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Alkazi Theatre Archives

A Bibliographic Listing from the Archive

Unmarked: The Politics of Performance

Book: Unmarked: The Politics of Performance
Written by: Peggy Phelan
Published by: Routledge (1993)

In ‘Unmarked: The Politics of Performance’, author Peggy Phelan investigates the politics of the visible in contemporary capitalist culture. Perceived through a feminist psychoanalytic lens, the book, which is written ‘from and for the Left’, suggests that the relationship between visibility and power is neither linear nor simplistic but relies on cultural and social constructs. This relationship is explored through contemporary performances and cultural artefacts that problematise and subvert the fraught linkages of visibility to power. The performance-texts include photography (Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman), painting (Mira Schor), film (Yvonne Rainer’s ‘The Man Envied Women’, 1985 and Jennie Livingston’s ‘Paris Is Burning’, 1991), theatre (Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood 1988), anti-abortion demonstrations (Operation Rescue, 1980s-1990s), and performance art (Angelika Festa). It is through these texts that the author studies the production and reproduction of visibility in a capitalist cultural market. In the chapter ‘The Ontology of Performance: representation without reproduction’, Phelan reads ephemerality as ontological to performance and opines that, “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 something other than performance.” (p.146). Consequently, the book foregrounds the politics of ‘absence’ and ‘disappearance’ within the bigger nexus of capitalism and its culture of visibility.

“The production and reproduction of visibility are part of the labor of the reproduction of capitalism. I am trying here to remember the traps of the visible and to outline, however speculatively, a different way of thinking about the political and psychic relationship between self and other, subject and object, in cultural reproduction.” (p.11)

Unmarked- The Politics of Performance