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Snapshot France




Dear PPWG Members,

This month, I am very happy to share with you a snapshot of Performance Philosophy in France. Working together with Liza Kharoubi Echenique, I have gathered the thoughts of four active performance philosophers currently working in France. Please read their thoughts below and spend some time on the site for the Laboratoire des Arts et Philosophies de la Scène (http://labo-laps.com/) where you’ll find other links and information.
 
Respondents Liza Kharoubi Echenique, Anna Street-Steff, Flore Garcin-Marrou, and Cyrielle Garson developed answers to the following questions: What is performance philosophy in France? Are there specific debates or theoretical approaches that French performance philosophers privilege currently?
 
Topics mentioned:
-       Intersections between theatre and ethics in writers such as Levinas, Diamond, Cavell, and others
-       Status of French philosophical thought within French academia
-       Plays and theatrical writings of Deleuze and Guattari
-       Recent initiatives (conferences, seminars) designed to harness the potency of philosophical research currently undertaken in France
-       Perspectives on graduate studies
 
As the second installment of this “snapshot” initiative, the contributions of these scholars help to reveal themes of central importance binding our working group together. As the inaugural Performance Philosophy conference nears, I will be working with Laura Cull and others to reframe the mission of our working group and to define in more detail the relationship between the PPWG and Performance Philosophy. If you would like to offer the perspective of your locality/country/institution/self on this issue, or if you would like to  please contact me.
 

 
Dear Will,
For quite a few years, I had been wondering what kind of work I was actually doing until I met Laura Cull at Kingtson University in 2009, Martin Puchner and Freddie Rokem at Harvard in 2012 and more recently Esa Kirkkopelto at the Sorbonne in Paris. Now I can say that what I have been doing since 2003 is called something like “Performance Philosophy”. Those precious moments were flashes of revelation!
 
Within performance philosophy, my area of study however concerns more precisely ethics, and I am currently working on how to envision what we could name a “theatrical praxis” or a “poethics” by enlarging our view on moral discourse. It is indeed necessary to reconfigure the ethical discourse we use to discuss contemporary theatre; Aristotle is of paramount importance but his Poetics does not encompass all the issues we are urgently facing today: theatre performances use new technologies, neurosciences, robots, they flesh out terrorism, global economic crises, total wars and genocides and these 21st century problems need critical tools to be accounted for. I have thus invoked contemporary ethicists or philosophers in my most recent work, such as Emmanuel Levinas, Cora Diamond, Alphonso Lingis, Simon Critchley, Stanley Cavell, Avital Ronell, and Judith Butler among others. It immediately struck me that the authors I needed for this investigation had to have a highly distinctive style, almost “performative” in itself. This crossover between theatre and ethics made me realize how the contemporary moral discourse was in fact getting closer to something theatrical, how it couldn’t remain neutral anymore and ignore literature and theatre, but needed to put itself into some kind of conceptual danger, to address its public frontally and become, as language, more vulnerable. The power of theatre does not only reside in its fictitious, fabulous dimension but in this material presentation of language, involving the exposure of bodies and the circulation of fleshy emotions and pains. Theatricality is the power to touch. Suddenly a new kind of ethics could make sense, neither patronizingly admonished nor indifferent to actual suffering, because it is being performed.
 
Liza Kharoubi
Associate Professor of Theatre and English Studies, Université d’Avignon/Université Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. 
 

 
Dear Will,
 
Thank you very much for your efforts to share a global perspective on Performance Philosophy with all of us. My enthusiasm for this emerging field cannot be overestimated.
 
The four of us have decided to respond separately, so my opinions are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the perspective of the other group members.
 
As you can see, we are small in number for the moment, which I suppose could seem ironic from an American point of view, as I have discovered that the reputations that foreign countries enjoy abroad rarely correspond with their own views of themselves. As an American, having arrived in France 12 years ago to pursue graduate studies in philosophy, I have discovered that often, what American universities celebrate as a typical French approach is actually marginalized in France's own academia (i.e. interdisciplinary openness, continental philosophy, Derrida). Thus even though a number of prominent French thinkers are undoubtedly on all Performance Philosophy members' reading lists, the French university system is somewhat less than inclined to accommodate avant-garde ways of thinking.
 
Nevertheless, as throughout the history of French thought, there are bright points of light which suggest that belonging to France's marginalized puts one in excellent company! Flore and the other co-founders of the Laboratoire des Arts Philosophiques de la Scène (LAPS) are forging a path forward, and their joint conference last year was absolutely in the spirit of Performance Philosophy. Liza and I were fortunate enough to find a supervisor at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, Elisabeth Angel-Perez, willing to allow PhD projects uniting theater and philosophy, and who hosts speakers whose research aligns with the spirit of Performance Philosophy.
 
One of the clichés about France that I actually did find to be true confirms the cultural sophistication of the French middle class. The current (and thriving!) theater scene in Paris is full of serious dramatic art, from Plato plays and reproductions of the Theatre of the Absurd to ultra-contemporary theatre from all over Europe. Philosophy is still taught in high schools, and theater is a natural part of basic education as well. There is even a successful collection of children's books, called Les Petits Platons, which transposes philosophy into dialog and narrative form for the younger reader.
 
As for my personal involvement, apart from translating the above book collection and attending philosophy and theater conferences, I am writing my dissertation on the philosophical evolution of the idea of the comic and its realization in post-war British and French drama. As my point of departure, I explore whether performances have an interpretive capacity that is indispensable to the philosophical understanding of phenomena. As part of the larger discussion concerning how thinking occurs and the way stories are told, I am focusing on the theatrical genre of comedy, and specifically its manifestation in the post-war Theatre of the Absurd, in order to demonstrate how comedy radically reshapes philosophical discourse by calling attention to the mind/body gap in a way that unites form with content, provoking both a mental and physical reaction. I propose that comic techniques subvert the traditional equation of identity with repetition (and thus systems of signification in general), leading to curious implications on the meaning of suffering.
 
Without a doubt, major strands of French thought belong to the Performance Philosophy endeavor, although this recognition will, most likely, take place abroad well before it finds official sanction within the French university system at large. Our hope is to create a corner of reception that functions as an on-stage mirror of French reflection, aided by our international counterparts!
 
Greetings to all,
Anna Street-Steff
 

 
Dear Will,
 
My interest in the intersections between theater and philosophy is structured in several stages. First, I started studying the relationship between the writings of Christian mystics (Saint Jean de la Croix, St. Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola) and acting techniques (i. e. the “saint-actor” of Jerzy Grotowski) seeking to bring a state of grace on stage.
 
Then I discovered the work of Professor Denis Guénoun, who is a key figure concerning the relationship between theatre and philosophy in France. He is one of the first people who thought that the scene is neither abstract nor speculative: but always linked with actors and practical aspects. Thanks to him, I realized that the theater thinking is not a purely speculative exercise, but also a practical one. So I wrote my thesis in this perspective: it was entitled "Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari between theater and philosophy. For A Coming Theatre." and was supported at the University Paris-Sorbonne.
 
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari are not famous for having a deep, enduring interest in theatre. This thesis first develops historical and biographical elements to reveal that the notion of their indifference to theatre is cruelly inexact: the former repeatedly mentions drama and constructively criticises it, while the latter turns out to be the author of dramas which are yet unpublished, and whose theatrical characteristics are revealed here. In a more conceptual part, I then offer the mapping of a heterogeneous web of notions that both philosophers abide by: theatre is used in the creation of new concepts; it is at the service of a new wording of philosophy. The Theatre of Thought, the Method of Dramatisation, the Theatre of Cruelty, the Schizo Theatre, the Minor Theatre and the Theatre through the process of Becoming-Other are the signposts of A Coming Theatre that our research sets out to explore. Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy offers a reaction to the crisis of theatre. While Deleuze takes theatre on new lines of flight and pushes it on the verge of pure abstraction, Félix Guattari forges a Postdramatic Theatre (See Flore Garcin-Marrou, “Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and theatre. Or, Philosophy and its ’other’.”, revue Trahir, 2011. http://www.revuetrahir.net/2011-2/trahir-garcin-marrou-theatre.pdf)
 
Discovering a dozen unpublished plays, written by Félix Guattari, was a big surprise. One of them was translated by Solène Nicolas for a review of Deleuze studies, with an introduction entitled “To Be or Not to Be Socrates”. (Félix Guattari in the Age of Semiocapitalism, in Deleuze Studies, vol. 6, issue 2, edited by Gary Genosko, may 2012 http://www.euppublishing.com/toc/dls/6/2). All the plays are not yet published in French.
 
In 2011, I decided to co-found the LAPS (Laboratoire des Arts et Philosophies de la Scène), the Performance Arts and Philosophy laboratory; a research group encouraging discussions, collaborations, reflections between laboratory members and associated artists, who share a common interest: exploring the link between theater and philosophy. Through annual seminars, symposiums and artistic collaborations, the LAPS organizes a back-and-forth between the stage and the philosophical concepts, producing a "philosophical fieldwork ". http://labo-laps.com/ 
 
In 2012, I organized a symposium on the topic "Images and functions of theater in contemporary French philosophy," which took place on 19-20 October and 23-24 November 2012, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Contemporary French philosophy refers to the theater both as a recurrence and a way that forces us to question its images and real functions. Diderot probably marked the most significant step in the appropriation by the philosophy of the issues that appeared before him to remain in specific field of aesthetics. But today, even authors who want to stay away from the theater, as Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Rancière, refer to it constantly. In Alain Badiou’s writings, theater is a condition of his philosophy. Like Jean-Paul Sartre, Badiou weaves his philosophical writing with his playwriting (for example, in the recent rewriting of Plato's Republic). Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Guy Debord, Louis Althusser, Emmanuel Levinas, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari were discussed during the four days of the conference. Forty speakers (including Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Jean-Christophe Bailly themselves ...) gave a theoretical version of the question.
 
In 2013-2014, the LAPS will support the following projects: 1/ a new international symposium organized with Liza Kharoubi, under the aegis of American philosophy. 2/ an artist residency about "puppet and philosophy" in the International Institute of Puppetry, Charleville Mézières (Northern France). http://www.marionnette.com/   3/ the staging of the last play of Félix Guattari, Night time, the End of Possibilities.
 
Dr Flore Garcin-Marrou
 
After studies of Philosophy, Flore Garcin-Marrou joined the Research center on Theatre at the University Paris-Sorbonne. Her PhD dissertation, entitled “Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, between theatre and philosophy”, supervised by Denis Guénoun, attempt to restore to theatre its place among the other arts and to study unpublished plays which Félix Guattari himself wrote between 1980 and 1990. Flore Garcin-Marrou has been in charge of courses in the Performing arts program at the Faculty of Lille (Northern France) and at University of Toulouse-Le Mirail (Southern France). This year, she’s director of master’s degree at Columbia University (Reid Hall, Paris). floreblog.com
 

 
Dear Will,
 
This is a highly interesting question which I believe corresponds to the possible existence of given prevailing attitudes towards performance philosophy in France, particularly within current philosophy and performance studies.  At the present time, there is a substantial body of scholarship devoted to the examination and documentation of performance practices within our respective French philosophical context. Of especial importance was the conference organised by Labo Laps last year on "images and functions of theatre in contemporary French philosophy". It is hoped that the next conference will engage with American philosophy vis-à-vis the concept of performance.
 
Among the recurrent concerns of French scholars, themes of aesthetics, politics, ethics and "Theatre of Ideas" (Antoine Vitez) have been prominent. As a PhD student working on contemporary British political theatre, I am particularly interested in questions of identity and representation of minorities in the age of globalisation. I understand performance philosophy as intrinsically more than performances echoing philosophical representations of the world. I am fascinated by the idea of resonance between performance and philosophy and fundamentally performances have the potential to "think" and they do so with different means leading to different philosophical "truths".  In this context, Performance Philosophers explore both philosophy's engagement with performance and performance's engagement with philosophy. More specifically, they aim to examine the complex nature of the philosophical intervention in performance, both creative and critical.  
 
All good wishes,
 
Cyrielle Garson









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