On Failure – Call for Contributors

Performance Research Journal
Vol. 17, No. 1
On Failure – Call for Contributors

Issue Editors: Róisín O’Gorman and Margaret Werry

To speak of failure is to invite stigma. Yet failure is a fact of our lives as performers and artists, teachers and learners, activists and institution builders. What is the value of facing failure square on, studying it, theorizing it – even cultivating it? How can we, in Beckett’s famous words, “fail again, fail better?” If failure is the sine qua non of performance–improvisation, rehearsal, experiment assume an accretion of failures as integral to the process of discovery and creativity–this special issue asks if performance might provide us with a metaphor and methodology for failure.

“On Failure” will focus in particular on pedagogy.. Hope and success are the cultural dominants in a neo-liberal age, the mantra of the corporatizing university, but also the resort of progressive efforts by artists, teachers and public intellectuals in the humanities, who yoke movements for change to teleological narratives of aspiration and self-assertion.

In Theatre and Performance Studies, most work on public art, activism, and pedagogy–from recent literature on relational aesthetics, to established Boalian work on theatre for social change–carries an ameliorative and developmental charge. Yet clearly, most such projects fail most of the time; fail to democratize, raise visibility, transform consciousness or even gain the understanding of those they claim to aid. Dwelling on and in failure offers not only a tool of critique or diagnostic of neo-liberal enterprise, but also a way to remodel the theoretical premises of activist work in our discipline, querying the trajectories and temporalities of change enacted in performance.

How does failure focus progressive hopes not on future transcendence, but in the interstices of present struggle—the immanence and “becoming” of the everyday? What is the affective landscape of failure, and what social and political work does the affect of failure do? What is the analytic power of failure to reveal the limits of the (currently) possible, thinkable, acceptable, and the contours of structures of possibility? What is the relationship between failure and change–what role has failure played in significant transformations (of political or artistic movements, scientific discoveries, for example)? What is the quality of failure as an aesthetic experience? How does failure help performance theory rethink some of its central terms, such as repetition, difference, death, or presence? What is failure, anyway? How or where does failure register, institutionally, viscerally, bodily, affectively? What is its social choreography and how is that choreography culturally or historically variant or contested? What are the risks of valorizing failure in the way these questions imply? What does such a project stand to learn from those who are set up to fail, doomed to fail, or dismissed as failures? Finally, against the background of current catastrophic world-historical failures (economies, governments etc.), or the intractable, durational failure of major institutions (public higher
education, for example), what is the value of attending to the micro-failures of performance and pedagogy?

ALL proposals and general enquiries should be sent direct to:

Alison Matthews: aem7 at aber.ac.uk