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Friday March 15 | 16:30 - 18:00
De Brakke Grond | Rode Zaal
This panel addresses the ethics and politics of knowledge-production in the context of interventions for both animals and autism.
One way to conceive the ethico-political stakes of the extant practice and potential of Performance Philosophy is as a field concerned to: i) pluralize our concepts of what counts as ‘thought’, and ii) equalize the status of diverse forms of thought and ways of knowing, both within academic institutions (in interdisciplinary encounters, for instance) but also in terms of the inequalities between academic knowledges and the insights generated by extra-academic practices (by the professional arts, for instance, but also in and as lived experience). Though fundamentally intertwined, we might suggest that there are two key dimensions of Performance Philosophy as an intervention. On the one hand, Performance Philosophy intervenes critically: through the analysis of the conceptual and perceptual processes that enable some practices to be counted as “thoughtful”, over and above or to the exclusion of others. On the other, it intervenes constructively or creatively: to produce and demonstrate alternative modes of research practice aiming towards a ‘radical equality’ of thought.

Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca researches nonhuman animals; Shaun May researches autism. Intervening between the two, Marla Carlson’s latest book Affect, Animals and Autists: Feeling around the Edges of the Human in Performance (2018), brings them together in important, but also uneasy ways. Despite growing calls to take an intersectional approach to inequalities and strengthen alliances between different social justice movements – like the animal advocacy and neurodiversity movements - it remains a challenge to do this in nuanced ways that avoid ‘comparing oppressions’ in a manner that risks reinforcing the dehumanization of autistic people. Nevertheless, if (non)philosophers like François Laruelle have already led Performance Philosophy to the question: “how do some thoughts come to be seen as philosophical while others do not?”, then perhaps now we might also ask “how do some individuals come to be seen as humans while others do not?” (Ó Maoilearca 2015: 188).

Existing research in Performance Philosophy (Cull 2014; Fisher 2015) has considered how the field might intervene to unseat the position of authority which Philosophy has often assumed over knowledge (including the knowledge that comes from the arts). Building on this work, and through its chosen formats of the video essay and performance-lecture, this panel will also consider how Performance Philosophy might intervene in animal science and neuroscience through the enactment of new forms of thinking.

Individual contributions:

Marla Carlson: Intoxicating Categories: Intervening in ‘Animality’ and ‘Autism’

This video essay examines efforts by performance artists and philosophers to escape the prison-house of language, focusing on the ways in which normate use of human language has partitioned humans off from other animals and people with autism from neurotypicals. Launching a hard offensive against categories in the 1960-70s, the artists Otto Muehl and Hermann Nitsch slaughtered animals in live performance as they attempted to demolish institutions (marriage, family, political structures). Deleuze and Guattari’s contemporaneous Anti-Oedipus shared this aim, and their later A Thousand Plateaus extended it. Softer challenges grew as well, seemingly apolitical but perhaps more radical, in performance techniques such as contact improvisation and Robert Wilson’s collaboration with Christopher Knowles. Yet the impact of animal sacrifice on social institutions was difficult to discern, and reception has hardened the category “autistic” around Knowles, inscribing him into familiar narratives. Regrouping for more subtle subversion in the early 2000s, choreographers Paula Josa-Jones and Jennifer Monson work with performance techniques related to contact improvisation to deterritorialize bodily habits and open up new relational possibilities. As fully embodied thinking, their performances offer a subtle subversion of the toxic categories “animality” and “autism.” The argument and the examples are drawn from Affect, Animals, and Autists, re-visualized and redirected toward the questions particular to this conference. Performance will accompany the video essay.

Marla Carlson is Associate Professor of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Georgia, and President of the American Society for Theatre Research, 2018-21. Publications include Performing Bodies in Pain: Medieval and PostModern Martyrs, Mystics, and Artists (2010); Affect, Animals, and Autists: Feeling Around the Edges of the Human in Performance (2018).

Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca: Opening the Circle, Towards a Radical Equality: Performance Philosophy & Animals

My contribution to the panel will be a new iteration of a work-in-progress performance-lecture that attempts give equal attention to visual thinking, as well as to thinking in/as spoken word, in order to investigate the ethics of knowledge-production with respect to the relationships between performance, philosophy and nonhuman animals. The lecture is also a manifestation of an effort to practice performance philosophy as a thinking alongside (rather than ‘about’) “Sheep Pig Goat” (2017): a ‘creative research studio’ by the UKbased performance company, Fevered Sleep which involved a week-long public presentation of a series of improvised encounters between human performers (dancers and musicians) and animal spectators: specifically, some sheep, pigs and goats.

Non-philosopher, François Laruelle proposes a radical equality between all forms of thought – even to the extent of no longer seeing the ‘love of wisdom’ (philo-sophia) as exclusive to the human or Homo sapiens (the ‘wise man’). Consequently, whilst mainstream debate around equality often focuses on the idea of a universal humanity, the lecture suggests that Performance Philosophy must turn its attention to the thought of nonhuman animals in order to perform a radical extension of the idea of equality itself: animals being those ‘others’ most like ‘us’ who are nonetheless not ‘us’. Through the repeated image of the expanding circle, the lecture will consider ‘intervention’ in terms of the institutionalized structures of thought itself: exploring how to break the cycle of applying pre-existing concepts to our encounters in favour of inhabiting experimental modes of unlearning or not-knowing through which 1) there is a qualitative extension or mutation of philosophy by the knowledge that comes from performance and 2) nonhuman animals are empowered to mutate our understandings of performance and philosophy.

Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca is Reader in Theatre and Performance and Director of the Centre for Performance Philosophy at the University of Surrey, UK; a founding core convener of Performance Philosophy and an editor of the Performance Philosophy book series and journal. Her books include: Theatres of Immanence (2012); and Encounters in Performance Philosophy (2014) coedited with Alice Lagaay. 

Shaun May: Intervention and Resistance in the Neurodiversity Movement

This presentation will interrogate the notion of ‘interventions’ for autism, raising the questions of (a) what is being intervened into and (b) who is doing the intervening. Drawing on the work of autistic self-advocates such as Penni Winter (2012), who develops a critique of behavioural interventions such as Applied Behavioural Analysis, it will look at whether this critique could extend to theatre interventions (c.f. SDARI and SENSE Theatre). Put another way, the presentation will ask whether both ABA and theatre interventions are underpinned by what Milton and Lyte calls the ‘dominant normalisation agenda’ (2012). Importantly, Milton and Lyte argue one consequence of this is the ‘silencing of the autistic voice in knowledge production’ (ibid). As such, the presentation will explore – through form rather than content – ways of articulating research that might prioritise the voices of the autistic community over conventional notions of academic authorship.

Shaun May is a Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent and the author of two books, A Philosophy of Comedy on Stage and Screen (Bloomsbury) and Rethinking Practice as Research and the Cognitive Turn (Palgrave). He is one of the organisers of the Autism Arts Festival, a biennial festival of arts by and for people on the spectrum, and his current research looks at the philosophical, political and aesthetic implications of neurodiversity.
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