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A Performance Philosophy blog, Day One: “The Future of the Field”

There are many admirable bloggers in contemporary philosophy – John Protevi and Levi Bryant among them.

I am starting my own with considerable trepidation and expecting that I may not be able to stick it out for long. I suspect I may lack the confidence, and be generally too self-doubting for this particular form. I spend a lot of time worrying – productively and unproductively – about the words I put into print and those I deliver in public forums. Whereas the blog seems to require a certain abandon, a willingness to share and a belief in the value of sharing thoughts that may be less thought-through than those we commit to paper; a different speed of thinking. I hope that this comes with a general acknowledgement that the nature of what is written in a blog differs from what appears in other forms – if only in degree rather than kind; that this nature permits bloggers to change their minds without apology, to take back or qualify regretted pronouncements and so forth. I have also been somewhat put off by what seems to me an unnecessary level of aggression and personalised attack  characterising some of the blog and/or Facebook exchanges between philosophers – particularly in relation to speculative realism. 

But anyway, enough caveats… the reason for starting to blog at least for now was to document some of the thinking and experience emerging from the process of setting up Performance Philosophy, that might not otherwise be documented. And I hope in this regard that other members will share their thoughts too.

At the moment, I am particularly reflecting on this in the light of the history of the emergence of Performance Studies – how the discipline went about establishing itself, the oppositional relationship that some felt the need to construct with other existing disciplines (particularly Theatre but also Cultural Studies), the critiques and questioned that were raised then and continue to be raised and rephrased now regarding the apparently ‘imperialist’ ambitions of Richard Schechner’s brand of PS and so forth. 

I’m not saying that I think what we are doing is the same. I don’t think the aims we may have for Performance Philosophy are the same as those that Schechner and others had for PS. I think, at least for now, that our ambitions are more modest, speculative, uncertain – and that the act of pointing to Performance Philosophy as a field is self-consciously an act of performative deixis, and a questioning: is Performance Philosophy a field? Is it a subfield of Theatre and Performance Studies or of Philosophy? Might it become a discipline?

And I’m not sure that we are placing Performance Philosophy ‘against’ anything, in the way that Schechner’s PS seemed to place performance studies against theatre studies and drama as he perceived them, and specifically against the focus on the study of dramatic texts. But there is, or must be, sets of alternative desires and inclinations within our grouping in order for the area of Performance Philosophy to have begun to emerge as a distinct research area at all.

For my part, at least, coming largely from within Theatre and Performance Studies (though also from Cultural Studies and Visual Art), I do experience frustration with the prevalence of seemingly anti-intellectual attitudes within certain areas of PS – the assumption that philosophy is necessarily an ‘abstract’ and ‘abstracted’ activity that gets us away from the real nitty gritty of practice. I feel dissatisfied by scattergun approaches to the use of “theory” to analyse performance and alienated from other methods that seem somewhat unquestioningly committed to the values of identity and representation. This is something I spoke about briefly at the Central School of Speech and Drama conference last January:

“That is, my own engagement with Deleuze originated, somewhat reactively, in a kind of dissatisfaction with the available discourses for explaining how performance works and why it matters. I came to value Deleuze’s philosophy in particular as a discourse that allowed me to question the representationalist and linguistic paradigm that the theory explosion seemed to have ushered in, and to recover the materiality of performance not as simple presence but as what we might called ‘differential presence’ or affective force. In this sense, I was not turning to philosophy per se, so much as to specific philosophies that provided the conceptual resources to rehabilitate the very categories that were being thoroughly deconstructed by the influential performance scholars of the time: “presence”, “the body”, “the voice”, “community” and so forth. At the time, turning to Deleuze meant turning from a generalized deconstruction that goes to work on what it perceives to be naïve appeals to self-presence and turning to an alternative position that conceives the presence of bodies in terms of a participation in forms of differentiation that are irreducible to discourse.”

But I appreciate, of course, that this is only one point of view within Performance Philosophy. For others, deconstruction is the fundamental paradigm; for others again, the categories of identity remain the most important tools for assessing the cultural meanings of performance. And likewise, there is no reason why the emergence of Performance Philosophy needs to be conceived as antagonistic or oppositional at all.

But I am interested in thinking about what we will be doing, at Surrey in April 2013, alongside what was going on at the First Annual Performance Studies Conference: “The Future of the Field” in 1995. I suppose I am foregrounding the relationship to Performance Studies because of the role of the PSi Performance and Philosophy Working Group in the development of Performance Philosophy. The launch of Performance Philosophy will constitute a statement of independence, of sorts, from PSi – although the working group will continue to operate as a group within the Performance Philosophy network. But in launching our own association, we are claiming some level of distinction and difference from PSi (amongst other existing organizations) that I hope we can explore here – on this website – at our forthcoming events, in our publications and so forth.

By Laura Cull

Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca is Professor and Head of DAS Graduate School at the Academy of Theatre and Dance, Amsterdam University of the Arts in the Netherlands. She also holds a fractional position as Reader in Theatre and Performance and Director of the Centre for Performance Philosophy, at the University of Surrey, UK. She is currently an AHRC Leadership Fellow for the project, Performance Philosophy & Animals: Towards a Radical Equality (2019-2022). Her books include: The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy (Routledge, 2020) and Encounters in Performance Philosophy (Palgrave, 2014), both co-edited with Alice Lagaay; Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance (Palgrave, 2012); Manifesto Now! Instructions for Performance, Philosophy, Politics (Intellect, 2013), co-edited with Will Daddario; and Deleuze and Performance (Edinburgh, 2009). She is a founding core convener of the international research network, Performance Philosophy, joint series editor of the Performance Philosophy book series with Rowman & Littlefield, and an editor of the Performance Philosophy journal.

One Comment

  • Yes, very well put Laura. It is time to open up the discussion for possible, new constellations, not yet providing a definitive map of the discursive practices where drama, theatre and performance engage us in thinking. Looking forward to the Surrey conference in April.

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