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





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


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.”

Author Biography

Joseph Grim Feinberg, Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences

Joseph Grim Feinberg received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2014, and he is currently a research fellow at the Philosophy Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. His research addresses the politics of performativity, the history of critical social thought in East-Central Europe, the problem of citizenship and exclusion, and the notion of internationalism. His book The Paradox of Authenticity, on performance and the reconceptualization of “the people” in post-Communist Slovak folklore, was released in 2018. He is also editor of Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought, based in Prague.


Ackerman, Alan. 2013. “Introduction: Modernism and Anti-Theatricality.” Modern Drama 44 (3): 175–83. https://doi.org/10.3138/md.44.3.275

Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Barish, Jonas A. 1985. The Antitheatrical Prejudice. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bauman, Richard. 1978. Verbal Art as Performance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Boal, Augusto. 2008. Theater of the Oppressed. Translated by Charles A. McBride, Maria-Odilia Leal McBride, and Emily Fryer. London: Pluto.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.

Debord, Guy. 1994. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books.

Egginton, William. 2003. How the World Became a Stage: Presence, Theatricality, and the Question of Modernity. Albany: SUNY Press.

Evreinoff, Nicolas. 1927. The Theatre in Life. Translated by Alexander I. Nazaroff. New York: Brentano’s.

Goffman, Erving. 1973. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press.

Grant, Stuart, Jodie McNeilly, and Maeva Veerapen, eds. 2015. Performance and Temporalisation: Time Happens. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137410276

Grant, Stuart, Jodie McNeilly, and Matthew Wagner, eds. 2019. Performance Phenomenology: To The Thing Itself. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-98059-1

Heidegger, Martin. 2014. Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Holloway, John. 2005. Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. 2nd edition. London and Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.

Hutter, Axel. 2017. Narrative Ontologie. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. https://doi.org/10.1628/978-3-16-155520-6

Jackson, Shannon. 2004. Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511554247

Kosík, Karel. 1995. “The Individual and History.” In The Crisis of Modernity: Essays and Observations from the 1968 Era, edited by James H. Satterwhite, 123–34. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Landauer, Gustav. 2010. Revolution and Other Political Writings. Translated by Gabriel Kuhn. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. Mythologiques. 4 vols. Translated by John and Doreen Weightman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McKenzie, Jon. 2001. Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance. London and New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203420058

Phelan, Peggy. 1993. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge.

Puchner, Martin. 2002. Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Puchner, Martin.2013. “Modernism and Anti-Theatricality: An Afterword.” Modern Drama 44 (3): 355–61. https://doi.org/10.3138/md.44.3.355

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1967. Lettre à D’Alembert Sur Les Spectacles. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1968. Politics and the Arts: Letter to D’Alembert on the Theater. Translated by Alan Bloom. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Schechner, Richard. 1988. Performance Theory. London: Routledge.

Tava, Francesco. forthcoming. “Praxis in Progress: On the Transformations of Kosík’s Thought.” In Karel Kosík and Dialectics of the Concrete. Edited by Joseph Grim Feinberg, Ivan Landa, and Jan Mervart. Leiden: Brill.

Trilling, Lionel. 1972. Sincerity and Authenticity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.




How to Cite

Feinberg, Joseph Grim. 2020. “Understanding Anti-Performance: The Performative Division of Experience and the Standpoint of the Non-Performer”. Performance Philosophy 5 (2):332-48. https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2020.52279.