Towards a Phenomenology of the Witness to Pain: Dis/Identification and the Orlanian Other

Christine Stoddard


To ask for recognition, or to offer it, is precisely not to ask for recognition for what one already is. It is to solicit a becoming, to instigate a transformation, to petition the future always in relation to the Other. (Butler, 2004: 44)

Insisting on intimacy sometimes blinds us to the utter otherness of our very selves.
(Phelan, 2004: 25)

Performance’s possibility for connection is often uncritically privileged as an essential aspect of its mode of representation. Unlike painting or film where the viewer turns his active gaze onto a passive art object – and it is usually his gaze, as Laura Mulvey and other critics of spectatorship remind us – performance is seen as a reciprocal event that engages both spectator and performer in live, immediate, and intimate exchange. Philip Auslander argues that this assumption has a certain value for performers and for a politics of transgression, but often leads to ‘clichés and mystifications like “the magic of live theatre,” the “energy” that supposedly exists between performers and spectators in a live event, and the “community” that live performance is often said to create’ (1999: 2).

For Auslander, the privileging of live performance is based on a faulty promise of unity when, in fact, the theatrical form is predicated on separation and difference, on the very mediation of the gap between performer and spectator. Even so, it is this promise of community that adheres to notions of authenticity in contemporary debates about the real. In fact, the spectre of performance – the assumption of its liveness – as somehow outside an economy of repetition or minimising the space between individuals haunts the foundational logic supporting the real/representational binary. This is no more apparent than in the performance of pain.

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