Cabaret of Confusion: Political Performance and the Work of Variety

a lunch talk with T.L. Cowan

February 8, Wednesday
12:30 to 1:45 pm
T.L. Cowan, Women’s and Gender Studies and English, University of Saskatchewan; Visiting Scholar, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, New York University
The cabaret—or, more broadly, the variety show—is arguably the most open and resilient form of live expressive culture in radical feminist and queer scenes in North America. It is, at once, an eclectic, genre-troubling performance space; a vital, if incoherent, form of entertainment and social commentary; a community-building and sustaining set of activities; a dynamic, responsive and transformative site of political activism and aesthetic innovation; and, ultimately, a mode of existence and way of knowing that is both produced by, and produces, radical feminist and queer lives. Central to my work on the contemporary variety show is the concept of “cabaret consciousness”: a mobile ontology and episteme that privileges unpredictability, pleasure, risk, excess, failure, challenge and confusion, characteristics of the cabaret that are mutually constitutive with their translocal radical feminist and queer scenes. This paper will consider the ways in which the variety format of cabaret reminds us of the importance of confusion. I suggest that a feminist and queer “cabaret consciousness” is a mode of living, being and knowing in confusion; to apprehend the mutually constitutive relationship between political cabaret and feminist and queer scenes across North America, for example, is to apprehend confusion as a political/erotic/social affective register shared across demographic and geographic borders.
Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
41-51 East 11th Street, 7th Floor Gallery

between University Place and Broadway
wheelchair access at 85-87 University Place, between 11th & 12th Streets
Bring your lunch — we’ll provide beverages and dessert!
Facebook event page here.
This event is free and open to the public.  For more information, please call CSGS at 212-992-9540 or email csgs(at)
image: perform “Hot Voodoo” in Chiapas, Mexico, 2010. Photo by Marlene Ramirez Cancio. Photo Courtesy of the Artists.