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The limits of ‘field thinking’

I have had the pleasure to spend much of the last couple of weeks reading through the great quality and quantity of proposals that we received for the Performance Philosophy conference in April. (NB. Decisions will be out by Jan 15th once the organizing committee have had a chance to meet and confer).

What was fantastic and thought-provoking was the number of papers that really dealt with the questions of the CFP head on – particularly perhaps the question of what the future of this area of performance philosophy might be. Do we automatically restrict our thinking if we submit it to being structured by notions of ‘fields’ and ‘disciplines’ (sub-fields or sub-disciplines) even if these are conceived as interdisciplinary, or even as anti-disciplines from the start (as Performance Studies once was)? Are notions of perpetual self-criticism any less conventional in their own way if they are modelled according to methods attached to the familiar or emergent proper names – to Marx, to Laruelle even?

On one level, it might be tempting to think in terms of the development of Performance Philosophy as operating along the lines of Film Philosophy – a field that emerged within the specific disciplinary context and particular history that includes the influence of classical film theory, psychoanalytic-semiotic / Screen theory, the philosophy of film that perhaps really begins with Cavell and so on. But I sense this would be a mistake. Or rather, this might be only one version of how Performance Philosophy develops. For instance, there are indications that a ‘philosophy of theatre’ (as conceived by philosophers largely emerging from backgrounds in Anglo-American / analytic thought) will soon become more evident in publishing. What is interesting though is that this work is largely unaware of what we might construe as an existing ‘philosophy of theatre’ produced by and within Theatre and Performance Studies; being primarily concerned with what “philosophers” say about theatre. But clearly many of us are also concerned with notions of philosophy as performance and performativity too – in ways that have fewer parallels in the film area.

What am I saying?
Not much perhaps – but thinking aloud on the possibilities of maintaining movement within disciplines, or of resisting the idea that to think in terms of fields is necessarily to think in terms of reductions, stasis, identification… But I need interlocutors. Bring on April!

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

  • Sadly, I just discovered all of this now. I wpould so have loved to come to the conference and meet the interesting people who are already exploring a field that I thought did not exist at all in Germany. I am completely with you in regretting the boundaries and restrictions one sets to oneself by thinking in terms of fields. But I am also right now experiencing a sense of being lost in the midst of so many thoughts and ideas… because by relinquishing the idea of remaining inside one certain discipline, and thus widening the field, it becomes inmanageable, so totally and absolutely unfeasible that it is a gift and a horror at the same time. 

    I guess I am also not saying much I am hoping and looking forward to exploring this network further and to get in touch with some of the people interested in this field. 

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