past we’ve primarily discussed performance of gender (and in The American Novel last spring it was the performance of race), and in this book the performances seem to revolve around some additional concepts, like language, culture, tourism, and character. At least those are the ones I’ve noticed so far.
Language: The narrator is interested in learning languages, and language serves as a major division between people in the world of Event Factory. For example, it seems that language plays the role that we might expect race to play: “And that was what I had feared: she was not Ravickian and, what was worse, she used air instead of hard sound for speech…There was an entire race of them…” (57). The fact that the narrator considers it bad that the Esaleyons speak another language could be due to the fact that that will make it difficult to communicate with them, but the fact that she(?) then uses the word “race” makes me suspect that this negativity toward the different language is more complex than just a barrier to communication. It seems that, like race, language (the thing that classifies people) is portrayed as a performance in this text. For example, the narrator literally compares aspects of Ravikian language to performance when she is dealing with the sign that she cannot translate: “It meant ‘read’ and ‘see’ at once. As I said before, the simplest negotiations demanded some aspect of performance in Ravicka” (46). It seems like the process of understanding the language is a performance, in this case. The process of understanding is the “negotiation” mentioned here. (On a possibly-related note, this “comprehension” is apparently how “possession was gained” in Ravicka (p.57). So, what does that say about performance in Ravicka?)
Culture: The “negotiations” mentioned above could also be considered part of Ravickian culture, but another performance that can definitely be seen as culture is “the missing gesture” on p. 42, when the child asked the narrator if she was “sleepy”: “[Y]ou folded your body as thought you were taking a bow [etc.]…I performed and was right.” Here, the concept of performance seems to mean fulfilling societal expectations.
Tourism: I don’t have an example that’s quite as concrete for tourism, but on p. 29 it first struck me that the narrator is certainly performing the role of tourism, and the book may be commenting on that role – or may be using the well-known role to comment on something else. She says, “They let me go, no doubt thinking something sad about tourists.”
Character: It occurred to me that one can perform the role of different people – different characters – on p. 38, when the narrator tries to run the hotel while Simon is gone: “Even though I stood there and performed Simon brilliantly, without him, it was a different place.” This time, performance seems a little difference, because unlike with culture and language (especially those two), performance of character does not seem to suffice. Language and culture (an probably tourism too, since it’s a generic type of character rather than a specific character) can be performed, but individual characters (people) cannot be.