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The Yale Journal of Criticism 16.1 (2003) 147-148

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Performing the Text, Performing the Self

Donia Mounsef

This special cluster of essays addressing issues of theatre and performance owes its existence to the desire to re-engage with the debate over the text/performance divide and the need to re-consider their dichotomy in a more productive and cross-disciplinary framework. Shedding new light on the diverse ways in which the theatre engages with its own conditions of possibility, the articles situate the debate historically, politically, aesthetically, and in everyday life. Proposing a performative critique of identity politics, genre and gender, the articles offer a critical engagement with performance theory and its ideological other, the institutional spectacle of disciplinary theatre.

Julia Walker's "Why Performance? Why Now?" elucidates the way fundamental mechanisms of theatrical discourse inform and deepen our understanding of the performative, both in speech acts and on the stage. Walker undertakes a successful reconciliation of the proliferating performance metaphors with theatre itself, while engaging her reader with a historical critique of the contentions of performance and literature to show how each practice bears within its limits the "trace of its repressed other."

In a similar vein Natalie Meisner's "Messing with the Idyllic" demonstrates many of the questions missing from the current performance debate at the intersection of feminism and queer theory. Meisner's essay revisits one of the most celebrated contemporary American plays, Kushner's Angels in America, and interrogates the myth of the individual as it relates to the performance of femininity and the demarcation of the limits of gendered bodies.

Mara de Gennaro's "What Remains of Jean Genet?" poses yet another set of questions that will serve to bring Genet into the 21st century. De Gennaro looks at the formative role theatre played in the politicization of Genet's literary works by focusing on the shift in his career from novelistic to theatrical forms. The article also examines the influence of sculpture and the "Studio of Alberto Giacometti" on stylistically and ideologically charged theatre projects such as The Blacks and The Screens. [End Page 147]

Joseph Roach's "Celebrity Erotics: Pepys, Performance, and Painted Ladies" exposes the performative potential of the auto-erotically inflected diaries of Samuel Pepys. Roach opens a space for questioning the limitations of genre and asks to what extent diary writing is a performance of the self in everyday life. By doing so, the article problematizes the way texts structure our viewing and engage the stage in constant self-reflexive self-criticism.

Finally, at the risk of collapsing disciplinary borders, I trust that this cluster of articles will help foster a lively and fruitful debate on the often contested interfaces between theatre, performance, and performativity studies.


Donia Mounsef is Assistant Professor of French and Theatre Studies at Yale University. She has completed a manuscript on the body in the theatre of Bernard-Marie Koltès entitled Le Corps en délit, le théâtre de Bernard-Marie Koltès.



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