Intersections of Theater, Performance, and Philosophy
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Though the past fifteen years have observed a veritable golden age of performance theory—a lively discourse that draws on anthropology, sociology, linguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory, cultural studies, feminism, and queer theory—performance theorists rarely draw on works emanating from American philosophy departments.¹ Similarly, very few...
Part 1: History and Method
1. The Text/Performance Split across the Analytic/Continental Divide
No topic has dominated contemporary scholarship in theater and performance studies more than the text/performance split. From Susan Harris Smith’s critical assessment in 1989 of the “anti-dramatic bias” in both canonical and revisionist models of American literature, to W. B. Worthen’s critique in 1995 of the textual presuppositions inherent in performance...
2. Kenneth Burke: Theater, Philosophy, and the Limits of Performance
Philosophy, a discipline concerned with truth, being, and the foundations of knowledge, was predestined to abhor the theater, which is premised on lying, appearance, and the construction of false worlds. Philosophical attacks on the theater, as they accompany the history of philosophy from Plato onward, are thus not only frequent but also unsurprising. At the...
3. Critical Realism and Performance Strategies
One of the muddier topics in theater and drama studies is the concept of genre. Are comedy and tragedy each genres, or do they cover numerous genres? Is naturalism a genre, or a style (or is there even a difference between the two)? If it is a genre, is it the same genre when funny as when serious? Or should the term be reserved for narrower categories like gothic melodramas, mystery plays, modernist verse dramas, Jacobean revenge...
Part 2: Presence
4. Humanoid Boogie: Reflections on Robotic Performance
Sergei Shutov’s Abacus (2001) in the Russian pavilion of the 49th Venice Biennial International Exposition of Art (June 10–November 4, 2001) was a frequent subject of discussion during the press opening for the exhibition, which I attended in my capacity as a critic of the visual arts. Abacus consists of over forty crouching figures draped in black, which face an...
5. Philosophy and Drama: Performance, Interpretation, and Intentionality
The purpose of this article is to probe one of the central questions of the philosophy of theater, namely, “What is drama?” However, before broaching the issue of the nature of drama, there is a more basic question: how are we to understand the very notion of a philosophy of theater? For surely one’s conception of the philosophy of theater will infl...uence one’s approach to answering the query, “What is drama?” So let me begin by
6. Embodiment and Presence: The Ontology of Presence Reconsidered
The following discussion addresses recent contentions in performance theory about the concept of presence. Two conflicting viewpoints are evident. First there are those for whom the lived phenomenon of presence still makes sense and is borne out in practical experience.¹ Presence is thought of as “the lingua franca” for many stage performers, acting teachers, critics, and audiences. Second are poststructuralist interpreters of performance...
You are standing waiting at an airport gate for the beloved’s plane to arrive.¹ Air traffic has been heavy and the plane is late. Finally the plane arrives at the gate and passengers begin to emerge out of the tunnel. You search for her face among all the various faces of the people being greeted warmly by family and friends, or simply moving quickly to some connecting flight. You keep scanning but see no sign of her as more and more people...
When techniques are broadly defined—as process-oriented and involving any systematic and goal-directed human action—one finds them in every creative human activity: in sports, painting, dancing, playing musical instruments, and acting; in physics, chemistry, medicine, and astronomy; in education, administration, and sex. Joseph Agassi argues that magic consists of techniques, though unscientific ones.¹ The swing-era ballad...
9. Presenting Objects, Presenting Things
Theater habitually situates abstractions in material realities. If the philosophical debates over the meanings and functions of presence initially draw from theater, practice returns them there, materializes and frames not only the qualitative sense of heightened being or charisma and the temporality of disappearance but the occasion of perception and the paradoxes of its partiality. All these elements have been carefully...
Part 3: Reception
10. Infiction and Outfiction: The Role of Fiction in Theatrical Performance
According to the online art lexicon ArtLex, what distinguishes “performance art” from “theater” is that “theatrical performances present illusions of events, while performance art presents actual events as art.”¹ This conception of theater has a long history, one that we can trace back at least as far as Plato. In particular, the assumption that theatrical performance presents illusory, as opposed to real, events was an orthodoxy...
11. Understanding Plays
Theatrical performances require time for their presentation.¹ Theatrical performances require time for their reception. The time in which theatrical performance is received by an audience is the same time as that of its presentation. Theatrical performances consist of events arranged in a sequence. The sequence of events in which a given production of a play is performed need not always be the same from performance to performance.
12. Perception, Action, and Identification in the Theater
My endeavor in this chapter is to examine the ways in which the general structure of perception is modified in the case of the reception of theater performances. First, perception in general is examined. I will then argue that a basic characteristic of perception is that it is sometimes interdependent with action. Next I turn to the special case of the perception of a theatrical performance—what I call theater perception—examining...
13. Empathy and Theater
In this essay I examine “empathy” insofar as it is a possible audience response in live theater. In particular I attend to empathy not merely as an emotional response but as something possessing cognitive function as well. My main concern will be with the idea of a theatrical experience that evokes empathy, that makes use of empathetic responses as part of the mechanism of artistic comprehension, and that emphasizes emotional...
14. The Voice of Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Logocentrism
In “And Shine Swam On,” his most incisive description of the cultural, political, and philosophical imperatives of the Black Arts Movement (BAM), Larry Neal asks us to “listen to James Brown scream. . . . Have you ever heard a Negro poet sing like that?” He answers, “Of course not, because we have been tied to the texts, like most white poets. The text could be destroyed and no one would be hurt in the least...
15. Theatricality, Convention, and the Principle of Charity
One of the crucial words that remains in the vocabularies of both the practical theater and theater theory, though in a fairly unexamined state, is convention. From the sociological standpoint of Elizabeth Burns the “theatrical metaphor” generated conventions that served as constitutive agreements for knowledge.¹ Yet this metaphor is also, for her, a “mode of perception,” a basic phenomenological category like those...