- Performance Philosophy:Arrived Just in Time?
Just over a year ago, I (Wade) was putting the finishing touches on my tenure dossier. Like any other scholar, I had a number of concerns as I assembled the documents and carefully contextualized each entry. There was the occasional negative student comment, a question as to whether or not my dramaturgical work would translate as “scholarship” to the STEM folks who would look at it up the line, and so on. But my greatest anxiety was about how to identify my scholarly trajectory, how to position myself as a certain type of scholar.
While many of my colleagues had CVs that centered in or on a particular figure, period, geographical area, movement, or critical methodology, my scholarship seemed a bit all over the place. Consider, for example, the subjects of two of my works: Bob Dylan’s infamous 1965 “gone electric” performance, and the dramatic texts of Minna Canth, a late-nineteenth-century Finnish playwright. These studies have little in common other than the fact that while writing about each, I was also exploring the implications of postmodern historiography. But even if “postmodern historiography” would have been enough to bundle some of my works into a unified scholarly trajectory, there was not room in that bundle for other examples of my work, such as my theorizing the current state of dramaturgy in North American theatre environments or my argument for the necessity of performativity to the efficacy of the formation of human rights. I was in a bit of a conundrum.
To some extent, the eclecticism of all this work does not really matter, but in a system resigned to producing knowledge according to disciplinary lines that stretch from the marketplace all the way down to the undergraduate classroom (if not farther), it is increasingly necessary for faculty members to locate themselves within that matrix of knowledge production. Make no mistake, even though some of the humanities may not have reps seated around boardroom tables, they have become just as financialized. I knew that I would need to singularize my work around one of the defensible lines of knowledge: that had been made overtly clear to me in the years leading up to the tenure review. To my good fortune, a new organization was emerging that seemed to offer a defense: performance philosophy.
As we delineate below, performance philosophy is still coming into its own as a discipline, trying to determine what it is and what it can do. By 2013, there was enough initial momentum that I was able to find my place relative to the nascent discipline and also to evidence to my committees that it had legitimacy as a unique and compelling intersection of the arts and humanities. As I prepared my personal narrative for those committees, I was able to position every one of my scholarly works as leading me deeper into the questions and issues circulating among the growing number of thinkers/doers that comprise the Performance Philosophy research network. It was as a “performance philosophy scholar” that I was able to weather successfully the tenure process.
Wade’s story as well as his research profile are prime examples of the forces that led to the creation of performance philosophy as an academic field in its own right. Building on the work undertaken by Laura Cull during her tenure as chair of the Performance and Philosophy Working Group within Performance Studies International, a group of people (including Will), at Cull’s request, gathered in a pub in Leeds to assert answers to these questions: Following the explosion of critical theory in the disciplines of theatre and performance during the 1980s and ’90s, are we now faced [End Page 51] with a new paradigm, one that no longer applies philosophical ideas, but seeks to think through the bodily movements of actors and dancers, the sounds of musicians (from Beethoven to Cage), and the gestures of cinema and the visual arts? Likewise, has the intersection between performance and theatre studies on the one hand and (mostly Continental) philosophy on the other revealed the possibility that philosophers perform—that they also harness theatrical techniques...