From Semiotics to Philosophy: Daring to Ask the Obvious


  • David Z. Saltz University of Georgia



From the late 1960s through the 1980s a steadily-expanding group of international scholars joined forces to develop a comprehensive and unified semiotic theory of theatre. The semiotic wave had largely subsided by the early 1990s, leaving in its wake a profound, and largely justified, scepticism about universal, essentialist, and ahistorical theoretical models. It is possible, however, to ask basic philosophical questions about the ‘nature’ of theatre and performance without falling into the trap of universalizing or essentializing what are, in fact, historically and/or culturally specific practices and biases. In this essay, I advocate an open-ended and dialogic process that characterizes the work of many contemporary philosophers, in both the analytic and continental traditions, and in particular those who have been inspired by the late-Wittgensteinian notion of philosophy as a kind of conceptual therapy.

Author Biography

David Z. Saltz, University of Georgia

[email protected]

David Saltz is Head of the Department of Theatre and Film Studies and Executive Director of Ideas for Creative Exploration at the University of Georgia. He is co-editor, with David Krasner, of Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy, and has published numerous essays in the philosophy of theatre and performance in journals includingThe Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Performance Research, the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, and Theatre Research International. His latest book, Performance and Media: Taxonomies for an Changing Field, co-authored with Sarah Bay-Cheng and Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, is forthcoming for the University of Michigan Press.


Alter, Jean . 1990. A Sociosemiotic Theory of Theatre. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Dasenbrock, Reed Way. 1989. Redrawing the Lines: Analytic Philosophy, Deconstruction, and Literary Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

De Marinis, Marco. (1982) 1992. The Semiotics of Performance. Translated by Áine O’Healy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1973. Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Translated by David B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1976. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1997. Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. Edited by John D. Caputo. New York: Fordham University Press.

Eco. Umberto. 1976. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Elam, Keir. 1977. ‘Language in the Theater.’ Sub-Stance 18/19: 139-62.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. 1992. The Semiotics of Theater. Translated by Jeremy Gains and Doris L. Jones. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hamilton, James R. 2007. The Art of Theater. Malden MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kivy, Peter. 1993. ‘Differences.’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 51 (2): 123-132.

Knowles, Ric. 2004. Reading the Material Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krasner, David and David Z. Saltz, eds. 2006. Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theatre, Performance and Philosophy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pavis, Patrice. 1982. Languages of the Stage: Essays in the Semiology of Theatre. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1931-58. Collected Writings. Edited by Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss and Arthur W Burks. 8 vols. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Rozik, Eli. 2014. Theatre Sciences: A Please for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Theatre Studies. Brighton UK: Sussex Academic Press.

Saltz, David Z. 1991. ‘How To Do Things On Stage.’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 49 (1): 31-45.

Saltz, David Z. 1995. ‘When Is the Play the Thing?: Analytic Aesthetics and Dramatic Theory.’ Theatre Research International 20 (3): 266-276.

Saltz, David Z. 2001. ‘Why Performance Theory Needs Philosophy.’ Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 16 (1): 149-154.

Saltz, David Z. 2006. ‘Infiction: The Role of Fiction in Theatrical Performance.’ In Staging Philosophy: Intersections of Theatre, Performance and Philosophy, edited by David Krasner and David Z. Saltz, 203-220. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Staten, Henry. 1986. Wittgenstein and Derrida. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Stern, Tom. 2013. Philosophy and Theatre: An Introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Toro, Fernando de. 1995. Theatre Semiotics: Text and Staging in Modern Theatre. Translated by John Lewis. Revised and Edited by Carole Hubbard. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Veltrusky, Jiri. (1940) 1964. ‘Man and Object in the Theater.’ In A Prague School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure and Style, edited and translated by Paul L. Garvin, 83-91. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Walton, Kendall. 1990. Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walton, Kendall. 2007. ‘Aesthetics—What? Why? And Wherefore?’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65 (2): 147-161.

Wheeler, Samuel C.. 2000. Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1958. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. 3rd edition. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Wollheim, Richard. 1980. Art and Its Objects. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodruff, Paul. 2008. The Necessity of Theater. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zamir, Tzachi. 2014. Acts: Theatre, Philosophy, and the Performing Self. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.




How to Cite

Saltz, David Z. 2015. “From Semiotics to Philosophy: Daring to Ask the Obvious”. Performance Philosophy 1 (1):95-105.



Performance Philosophy - Pasts, Presents, Futures