The shudder catharsis in twentieth-century performance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Catharsis, it would seem, situates the subject at a dangerous border. This chapter shows that the Lacanian subject, when seized by the look of the Other, suffers a disturbance in the totalizing vision that affirms consciousness and mastery. For Bertolt Brecht and A. Artaud, self-conscious modernists both, it was easy enough to reject catharsis on the grounds of bourgeois regulation. In modernist and postmodern performance, the precarious border between body and cultural embodiment has provoked acts of anamorphic catharsis addressed not only to spectators but to a culture deemed ill and oppressive. Catharsis-driven bourgeois theater, Brecht insisted, used emotional lures to avert our eyes and minds from the social dialectic informing every gesture, every word. Karen Finley’s performances, born in the Reagan years, attempt to reinvent the possibility of catharsis in postmodern culture. Twentieth-century practices based on the body as a source of knowledge would have to include Stanislavskys “affective memory”; Meyerhold’s “biomechanics”; Brecht’s epic theater training; Artaud s “affective athleticism.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPerformativity and Performance
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781135207571
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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