In the article by Huizinga, what is his main argument?

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

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