Every Text is a Performance: A Pre-History of Performance Philosophy


  • David Kornhaber University of Texas at Austin




This article traces a genealogy of performance philosophy along two separate lines within the history of the twentieth-century academy.  On the one hand, it locates within the long history of philosophically-informed studies of dramatic literature a partial model for the work of performance philosophy, one that applied philosophical scrutiny to dramatic texts without ever extending the same consideration to theatrical performance—in spite of the practical theatrical work of many of this movement’s leading academic proponents.  On the other hand, it identifies in the poststructualist rethinking of textual authority an opening for the reconsideration of philosophical communication that returns performance to a place of philosophical potential that it has not securely held since before Plato’s dialogues.  It is argued that the intersection of these two trend lines in academic thought should be regarded as constituting an important intellectual genesis point for the emergence of performance philosophy and a useful means of approaching the purposes and boundary points of the field.

Author Biography

David Kornhaber, University of Texas at Austin

[email protected]

David Kornhaber is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Birth of Theatre from the Spirit of Philosophy: Friedrich Nietzsche and the Development of the Modern Drama (Northwestern University Press, 2016). His work has appeared in PMLA, Modern Drama, Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International, and Philosophy and Literature, among other journals. He has served as guest editor of Modern Drama for a special issue on drama and philosophy, as assistant editor for Theatre Survey, as an Affiliated Writer with American Theatre, and as a contributor to the theatre sections of The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The New York Sun.


Barish, Jonas A. 1981. The Antitheatrical Prejudice. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bentley, Eric. 2010. The Playwright as Thinker: A Study of Drama in Modern Times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bentley, Eric. 1968. What is Theatre? Incorporating The Dramatic Event and Other Reviews, 1944-1967. New York: Atheneum.

Bentley, Eric. 1964. The Life of the Drama. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation.

Brustein, Robert. 2006. Millenial Stages: Essays and Reviews, 2001-2005. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Brustein, Robert. 1981. Making Scenes: A Personal History of the Turbulent Years at Yale, 1966-1979. New York: Random House.

Brustein, Robert. 1965. Seasons of Discontent: Dramatic Opinions, 1959-1965. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Brustein, Robert. 1987. Who Needs Theatre: Dramatic Opinions. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Brustein, Robert. (1961) 1964. The Theatre of Revolt: An Approach to the Modern Drama. Boston: Little.

Cull, Laura, Alice Lagaay, and Freddie Rokem. 2014. “Series Preface.” In Encounters in Performance Philosophy, edited by Laura Cull and Alice Lagaay, viii-x. Basingstoke UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Chow, Broderick, and Alex Mangold, eds. 2014. Žižek and Performance. Basingstoke UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Copeland, Roger. 2008. “The Critic as Thinker: A Discussion at the Philoctetes Center of New York Center.” American Theatre 25 (2): 31.

Daddario, Will, and Karoline Gritzner, eds. 2014. Adorno and Performance. Basingstoke UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gilman, Richard. (1972) 2000. The Making of Modern Drama: A Study of Büchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Handke. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gobert, R. Darren. 2013. The Mind-Body Stage: Passion and Interaction in the Cartesian Theatre. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Hershbell, Jackson P. 1995. “Reflections on the Orality and Literacy of Plato’s Dialogues.” In The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies, edited by Francisco J. Gonzalez. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Holmberg, Arthur, ed. 1999. The Lively ART: A Treasury of Criticism, Commentary, Observation, and Insight from Twenty Years of the American Repertory Theater. Chicago: Ivan Dee.

Kalb, Jonathan. 2006. “A Critic Has Praise for a Playwright (Himself).” The New York Times, November 12.

Kornhaber, David. 2013. “Introduction: Drama and Philosophy 2.0”. Modern Drama 56 (4): 419-33. http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/md.56.4.Intro.

Lane, Richard, ed. Beckett and Philosophy. Basingstoke UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Matthews, Brander. 1912. The Development of the Drama. New York: Scribner.

Matthews, Brander. 1910. A Study of the Drama. New York: Houghton.

Plato. 1995. Phaedrus. Translated by A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Neitzsche, Friedrich. (1873) 1999. “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.” In The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, translated by Ronald Speirs, edited by Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs, 139-153. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Plotkins, Marilyn. 2005. The American Repertory Theatre Reference Book: The Brustein Years. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers.

Puchner, Martin. 2013. “Afterward: Please Mind the Gap Between Theatre and Philosophy.” Modern Drama, 56 (4): 542. http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/md.S85.

Puchner, Martin. 2010. The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Quigley, Austin E. 1985. The Modern Stage and Other Worlds. New York: Methuen.

Rescher, Nicholas. 2010. Philosophical Textuality: Studies on Issues of Discourse in Philosophy. Frankfurt: Walter de Gruyter

Roach, Joseph. 1993. The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Rokem, Freddie. 2010. Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Shusterman, Richard. 2012. Thinking Through the Body: Essays in Somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shusterman, Richard. 2008. Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Susan Harris.1997. American Drama: The Bastard Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Hulle, Dirk, and Mark Nixon. 2013. Samuel Beckett’s Library. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodruff, Paul. 2008. The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Worthen, W.B. 2005. Print and the Poetics of Modern Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




How to Cite

Kornhaber, David. 2015. “Every Text Is a Performance: A Pre-History of Performance Philosophy”. Performance Philosophy 1 (1):24-35. https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2015.1125.



Performance Philosophy - Pasts, Presents, Futures