<Book Review>
Destruction in the Performative
Alice Lagaay and Michael Lorber (eds.)
[Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2012. (212 pp.) ]

In the critical performance studies book, Destruction in the Performative, editors Alice Lagaay and Michael Lorber present a collection of essays that explore the different modes of destructive dynamics. Throughout the book, authors refer to different forces or properties that stimulate growth, development, or change within a system or process. More specifically, these forces and properties are subjected to intellectual exploration through a lens of destruction and positioned in a performative paradigm. These dynamics include violence carried out between people, spaces and things, or systems and institutions. Their hypothesis is clearly stated in the introduction that destructivity cannot simply be limited to the intentions of certain individuals, nor explained by a simple relation of cause and effect, but that it tends to include a complex interrelation of several different levels of phenomena, they refer to as “dynamics”. Lagaay is a post-doctoral researcher in the Philosophy Department of Brement University where she studies the philosophy of voice and silence and the relation between performance and philosophy. Co-editor, Michael Lorber studied Drama at the Tiroler Landestheater as well as Theater Studies, Philosophy and Sociology at Freie Universität Berlin where from 2005 to 2010 served as a researcher within the project “Theatrum Scientiarum” of the Collaborative Research Centre “Performing Cultures.” The book was the result of a three year interdisciplinary research focus group (2008-2010) dedicated to “Destructive Dynamics and Performativity” within the “Performing Cultures” Research Centre.

Destruction in the Performative is divided into three sections: 1) Language, Music, Noise, 2) Embodiment, Identity, Ecstasy, and 3) Things, Spaces, and Networks. Within each section, there are chapters that investigate the method in which destructivity, such as the destabilization and destruction of orders, subjects, and bodies, can be comprehended by concepts of performativity. Lagaay and Lorber believe that cultural transformation tends to be described in one of two ways: 1) with reference of what comes about, is created or emerges in the process of change, or 2) with reference of what is destroyed or obscured in the process. They emphasize that the turn towards the destructive should be understood as both a shift in perspective on the level of observation and as theoretical modifications of existing concepts of the performative. They suggest that performativity emerged from a variety of theoretical perspectives that combine linguistic, cultural-sociological as well as aesthetic concerns, and emphasize the applicability of these across all disciplines. Furthermore, they claim that destruction can occur on the levels of linguistic, socio-cultural, historical, aesthetic, or as a combination of various levels.

The first section presents a collection of four case studies that deal overtly with the destructive dynamics situated in the interaction of and communication between subjects or between subjects and their acoustic environment. The first section, “Language, Music, Noise” contains four writings from Steffen Hermann, Nikita Dhawan, Rebecca Wolf, and Jenny Schrödl. Hermann’s essay is influenced by Aleandre Kojève’s well-known reading: lectures on the Phenomenology of the Spirit, and discusses the dynamics of destruction that exist in the Hegel’s stages of consciousness. He also provides interesting and well-supported objections against the heroic reading of the lord/bondsman relationship. Hermann’s lucid explanation of Hegel’s Theory of Recognition examines the subordination between a lord and bondsman. The relationship consists of the struggle for recognition, and emphasizes that it is not the physical but rather the social life of the participant that matters most. Dhawan’s chapter focuses on how speech can be politically enabling and how silence can be subversive. Drawing on Foucault and Derrida, she considers how violence can be a performance of power and/or violence. Insightful about this chapter is the way she broadens our understanding of language by examining free speech but also paying special attention to the complex relationship between language or speech, power, and violence. In Rebecca Wolf’s chapter, she discusses how the power of music can serve to generate or destroy. She examines two texts about sacred figures as she explores the connection between music and power. Wolf locates a representation of the power of the auditive that extends beyond Walter Benjamin’s notion of destructive character. Schrödl’s chapter focuses on acoustic violence and specifically studies the dimension of violent effects on the audience and discusses how it can injure the actor, act against authority, range from seducing to overpowering, and also explores the generation and thematization of co-presence through acoustic violence.

In the second section titled “Embodiment, Identity, and Ecstasy,” essays by Barbara Gronau, Renate Lorenz, and Volker Woltersdorff are included. This section examines how models of embodiment can be identified in destructive or self-destructive dynamics within each area. Gronau examines the dynamics within hunger striking and references Jean Lassalle’s political outcome from his renunciation of food. She explores the dialectic of suffering and fervor inherent to the enactment of hunger striking and provides a compelling example of how destructive activity can lead to “positive” results. Lorenz’s chapter explores the queer archaeology of Salome by considering how the various appropriations of Salome destroy the connections to fixed identity. Woltersdorff adopts a Freudian perspective as he discusses his death drive and the difference between a destructive and productive way of self-shattering in The Piano Teacher (1983) and Secretary (2001). He challenges the idea of masochism as a ‘queering’ of both the death drive and the pleasure principle, as he argues that masochism dwells at the very point of uncertainty between productivity and destructivity.

In the last section, “Things, Spaces, and Networks” the material aspects of destructive dynamics in historical and contemporary processes are assessed through the writings of Kristiane Hasslemann, Katja Rothe, and Robert Schmidt. Hasslemann’s chapter explores how Serra’s large-scale, site-specific sculptures excavate the social and temperamental latency zones of modern societies through looking at the social impact of “Terminal” (1979), “Tilted Arc” (1981), and “Intersection” (1992). This reading is supported by historical details about the general public’s reactions and also includes intriguing facts about political happenings behind closed doors. Rothe’s chapter traces the connotation between destruction and performativity in the light of Gabriel’s concept of economics and takes you on a journey of how economics is an innovative process driven by constitutive disruptions. She offers a truly interesting perspective on the dynamic aspects of destruction and suggests the chronological sequence of destruction and innovation is revoked in a model of simultaneous association. In Schmidt’s essay, he attempts to delineate and analyze the evolution of code decay through ethnographic observations.

Scholars interested in critical performance studies and performance art will appreciate Destruction in the Performative. The authors and contributors of this book address the complex dialectical relationship between destruction and creation while challenging current paradigms of performance. Lastly, the collection of philosophical chapters range from the acoustic to the sculptural and present a daring perspective of the influential role that destructive dynamics plays in cultural transformation.

     — Reviewed by Alena Tunprasert-Ahrens, University of Missouri—St. Louis

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