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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 12 | volume III | January, 2000



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 12January, 2000

The Metaphysics of Performance

p. 1
Aldo Tassi

ABSTRACT: Something extraordinary has happened to metaphysics. At the very moment when philosophy is focusing its efforts at bringing metaphysics to an ‘end,’ metaphysics finds itself flourishing in the theatre, which speaks of itself as ‘metaphysics-in-action’ and publishes treatises carrying such titles as The Act of Being: Toward a Theory of Acting. The irony of the situation appears to have been lost on postmodern philosophers. What this paper sets out to do is explore the potential consequences of the metaphysical weight that has been acquired by the theatre for the practice of philosophy. It argues that the theatrical performance is in fact an ‘enactment’ of the performance of being and that, as such, it is possible to extend our understanding of this performance from the theatrical stage to the ‘theatre of the world.’ Finally, in doing so, we can establish the context for a metaphysics that does not privilege presence.

    The world of the stage, of roles, masks, parts to play has been one of the most enduring ways of speaking about life and the world we live in. In fact, until four hundred years ago, the theatrum mundi metaphor was the dominant image in Western thinking. God was conceived on the analogy of a playwright who had created the script of the play that was being performed on the stage called the world. “All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players …”
    No sooner had Shakespeare penned these lines than the theatre metaphor was emptied of its metaphysical charge. In very short order, it found itself functioning under the aegis of a new and more powerful image of the world: “the book of the world.” It was Galileo and Descartes who gave this metaphor its currency, which was to have far reaching consequences for the history of metaphysical thinking in the West.
    To engage the world as a stage is to find oneself articulating what is at bottom an inherently unstable view of the world. As anyone who is familiar with the theatre knows, if it takes a performance to bring a world to presence, then the intelligibility or meaning of what transpires cannot be guaranteed in advance. And, if God is conceived of in terms of being a playwright, then he faces the predicament that every playwright finds himself in. He is constrained to address the continuing instability that attaches itself to his creation by

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