Understanding Anti-performance: The performative division of experience and the standpoint of the non-performer

Joseph Grim Feinberg


Performance theorists have long been drawn to the potential of performance to subvert established institutions. The results of performance are never fully determined in advance; performances subject established images to reinterpretation; they take place before an audience that can criticize and intervene. But performative principles also play a role in maintaining established institutions and ways of being. Performance demands that participants take on roles and perform them more or less effectively. Performance also establishes a separation between the relatively active people who have the authority to perform publicly important roles and relatively passive audiences who observe those institutionalized performances. In this paper I argue for a balanced view of the subversive potential of performance, taking seriously the tradition of anti-theatricality, in order to determine the role of performance both in undermining and in upholding established institutions, and I call attention to the potentially subversive (but often contradictory) role of what I call anti-performance, the attempt (which is just as contradictory as performance itself) to move beyond the performativity that is imposed by established institutions, in order to achieve new forms of being that are experienced not only as “played” but as “real.”


ontology; anti-theatricality; spectacle; Augusto Boal; Rousseau

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2020.52279

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