Performance After Identity: The Neo-Political Subject

full name / name of organization: 
Matthew Causey and Fintan Walsh, Trinity College Dublin
contact email: 

Performance After Identity: The Neo-Political Subject

A Book Proposal by Matthew Causey and Fintan Walsh

Whence catastrophic pronouncements of the sort: only a homosexual can 'understand' what a homosexual is, only an Arab can understand what an Arab is, and so forth. If, as we believe, only truths (thought) allow man to be distinguished from the human animal that underlies him, it is no exaggeration to say that such minoritarian pronouncements are genuinely barbaric.

Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism

Subjectivity studies and identity politics have been a sustained intellectual preoccupation of theatre and performance studies for the second half of the twentieth century, up to and including the present. Indeed, such has been the focus that we have cause to wonder do the disciplines do anything other than question and ultimately reproduce categories of difference?

The experimental work of the Wooster Group, Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, Goat Island, and Forced Entertainment, for example, has frequently displaced identitarian concerns from centre stage, and been responded to accordingly. (See, as examples, Matthew Goulish and Stephen Bottoms, eds., Small Acts of Repair: Performance, Ecology and Goat Island, Routledge, 2007; Joe Kelleher, Nicholas Ridout, Claudia Castellucci and Chiara Guidi, The Theatre of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, Routledge, 2007; Alan Read, Theatre, Intimacy and Engagement: The Last Human Venue, Palgrave 2007.) But what performances and what kinds of effects remain unreadable to subjectivity-centric methodologies? Recent contributions in continental philosophy, psychoanalysis and queer theory, for example, reveal how identity politics, as an ideological paradigm, works to secure rights and recognition precisely through the reproduction of categories of difference. So, while identitarian discourse might be useful in attaining legal rights and recognition for marginalized groups, it can also engender literal and symbolic violence rather than alleviate it. We maintain that western culture's concern with the politics of identitarian, minoritarian and victimized subsets has not simply released the ostensibly oppressed from subordination, but rather reproduced violence in more complex and strategic manners. On this, the philosophical contributions of Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Slavoj Žižek to name a few, have been especially outspoken in recent times on the need to think and act outside the post-modern cul-de-sac of post-structuralist linguistic gaming. We hope to explore the potentialities of a neo-political subject and its performativities by considering notions such as dissensus, universalism, positionality and direction, event theory, sensate democracy (Butler and Spivak), queer futurity (Muñoz and Edelman), critical utopias (Muñoz and Dolan), critiques of neo-liberalism, radical action and revolutionary becoming in the context of theatre and performance studies.

The collection of essays seeks to animate and expand this debate by asking how theatre and performance studies has or might respond to this perceived theoretical and methodological impasse? Moreover, the volume seeks to explore what theatre and performance might enlighten about the neo-political subject of post-identity studies, and what post-identity studies might enlighten about theatre and performance. In particular, this book is interested in considering whether or not theatre and performance can do anything other than question and reproduce identity, or are there non-identitarian ways of making and reading practice? The editors seek contributions (approx 6,000 words) that trouble the centrality of identitarian discourses within theatre and performance studies by re-vising the theoretical 'subject' of postmodernism, and by examining theatre and performance practices that direct our attention to a 'subject' beyond identity.

This book will include chapters that conduct theoretically inflected analyses of a wide variety of subjects that may include visual arts practice, digital culture, photography, music, public events, live art, experimental theatre and performance.

Topics concerning theatre and performance may include:
• Philosophy
• Technology/digital culture
• Feminist and Queer studies
• Disability and pain studies
• Postcolonial/anti-racist theory
• Event theory
• Animal studies
• After postmodernism
• Performances of shared, collective or overlapping identities
• Non-western praxis

Questions may include:
• How might theatre and performance lead us to think outside of models of subjectivity that are not reliant upon the reproduction of difference?
• What does performance do apart from dealing with identity?
• How does performance explore ideas of objecthood, affect, non-identity, before/beyond identity?
• How is performance implicated in exploring forms of being and belonging that has little or nothing to do with conventional identity categories?
• What are the examples of theatre and performance that pursue a critique of neo-liberalism or new political potentialities?
• What historical or contemporary theatre practices reflect these neo-political concerns?
• What are the shared concerns of theatre, performance and universalist ethics?
• Is a concept of the universal still considered retrograde, dangerous, or fascistic?
• Historically how do the problems of blackface or green-face performance refigure in a discourse of post-identity?
• Do virtual identities represent a new potentiality for transgression?
• Has the model of performativity run its course?

200 word proposals and a short biography should be sent simultaneously to Matthew Causey and Fintan Walsh before Feb 4 2010.