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I would like to point out that this is an unfinished essay, and was written in a moment of insipiration. I would like to open these ideas up for discussion for further input from those interested. I am in the process of reading Heidegger's Being and Time, which will feed into main argument in the coming months. I would like to start a discussion on temporality aspect of performance ontology, something that is of great importance, in its own existence:

Discussing the past in performance terms, comes rather naturally, as performance happens in the past. This is an overtly ludicrous statement to make in the light of performances taking place right now, however, one could argue that the past is created before the Present is present. It is common practice to hear Phelan’s argument from scholars, practitioners and those active in discussions of philosophy and performance, for the quotation that has almost become a cliché in this recent rhetoric: “Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participated in citation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance” (1993: p.146). This is indeed true; to reproduce the performance is to undertake another performance or as Phelan states ‘to document it’.

Fundamental to performance axiom is the question: What is Performance? To this inquiry, we may approach the theatrical view, the contextualised event or action. These ‘actions’ as the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, stated are the purpose of plot or narrative (Ferguson 1961).

Indeed, I have possibly miss quoted Phelan in her argument, being that the sentence previous to the one above reads, “Performance’s life is only in the present” (1993: p146). This is a falsification of the premised performance happens here and now, without it happening there and then. The broad scope that performance ontology, without parameters, renders action to already have been undertaken before its recognition of its own being has occurred. This I will begin to discuss later in more depth but I would like to follow Phelan’s argument for a while to consider the statement presented above.

We see performance, and as it is happening, actions being portrayed in ‘real time’, time that allows us to influence said actions, prompting the phrase: ‘Every performance is different’. The traditional means of defining performance, that is the theatrical presentation, is to follow the premise that in real time there is a sharing of the same moments in time, the same seconds and the actions that take place within them. Benjamin (1935) has discussed this as aura, or the specific position of this event in time and space. Many purists of this argument reject any form of technical reproduction in the work of art, claiming, as Benjamin (1973) did, “technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach, for the original itself” (p.214).*

*[It has been recently reported in the Guardian newspaper (26.01.2009) companies are encouraged to produce DVDs of successful performances. Why? The RSC has announced that its recent production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant is to be released, removing it from its original staging in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2008. The production will unnaturally retain its facticity, in it’s past. Tennant will forever remain Hamlet, while Patrick Stewart (Tennant’s co-star) will truly embody the ideas of Captain Pickard, as being resurrected from one situation (in the past) to another, on DVD in the future presentations.] (FOOTNOTE)

I follow the argument presented by Benjamin and Phelan that time and space of a performance is significant to its integrity, and technical reproduction of this, is murderous to its own concept of it. The ‘post production‘ of performance creates a scenario whereby one digitalises oneself to preserve one’s histories. Would I recognise myself, without the idiosyncratic anomalies? The hybrid structure of experiences of any future presentations of digitalised performances will be lost at the time of filming. This of course is nothing new, as Aristotle has documented, action (and thus performance) is an imitation of object presented by man.

Phelan progresses in her 1993 essay, to discuss the disappearance of the body, through representation* in performance. This I also agree to, however, it is not the body’s desire to be rooted in the significance of the performance. The presence that Benjamin discusses can be resulted from “the aura which, on stage… cannot be separated for the spectators from the that of the actor” (p.233) The representation of bodies onstage refers to the accomplishment of the existence of the Present; therefore, arguably past. The body is driving forward for receipt of the Present: what is happening next? How will I react to future situations? It is the aura or presence that these two scholars discuss to be the juxtaposition of the Past and the Future. It is the nothingness that escapes that Present which renders performance existent.

  • It is rather an assumption to continue without making reference to this statement. Phelan discussed this in relation to technological intervention ‘in a live setting’. A live feed that is of the performer in the same space would present disrespect for the performer’s body. In this instance the body has disappeared to the command of the film. (FOOTNOTE)

German philosopher, Max Scheler (1916) has provided a good perspective in his writings: “an act is never also an object for it is essentially to the Being of act that they are Experienced only in their performance itself and given in reflection” (as cited in Heidegger 1962: p.73)(my emphasis). This not only dispels that performance can be an ‘experienced’ act to be contextualised for theatrical presentation but a reflection upon what has happened and the semiotic; a constant referral to the past. As the Dasein lies within the possibilities of actions, performance, either granted or denied, is a reflection upon these possibilities. (More discussion to come following these lines….)

As I said this was a moment of thought I've had recently and wish to submit it.

Past Performance by Adam BeeAdam Bee, 19 Apr 2009 22:04

This creative reading of the dictionary is certainly the perspective I was coming from, responding to Bataille. However, I think there's also a really interesting overlap here with etymology - which Goat Island use so effectively in their research - where one uncovers old/new meanings, abandoned language practices (as Alan Read might say) that can be brought back to life. For instance, Goat Island explored all the usages of the word 'last' in their last work, The Lastmaker - reactivating 'a last' meaning the wooden model of a customers foot made by a shoemaker. Suddenly Pinocchio seems to have something to do with time, beginnings and endings….

Dear all,

Thanks for the messages of support and feedback in relation to the Documents proposal.

I think there is sufficient interest in the project to merit pursuing it further and working
towards a first issue.

This will be edited by 3 volunteer editors: myself, Kelina Gotman (Kings College, London)
and Jon Sherman (Northwestern).

If you would like to contribute - either in the form of a document or a critical dictionary
entry or both - please publish an expression of commitment on the working group forum
asap and provide us with your contribution, by email, by June 1 2009.

There are already 2 such expressions there: by Kathryn Syssoyeva (Stanford) and Jon
Sherman. See

If you have not yet joined the wiki (which you must do before you can post on the
forum), you can apply using the password: PPWGjoin

Our aim is to publish the 1st issue on by September 1 2009.

If you would like to be on an editorial team for the next issue, please email me at||lluc.arual



Now THIS is a document by Jon ShermanJon Sherman, 02 Apr 2009 22:24

I am very excited by this idea. What strikes me about this project is the potential for what might be called an "anti-archive," or perhaps a "phenomenological archive." Through a recognition of accepted archival practice, we have the opportunity to work "against" it, to construct a project whose aim is not the centralization and accreditation of knowledge, but its dispersal and destabilization. Whereas "the" archive now is positioned to establish authority and knowledge and to save time and effort, we might use Documents to make an archive that does the contrary: an archive that pushes people back out into the world they've left in order to encounter the archive. An archive that does not save time, but generates it, that does not reduce effort but increases it. I understand this working most effectively with the dictionary entries, where we have the chance to produce productively false definitions, to wrong-foot readers in ways that lead to some place as fruitful as the supposed official definition. In other words, I understand this as a creative project, a resource providing questions instead of answers.

If, however, the consensus hope is for something less nettlesome, I have nothing against traditional dictionaries and would still be happy to participate!

- Jon

Hi all,

It's looks to me like there's enough interest and support within the working group to launch the Documents project - which is great.

I was wondering about publishing a 1st issue for the start of the next academic year 2009-10, and perhaps therefore setting a deadline for contributions for 1st September 2009. Before that though, it might also be good to have a more formal call for contributions and then a deadline for proposals / expressions of commitment - on maybe the 1st June. Proposals/Commitments could be submitted to the forum so they're available to all.


1st issue of Documents by Laura CullLaura Cull, 22 Mar 2009 16:59

Thanks so much for this proposal Kathryn - and for your support of the Documents project in general. I think this would absolutely work in the proposed format, perhaps also with some kind of response from someone who is not directly involved in the shift, to give some kind of 'outside eye'. I'm still working on how to approach the first issue - whether we need a more specific theme to link the documents, when to set a deadline etc. But I'll keep everyone up to date on how this goes, once a few more responses have come in.

Thanks again - Laura

Just to say, thank you for organising a great event. I thought it went exceedingly well

Very interested in actively supporting this. Have contributions which I would be interestd in making to the "dictionary" entries, as some of my current work investigates foundational theatre terminology generated by Meyerhold in first years of the twentieth century, seeking to reinstate the philosophical overtones/context of that language.

Also, there is an event which I would like to document, in which I am myself involved; a shift at PSi 15. Although it is perhaps premature, by way of thinking toward that possible first issue, below are a rough description of that shift, and my thoughts on its potential interest to the working group.

The Shift, co -curated by Michael Hunter (Stanford) and myself, is to be "a staged assemblage of interpretative acts — performance, criticism, dramaturgy, and direction — prepared separately, and performed live, in parallel, in an improvised response to/collision with one another and with a PSi audience." Excerpt from original proposal:

"Taking as a starting point the opening of Genet's The Maids, on which a number of us have previously worked together, we would like to explore, in a public forum, some of the ways in which our past collaboration has shaped our current work, both theoretical and practical. We will perform this scene a number of times, simultaneously with fragments of our own "texts" — where "text" might mean a piece of theoretical or critical writing, a directorial concept, a set of dramaturgical questions, or another scene from a performer's repertoire. The participants will push the scene in different directions, based on the discursive connections which emerge over the course of the shift. Crucially, we will also invite the audience to re-shape the scene, either directly or through the live dramaturg, Kyle Gillette. Rather than "reading" the scene through any one discursive construction and directing it to fit that, we aim to put all of the elements (text, scene, gesture; dramaturgical inquiry, performer's/director's concept; audience response; academic paper) in a non-hierarchical relation to each other which mirrors and extends the nature of our own productive collaborations as a group of friends and colleagues.

We have chosen The Maids because of its status within the European avant-garde tradition, as an ur-text of the performative nature of human interaction; because of its status in our own collaborative history, as a text to which we have repeatedly returned as a site of critical and artistic investigation; and because of its implicit "rehearsal" structure, of stops, starts, failures, repetitions."

This piece of of potential interest to our group, I think,
1 because of its attempt to enfold thinking/making (and, potentially, documenting) into a single event
2 because of its insistence on framing artistic theory in a non-hierarchichal relationship to artistic practice
3 because of its staging of theory as performative ritual (via the lens of The Maids)
4 because of some of the intersections between performance and philosophy being explored by the participants. By way of example, I quote a passage from our project description, by one of the performer-presentes, Rachel Joseph:

"Rachel Joseph: Performer, Presenter

Rehearsals for our production of The Maids often circled back to questions of rehearsal, theatricality, and quotation, particularly quotation of cinema. My own scholarship since the time of the production has focused on the relationship between theatre and cinema and my construction of Solange mirrored this developing theoretical interest. My construction of Solange primarily became an internal map of cinematic reference. However, for example, my take on Gloria Swanson's performance in Sunset Blvd. was not intended to mimic her performance correctly, reproducing it so that people would recognize the quotation of Gloria Swanson. Instead, each of the filmic images used became a kind of scaffolding for the theatricality of quotation itself to play out.

Misreading the quotation is the act that gives Solange identity, allowing for what Slavoj Zizek terms "the Real within the fantasy" to emerge. Without misreading, Solange would only be reproduction of fantasy. Zizek's recent performance in Sophie Fiennes' A Pervert's Guide to Cinema stands out as a potent example of the relationship between quotation and misreading, particularly in relationship to our work in The Maids, and larger questions of the relationship between performance and theory. Zizek's performance of the cinematic quotations he discusses has a disembodied quality somewhere between theatre, theory, and cinema. At the same time, Zizek's embedding of himself within the film fixes him within the frame as performer. The quotation becomes Zizek's stage. In this way, quotation is always both a misreading and inherently theatrical."


Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva, PhD

Panel 3: Philosophies of misperforming bodies brings together a presentation by a philosopher (Mullarkey), a presentation of practice (Kirkkopelto) and a performative paper somewhere between academia and practice (Watt) in order to address the theme of misperforming bodies. Mullarkey addresses not only the fear of failure felt in the philosopher’s performing body, but also the fear of success in relation to the paradoxical performance of academic lecturing, which both solicits and is threatened to be undone by consensus. Watt, in turn, employs the writing of Blanchot and Nancy to ask “if all performance, all bodies, ultimately fail against the overreaching aspirations of our imaginations”. Finally, Kirkkopelto introduces the relation to philosophical questions concerning the essence of humanity of the work of the Finnish group, “Other Spaces” and its concept of “mis-educating” the performing body such that it can “enter into contact with alternate modes of experience, with non-human forms and modes of being, beyond or at the limits of anthropomorphism”.

Panel 2: Generating rupture/Creating dissensus: The Studio-theatre, Hijikata and protest performance maintains this interest in failure in a political context. Setting up an exchange between 2 emerging scholars (Syssoyeva, Broinowski) and an established academic (Abrams) the connecting figure of the three papers is an affirmation of rupture or breakdown as creating the conditions for change in the spheres of art and politics. While Syssoyeva looks back to the “failed” Studio-theatre established by Stanislavski and Meyerhold via the philosophy of Alain Badiou, and Broinowski to the misperformance that is Hijikata’s Rebellion of the Flesh via Foucault and Deleuze, Abrams draws from Habermas and Ranciere to address the space of dissensus created by contemporary protest performance.

Panel 1: New perspectives on the “failed revolt” of May 68 registers a growing concern among members with the so-called “failure” of May 68 and a desire to re-read both the philosophy and performance from this period in a new spirit of optimism and with an eye to their potential relevance to contemporary conditions.

First, Lavery argues against the misreading of May 68 as an “exercise in failed idealism” by turning to the rethinking of political aesthetics by Jacques Ranciere. Then, Cull looks at the “failed” responses to two archetypal examples of 68 work: Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and The Living Theatre’s Paradise Now in order to examine the problems of practicing an ethics of desiring- production. Third, in a turn towards the contemporary relation to 68 Rokem questions what we might do today with a number of important texts published in 68 including Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and Marcuse’s An essay on Liberation. And finally, Kear takes up the work of Alain Badiou to propose a fidelity to May 68’s logic of revolt in the contemporary theatre of Needcompany.

Dear all,

I need to book a room for this event fairly soon - which will be held in the National Library in Aberystwyth. But before I can do this, I need to hear more, from those who want to attend, about what kind of event you want to have - as this will affect the type of space I book.

Do we want to have screenings and performance as well as papers?
Do we want to have a plenary lecture?
How many of you might be able to attend?

As those of you who were at the Copenhagen conference know, plans for the next PSi conference in Zagreb are already moving very fast. Proposals for panel sessions need to be in by 1st November.

I've spoken to Marin Blazevic, who suggested that our working group propose to curate two panels, which would involve 3-4 speakers per panel, or a roundtable.

If you have ideas for how we might explore the relation between performance and philosophy in relation to the conference themes of misreading, misperformance, misfiring etc. Please do use the forum as a space to present them and discuss them with other PPWG members.

There will be a more formal call for PPWG panel proposals in due course.

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