The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

Chamberlain 75

connection. The audience is placed in a position of superiority, invited to laugh at the inmates of this strange place inhabited by exotic “others” (my student’s “zoo with hillbillies in it”) who can, perhaps, be pitied but not allowed to occupy a position of full humanity. “These people here, they’re just so pitiful ,” O’Malley tells the local priest, a charge that the rest of the play doesn’t really challenge even when it invites viewers to question O’Malley’s narrow views (Bush 69). To return to our original (albeit simplified) term, then, we can’t really “identify” with any positionality that the play offers. As a result, we’re left with no greater understanding. All we can do is fall back on our very individualized, anecdotal experience or on our preconceived, limited frames of often-stereotyped reference. The result is literary tourism or even colonization. To demonstrate how this effect is created and what it implies, I’d like to look at the play through the lens of position theory. Position theory comes out of social psychology and was articulated by several thinkers, among them psychologist Luk Van Langenhove and philosopher Rom Harré. They were interested in identity formation as a dynamic process, one in which identities are constituted, re-shaped, and renegotiated through fluid discursive practices and positioning vis-à-vis other people, situations, texts, and institutions, all in constant negotiation. In their article “Cultural Stereotypes and Positioning Theory,” Harré and Van Langenhove define the concept thus: In positioning theory [. . .], the concepts of “position” and “positioning” have been introduced as general metaphors to grasp how persons are located within conversations as observably and subjectively coherent participants in jointly-produced story-lines. [. . .]positioning theory expands the idea [of location] to a whole set of rights, duties, and obligations that speakers have [. . . we have] argued that in conversations, [. . .] positions, story lines, and speech acts form mutually determining triads, called positioning triangles. Adopting a “position” involves the use of rhetorical devices by which oneself and other speakers are presented as standing in various kinds of relations. These include the relations of power, relations of competence (knowledge/ ignorance) [. . .] and so on. Thus every position exists only as the reciprocal of some other position. The concept is essentially conversational. [. . .] Thus it can be said that in all discursive processes, two essential things happen: (i) People position themselves and

others and (ii) people present versions of the material and social world by means of rhetorical reconstructions. [. . .] The concepts of positioning and rhetorical reconstruction can also be used to understand the creation of different social worlds as well as the selves that inhabit them. (239) As Harré and Van Langenhove explain, this paradigm of identity construction is “conversational,” but its effect is not limited to one-on-one individual chats. Positioning conversations can also apply to what the authors call “institutionalized discursive processes such as law, science, art criticism, and so on” (Harré and Van Langenhove 239)—and, I argue, to the institutionalized process that is the production and performance and reception of a play. Positions differ from roles in that roles can be static— for example, in relation to The Other Side of the Mountain , Catherine Bush always occupies the role of playwright. Positions, on the other hand, are dynamic and constantly changing, even from statement to statement within a conversation. For instance, in her role as author, Bush may position herself as the storyteller; but if a viewer challenges the story by claiming, say, that the character of O’Malley doesn’t make psychological sense in the narrative, then Bush is repositioned as a defendant. Each new utterance repositions both speaker and respondent, who each in turn becomes the speaker. The “positioning triangle,” then, consists of 1) a given speaker, who has certain rights and responsibilities within their social construct (an author, for example, might have the right to tell her story as she wishes but also the responsibility not to condescend to the reader); 2) the speech act itself, whether it be an actual conversation or the text or performance of a play; and 3) the “story line,” the consistent rhetorical narrative patterns by which the speech acts are transmitted. In another article, Harré and co-author Fathali Moghaddam explain that “positioning episodes do not unfold in any random way. They tend to follow already established patterns of development, which, for convenience have come to be called story lines. Each story line is expressible in a loose cluster of [often already established] narrative conventions” (4). I’d say that the narrative conventions of the story line are on particular display when the speech act is a work of literature like a play—especially since an important part of the positioning storyline is told through conventions of socially-constructed character types (a fact that has important implications for the construction or deconstruction of stereotypes). Clearly, the genre of formally constructed drama serves as an example of what

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