To Act, to Do, to Perform: Drama and the Phenomenology of Action

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University of Michigan Press, 1994 - Performing Arts - 165 pages
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To Act, To Do, To Perform takes a line from Hamlet's gravedigger as a basis for a philosophical inquiry into how action is constituted by language, materiality, and performance. Drawing on contemporary theory from the fields of drama, aesthetics, literature, and cultural studies, Alice Rayner uses dramatic texts by Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Beckett to examine problems of action.
When an agent or subject appears to have trouble negotiating between the name of an act and the practice of that act, a range of difficult issues in drama - such as the troubled relationships between object and process, text and performance, structure and play - become apparent. Each chapter of this book takes on those issues through examination of various dimensions of the phenomenon of action, and each examines a possible position for an agent or subject in relation to acts and action, as that position is revealed by a grammatical structure.
The active/passive position of a subject is examined in Waiting for Godot, the difference between withdrawal from action and performance is discussed in relation to Three Sisters, and the visible or "demonic" element of the material act is analyzed through Macbeth. The final chapter on Hamlet examines the interplay of all these elements as action is shown to dismantle itself in performance even as it is being repeated. These analyses demonstrate the processes by which action intersects with its own dismantling in the performative present and indicate how ideas about both subjects and their acts are limited by language that divides subject from processes.
To Act, To Do, To Perform is the first inclusive study of dramatic action since Francis Fergusson's The Idea of a Theater. This challenging and insightful book uses drama to elucidate philosophical questions and simultaneously demonstrates how drama offers something of its own to questions in literary theory and philosophy. The book will interest specialists as well as anyone intrigued by the recent popularity of "performance" as a critical and cultural metaphor.

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About the author (1994)

Alice Rayner is Associate Professor of Drama at Stanford University.

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