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Jill Dolan's theory of utopian performatives: the idea is, when you see a particular performance or theatrical production, there is a moment when you connect so completely, with an overwhelming feeling of community, of synergy, a sometimes spiritual experience of feeling tapped-into something amazingly beautiful and larger than yourself, that feels so right, and makes you feel at once an immense elan, and a sadness in the knowledge that this is merely a fleeting state. As she puts it once: "That feeling of hope, or that feeling of desire, embodied by that suddenly hollow space in the pit of my stomach that drops me into an erotics of connection and commonality."

This, she says, is a way that performance can inspire social change. It does not set an agenda for change, it does not show what the perfect world will look like; it does show what the perfect world will FEEL like, that it is a possibility, one we must strive for, whether or not we know how it will turn out. In fact, it's even more important to go forward when an outcome is unforseeable. In the case of the utopian performative, a compulsion may drive one to attempt change, the desire to live in that state, a "saudade" if you will (Portuguese word for an emotion akin to nostalgia but tinged with hope, also sometimes translated as a longing for something that does not and perhaps cannot exist). She explains her use of the word "utopia" not by the perfect-world definition which has been popularized, but by its historical and etymological definition of "no place".

Isn't that a wonderful idea? She focuses on performance in her book on the subject (aptly titled Utopia in Performance), but of course similar experiences can be found in any aspect of life, in an event, con-text, conversation, in finding secret beauty, in a brilliantly comedic moment (my personal favorite). Something we can't exactly conceive of consciously, but that directs our systems of thought nonetheless. They are inexplicables just below the surface, that keep us going, push us forward, inspire us to find answers, to figure out why we're here, all that good stuff.



Vanessa Query, a native Rhode Islander, currently lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Some things she enjoys: Jennifer Saunders, the Dill Pickle Club, Johnny Eck, early rock, writing, seriously amateur filmmaking, producing, reading & watching lots of movies & (good) TV and justifying it as research, being a foodie & volunteering on a CSA, yoga, hiking, biking, post-structural anarcha-feminist carnival-chic bog-gothic black-comedic spectacle-surrealism, dragonflies and stick figures and spirals and colors and shady black & white and Mark Morford on a sensate rant and Greta Garbo pronouncing the letter "n" and vitamin-E lotion and shucking raw oysters...

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