Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Performance and Philosophy Now

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Performance and Philosophy Now

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is to investigate the potential of performance and philosophy as interconnected disciplines. Performance and philosophy can collaborate in effectively communicating the ideas and concepts used in philosophy to a wide range of audiences, with the aim of providing ethical training. This practice can be seen in both the Hellenistic and Roman schools of thought, including the Stoics, the Sceptics and the Epicureans.

Performance practices and philosophy can influence individuals in understanding the importance of practising philosophy. The dramatisation of philosophical figures through performance could potentially bring to life and make relevant philosophical ideas in contemporary times, as well as initiate an awareness of the importance of living a good (moral) life. The theatre practitioner can deliver a performance with the intent of representing a specific type of a character, using both their physique and emotions. Similarly, a philosopher may also deliver a kind of performance. This can be seen if we consider the example of Socrates, who used dramatic storytelling in his search for truth.

There is a contemporary literary shift, which relates philosophy to performance practices and literary disciplines. Examples of such works include How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell,1 The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault by Alexander Nehamas,2 How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain De Botton3 and Martin Puchner's The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theatre and Philosophy.4 I shall examine both contemporary theories and performance practices in relation to philosophy. I will look at how this relationship is understood by contemporary philosophers and theatre practitioners such as Edward Spence, Freddie Rokem and Martin Puchner.

Plato uses an innovative dramatic formula in specific philosophical writings such as The Symposium,5 the Phaedo6 and the Apology.7 This formula can be seen as the precursor of the modern collaboration between performance and philosophy. Through the character of Socrates, Plato incorporates both characterisation and dramatisation in his writings; writings which were intended to communicate philosophical ideas about how to practise philosophy in everyday life. Socrates tactfully presents philosophy through dramatic storytelling, thereby implementing a creative and interactive process by making his audience think.

The dramatic concept developed by Plato in his writings is that of performing philosophy. Socrates, as a character in Plato's writings, wandered the streets of Athens, provoking the people he met to question what they knew about love, morals, the arts and the importance of living in a good city. Plato introduces various abstract and philosophical ideas through the use of dramatic personas. Specific examples can be seen not only in his Symposium,8 where Diotima is the dramatic embodiment of divine love, but also in his Phaedo,9 where Socrates is the dramatic embodiment (again) of the immortal soul.

Plato can be seen as a philosophical dramatist who is experimenting with the idea of dramatising philosophy through characterisation. It can be argued that, in Plato's writings, Socrates is giving a kind of philosophical performance with the aim of effectively communicating philosophical ideas to audiences. Plato's writings are, in this sense, a pioneering attempt at dramatising philosophy through a philosophical character, triggering and challenging responses from secondary characters - i.e. supposed experts in the topic being examined. Furthermore, other dramatic devices, such as myths (Myth of Er) and allegories (Allegory of the Cave), are also employed in the Republic.10

Socrates, as he appears in the Republic, Ion11 and the Phaedrus,12 targets the power of performance and its effect on the spectator. However, he considers Athenian theatre and performers as negative contributors to the ideal state, precisely because they use dramatic performance to manipulate and misrepresent moral ideals to the public. …

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