Failing to Think: The Promise of Performance Philosophy




Performance, philosophy, Plato, epistemology, German Romanticism, truth, thinking, failure


Performance Philosophy, at its most hopefully imagined, seems to promise to succeed where other philosophical discourses and performative practises have come up short—perhaps even failed. That is to say, far from simply announcing a relatively modest interdisciplinary venture between philosophy and performance, Performance Philosophy seems invested with a radical potential that would, if realised, reveal a paradigm of creation and/or interpretation that is quite new and distinct. Its achievements, if successful, would be beyond the compass of performance and philosophy conceived independently of each other. Even the term itself, ‘Performance Philosophy’, conveys a certain paratactical momentum that seems directed towards a profound artistic, intellectual, and disciplinary miscegenation where neither performance nor philosophy would remain separate and intact and neither would be subordinated to or conditioned by the unchanged disciplinary genealogy and underpinnings of the other. Though exciting in prospect, this is far from unproblematic. Is performance, as an act of deliberate creative expression, not to some degree pulling in the opposite direction to truth-revealing, knowledge-bearing philosophy? Or does Performance Philosophy relate only to more elastic understandings and redefinitions of philosophy? More specifically, this article asks what ‘thinking’ ‘itself’ might be in the context of Performance Philosophy and what sort of ‘knowledge’ it might give rise to. It will be argued that against the usual measures of epistemological success Performance Philosophy must be judged to fail. However it will then explores whether, in a move reminiscent of the aesthetics of failure of early German Romanticism, it is precisely failure that seems to hold the promise of opening up new epistemological ground. 

Author Biography

James Corby, University of Malta

James Corby is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of English at the University of Malta, where he lectures on literary theory, poetry, and philosophy. He is the founding co-editor of the academic journal CounterText, published by Edinburgh University Press, and is a founding member of the Futures of Literature Network. He has published on literature, and philosophy, including articles on romanticism, modernism, phenomenology, performance, politics, and contemporary American literature. He co-edited Style in Theory: Between Literature and Philosophy (Bloomsbury, 2013) with Ivan Callus and Gloria Lauri-Lucente, and edited a special issue of the Journal for Cultural Research on “Critical Distance” (Taylor & Francis, 2017).


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How to Cite

Corby, J. (2019). Failing to Think: The Promise of Performance Philosophy. Performance Philosophy, 4(2), 576–590.