Acts of Voting: A Lexicon

On the first day of the year, CNN predicted that 2015 will be the year that . The article warns the reader about the dangerous implications that a number of forthcoming elections across European Union member-states may posit for the EU edifice. Thus, the act of voting is framed as a potential disturbance to an unidentifiable common sense of what European welfare and democracy might be. But how can voting (the cornerstone of liberal democratic politics and a practice that ) be a threat? Is there a ‘right’ kind of vote? Or, conversely, can an electorate cast a ‘wrong’ vote? Are ? The article’s paradoxical formulation echoes dominant EU rhetoric and fails to expose Europe’s . In thinking about the act of voting, then, one may ask: Who votes? How do they vote? What can voting achieve in the changing European context, amidst ongoing and multifaceted financial, socio-political and ideological crises? What versions of Europe and/or representative democracy are rehearsed in times of election? And what perspective on these acts of representation might be offered by theatre and performance studies?

These questions relate to the discussions that emerged during the three workshops of the (‘On Europe’; ‘On Commons’; ‘On Performance, Identities and Ruptures’). This network was launched in January 2013 by a group of early career researchers who worked towards the volume Performances of Capitalism, Crises and Resistance: Inside/Outside Europe. Originally gathering at the University of Winchester, we explored issues pertaining to the ‘crisis’ of Europe: inheriting European myths and the purchase of symbols for European identifications; fixed and porous borders; the value of European cities; subjectivities and social classes amidst crisis; strategies and tactics of resistance; and excessive politics and affects in crisis. Continuing this work, then, twenty-six theatre and performance scholars and makers responded to our call for a lexicon of voting as performance. Each contributor was given a letter and was asked to come up with a vote of sorts consisting of a word, a thought and a link to the World Wide Web.

The result below is a lexicon made of musings and provocations; entries that stand in for ideas, feelings and moments that (re)frame modes of representation within the realm of history which, according to Walter Benjamin, ‘is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now [Jetztzeit]’.1 Performance and acts of voting are underpinned by a similar temporality to history: the moment of casting a ballot is always in the ‘now’, in transition between the knowledge of pasts and the anticipation of futures. This lexicon assembles an arsenal of performative gestures established within liberal democracy, while attempting to imagine other performances of voting that transcend the temporal and spatial stagings of politics framed by the dominant political calendar.

This multi-vocal intervention, a gathering of sorts, underlines our intention to transgress the quantitative models of political representation and open up space for plural uses and vocabularies accounting for the economies of voting; our intention to map dramaturgies of the political by uncovering trails that run inside and outside the geographical territory of Europe. This collective alphabet performs versions of Europe and in doing so reframes the act of voting. Each vote takes us away from polarised narratives/ideologies/feelings towards a multi-polar expression of ‘Europes’ now – multiple ‘Europes’ because, if Europe is to escape colonial and imperial traditions (its Eurocentrism), it needs to embrace and become the world’s multiplicity. The ‘power’ of each vote consists in contesting the meaning and function of voting in an attempt to understand and practice it anew.

Marilena Zaroulia & Philip Hager

 

A is for AFFECT

Gareth White

For democracy to sustain itself, it must have an affective dimension. The democratic subject must feel it has a part to play. The performance of voting extends beyond the private moment in the poll booth; its performative resonance must be reinforced elsewhere – by the journey to the booth, by conversations around and after it, as perhaps. We perform our vote many times, even when we choose not to divulge our choice.

But voting rarely makes the pulse race. It has – in many democracies – lost its urgency and its affect. Voting is a duty, or a protest; it takes a stand, or it stays loyal. And if we don’t vote? We perform that too. To not vote – through disgust, principle and even apathy – has a potential for more affective feedback than the vote itself.

 

B is for BRUSSELS

Teunkie van der Sluijs

The Belgian capital’s obvious metonymy as the place of play for European politics gives the city something theatrical. Not for the first time. In 1830, a performance of the opera La Muette de Portici at the Muntschouwburg ignited the that led to the country’s independence. The constitution for this new state would become an important template for the constitutions of nation-states developing in the frenzy of 19th-century nationalism – a development that created the landscape for two world wars and, thereafter, for the EU. A performance of self-determination sparked by one aria. Who says art doesn’t change anything?

 

C is for COMMONWEALTH

Emma Cox

The promise of well-being, the common weal (also welt or wound). Today, the Commonwealth’s 2.3 billion people churn out an impressive combined GDP of more than $10 trillion. But never mind the money; what about the franchise? The right to vote in UK elections is extended to resident Commonwealth citizens. Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis… Indians and Nigerians too. A porous electorate, befitting this mightiest of hangovers. . A Cabinet Office spokesman retorts that the continued largesse ‘reflects our close historical ties’.2 And so it is that one million people will wake on 7 May 2015 in a neocolonial embrace as Westminster whispers, we’re still family. Not those European foreigners, mind.

 

D is for DYSTOPIA

Dimitris Grigoropoulos & Natasha Siouzouli

Voting aims to shape the political future, and therefore both anticipates and produces a sense of what form this future might take. While utopia has a positive sense and heterotopia a neutral one, dystopia is the negative third part referring to a spatial and temporal arrangement of events that is precarious and catastrophic. serve as examples of a future that should be avoided as dangerous. The question that arises is one of perception: Who considers a specific arrangement as dystopic? Who is threatened by it? Can the dystopia of some be the blessing of others?

 

E is for ETHICS

Marissia Fragkou

Voting is a performance of ethics, an incitement to responsibility, a call that asks subjects to give an account of themselves as citizens. Voting in Europe today performs an ethical act that responds to moral questions and dilemmas often dictated by a rhetoric of fear against difference and change. As Judith Butler explains, ‘we [often] become morally accountable as a consequence of fear and terror’.3 Voting implies an ethical standpoint, a stasis, the possibility of revolt, of bringing things to a stop; in this way, voting can also function as a which, in turn, holds Europe accountable for its democratic deficit.

 

F is for FASCISM

Eleftheria Ioannidou

A dark continent in the heart of Enlightened Europe, to remember Mark Mazower’s bleak account of the 20th century.4 Fascism turns the project of modernity on its own head: the public mutates into an excited mass, whilst industrial and scientific advances provide the model for mass extermination. A raging capitalist crisis in the interwar period set the parties of Mussolini and Hitler on the path to electoral victory. Once they seized power, the fascists suspended civil liberties and violated democratic institutions. The image of the in Berlin four months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933 is a symbolic moment of the defeat of parliamentary democracy.

 

G is for GATHER

Katerina Paramana

Gather your thoughts, gather your souls, gather your bodies and stamina. This is the moment we all hoped for, the moment we never thought possible. This is not just a vote, it’s a performance of thought, resistance and support, an ethical encounter: a recognition that the other(s) is (are) connected to the ‘I’ by relations to the world, by an inescapable and always present sociality. So ,5 because this performance, this vote, has a larger audience. And gather your thoughts, gather your souls, gather your bodies and stamina, gather your faith in each other and show that what was once only imagined is possible.

 

H is for HANDS

Marilena Zaroulia

(Noun): end part of the arm beyond the wrist; crucial part of the body politic.

During assemblies, a show of hands performed the demos; since 5th century Athens, such acts of voting shaped myths and aspirations of direct democracy. In the 21st century, assemblies across the world , beyond the ‘handy’ act of participation by casting votes in ballot boxes.

But what about those parts without a part? What happens when we take matters into our own hands?

Hands raised to the sky; performing yet always to be counted.

 

I is for IMAGINE

Florian Thamer

Imagine: inspiring ideas; Imagine: important initiative; Imagine: intense intervention; Imagine: innovative invention; Imagine: irritating illumination; Imagine: independent information; Imagine: immediate interaction; Imagine: intelligent integration; Imagine: illuminating interruption; Imagine: ironic imperatives; Imagine: initial inobedience; Imagine: involved individuals; Imagine: infusible immanence Imagine: inflamed institutions; Imagine: informal immigration; Imagine: intrinsic irruption; Imagine: iconic insurrection; Imagine: infinite indiscipline; Imagine: increased involvement; Imagine: ; Imagine: isocracy indeed!

 

J is for JERRYMANDERING

Aylwyn Walsh

Erroneous spelling of gerrymandering, in James Joyce’s Ulysses.. Stein Ringen says it ‘moves political power from the onstage arena of voting into backstage arenas of manipulation’.6 This is a threat to democracy in non-proportional electoral systems, since officials can draw the map to effect undue influence. Districts could be created to ensure certain (party political, racial or demographic) interests are furthered over others. Some US districts that contain prisons (often rural areas) receive disproportionately higher representation even though prisoners are not entitled to vote. This undermines one of the fundamental tenets of democratic electioneering: ‘one person, one vote’.

 

K is for KNOWLEDGE

Louise Owen

‘You know, I know that things can only get better’. was famously claimed by the 1997 Labour campaign, but the song’s video complicates its feelgood chorus of knowledge as faith. Theatrical curtains unveil multiple Peter Cunnahs and the band dancing before a blue screen bearing . Images chart the song’s tale of redemption: an Orwellian couple, money falling from the sky, a burning bridge, little fluffy clouds, a tame rave (homage to ?) and digital clone children. The video’s argument: confronted by apocalypse, Photoshop a collective and party it out.

 

L is for LOVE

Myrto Tsilimpounidi

Is love a political stance? In the era of crisis – against the technocratic approach of love for power – is gaining momentum. As bell hooks notes, ‘[t]he transformative power of love is not fully embraced in our society because we often wrongly believe that torment and anguish are our ‘natural’ condition’.7 The European dream is tormented by the technocratic managerial solutions, yet against the fear-mongering of economic austerity and the threat imposed by the Other, people are on the streets demanding, hoping, dreaming of a new Europe.

 

M is for MAJORITY / MINORITY

Tina Turnheim

Three Problems with Parliamentary Democracy

  1. The construction of majority is hardly a democratic procedure, excluding minors, non-citizens, immigrants, non-voters and minorities of all kinds.
  2. Looking back, it appears more than doubtful that the majority is always right. Haven’t both Hitler and Mussolini come to power through democratic elections?
  3. In today’s globalized world, where, for example, the results of German elections may bear major effects on Greece, the concept of national elections seems to be not only highly anachronistic but even perilous.

So what has to be done (with the performance of elections)? To could be a starting point.

 

N is for NATURALIZATION

Margherita Laera

In the past ten years I have paid taxes in one European country but voted for parliamentary elections in another. I have quite enjoyed this paradoxical in-between condition – I was proud not to be quite here, nor there. But then gradually my ‘motherland’s’ farcical politics exhausted me, so I decided to apply for citizenship in my ‘adoptive’ country as a form of protest so that I could dissociate myself from the ongoing performance of mystification back home. If I am granted naturalization, I will acquire in a country whose current government has come to power promising to curb immigration, but which thankfully failed to do so. If I make it into the electoral register of the only country where I am a taxpayer, in May 2015 I will ‘throw away’ my vote by choosing a candidate that recognizes the contribution of migrants to society, but has slim chances of being elected in a system that marginalizes minorities.

 

O is for OAKUM

Rachel Clements

was a chore of Victorian workhouses and prisons. By hand, by finger, inmates unwound lengths of rope, untwisting and unpicking until they were reduced to tiny strands. The strands were sold to shipbuilders, mixed with tar, and used to make wooden boats watertight. Picking oakum was painstaking labour, historically bound up with systems of discipline and punishment, variously obsolete.

Repetitive, hard on the hands, time consuming: this is the kind of work it takes to undo a structure that has been made to withstand massive strain without giving. Keep undoing the strands of the rope, and we could make something else; something that can travel; something that can float.

 

P is for PODEMOS

Cristina Delgado-García

Left-wing party that has shaken up the Spanish political landscape since its constitution in March 2014. Accused of opening untimely and populist fissures within the Left, Podemos has nonetheless prefiguratively reimagined democratic procedures. Their programme for the European Parliament Elections was finalised after a unique process of participation; an initial draft was open to amendments proposed by local assemblies that did not require party membership, and finally approved via online referendum. ‘Podemos’ is also Spanish for ‘we can’. The verb ‘poder’ – ‘to be able to’, ‘to be capable of’, ‘to overpower’, ‘to be possible’ – has been prominent in the Spanish activist vocabulary since the 2008 crisis, most notably in the slogan ‘, ‘it can be done’.

 

Q is for QUA

Kasia Lech

Please read the rhyme below while standing up with your fist clenched. Make a hammer motion on every ‘qua’.

Voting is sine qua non of democracy.
We each cast a vote, and the majority
Qua each individual, chooses
A group that, qua us, will voice the views
On who should decide what future to choose.
Qua us, they vote in favour of another group,
(At this stage I feel qua-ite out of the loop)
That qua them qua us will choose the possible choices
And then they may pick another group of other voices
That qua them qua other them qua us,

How can my vote mean more than a blah?

 

R is for RÉVERBÈRE

Adam Alston

The réverbère (reflector lamp) was introduced to Paris in the 1760s at the encouragement of the chief of police, updating street lamps launched by and representative of the Sun King in 1667. During the French Revolution, . The smashing of lamps in Paris and beyond – which was also a favoured hobby of the inebriated – became a popular movement symbolic of revolutionary idealism. Each smashed lamp was a vote for revolution, both its hopes and its morbid realities.

 

S is for SUFFRAGETTES

Chris Megson

This , taken outside the Oval cricket ground in 1908, captures a moment in the historic ‘Votes for Women’ campaign. A group of men stand at the rear like bemused caryatids. In the foreground, two suffragettes converse, while a third, nearer to us but more aloof, stares at the camera as if she’s about to step across the ‘footlights’ of the kerb into the viewer’s world. Her expression is cautious, dignified, arresting: it’s a contemporary provocation. What is the legacy of universal suffrage? Why the low turnout at national and European elections? What is the gender balance of your politicians?

Look her in the eye before you reply.

 

T is for TURNOUT

Trish Reid

The remarkably high levels of political engagement that accompanied the Scottish independence referendum campaign of 2014 astonished many commentators. In the run up to the poll 97% of those eligible registered to vote. On the day, voter was 84.59% on average, and in some constituencies reached 91%. This represents the highest turnout in any British election since universal suffrage was introduced. The evolution of autonomy and distinctiveness in Scotland’s culture of democracy that the referendum campaign evidences shows little sign of slowing. Since the referendum a quarter of Scottish 16-17 year olds have joined a political party.

 

U is for UTOPIA

James Allum

As voters across Europe abandon mainstream and centrist parties, in favour of those offering more radical solutions, voting becomes an increasingly utopian gesture. It is utopian both in its yearning for change but also in its futility. Within the current forms of democracy, . Until power is wrested from those with money, voting will remain utopic gesturing rather than democratic praxis and only through direct action and participatory democracy will the balance of power shift.

 

V is for VIOLENCE

Philip Hager

‘Your vote matters!’, ‘Don’t abstain!’ the leaders of our European family urge you. What happens, however, if you vote the ‘wrong’ way? What happens if a handful of Irish or Greek citizens vote ‘against’ Europe’s silent majority? Although the democratic process must be respected, disagreement is not to be tolerated, it seems. In the name of a consenting silent majority, dissenting ‘Europes’ cannot and shall not exist. This is the violence of the fictitious many. Do not play the role of the silent majority – devouring your voice.

 

W is for WAVERING

Paul Geary

Wavering before voting could be one of two things: unsure who to vote for or whether to vote at all. It can come from feeling as though you don’t know enough. To perform the act of voting inevitably involves wavering; we act, not knowing the exact consequence of the action. Here we find its performative dimension: voting produces its own outcomes and criteria for success; it is illocutionary, bringing into being via the act itself. We do not know what we do: we act by voting, .

 

X

Anna Harpin

Bernard, the gull, heads .
Summoning her voice in her birdy bowels
she takes aim:
David’s wobbling chin,
George’s oxy cheeks,
Nigel’s tortoise gob,
And Boris’s independently gesticulating jowls.

I’ll deposit my protest droppings in one great flood, she flaps…
D
O
W
N

Shit.

I’ve misfired.
The poop is in the Polling Station.
X marks the spot,
splodged in the box marked ‘Green’.

I’ve never felt more powerful, thinks Bernard.

Her nest in the woods back home, meanwhile,
falls quietly to the ground.

And Tony orders another Malibu and milk.

 

Y is for YES

Conor Hanratty

Ireland has a great tradition of voting conservatively, and voting no to things that might damage the jealously-guarded ‘fabric of society’. We said no to divorce until 1995. We still say no to abortion, and indeed to water charges. The tide is turning, and it is time instead to say a very big YES to marriage equality. After a lifetime of belligerent ‘no’ campaigns, it’s beautiful to see YES blossoming everywhere. A yes is an acceptance, an acknowledgement. A yes moves us forward. A yes is a seismic shift. Something of which we can be proud. A smile. .

 

Z is for ZEITGEIST

Gordon Murray

It is difficult to put one’s finger on what the invisible agreement behind social relations is currently.

In the last century it was the conscious role of philosophy and art to try to identify it and gain from it a sense of animation.

In this century it has become the tool of the , the pollster, the credit reference agency. If nothing else it is pleasing to consider that they may be struggling to put their finger on it too.

 

Marilena Zaroulia is a Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Winchester. Her research focuses on performance and cultural politics in post-1989 Europe. She has published on contemporary British theatre; Greek national identity; the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and the Eurovision Song Contest. She is the co-editor of Performances of Capitalism, Crises and Resistance: Inside/Outside Europe (Palgrave). Her new project is Performing Assemblies: On Institutions and Affect. She is a member of the Executive Committee of TaPRA.

Philip Hager is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham. His research looks at performance, politics and history in urban spaces, with a particular focus in contemporary Europe. He has published on the Occupy movement; the Greek movement of the squares; the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and its performances of urban gentrification; contemporary Greek theatre; and performances of memory. He is the co-editor of Performances of Capitalism, Crises and Resistance: Inside/Outside Europe (Palgrave).

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Notes:

  1. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Pimlico, 1999), p. 253.
  2. ‘Immigrant Voting Rights Warning’, ITV.com, 28 August 2013. <http://www.itv.com/news/update/2013-08-28/voting-reflect-close-historical-ties-with-commonwealth/> [accessed 07 March 2015].
  3. Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), p. 11.
  4. Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (London: Penguin Books, 1998).
  5. Spontaneous gathering in front of the Greek Parliament to support the government’s negotiations, 5 February 2015.
  6. Stein Ringen, ‘What’s wrong with gerrymandering’, OpenDemocracy, 20 October 2014 <http://www.opendemocracy.net/stein-ringen/democracy-in-america-part-1-what%27s-wrong-with-gerrymandering> [accessed 3 February 2015].
  7. bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (New York: Harper Collins, 2000), p. 220.
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