CFP: Zizek and Performance - Expressions of Interest by 11 June 2012

full name / name of organization: 
Alex Mangold / Aberystwyth University, Broderick Chow / Brunel University
contact email: 

Expressions of interest are invited from scholars across the humanities interested in philosophy, theatre and performance to contribute to an edited volume on:

"Žižek and Performance"

Slavoj Žižek is a cultural phenomenon. Since the publication of his first English book, "The Sublime Object of Ideology" in 1989, his philosophical work has had a distinctive influence on numerous fields, ranging between film studies, political science, media and theology. His numerous publications have influenced the way we think about politics, psychoanalysis and a range of cultural issues in an increasingly volatile political and economic climate. Žižek never fails to provoke or to initiate heated discussion. With his eclectic critique of neoliberalism, capitalist ideology and mass hysteria, he has established himself as one of the most influential thinkers of our age.

His impact on theatre and performance studies is harder to assess. Unlike contemporaries such as Judith Butler or Jacques Rancière, whose work has attained near-canonical status in the study of theatre and performance, references to Žižek's work in theatre studies are often deployed as a means of explaining his 'more serious' influences, namely, Jacques Lacan, G.W.F. Hegel, and Karl Marx. Assessments of his work's practical use and its relevance to the disciplines and practices of theatre and performance are therefore rather hard to find.

We suggest that Žižek is an important philosopher for a range of fields in theatre and performance. For one - and despite admitting that he might 'not know a lot about theatre'* – Žižek is certainly quite the performer. The Slovenian philosopher tugs his shirt, free-associates, runs off on tangents, and tells jokes with a timing that would put Woody Allen to shame. He has been described as a 'Marx Brother', a 'deadly jester' (in a now-famous savaging by conservative journalist Adam Kirsch), and the 'Elvis of Cultural Theory.' But there is also something theatrical about his writing. In its witty density and its playful insistence on provocation, it is less a systematic analysis of axioms than it is a 'performance of thought'. Leigh Clare La Berge (2007) calls it 'The Writing Cure', relating Žižek's work to the role of the analysand in the deeply performative scenario of the psychoanalytic clinic. Sharpe and Boucher (2010) call it an 'intellectual roller-coaster'. And, as numerous commentators have pointed out, Žižek seems to lack a coherent system. His books and talks often raise contradictory positions or inconsistencies. We might conclude, with Žižek, that the performance of theory, if not the whole point, is at least a great part of his work. It is in such performance — which, to paraphrase Paolo Virno (2004), is its own purpose, and requires the presence of others — that we can begin not to find answers, but to question the very validity of the questions we pose. Today, as scholars of theatre and performance wonder about the discipline in relation to serious questions of globalisation, violence, revolution and political economy, Zizek's work on the critique of ideology, subjectivity, politics and ontology proves to be more important than ever.

This volume will be the first comprehensive account of Žižek's influence on, and his relevance for, performance. It asks what Žižek's philosophy might offer to the study of theatre and performance, and vice versa. The volume is divided into two sections: the first, entitled 'Žižek and Performance Theory', and the second, 'Žižek and Performance Practice.' As we understand it for the purposes of this volume, 'performance' can encompass a spectrum of forms including (but not limited to) dramatic literature, site-specific performance, dance, physical and devised theatre, queer performance, feminist performance, applied theatre, improvisation and comedy. Part One is comprised of essays which both introduce key strands of Žižek's thought as well as interrogate these through key concepts in performance theory, such as performativity, theatricality, spectatorship, liveness and so on. Part Two focuses on the applicability of Žižek's ideas to concrete performance practices and to actual performance work. The volume concludes with an essay examining Žižek himself as a performer and the use of humour as a political/critical strategy.

Proposals are invited on aspects of Žižek's work and performance theories and practices for Part Two of the volume especially.

In terms of final drafts, we will be looking at contributions between 5,000-8,000 words. The overall volume will be approximately 85,000 words with a deadline of February 2013.

Abstracts of c. 250 words along with a brief biography should be sent to both editors:

Broderick Chow at and Alex Mangold at


*'The Spectator's Malevolent Neutrality', Theaterformen Festival, Brunswick, Germany, 8 June 2004