Performing Grief - International Conference - Paris-Sorbonne - Oct.17-18, 2014

full name / name of organization: 
Marie Pecorari (Paris-Sorbonne Université)


Confirmed keynote speakers :
Pr. Tobias Döring (University of Munich)
Pr. Diana Taylor (New York University)

Looking at grief amounts to parsing a semantic conflation, as the term can in turn designate the site of sorrow, its origin, quality, consequences, or its written, physical, mental traces. It can also be perceived as interaction, whether suffered or inflicted. As a phenomenon conventionally associated with the private sphere yet whose expression is framed by social norms, grief places its victim in a more or less submissive situation of performance, constraining her to become the closely watched actor of her sorrow.
Whether it emphasizes the discrepancy with an implicit decorum or the validation of expectations, the expression of grief is approached through a performance perspective, in other words featuring the necessary components of a spectacle.

Yet the process by which the pain is externalized can rarely be allowed to become manifest, as it may cast doubts on the private side of truth. Grief may then enter into a relationship based on reticence, if not outright resistance, to the theatre, beyond the framework of didacticism or metatheatre. It should not come as a surprise that its representation has been dramatically foregrounded, recurrently as well as problematically so.

We will analyze its theatrical treatment, and beyond, its aesthetic and social expressions across the English-speaking world from the Early Modern period onwards. Grief will be approached as a discursive site in constant flux, negociating its passage through a liminal space between opposite poles (public/private, performer/spectator, acting/truth, ephemerality/repetition, mourning/restoration, archive/repertoire, presence/absence, origin/effect, etc.) We will interrogate the various means to invest the interstices, as well as the presuppositions behind those binary constructions.

The papers presented will aim to take stock of the state of the field through the dual lens of performance and grief, articulating the aesthetic, curative, and ethical implications of the terms.

Recent scholarship in the field of Performance Studies provides a point of reference, especially approaches aiming to break away from the dominant – comparative and synchronic – model to adopt a transhistorical perspective. For example, Diana Taylor (The Archive and the Repertoire, 2003)'s assumption that the performance gesture can be as complex to reconstruct in a contemporary as in a past context, when the transmission of cultural memory bypasses a written framework or when written traces remain partial or cryptic.

Situating our approach between cultural history, aesthetics and literature, we will look at archives and practices usually perceived in their aesthetic dimension to restore the broader performance conventions they reflect, and vice versa – the theatrical encoding allowing for a closer outlook on social rituals, due to the reproductive potentialities of this living artform.

From the work of Tobias Döring and Thomas Rist on the representations of rituals and funeral commemorations in the Elizabethan era, to those of Peggy Phelan and Diana Taylor on the theatricalization of mourning in the contemporary world, connections remain to be established to foster a methodological dialogue. Following Jon McKenzie's lead, our claim is that performance can be an episteme and not only an object of analysis.

Suggested topics may include but are not limited to:

-Realities and representations
-Expressions of grief in the theatre, music, visual arts, and dialectical connections between the arts
-Evolutions in the treatment of grief in religious and cultural practices
-Repetition, commemoration, ritual
-Spaces and scenographies of grief

Please send an abstract and short bio to by May 31, 2014.

The event is organized by Denis Lagae-Devoldère and Marie Pecorari
HDEA-CSTI (dir. Marie-Madeleine Martinet), Paris-Sorbonne