I intend for this blog to be a kind of improvisation repository, where, in addition to certain ancillary topics from my book project, I can also compile examples of improvisation discourse from the larger cultural context (outside of the obvious examples in the arts). On that note, a formal invitation: if you spot improvisation anywhere out there, let me know!
What I mean by “larger cultural context” is, of course, from everyday life, where improvisation continues to be discussed, deployed, and debated in a variety of situations. My current favorite example, and the one with which I begin my book, is the following ad campaign I stumbled on in a London tube:
Of course, the ad immediately stood out to me for obvious reasons. But what I didn’t anticipate at the time is how the multifaceted way that we talk about improvisation would be brought into sharp relief by this ad’s corollary, a “guy” version that I subsequently found online:
With the comparison right up front, we begin to notice the sexist discrepancy between them, a discrepancy in which improvisation plays a central role. Where in the first ad improvisation signals the scatter-brained scrambling of a workplace gendered feminine, in the latter ad improvisation signals virtuosity and play.
While I’m obviously saving the full analysis for the book, what’s clear in any case is the following critical point: our understanding of what improvisation means is fundamentally dependent (we might say “contingent”) on the context from which it emerges, in this case, contexts that are explicitly gendered. That is, improvisation is not one thing we can locate in this or that situation; rather, improvisation is utterly dependent on that situation in the first place.