Performance and the Subject
It is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of the subject.
The subject is a variable complex formation of discourse and power. One might argue that subject is impediment. For to be subject is to be someone else by dependence and tied to his own identity by a conjunction of ‘self’ and knowledge.
The next question was - what makes planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inward. For me, it is a pity that Einstein's idea doesn't work. The reasonable thing just doesn't work.
The starting point on the subject is that almost all philosophical orientations today, even if they strongly oppose each other, agree on some kind of basic anti-subjectivist stance. ‘The subject is ossifying’, although not yet a clamour has become a consensus view.
The feeling is that the dynamism of the subject has exhausted itself and is now in terminal decline. Some suggest the subject, or self, if not dead, is in an ‘oxygen tent’ and we are beginning to become haunted by its gradual disappearance.
Bearing in mind the tide of subjection we face round the clock; politics, education, consumerism, media, it could be confidently claimed ours is an age in which the individual subject is in increasing search of itself. Yet it is a requisite of liberal, democratic politics to presuppose the existence of individual subjects. These citizen/subjects are deemed capable of reflective and critical distance from a possible course of action. They are also assumed to be equal to the task of taking and being charged with unique responsibility for those actions. Such democratic societies encourage unfettered, public debate in the belief that their subjects would be ultimately responsive to the force of better reasons and would act accordingly, i.e. at the polling booth.
Yet throughout many contemporary social science and humanities disciplines, a widespread and deep scepticism about the possibility of such individual agency and such responsiveness reigns. It follows that such contemporary scepticism in regard to the subject must impact on notions of that currently highly esteemed concept of ‘performance’.Certainly, ‘performance’ plays a major part in the election of our political leaders, Tony Blair has been described as ‘...a great performer’, (The Scotsman, 12th July, 2003).2 Indeed the choice for the ‘leader of the ‘free world’ has hinged on the performance of presidential candidates in television debates and this has been a constant since Nixon v Kennedy in the 1960s, now embedded in performance lore.
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