Monday, February 14, 2005

Speaker's circle

There's a "speaker's circle" on campus here, and I walk by it or through it every day on my way to teach. Recently a trumpeter was playing there for a couple of days (last tune I heard him play: Sonny Rollins's "St Thomas"), but more often than not someone is evangelizing. All campuses seem to have these people coming around. Here's what I want to know: does anyone take them seriously? I mean, even at Baylor ("Thee University") people would gather around the street-corner preachers on campus in order to deride them. So, following from that, I want to know: do people ever take public speakers who set themselves up on campus or a street corner seriously? Maybe a person or two? I'm just wondering if a "speaker's circle," rather than being an invitation for open discussion and debate, is really just a locus for spectacle. (Which leads to another question: is setting up a speaker's circle a way of making the university seem to be a place for public discussion and debate without really being so?) What function, in other words, do these random but insistent people serve? Why do people turn to evangelizing, whether of the religious or secular kind? It's a performance, obviously--but a performance signifying what? An identity. . . rather than movement. (Isn't that what Massumi says about performance, that it doesn't leave room for movement, only for a reiteration of where we already are?)

So here's something I heard in Speaker's Circle last semester, shortly after the World Series was over:
[With elaborate, affected gestures]
Curt Schilling
shed his blood
for the curse
of the Bambino.

It was very strange. No one was really listening to him at that moment; he was just there in speaker's circle, improvising, working out the elaborate gesturing.

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