A new genre of speculative writing created by the Editors of Evental Aesthetics, the Collision is a concise but pointed essay that introduces philosophical questions raised by a specific aesthetic experience. A Collision is not an entire, expository journey; not a full-fledged argument but the potential of an argument. A Collision is an encounter that is also a point of departure: the impact of a striking confrontation between experience, thought, and writing may propel later inquiries into being.
This essay sketches the musical art of Frances Pelton-Jones, an American harpsichordist active at the beginning of the twentieth century. Almost entirely unknown today, she was widely acclaimed in her day for performing elaborate costume recitals dressed as Marie Antoinette. More than just a recitalist in costume, Pelton-Jones staged elaborate tableaux vivants with environmental decor to elicit fantasies of the past. Bridging the worlds of fashion, environmental design, and music, her performances offer a compelling case study to investigate the aesthetic applications of Jane Bennett’s ecological theory of assemblages. Exploring how different human and nonhuman actants (including costumes, instruments, staging, and performers) collaborated in Pelton-Jones’ art to evoke whole historical atmospheres for her audiences, I elaborate Bennett’s argument about the synthetic potential of combining certain materials to conjure an affect, highlighting how the delicacy of the assemblage as a whole often is contingent upon the frailty of the individual materials involved. Ultimately, Bennett’s theory affirms the aesthetic sensibilities of Pelton-Jones whose musical productions delighted audiences by harnessing the synthetic potential of well-coordinated vital materials.
Frances Pelton-Jones, vitalism, costume recitals, Jane Bennett, historically informed performance
Eric Lubarsky, “A Cameo of Frances Pelton-Jones: for her, for Jane Bennett, (and for us, too),” Evental Aesthetics 3, no. 3 (2015): 80-90.