Postmodernism and performance.

Book chapter

Melrose, S. 2011. Postmodernism and performance. in: Sim, S. (ed.) The Routledge companion to postmodernism. London and New York Routledge. pp. 194-203
Chapter titlePostmodernism and performance.
AuthorsMelrose, S.

What do writers perform, when they/we use a particular term – or a practitioner’s name – in academic writing that purports to be ‘about’ performance/s? It is worth noting in the present context that the suffix ‘-ism’, added to the noun term ‘the postmodern’ (or, indeed, the suffix ‘-ist’, added to the qualifier ‘postmodern’), performs a properly ‘modern-ist’ capture upon an otherwise open, dynamic and incomplete, ‘soft-edged’ cluster of practices. The suffixes ‘-ism’ and ‘-ist’, I argue here, are categorising: they signal a desire to pin something down, the better to inspect – and, apparently, to know - ‘it’. Confronted then by the invitation to write about ‘postmodernist’ performance, as is the case here, I can’t avoid a return to J-F. Lyotard’s observation of the 1970s, that he had “favored a certain procedure”, which was to “emphasiz[e] facts of language and in particular their pragmatic aspect” (Lyotard, 1979/1984, p.9), in his attempt to account for what he called the postmodern condition of the age. The use of language, others have noted, does (or performs) something, and in my argument the use of nouns can seem to conjure ‘something’ up - almost as though it already existed, prior to that act of word-conjuring. Postmodern-ist performance, in other words, might seem already to exist/have existed, and on this basis might well be pinned down, and written ‘about’, by spectators, in terms of its apparent ‘messing around with’ some of the conventions identified (as I have done above) as ‘modern-ist’. This chapter suggests that qualifying performances in these sorts of terms tends to be an option available to spectators and writers, rather than one chosen by practitioners, for whom the postmodern is rather less easily identified, in practice, and may always escape its actualisation.

Research GroupDance group
Theatre Arts group
Page range194-203
Book titleThe Routledge companion to postmodernism.
EditorsSim, S.
Place of publicationLondon and New York
SeriesRoutledge Companions
Publication dates
PrintJul 2011
Publication process dates
Deposited18 Jul 2011
Output statusPublished
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