Course Reader: Reading #1

What is Performance?

Excerpts from:

Johan Huizinga, Peggy Phelan, Erving Goffman,

Marvin Carlson, and Judith Butler

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #1

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #1


Edited by Henry Bia}

I~ ~~o~!!~n~~~up LONDON AND NEW YORK

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #2

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #2

First published 2004 by Routledge

29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001

Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge

11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE

Routledoc is an imprint rd’the Taxlor &..Frands Group

© 2004 selection and editorial matter: Henry Bial; individual chapters: the contributors

Typeset in Perpetu. by Reline Catch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk Printed and bound in Great Britain by

TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall

All rights rc”served, No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now kuown or hereafter invented, including

photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers,

Library ~rCongress Cataloging in Publication Data The performance studies reader / [compiled by] Henry BiaL

1. Theater – Anthropological aspects, 2, Performing arts, L Bial, Henry, 1970-­ PN2041.AS7P49 2003 791-dc21 2003005708

British Library Cata[o8uina in Publication Datil A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0–415-30240–4 (hbk) ISBN 0–415-30241-2 (pbk)

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #3

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #3

of existence is : play. Finally,

tal art in “Just

…~’……… .. .'”. “……•……………….•………..•~…..

~-“‘—‘ .- – , .

•• v •• :~~~~~;s~,.



Jahan Huizinga

~ is oldeLt!! cultnre, for cultnre, however inadequately defined, always pre~poses human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing\We can safely assert, even, that human civilization has added no essential feature to the general

idea of play)Animals lay just like men. We have only to watch young dogs to see that all the essenti~ of human p ay are present in their merry gambols. They invite one another to play by a certain ceremoniousness of attitude and gesture. They keep to the rule that you shall not bite, or not bite hard, your brother’s ear. They pretend to get terribly angry. And

what is most important – in all these dOings they plainly experience tremendous fun

and enjoyment. Such rompings of young dogs are only one of the Simpler forms of animal play. There are other, much more highly developed forms: regular contests and beautiful performances before an admiring public.

Here we have at once a very important point: even in its simplest forms on the animal level, play is more than a mere physiological phenomenon or a psychological reflex. It

goes beyond the confines of purely physical or purely biological activitQ is a siBnificant function that is to say, there is some sense to it. In play there is something “at play” which

transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means somethinillf we call the active principle that makes up the essence of play “instinct”, we explain nothing; if we call it “mind” or “will” we say too much. However we may regard it, the very fact that play has a meaning implies a non-materialistic quality in the nature of the

thing itself. Psychology and physiology deal with the observation, description, and explanation of the

play of animals, children, and grown-ups. They try to determine the natnre and significance of play and to assign it its place in the scheme of life. The high importance of this place and

the necessity, or at least the utility, of playas a function aretnerallY taken for granted and form the starting-point of all such scientific researches. he numerous attempts to define the biological function of play show a striking variati . By some the origin and

fundamentals of play have been described as a discharge of superabundant vital energy, by others as the satisfaction of some “imitative instinct”, or again as simply a “need” for relaxation. According to one theory play constitutes a training of the young creature for the


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #4

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #4


serious work that life will demand later on. According to another it serves as an exercise

in restraint needful to the individuf~me find the principle of play in an innate urge to e!ercise a ~.tain faculty, or in the desire to dominate or compete. Yet others regard it as an “abreaction” an outlet for harmful im ulses, as the necessa restorer of ener wasted

b~n~e~s!~,~?!l~vt~.!c~~ ment”, as a fictio~esigned to ~the feeling of ersonal value, etc.

A t ese ypotheses have one thing in common: they all start from the assumption that -jX p y must serve something which is not play, that it must have some kind of biological

purpose. They all enquire into the why and the wherefore of play\ The various answers they give tend rather to overlap than to exclude one another. It w~d be perfectly possible to accept nearly all the explanations without getting into any real confusion of thought – and without coming much nearer to a real understanding of the play-concept. They are all only partial solutions of the problem. If any of them were really decisive it ought either to exclude all the others or comprehend them in a higher unity. Most of them only deal incidentally with the question of what play is in itself and what it means for the player. They attack play direct with the quantitative methods of experimental science without first paying attention to its profoundly aesthetic quality. As a rule they leave the primary quality of play as such virtually untouched. To each and everyone of the above “explanations” it might well be objected: “So far so good, but what actually is thejim of playing? Why does the baby crow with pleasure? Why does the gambler lose himself in his passion? Why is a huge crowd roused to frenzy by a football match?” This intensity of, and absorption in, play finds no explanation in biological analysis. ~t in this intensity, this absorption, this power of maddening, lies the very essence, the primordial quality of plaY\Nature, so our reasoning

/ mind tells us, could just as easily have given her children air’those useful functions of

~ I discharging superabundant energy, of relaxing after exertion, of training for the demands < “of life, of compensating for unfulfilled longings, etc., in the form of purely mechanical

\ exercises and reactions. But no, she gave us play, with its tension, its mirth, and its fun. ~ ~–~.~~–~~~–~~-,,~~~–~~~~~Now this last-named element, the un 0 paying, resists all analYSiS, all ogic interpret­ ation. As a concept, it cannot be reduced to any other mental category. No other modern language known to me has the exact equivalent of the English “fun.” The Dutch “aardigkeit” perhaps comes nearest to it (derived from “aard” which means the same as “Art” and “Wesen,,2 in German, and thus evidence, perhaps, that the matter cannot be reduced

further). We may note in passing that “fun” in its current usage is of rather recent origin. French, oddly enough, has no corresponding term at all; German half makes up for it by “Spass” and “Witz” together.fu.evertheless it is precisely this fun-element that characterizes the essence of play. Here we have to do with an absolutely primary category of life, familiar to everybody at a glance right down to the animal level. We may call play a “totality” in the modern ~nse of the word, and it is as a totality that we must try to understand and evaluate itJ

Since the realitX..£!-Elay ext~.ds b~L?,nd.~::.~J>her.e ofhuman life it c<l1ll10t have its fou~atfonsrna;ry rational nexus, because this would finiit’it to mari.ldiidiThei~dence of play is not associated with any particular ~~ci~liz~;~-~ihe universe. Any thinking person can see at a glance that play is a thing on its own, even if his language


possesses like, neal seriousne

But in ~

matter. E point ‘or’

be altoge an influx of play CI so they n must be J (In tad

liie of th,

we find F pervadin; living in,

~ succeede events it which illi that is ou general, We shall

that play (i.e. its ,

significar itself and

~ start. Tal o”raer to establish,

~he dom

ksparkin! faculty. metapho

p~ Or tal

here the

myth, pr Divine. 1 between rites, its

being of

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #5

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #5

exercise ~ urge to gard it as

~ wasted feeling of

)tion that

biological wers they ossible to ght and

‘e all only either to only deal Iyer. They

rst paying ity of play ” it might s the baby .lge crowd play finds power of

reasoning nctions of ~ demands nechanical ;s fun.

interpret­ ~r modern aardigkeit” “Art” and e reduced

~nt origin. p for it by aracterizes ry of life, :all playa ,ust try to

)t have its

~idence of verse. Any s language


possesses no general concept to express it. Play cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstracti,s: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not plav ~in aCknowledgtqg plax lOU acknowledge mind, for whatever else plaLi~, it is not

matter. Even in th,$ animal world it bursts thJ;Lbounds of the phYSically existent. From the point ‘or’view of a world wholly determined by the operation of blin~s, play would be altogether superfluous. Play only becomes possible, thinkable, and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos. The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation.0″nimals play, so they must be more than merely mechanical things. We play and know that we play, so we must be more than merely rational beings, for play is irrationa;) {In tackling the problem of playas a function of culture proper and not as it appears in the

lite of the animal or the child, we begin where biology and psychology leave off. In culture we find playas a given magnitude existing before culture itself existed, accompanying it and pervading it from the earliest beginnings right up to the phase of civilization we are now

living in. ~ eresent everywhere as a well-defined ~ of ~on which ~ different from “nn;linary” life. We can disregard the question of how far science has succeeded in reducing this quahty to quantitative factors. In our opinion it has not. At all events it is precisely this quality, itself so characteristic of the form of life we call “play,” which matters. Playas a special form of activity, as a “significant form,” as a social function ­ that is our subject. We shall not look for the natural impulses and habits conditioning play in general, but shall consider play in its manifold concrete forms as itself a social construction.

We shall try to take playas the player himself takes it: in its primary Significance. If we find that play is based on the manipulation of certain images, on a certain “imagination” of reality (Le. its conversion into images), then our main concern will be to grasp the value and Significance of these images and their “imagination.” We shall. observe their action in play itself and thus try to understand playas a cultural factor in life0 ~reat arc~ypal activiti~ of hum~ society are all pet-meated. with …r!:r..!tom the ..

s;art. Take language, for instance that first and ~ureme instrument which man shapes in oraer to communicate, to teach, to command. Language allows him to distinguish, to establish, to state things; in short, to name them d by naming them to raise them into the domain of the spirit. In the making of speech and language the spirit is continually “sparking” between matter and mind, as it were, playing with this wondrous nominative faculty. Behind every abstract expression there lies the boldest of metaphors, and every

metaphor is a play upon words. Thus in giving ex ression..!’~ man creates poetic world alo~side the world of nature.

Or take myth. This, too, is a transformation or an “imagination” of the outer woad, only here the process is more elaborate and ornate than is the case with individual words(in myth, primitive man seeks to account for the world of phenomena by grounding it in \he Divine. In all the wild imaginings of mythology a fanciful spirit is pla)ing on the borderline between jest and earnest. Or finally, let us take ritual. Primitive society performs its sacred rites, its sacrifices, consecrations, and mysteries, all of which serve to guarantee the well­ being of the world, in a spirit of pure play truly understo09


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #6

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #6


Gow in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft: and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play. / The object of the present essa is to demonstrate that it is more than a rhetorical

~ <;.omparison to view ture sub waie ludi ..The thought is not at all new. There was a time ‘;hen it was generally accepted, though in a limited sense quite ~erent from the one intended here: in the seventeenth century, the age of world theatreeama, in a glittering succession of figures ranging from Shakespeare and Calderon to Racme, then dominated the literature of the West. It was the fashion to liken the world to a stage on which every

man plays his part. Does this mean that the play-element in civilization was openly acknowledged? Not at all. On closer examination this fashionable comparison of life to a

stage proves to be little more than an echo of the Neo-platonism that was then in vogue, with a markedly moralistic accent. It was a variation on the ancient theme of the vanity of

all things. The fact that play and culture are actually interwoven with one another was

neither observed nor expressed, whereas fO~the whole point is to show that genuine, pure play is one of the main bases of civilization.


For these theories, see H. Zondervan, Het Spel bij Dieren, Kindem, en Volwassen Menschen (Amsterdam, 1928), and EJ.J. Buytendijk, Het Spel van J1ensch en Diet als openbaring van levensdr!ften (Amsterdam, 1932).

2 Nature, kind, being, essence, etc. Trans.


Schechner, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett the inclusion of play in performance studies

Bateson the importance of play in communication and thought

Sutton-Smith playas a concept in philosophy, science, and other disciplines



This researd task of the m amplify and I

The hypot Earlier fur

as well as n:

psychiatric tI: (1) That 1

contrasting I, denotative Ie includes thos

We will call member of ~ scratch”). Th

telling you ‘” discourse is t

It will be

messages ren: a further clas

and hostility. (2) If we

important st; quite “autom,

a signal: that which can be

CJearly ili human specie these stimuli

Signals conco nonhuman m inasmuch as

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #7

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #7

Unmarked The Politics of Performance

Peggy Phelan

0<>111’L.l:.oO 0:’ tIi . .

-;4.,. .. ~~

London and New York

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #8

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #8

First published 1993 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OXI4 4RN

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York NY 10016

Reprinted 1996, 1998, 2001

Transferred to Digital Printing 2006

Routledge is an imprint Ifthe Taylor & Francis Group C> 1996 Peggy Phelan

Typeset in 10 on 12 point Palatino by Florencetype Ltd, Stoodleigh, Devon

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system. without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Oltaloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library ofCongress Oltaloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress

ISBN ~15-06821-5 (hbk) ISBN ~15-06822-3 (pbk)

PubUsher’s Note The publisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the quality ofthis reprint but points out that some imperfections in the original may be apparent

Printed and bound by CPI Antony Rowe, Eastboume


and for the ones who have shatt

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #9

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #9

The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction

Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes some­ thing other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. Performance’s being, like the ontology of subjec­ tivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance.

The pressures brought to bear on performance to succumb to the laws of the reproductive economy are enormous. For only rarely in this culture is the “now” to which performance addresses its deepest ques­ tions valued. (This is why the now is supplemented and buttressed by the documenting camera, the video archive.) Performance occurs over a time which will not be repeated. It can be performed again, but this repetition itself marks it as “different.” The document of a performance then is only a spur to memory, an encouragement of memory to become present.

The other arts, especially painting and photography, are drawn increasingly toward performance. The French-born artist Sophie Calle, for example, has photographed the galleries of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Several valuable paintings were stolen from the museum in 1990. Calle interviewed various visitors and mem­ bers of the museum staff, asking them to describe the stolen paintings. She then transcribed these texts and placed them next to the photo­ graphs of the galleries. Her work suggests that the descriptions and memories of the paintings constitute their continuing “presence,” de­ spite the absence of the paintings themselves. Calle gestures toward a notion of the interactive exchange between the art object and the viewer. While such exchanges are often recorded as the stated goals of museums and galleries, the institutional effect of the gallery often seems to put the masterpiece under house arrest, controlling all conflicting and unprofes­ sional commentary about it. The speech act of memory and description (Austin’s constative utterance) becomes a performative expression

when Calle place; museum. The de; and displace) the .~ considerably – eH the interaction be performative – aJ! accuracy endemic torian of painting Calle asks where : the subject’s own! work suggests tha mental energy of I not reproduce the effort to remembe acquires meaning object, but for the is fundamental to ance of the subject

For her contril> Modern Art in l’\el she asked curators on loan from the small pictures of th texts and pictures paintings and pia usually hang. Call Calle’s work spreai following and trae museum. 1 Moreo”\, dispersed through circulates despite it of self-concealmen1 works of art unde attempt to offer w subverts the goal ( does not have and own work. By placi the ghosts of mem tion” of “great WOl over and over abou a slightly different formative quality 0

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #10

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #10

mance: reproduction

mance cannot be saved, ‘te in the circulation of s so, it becomes some­ It performance attempts and lessens the promise the ontology of subjec­ ;appearance. ! to succumb to the laws For only rarely in this lresses its deepest ques­ mted and buttressed by rformance occurs over a rformed again, but this ument of a performance nt of memory to become

lOtography, are drawn JOn1 artist Sophie Calle, of the Isabella Stewart ! paintings were stolen Iious visitors and mem­ IN! the stolen paintings. IIem next to the photo­ at the descriptions and IiDuing “presence,” de­ CaDe gestures toward a d object and the viewer. rIaIed goals of museums yoften seems to put the IIIIIfIicting and unprofes­ EmOry and description If!Iformative expression

The ontology of pertormance 147

when Calle places these commentaries within the representation of the museum. The descriptions fill in, and thus supplement (add to, defer, and displace) the stolen paintings. The fact that these descriptions vary considerably – even at times wildly – only lends credence to the fact that the interaction between the art object and the spectator is, essentially, performative – and therefore resistant to the claims of validity and accuracy endemic to the discourse of reproduction. While the art his­ torian of painting must ask if the reproduction is accurate and clear, Calle asks where seeing and memory forget the object itself and enter the subject’s own set of personal meanings and associations. Further her work suggests that the forgetting (or stealing) of the object is a funda­ mental energy of its descriptive recovering. The description itself does not reproduce the object, it rather helps us to restage and restate the effort to remember what is lost. The descriptions remind us how. loss acquires meaning and generates recovery – not only of and for the object, but for the one who remembers. The disappearance of the object is fundamental to performance; it rehearses and repeats the disappear­ ance of the subject who longs always to be remembered.

For her contribution to the Dislocations show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1991, Calle used the same idea but this time she asked curators, guards, and restorers to describe paintings that were on loan from the permanent collection. She also asked them to draw small pictures of their memories of the paintings. She then arranged the texts and pictures according to the exact dimensions of the circulating paintings and placed them on the wall where the actual paintings usually hang. Calle calls her piece Ghosts, and as the visitor discovers Calle’s work spread throughout the museum, it is as if Calle’s own eye is following and tracking the viewer as she makes her way through the museum. l Moreover, Calle’s work seems to disappear because it is dispersed throughout the “permanent collection” – a collection which circulates despite its “permanence.” Calle’s artistic contribution is a kind of self-concealment in which she offers the words of others about other works of art under her own artistic signature. By making visible her attempt to offer what she does not have, what cannot be seen, Calle subverts the goal of museum display. She exposes what the museum does not have and cannot offer and uses that absence to generate her own work. By placing memories in the place of paintings, Calle asks that the ghosts of memory be seen as equivalent to “the permanent collec­ tion” of “great works.” One senses that if she asked the same people over and over about the same paintings, each time they would describe a slightly different painting. In this sense, Calle demonstrates the per­ formative quality of all seeing.

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #11

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #11


148 Unmarked

Performance in a strict ontological sense is nonreproductive. It is this quality which makes performance the runt of the litter of contemporary art. Performance clogs the smooth machinery of reproductive represen­ tation necessary to the circulation of capital. Perhaps nowhere was the affinity between the ideology of capitalism and art made more manifest than in the debates about the funding policies for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).2 Targeting both photography and performance art, conservative politicians sought to prevent endorsing the “real” bodies implicated and made visible by these art forms.

Performance implicates the real through the presence of living bodies. In performance art spectatorship there is an element of consumption: there are no left-overs, the gazing spectator must try to take everything in. Without a copy, live performance plunges into visibility in a maniacally charged present – and disappears into memory, into the realm of invisibility and the unconscious where it eludes regulation and control. Performance resists the balanced circulations of finance. It saves nothing; it only spends. While photography is vulnerable to charges ofcounterfeit­ ing and copying, performance art is vulnerable to charges of valueless­ ness and emptiness. Performance indicates the possibility of revaluing that emptiness; this potential revaluation gives performance art its dis­ tinctive oppositional edge.3

To attempt to write about the undocumentable event of performance is to invoke the rules of the written document and thereby alter the event itself. Just as quantum physics discovered that macro-instruments cannot measure microscopic particles without transforming those par­ ticles, so too must performance critics realize that the labor to write about performance (and thus to “preserve” it) is also a labor that fundamentally alters the event. It does no good, however, to simply refuse to write about performance because of this inescapable transform­ ation. The challenge raised by the ontological claims of performance for writing is to re-mark again the performative possibilities of writing itself. The act of writing toward disappearance, rather than the act of writing toward preservation, must remember that the after-effect of disappear­ ance is the experience of subjectivity itself.

This is the project of Roland Barthes in both Camera Lucida and Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. It is also his project in Empire of Signs, but in this book he takes the memory of a city in which he no longer is, a city from which he disappears, as the motivation for the search for a disap­ pearing performative writing. The trace left by that script is the meeting­ point of a mutual disappearance; shared subjectivity is possible for Barthes because two people can recognize the same Impossible. To live for a love whose goal is to share the Impossible is both a humbling

project and an exl1!I!’II only in that whic:h ill involve a full seeinga which also entails III humbling part). For t ence is to acknowlellt!

In the field of IiDp ontology of perf,,*­ “Being an individual. be repeated. Eaduep is qualified. Othenri! by someone else J1E’I[I!

Writing, an activilJ three letters cat wiD n whiskers) for the PI performance but aBI mimicry of speech • words in each otheI’s substitutional ecoIlOI established. PerfOiuaa circulatory economy’ a limited number ofl experienceofvalue~ it necessarily cancels I mative promise. Pe.di technologically, ecom But buffeted by theen frequently devalues : unwittingly, enCOUl1illl documentlary. PerfoIJ repeated words to I Benveniste warned.. Cl

The distinction beI1 proposed by J. L. A argued that speech hi the world) and a pel make something.. e..~ speech acts refer ani] signifies. For Derrida, utterance of the prom tive is important to independence froIn II performative enacts II

Tania Modleski

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #12

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #12

nonreproductive. It is this : the litter of contemporary , of reproductive represen­ Perhaps nowhere was the ld art made more manifest :x>lides for the National g both photography and tght to prevent endorsing : by these art forms. ~ presence of living bodies. element of consumption: lUst try to take everything ges into viSibility – in a lto memory, into the realm ::Ies regulation and control. f finance. It saves nothing; .e to charges of counterfeit­ le to charges of valueless­ \e possibility of revaluing ~s performance art its dis­

lble event of performance mt and thereby alter the d that macro-instruments t transforming those par­ e that the labor to write

it) is also a labor that ood, however, to simply tis inescapable transform­ :laims of performance for ssibilities of writing itself. er than the act of writing after-effect of disappear-

Camera Lucida and Roland in Empire of Signs, but in .ch he no longer is, a city or the search for a disap­ that script is the meeting­ bjectivity is possible for same Impossible. To live ~ible is both a humbling

The ontology of performance 149

project and an exceedingly ambitious one, for it seeks to find connection only in that which is no longer there. Memory. Sight. Love. It must involve a full seeing of the Other’s absence (the ambitious part), a seeing which also entails the acknowledgment of the Other’s presence (the humbling part). For to acknowledge the Other’s (always partial) pres­ ence is to acknowledge one’s own (always partial) absence.

In the field of linguistics, the performative speech act shares with the ontology of performance the inability to be reproduced or repeated. “Being an individual and historical act, a performative utterance cannot be repeated. Each reproduction is a new act performed by someone who is qualified. Otherwise, the reproduction of the performative utterance by someone else necessarily transforms it into a constative utterance. ,,4

Writing, an activity which relies on the reproduction of the Same (the three letters cat will repeatedly signify the four-legged furry animal with whiskers) for the production of meaning, can broach the frame of performance but cannot mimic an art that is nonreproductive. The mimicry of speech and writing, the strange process by which we put words in each other’s mouths and others’ words in our own, relies on a substitutional economy in which equivalencies are assumed and re­ established. Performance refuses this system of exchange and resists the circulatory economy fundamental to it. Performance honors the idea that a limited number of people in a specific time/space frame can have an experience of value which leaves no visible trace afterward. Writing about it necessarily cancels the “tracelessness” inaugurated within this perfor­ mative promise. Performance’s independence from mass reproduction, technologically, economically, and linguistically, is its greatest strength. But buffeted by the encroaching ideologies of capital and reproduction, it frequently devalues this strength. Writing about performance often, unwittingly, encourages this weakness and falls in behind the drive of the documentlary. Performance’s challenge to writing is to discover a way for repeated words to become performative utterances, rather than, as Benveniste warned, constative utterances.

The distinction between performative and constative utterances was proposed by J. L. Austin in How To Do Things With Words. s Austin argued that speech had both a constative element (describing things in the world) and a performative element (to say something is to do or make something, e.g. “I promise,” “I bet,” “I beg”). Performative speech acts refer only to themselves, they enact the activity the speech signifies. For Derrida, performative writing promises fidelity only to the utterance of the promise: I promise to utter this promise.6 The performa­ tive is important to Derrida precisely because it displays language’s independence from the referent outside of itself. Thus, for Derrida the performative enacts the now of writing in the present time?

Tania Modieski h “;h”~’O Austin and a<gues

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #13

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #13


Edited by Henry Bia}


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #14

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #14

I To

First published 2004 by Routledge

29 West 3Sth Street, New York , NY 10001

Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge

II New Fette r Lane, London EC4P 4EE

Routledae is an imprint of the Taylor &..Francis Croup

© 2004 selection and editorial matter: Henry Bial ; individual chapters: the contributors

Typeset in Perpetu. by Refin e Catch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk Printed and bound in Great Britain by

TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any elecrronic, mechanical , or other means, now known or hereafter invemed, including

phOLOCOp)’ing and re.cording. or in any inrormation storage or retrieval system , without

permission in writing from the pubUshers.

Library of Conares.s CoroloBinO in Publianion Data The performance studies read er / Icompiled by) Henry Bial.

I . Theater – Anthropological aspects. 2. Performing arts. I. Bial, Henry, 1970-­ PN2041 .A57P49 2003 791 – dc21 2003005708

Bri lh’h Library CatalOlJuino in PublicaUon Data A catalogue rccord for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0–415-30240–4 (hbk) ISBN 0–4IS- 30241-2 (pbk)

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #15

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #15



Belief in the part one is playing

Erving G1fman

When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the

impression th~at is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they

see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will

have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are

what they appear to be. In line with this@ere is the popular view that the individual offers

his performance and puts on his show “for the benefit of other people.” It will be convenient

to begin a consideration of performances by turning the question around and looking ~

the individual’s own belief in the impression of reality that he attempts to engender in those

among w~ he finds himseU . ) ­ At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can

be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality.

When his audience is also convinced in this way about the show he puts on – and this seems

to be the typical case – then, for the moment at least, only the SOciologist or the socially

disgruntled will have any doubts about the “realness” of what is presented.

At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own

routine. This possibility is understandable, since no one is in quite as good an observational

position to see through the act as the person who puts it on. Coupled with this, the

performer may be moved to guide the conviction of his audience only as a means to other

ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception that they have of him or of the situation.

When the individual has no belief in his own act and no ultimate concern with the beliefs

of his audience, we may call him cynical, reserving the term “sincere” for individuals who

believe in the impression fostered by their~rror~manc’9 It should be understood that the cynic, with all his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasures from

his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can

toy at will with something his audience must take seriously. I

It is not assumed, of course, that all cynical performers are interested in deluding their

audiences for purposes of what is called “self~interest” or private gain. A cynical individual

may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the

community, etc. For illustrations of this we need not appeal to sadly enlightened showmen


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #16

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #16


such as Marcus Aurelius or Hsun Tzu . We know that in service occupations practitioners

who may otherwise be sincere are sometimes forced to delude their customers because

their customers show such a heartfelt demand for it. Doctors who are led into giving

placebos, filling station attendants who resignedly check and recheck tire pressures for

anxious women motorists, shoe clerks who sell a shoe that fits but tell the customers it is the

size she wants to hear – these are cynical performers whose audiences will not allow them

to be sincere. Similarly, it seems that sympathetic patients in mental wards will sometimes

feign bizarre symptoms so that student nurses will not be subjected to a disappointingly

sane performance. 2

So also, when inferiors extend their most lavish reception for visiting

superiors, the selfish desire to win favor may not be the chief motive; the inferior may be

tactfully attempting to put the superior at ease by simulating the kind of world the superior

is thought to take for granted .

I have suggested two extremes: an individual may be taken in by his own act or be cynical

about it. These extremes are something a little more than just the ends of a continuum.

Each provides the individual with a position which has its own particular securities and

defenses, so there will be a tendency for those who have traveled close to one of these poles

to complete the voyage. Starting with lack of inward belief in one’s role, the individual may

follow the natural movement described by Park:

It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person in its first meaning,

is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and every­

where, more or less consciously, playing a role . . . it is in these roles that we know

each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves. 3

In a sense , and in so far as this mask represents the conception we have formed

of ourselves – the role we are striving to live up to – this mask is our truer self,

the self we would like to be. In the end, our conception of our role becomes

second nature and an integral part of our personality . We come into the world as

individuals, achieve character, and become persons.’

This may be ill ustrated from the community Ufe of Shetland. 5 For the last four or five years

the island’s tourist hotel has been owned and operated by a married couple of crofter

origins. From the beginning, the owners were forced to set aside their own conceptions as

to how life ought to be led, displaying in the hotel a full round of middle-class services and

amenities. Lately, however, it appears that the managers have become less cynical about the

performance that they stage; they themselves are becoming middle class and more and more

enamored of the selves their clients impute to them.

Another illustration may be found in the raw recruit who initially follows army etiquette

in order to avoid physical punishment and eventually comes to follow the rules so that his

organization will not be shamed and his officers and fellow soldiers will respect him.

As suggested, the cycle of disbelief-to-belief can be followed in the other direction,

starting with conviction or insecure aspiration and ending in cynicism. Professions which

the public holds in religious awe often allow their recruits to follow the cycle in this



direction, and oftel

they are deluding tl

be quite valid – bu

selves from contac

faith, with the indil

required to give, tI­ before completing

Thus, students of 1

school typically lay

years the students f all their time to tht

years they are too I

are diseased. It is 01

medical service mao

While we can e

sinceri ty, still we n

the strength of a Iii

audience to judge h

as an ultimate end

valuation of self wh

Another mixture 01

Next, there is

men, the worl

in exhibitions

cases awarenes;

there has been


they add fraud

other shamans:

I have been using

which occurs durin!

observers and whic

as “front” that part

and fixed fashion t<

then, is the expressi

by the individual du

distinguish and label

First, there is th<

ground items which

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #17

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #17


‘racti tioners direction, and often recruits follow it in this direction not because of a slow realization that ers because they are deluding their audience ~ for by ordinary social standards the claims they make may into giving be quite valid – but because they can use this cynicism as a means of insulating their inner

ressures for selves from contact with the audience. And we may even expect to find typical careers of lers it is the faith, with the individual starting out with one kind of involvement in the performance he is allow them required to give, then moving back and forth several times between sincerity and cynicism I sometimes before completing all the phases and turning-points of self-belief for a person of his station. lppointingly Thus, students of medical schools suggest that idealistically oriented beginners in medical for visiting school typically lay aside their holy aspirations for a period of time. During the first two

rior may be years the students find that their interest in medicine must be dropped so that they may give :he superior all their time to the task of learning how to get through examinations. During the next two

years they are too busy learning about diseases to show much concern for the persons who Ir be cynical are diseased. It is only after their medical schooling has ended that their original ideals about continuum. medical service may be reasserted. 6

curities and While we can expect to find natural movement back and forth between cynicism and . these poles sincerity, still we must not rule out the kind of transitional point that can be sustained on !i\cidual may the strength of a little self-illusion. We find that the individual may attempt to induce the

audience to judge him and the situation in a particular way, and he may seek this judgment

as an ultimate end in itself, and yet he may not completely believe that he deserves the

ICaning, valuation of self which he asks for or that the impression of reality which he fosters is valid. every­ Another mixture of cynicism and belief is suggested in Kroeber’s discussion of shamanism:

e know

Next, there is the old question of deception. Probably most shamans or medicine

men, the world over, help along with sleight-of-hand in curing and especially ormed in exhibitions of power. This sleight-of-hand is sometimes deliberate; in many

ler self, cases awareness is perhaps not deeper than the foreconscious. The attitude, whether

~comes there has been repression or not, seems to be as toward a pious fraud. Field orld as ethnographers seem quite generally convinced that even shamans who know that

they add fraud nevertheless also believe in their powers, and especially in those of

other shamans: they consult them when they themselves or their children are ill. 7 l r five years

of crofter Front

[ have been using the term “performance” to refer to all the activity of an individual

which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of

observers and which has some influence on the observers. It will be convenient to label

as “front” that part of the individual’s performance which regularly functions in a general

and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance. Front,

then, is the expressive equipment of a standard kind intentionally or unwittingly employed

by the individual during his performance. For preliminary purposes, it will be convenient to

distinguish and label what seem to be the standard parts of front.

First, there is the “setting,” involving furniture, decor, physical layout, and other back­

ground items which supply the scenery and stage props for the spate of human action played


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #18

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #18


out before, within, or upon it. A setting tends to stay put, geographically speaking, so that

@ se who would use a particular setting as part of their performance cannot begin their

act until they have brought themselves to the appropriate place and must terminate their

performance when they leave iDIt is only in exceptional circumstances that the setting

follows along with the performers; we see this in the funeral cortege, the civic parade,

and the dream-like processions that kings and queens are made of. In the main, these

exceptions seem to offer some kind of extra protection for performers who are, or who

have momentarily become, highly sacred. These worthies are to be distinguished, of course,

from qUite profane performers of the peddler class who move their place of work between

performances, often being forced to do so. In the matter of having one fixed place for one’s

setting, a ruler may be too sacred, a peddler too profane.

In thinking about the scenic aspects of front, we tend to think of the living room in a

particular house and the small number of performers who can thoroughly identify them­

selves with it . We have given insufficient attention to assemblages of Sign-equipment which

large numbers of performers can call their own for short periods of time. It is characteristic

of Western European countries, and no doubt a source of stability for them, that a large

number of luxurious settings are available for hire to anyone of the right kind who can

afford them. One illustration of this may be cited from a study of the higher civil servant in

Britain :

The question how far the men who rise to the top in the Civil Service take on the

“tone” or “color” of a class other that to which they belong by birth is delicate

and difficult. The only definite information bearing on the question is the figures

relating to the membership of the great London clubs. More than three-quarters

of our high administrative officials belong to one or more clubs of high status

and considerable luxury, where the entrance fee might be twenty guineas or more,

and the annual subscription from twelve to twenty guineas. These institutions are of

the upper class (not even of the upper middle) in their premises, their equipment,

the style of living practiced there, their whole atmosphere. Though many of the

m embers would not be described as wealthy, only a wealthy man would unaided

provide for himself and his family space, food and drink, service, and other

amenities of life to the same standard as he will find at the Union, the Travellers’, 8

or the Reform.

Another example can be found in the recent development of the medical profession where

we find that it is increasingly important for a doctor to have access to the elaborate scientific

stage provided by large hospitals, so that fewer and fewer doctors are able to feel that their

setting is a place that they can lock up at night . 9

If we take the term “setting” to refer to the scenic parts of expressive equipment, one

may take the term “personal front” to refer to the other items of expressive equipment,

the items that we most intimately identify with the performer himself and that we naturally

expect will follow the performer wherever he goes. As part of personal front we may

include: insignia of high office or rank; clothing; sex , age, and racial characteristic; size and



clients expeEt world in this See Taxel, op. master’s th – . uggested that

in a kind of noble x,987-8:

A study oil me that ~ symptoms personal e almost as r having tina satisfaction psychotic r

3 Robert Ezra Park Ibid., 250 .

; Shetland Isle stu Reported in parI PhD dissertation,

6 H . S. Becker and Review, 23, 50-6. A.L. Kroeber, Th, H.E. Dale, The H:

9 David Solomon, Department of Sc


Kaprow – the blurri

Faber, Harding – th.

Butler – gender as p

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #19

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #19

ipeaking, so that

~ot begin their

tenninate their

that the setting

he civic parade,

led, of course,

work between

place for one’s

t’ing room in a identify them­

·p ment which

ipment, one

‘e equipment,

t we naturally

front we may


I :~


looks; posture; speech patterns; facial expressions; bodily gestures; and the like. Some of

these vehicles for conveying signs, such as racial characteristics, are relatively fixed and

over a span of time do not vary for the individual from one situation to another. On the

other hand, some of these sign vehicles are relatively mobile or transitory, such as facial

expression, and can vary during a performance from one moment to the next.


Perhaps the real crime of the confidence man is not that he takes money from victims but that he robs all of us of the belief that middle-class maMers and appearance can be sustained only by middle·c1ass people. A disabused professional can be cynically hostile to the service relation his clients expect him to extend to them; the confidence man is in a position to hold the whole “legit” world in this contempt.

2 See Taxel, op. cit. [Harold Taxel, “Authority structure in a mental hospital ward” (unpublished master’s thesis, Department of SOciology , University of Chicago, 1953») , 4. Harry Stack Sullivan has suggested that the tact of institutionalized performers can operate in the other direction, resulting in a kind of noblesse-oblige sanity. See his “Socio-psychiatric research,” American Journal rifPsychiatry, x,987-8:

A study of “social recoveries” in one of our large mental hospitals some years ago taught me that patients were often released from care because they had learned not to manifest symptoms to the environing persons; in other words, had integrated enough of the personal environment to realize the prejudice opposed to their delusions. It seemed almost as if they grew wise enough to be tolerant of the imbecility surrounding them, having finally discovered that it was stupidity and not malice. They could then secure satisfaction from contact with others, while discharging a part of their cravings by psychotiC means.

Robert Ezra Park, Race and Culture (Glencoe, III. : Free Press, 1950),249. 4 Ibid ., 250. 5 Shetland Isle study [research conducted by Goifman in a Shetland Island farming community.

Reported in part in Goifman, “Communication conduct in on island community” (unpublished PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1953») .

6 H.S. Becker and Blanche Greer, “The fate of idealism in medical school,” American SOciological Review, 23, 50-6.

7 A.L. Kroeber, The Nature rifCulture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952),311. 8 H.E . Dale, The Higher Civil Service rifGreat Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941),50. 9 David Solomon, “Career contingencies of Chicago physicians” (unpublished PhD dissertation,

Department of SOCiology, University of Chicago, 1952), 74.


Kirshenblatt-Gimblet’ ormance of everyday life

Kaprow – the blurrin. ,fview

Faber, Harding – the I Butler – gender as pa


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #20

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #20



Marvin Carlson

The term “performance” has become extremely popular in recent years in a wide range

of activities in the arts, in literature, and in the social sciences. As its popularity and usage

have grown, so has a complex body of writing about performance, attempting to analyze and

understand just what sort of human activity it is. For the person with an interest in studying

Performance this bodv of analvsis and commentarv may at first seem more of an obstacle , j j j ,.I than an aid. So much has been vVTitten by experts from such a wide range of disciplines,

and such a complex web of specialized critical vocabulary has been developed in the course

of this analysis, that a newcomer seeking a way into the discussion may feel confused and


In their very useful 1990 survey article “Research in interpretation and performance

studies: trends, issues, priorities,” Mary Beverly Long, and Mar; Hopkins begin

with the extremely useful observation that performance is “an essentially contested

concept.” This phrase is taken from W B. Gallie’s Philosoph)” and the Historical UnderstandinB

(1964), in which Gallie suggested that certain concepts, such as art and democracy,

had disagreement about their essence built into the concepts themselves. In Gallie’s terms:

“Recognition of a concept as essentially contested implies recognition of rival uses

of it (such as oneself repudiates) as not only logically possible and humanly ‘likely,’ but as

of permanent potential critical value to one’s own use or interpretation of the concept in

question.”i Long, and Hopkins argue that performance has become just such a

concept, developed in an atmosphere of “sophisticated disagreement” by participants who

“do not expect to defeat or silence opposing positions, but rather through continuing

dialogue to attain a sharper articulation of all positions and therefore a fuller understanding

of the conceptual richness -of performance.,,2 In his study of the “post-structured stage,” Erik MacDonald suggests that “performance art has opened hitherto unnoticed spaces”

within theatre’s representational netl-vorks. It “problematizes its own categorization,” and

thus inevitably inserts theoretical speculation into the theatrical dynamic. J

The prese~t study, recognizing this essential contestedness of performance, will seek to provide an introduction to the continuing dialogue through which it has recently been

articulated, providing a variety of mappings of the concept, some overlapping, others quite

divergent. Recent manifestations of performance, in both theory and practice, are so many

and so varied that a complete survey of them is hardly possible, but this [study] attempts to


offer enough of an

and sample signific

the contested conce

have been develope,

My own backgn

theories about perl

that lie closest to

will not be devotin

that variety of activ

“performance” or “­

useful to step back

the term “perforrna

overtones it may b.

I should perhaps ah

other nations, myel

is the center of my (

its international diff

American phenome

how it has develope.

“Performing” and

that little if anv con o

Times and the Village

theatre, dance, or fi

even “performance t

days all .theatre w;

fact one of the so-ca

practice of calling a

event) a “performar

and ask what makes

suggest that these a

whose demonstratiOl

I recently came al

of technical skill is t

in the United States

events at historical si

a kind of activity oj

Northern California

visitors in the roles

Diane Spencer Pritc

period music on the

later she abandoned ­

and placed it in the

dreSSing in period d

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #21

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #21


in a wide range

olarity and usage

og to analyze and terest in studying

Ire of an obstacle

ge of disciplines, ~ in the course

eel confused and

md performance f Hopkins begin ntially contested

iall Understanding and democracy,

in Gallie’s terms:

tion of rival uses

Iy ‘likely,’ but as I)f the concept in

orne just such a

participants who

ough continuing

er understanding

tructured stage,”

nnoticed spaces”

~orization,” and

nce, will seek to

iIS recently been

,ing, others quite

ice, are so many

ndy] attempts to


offer enough of an overview and historical background to single out the major approaches

and sample significant manifestations in this complex field, to address the issues raised by

the contested concepts of performance and what sorts of theatrical and theoretical strategies

have been developed to deal with these issues.

My own background is in theatre studies, and my emphasis will be on how ideas and

theories about performance have broadened and enriched those areas of human activity

that lie closest to what has traditionally been thought of as theatrical, even though I

will not be devoting a great deal of attention to traditional theatre as such, but rather to

that variety of activities currently being presented for audiences under the general title of

“performance” or “performance art.” Nevertheless, in these opening remarks it might be

useful to step back at least briefly from this emphasis and consider the more general use of

the term “performance” in our culture, in order to gain some ideas of the general semantic

overtones it may bear as it circulates through an enormous variety of specialized usages.

I should perhaps also note that although I will include examples of performance art from

other nations, my emphasis will remain on the United States, partly, of course, because that

is the center of my own experience with this activity, but, more relevantly, because, despite

its international diffusion, performance art is both historically and theoretically a primarily

American phenomenon, and a proper understanding of it must, I believe, be centered on

how it has developed both practically and conceptually in the United States.

“Performing” and “performance” are terms so often encountered in such varied contexts

that little if any common semantic ground seems to exist among them. Both the New York

Times and the Village Voice now include a special category of “performance” – separate from

theatre, dance, or films – including events that are also often called “performance art” or

even “performance theatre.” For many, this latter term seems tautological, since in simpler

days all .theatre was considered to be involved with performance, theatre being in

fact one of the so-called “performing arts.” This usage is still much with us, as indeed is the

practice of calling any specific theatre event (or for that matter specific dance or musical

event) a “performance.” If we mentally step back a moment from this common practice

and ask what makes performing arts performative, I imagine the answer would somehow

suggest that these arts require the physical presences of trained or skilled human beings

whose demonstration of their skills is the performance.

I recently came across a striking illustration of how important the idea of public display

of technical skill is to this traditional concept of “performance.” At a number of locations

in the United States and abroad, people in period costume act out improvised or scripted

events at historical sites for tourists, visiting schoolchildren, or other interested spectators ­

a kind of activity often called “living history.” One site of such activity is Fort Ross in

Northern California, where a husband and wife, dressed in costumes of the 1830s, greet

visitors in the roles of the last Russian commander of the fort and his wife. The wife,

Diane Spencer Pritchard, in her role as “Elena Rotcheva,” decided at one time to play

period music on the piano to give visitors an impression of contemporary cultural life. But

later she abandoned this, feeling, in her words, that it “removed the role from living-history

and placed it in the category of performance.’,4 Despite taking on a fictive personality,

dressing in period clothes, and “living” in the 1830s, Ms. Pritchard did not consider herself


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #22

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #22

__ _


“performing” until she displayed the particular artistic skills needed to give a music recital.

Normally human agency is necessary for a “performance” of this sort (even in the theatre

we do not speak of how well the scenery or the costumes performed), but the public

demonstration of particular skills can be offered by nonhuman “performers,” so that, for

example, we commonly speak of “performing” dogs, elephants, horses or bears. 5

Despite the currency of this usage, most of her audience probably considers Ms.

Pritchard to be performing as soon as she greets them in the costume and character of

a long-dead Russian pioneer. Pretending to be someone other than oneself is a common

example of a particular kind of human behavior that Richard Schechner labels “restored

behavior,” a title under which he groups actions consciously separated from the person

doing them theatre and other role playing, trances, shamanism, rituals. 6


useful concept of “restored behavior” points to a quality of performance not involved with

the display of skills, but rather with a certain distance between “self’ and behavior,

analogous to that between an actor and the role the actor plays on stage. Even if an action

on stage is identical to one in real life, on stage it is considered “performed” and off

stage merely “done.” Hamlet, in his well-known response to the Queen concerning his

reactions to his father’s death, distinguishes between those inner feelings that resist per­ formance and the actions that a man might play” with a consciousness of their Signifying

potential. Hamlet’s response also indicates how a consciousness of “performance” can move from

the stage, from ritual, or from other special and clearly defined cultural situations into

everyday life. Everyone at some time or another is conscious of “playing a role” SOcially, and

recent sociological theorists [. . .J have paid a good deal of attention to this sort of social performance.

The re~gnition that our lives are structured according to !::~~ and SOcially sa~–..– ~_____…… _~_<7.~~ ~~~A… ,_’c-.~..,_,_v tioneCi modes of behaVIOr raises the possibility that all human activitY£.ould potentially be c~ “performance;;;-C;;:-;;;t leastall activity carried out with a conscious~f i~~ Jjfference _~~!:Y~~1~c;aL~~ .eerformi~g1..:E~or~~way of thinking, would seem to be not in the frame of theatre versus real life but in an attitude- we mav do actions uilthlIiEIigIy, but ‘\Vh~nwe~thlnk~boufthem;’fhis introd~~~~~o~sciousness ‘th; gfVeSthem the qualIty of performanc€:””11iiSj)1ien:o~~n~h~~-b~~n perhaps most searchinglJ analyie<llH~afiOus~wrlfffigi;ornerbert Blau, to which we also will return later.

So we have two rather different concepts of performance, rone involving the display of

skills, the other~ng displ~: but less ~f pirticular ski1rs than of a recognized and culturally coded pattern of behavi0:,r third cluster of usages takes us in rather a different

direction. When we speak of someone’s sexual performance or linguistic performance or

when we ask how well a child is performing in school, the emphasiS is not so much on

display of skill (although that may be involved) or on the carrying out of a particular pattern

of behavior, but rather on the general success of the acti.’1ty in light of some standard of

achievement that may not itself be precisely articulated. Perhaps even more significantly, the

task of judging the success of the performance (or even judging whether it is a performance)

is in these cases not the responsibility of the performer but of the observer. Ultimately, Hamlet himself is the best judge of whether he is “performing” his melancholy actions or


truly “living” .

judged by its I in the normal

ads speak inte

of the perforn conflation of .

MTA (Metrop

when the sub’

City’s longest If we coru,l

understand th(

disparate usagl theless, I wou’ occurs in the e

Encyclopedia l’ ness of double

c~n-w Normany this school’s teachE

is what is mos

placing it again audience that 1

case, that audie

When we c cultural scene

in relation to

suggested by th a virtuosic skil

concerned with

the so-called ”

sense of an acti

comes with cor

constantly stru~

Although tra embodied (thro

been centrally

not base their 6wn bodies-;a:;;;

w~rrd, ma~~_~ them for audier ;elf is artlcU\;te presentations. T little of the e!ab

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #23

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #23

D give a music recitaL

rt (even in the theatre

::DIed), but the public bmers,” so that, for I 01″ bears. 5

obably considers Ms. .ne and character of

aaeself is a common

:Imer labels “restored -.d from the person rituals.

6 Schechner’s

IDe not involved with

-se.lf’ and behavior, ~ Even if an action

~ormed” and off

IJIIr:en concerning his !lags that resist per­ _ of their SignifYing

-=e” can move from iIlBral situations into ~arole” SOcially, and ID this sort of social

~ and SOcially s~­ could potentially be ~

II a consciousness of

his way of thinking, Ittitnde we may.±;? a consciousness that

• most searchingfy aeturn later.

IIhing the display of _ a recognized and

.. rather a different

IItic performance or I is not so much on

ra particular pattern rX some standard of ore significantly, the it is a performance)

f,gerver. Ultimately,

~lancholy actions or


truly “living” them, but linguistic, scholastic, even sexual performance is really framed and

judged by its observers. This is why performance in this sense (as opposed to performance

in the normal theatrical sense) can be and is applied frequently to non-human activity TV

ads speak interminably of the performance of various brands of automobiles, and scientists

of the performance of chemicals or metals under certain conditions. I observed an amusing

conflation of the theatrical and mechanical uses of this term in an advertisement by the

MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) on theo~~~,.,:r~r!s~2P~ay ir,t ,Octo~e.!:..!994, when the subway was celebrating ninety years of service. This was bille!.~,~_.’:~ew York City’s longest running performance.” ,

If we consider pcrwr-mance as an essentially contested concept, this will help us to

understand the futility of seeking some overarching semantic field to cover such seemingly disparate usages as the performance of an actor, of a schoolchild, of an automobile. Never­

theless, I would like to credit one highly suggestive attempt at such an articulation. This

occurs in the entry on performance by the ethnolinguist Richard Bauman in the International 7

Encyclopedia if’Communications. ~cording to Bauman all performance ip.~a con§ciQJlS:. ness of doubleness, through which the actual execution of an action is placed in men.!!!

comparisonWith a potential, an ideal, or a remembered original modelTth’;t;ction. Normalty this comParison is made by ~ obse;;; of the’ action the theatre pUhlk;the school’s teacher, the scientist – but the double consciousness, not the external observation,

is what is most central. An athlete, for example, may be aware of his own performance,

plaCing it against a mental standard. Performance is always performance Jor someone, some audience that recognizes and validates it as performance even when, as is occasionally the

case, that audience is the self.

When we consider the various kinds of activity that are referred to on the modern cultural scene as “performance” or performance art,” these are much better understood

in relation to this over-arching semantic field than to the more traditional orientation

suggested by the piano-playing Ms. Pritchard, who felt that so long as she was not displaying a virtuosic skill she could not be “performing.” Some modern “performance” is centrally

concerned with such skills (as in the acts of some of the clowns and jugglers included among

the so-called “new vaudevillians”), but much more central to this phenomenon is the

sense of an action carried outJor someone, an action involved in the peculiar doubling that comes with consciousness and with the elusive “other” that performance is not but which it

constantly struggles in vain to embody. Although traditional theatre has regarded this “other” as a character in a dramatic action,

embodied (through performance) by an actor, modern~or~<.:: ar~ has, in general, not been centrally concerned with this dynamic. Its practitioners, almost by definition, j,? not base their work upon characters previously created by other artists, ?llt _llEont!’t~ir o’Wilf)()(lies-;-thei;: -;;wn~aiitobiographies, thek own s~cific experieiices~ a culture or in the

w~mad~ pe~~<>.~ati~~ ~~~~~~ns’C!”o~~;~~~~I~~m~<!.:th~irocess-a”disEf~Y§g them for audiences. Since the emphasis is upon the performance, and on how the body or ;elf is-articulated~through performance, the individual body remains at the center of such presentations. Typical pe!i0rmance art is solo art,and~~trEical performance artist uses

little of the ..’:.laborate sceniCSi.iiTOun~aditional stage, but at most a fewE!.C>ps,


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #24

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #24


a bit of furniture, and whatever costume (sometimes even nudi!!.lJ§JWlst suitable. to the eiJQ~c~ituaE~~n. . . ~.~o. ________

It is not surprising that such performance has become a highly “isible one might almost say emblematic art form in the contemporary world, a world that is highly self-conscious, reflexive, obsessed with simulations and theatricalizations in every aspect of its social aware­

ness. With performance as a kind of critical wedge, the metaphor of theatricality has moved out of the arts into almost every aspect of modern attempts to understand our condition

and activities, into almost every branch of the human sciences – SOciology, anthropology,

ethnography, psychology, linguistics. And as performativity and theatricality have been developed in these fields, both as metaphors and as analytic tools, theorists and practitioners of performance art have in turn become aware of these developments and found in them

new sources of stimulation, inspiration, and insight for their own creative work and the theoretical understanding of it.

Performance art, a complex and constantly shifting field in its own right, becomes much more so when one tries to take into account, as any thoughtful consideration of it must, the dense web of interconnections that exists between it and ideas of performance

developed in other fields and between it and the many intellectual, cultural, and social concerns that are raised by almost any contemporary performance project. Among them are what it means to be postmodern, the quest for a contemporary subjectivity and identity, the relation of art to structures of power, the varying challenges of gender, race, and ethnicity, to name only some of the most visible of these.


WB. Gallie, Philosophy and the Historical Understandins, New York: Schocken Books, t 964, 187-8. 2 Mary S. Strine, Beverly Whitaker Long, and Mary Frances Hopkins, “Research in interpretation

and performance studies: trends, issues, priorities,” in Gerald Phillips and Julia Wood (eds.), Speech Communications: Essays to Commemorate the Seventy-Fifth Anniversa1)’ if the Speech Communication ASSOCiation, Carbondale: Southern lllinois University Press, 1990, 183.

3 Erik MacDonald, Theater at the MaIsins: Text and the Post-Structured Stase, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993, 175.

4 Diane Pritchard, “Fort Ross: from Russia with love,” in Jan Anderson (ed.), A LivinS HiStory Reader, vol. 1, Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1991,53.

5 Like most uses of “performance,” this one has been challenged, particularly by the noted semioti­ cian of the circus Paul Bouissac. Bouissac argues that what seems to be performance is actually an invariable natural response to a stimulus provided by a trainer who “frames” it as performance. In Bouissac’s words, the animal does not “perform,” but “negotiates social situations by relying on the repertory of ritualized behavior that characterizes its species” (“Behavior in context: in what sense is a circus animal performing?,” in Thomas Sebeok and Robert Rosenthal (eds.), The Clever Hans Phenomenon: Communication with Horses, Whales, Apes, and People, New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1981, 24). This hardly settles the matter. As we shall see, many theorists of human performance could generally accept Bouissac’s alternate statement, and moreover anyone who has trained horses or dogs knows that, even accounting for an anthropomorphic bias, these animals are not simply negotiating social situations, but are knOWingly repeating certain actions for physical or


emotional rewan human performa

6 Richard Schechlll 1985,35-116.

7 Richard Bauman Oxford Universi1

Schechner ….. perfon

Goffman ~ the prest Faber, Kaprow, Gorr

Parker and Sedgwicl

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #25

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #25

.. suitahle to the

aue might almost Ily self-conscious, i its social aware­ riI::ality has moved .. our condition

If,. anthropology, iiI:aIity have been r..I practitioners !III found in them iR work and the

II;, becomes much DIion of it must,

t:II performance hral, and social •Among them are irity and identity, ~er, race, and

lib, 1964, 187-8. i:h in interpretation Julia Wood (eds.), pea:b Communication

irbor: University of

:1011 (ed.), A LivinB .. Local History,

r the noted semioti­ IIIaIlre is actually an . illS performance. In lIS by relying on the ext: in what sense is s..), The Clever Hans 111 York Academy of theorists of human

,.’er anyone who has IS, these animals are lions for physical or


emotional rewards, a process that, to me at least, seems to have important features in common Vl1th human performance.

6 Richard Schechner, Between Theater and AnthropoloBJ, Philadelphia: UniverSity of Pennsylvania Press, 1985,35-116.

7 Richard Bauman in Erik Barnouw (ed.), lnternational Encyclopedia ‘!I Communications, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.


Schechner – performance as an organizing principle for academic inquiry Goffman — the presentation of self in everyday life

Faber, Kaprow, Gomez-Pena, Lane – performance art

Parker and Sed~1ck – the contestedness of the term “performativity”



Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #26

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #26



An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory

Judith Butler

Philosophers rarely think about acting in the theatrical sense, but they do have a discourse of “acts” that maintains associative semantic meanings vvith theories of performance and acting. For example, John Searle’s “speech acts,” those verbal assurances and promises which seem not only to refer to a speaking relationship, but to constitute a moral bond between speakers, illustrate one of the illocutionary gestures that constitutes the stage of the analytic philosophy of language. Further, “action theory,” a domain of moral philosophy, seeks to understand what it is “to do” prior to any claim of what one ought to do. Finally, the

phenomenological theory of “acts,” espoused by Edmund Hussed, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and George Herbert Mead, among others, seeks to explain the mundane w~yin ‘Y~£ial

ag~n!~ constitute social realitythr~llgh}~gua~.$~s~ur~,~~~alJmanner of symb.Qlic:~cial ~grr, TIiougn-plienome~ology sometimes appears to assume the existence of a choosing and constituting agent prior to language (who poses as the sole source of its constituting acts), there is also a more radical use of the doctrine of constitution that takes the social agent as

an object rather than the subject of constitutive acts. When Simone de Beauvoir claims, “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman,” she is

appropriating and reinterpreting this doctrine of constituting acts from the phenomeno­ logical tradition. I In this sense, gender is in no way a s,?ble identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identit· fenuousfy constTt~~

id~ty ~tut~ rough~l!~::F~ti!!_o.n if acts. Further, gender,is insti~Il~~~.~~<:J?[h tpe stylization 0 e bo?yand, hence, mus5J)~ und::~::?d a~the~~IIl~<U1e ~ay in which b.odily gestures, movements, and enactments of various.,l,cigd.s consti~Il~_~h~.,mtl~ioI1: of an ~biding gendered self. This formulation moves the conception of gender off the ground of a substantial model of identity to one that requires a conception of a constituted social temporality. Significantly, if gender. is in~ti~tl!!;,<l through acts which are intern”Hy giscon, tinuous, then the appea(a;~e ifsubstance is precis~iy that, a constructed identity, a performa­ ~accomplishm~I, the mtlndane social audience, .ip~luding the actor~ ~e~~elves’, ro.:ne-tohelie~e and toperformjn ,the mode, of belief. If the groun<!,.gf gend~~~..~.



stylized repetitio

p~ipili.1;Lt;:~ ..QLg! such acts, i~ re:r>etition of that .-Through the c.

which reified and hence, capable of logical models w

cO’iiStitiii:Trlg acts r id;~tity;; ~~~~;;;’-F L-;1Ird;~ phenomenology, t~

mel,1t, comp_~ledE:

the possibi~!o/?~ ‘:.(

I Sex

Feminist theory ha that assume that th,

of their phYSiology causal explanatioI1$ for women’ s experi~ concerned to distin: structure bodily e:m of lived experience. “the body in its sen claims that the body this claim that SimOJ claim that “woman” natural fact.


In both contexts, t body are not denied, 1 bear cultural meaning be an active process 0 pr~;;s~rapproprial descrn:;e:”ln-~;;rder’ tc

stltution requires an • constitutes meaning ,

words, the acts by wh theatrical contexts. M specific corporeal acts through such acts.

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #27

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #27


: theory

~ have a discourse of

)I”Dlance and acting. omises which seem ~ bond benveen

stage of the analytic I philosophy, seeks to do. Finally, the

ice Merleau-Ponty,

~’aI in which ~<l:! ‘J,lf s)lUbgl!£.s..()5:ial e of a choosing and

• constituting acts), ; the social agent as

IeS a woman,” she is n the phenomeno­

ICllS of agency from utea In time an ~~:-?~ dane war in which __… “_”>-r”·~ _”,’,”,W”~H_ .•h •.~

e thej!!~~J.o:!! of an r off the ground of il constituted social

: inter!:l~lJ~ <iiscon­

entity! a p~~orma­

~ actors _t:h..~E1~e.lves, onder id~ty is~e_


s:r:!!zed repetiti0E.~~~:<._~o~h.~~E::’ and_not a see:min{!ly _’___<~_<__'<‘<_~ p2.ssil:>j.li9~~<S.. Qf_gend~E_ tro:~oLmatjp!LID:.~..t9_l?t;: .fm~p’g relation betweel} such acts, in the poss~1!i!L of a_~~[er:.e_l!t sort QLl”ep~a,ti9g,Mi]LtI:e breaking or subversive l’;petition ofthat style.~ <. <~.’

Through the conception of gender acts sketched above, I will try to show some ways in which reified and naturalized conceptions of gender might be understood as constituted and,

hence, capable of being constituted differently. In 9P-P-Q!?ition to theatrical or phenomeno­ logical models which take the~ndered self to-be pr~-its-acts;-Fwilf understmd Cons~tutiIlg_ac~!~-.n~-on-I-y-a-sc-onstit;;t-in-g-th-‘eldeiitityotThe~E!~-b~t~~_const!~~!0.i_that identity as a compelling b.~liif. In the course of making my argument, J . .will draw-from theatrical, anthropological and philosophical discourses, but mainly phenomenology, to show that what is called gender identity is a performative accomplish­

mel}~ com£.elled ~!?~~.~~~ti~~_~~·~~b()()Jnitsvery cEa;ict7r~; performative~e;ides the possibility~()f (;O]l!~~§ting !!~!:eifie2. s,t<!s,

~ I Sex) menological views

Feminist theory ha~ explanations of sex and sexuality that assume that thi nce can be derived from some fact

of their physiology :1’, feminist theorists have disputed causal explanationslecessitates certain social meanings for women’s experience. 1 iw ‘” ~ ____ •. human embodiment have also been

concerned to distinguish between the various phYSiological and biological causalities that structure bodily existence and the meaninBs that embodied existence assumes in the context of lived experience. In Merleau-Ponty’s reflections in The Phenomenoloay if Perception on “the body in its sexual being,” he takes issue with such accounts of bodily experience and claims that the body is “an historical idea” rather than “a natural species.”2 Significantly, it is

this claim that Simone de Beauvoir cites in The Second Sex when she sets the stage for her claim that “woman” and, by extension, any gender is an historical situation rather than a natural fact.


In both context’>, the existence and facticity of the material or natural dimensions of the body are not denied, but reconceived as distinct from the process by which the body comes to

bear cultural meanings. For both de Beauvoir ~~~.M<:rleau.-Ponty, the b9dy is understood to

be an active process of e~b~dymgc-er~;~mral arLiill!.>!o..rtgl pgssibilities t a compli~~ed p~s-or;’ppropriation which ~I?h~llQlIleJln1QgicaL_!h~QqJ)t£n:!bQIDJrle;!lt ~eeds ~~ descrwe.IT;”· order ‘to&scribe the gendered body, a phenomenological theory of con­ SB:tiiBOfi requires an expansion of the conventional view of acts to mean both that which constitutes meaning and that through which meaning is performed or enacted. In other words, the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts. My task, then, is to examine in what ways gender is constructed through specific corporeal acts, and what possibilities exist for the cultural transformation of gender

through such acts.


Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #28

Intro to Theater: What is Performance? Page #28

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