'Beyond Cynicism: the Sceptical Imperative and (Future) Contemporary Performance'

Elizabeth Tomlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


'Beyond Cynicism' sets out to question the radical, or political, potential of the postmodernist philosophies which have underscored a significant strand of experimental performance over the last four decades. Rather than critiquing the postmodern from a Marxist or materialist perspective, the article returns to the self-deconstructive movement of Derrida to assess whether the capacity for political action and radical change is inherent within postmodernism itself. The article argues that the sceptical imperative, which is 'fundamental' to Derridean thought, contains the key to a constant self-reflexivity which prevents any 'totality' of conclusion being established. The logical consequence of this is that the 'conclusions' of the early postmodernists cannot be merely accepted by contemporary performance makers but must be rigorously and continually challenged in order to maintain the potential for political action and radical change. On the basis of this argument the article is able to make key distinctions between sceptical and cynical postmodern performance. It proposes that where Forced Entertainment's Showtime (1996) consistently questions its own scepticism by foregrounding the ghosts of the mimesis it simultaneously deconstructs, work which may have comparable 'motifs', such as Reckless Sleeper's Spanish Train (2006), presents only the foregone conclusions of the postmodern exercise, thus rejecting self-reflexivity to establish a new 'totality' which mirrors the 'incommensurable narrative play' defined by Lyotard. The article concludes by examining the process and politics of 'making' self-reflexive performance, through an analysis of the author's own production of Roses Morphine (2005). This analysis highlights the importance of sustaining paradox in the making process, whereby the contradictions, which lie at the heart of the maker's own rhetorical operations, are exposed to ensure that conclusions are deconstructed even as they are reached.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-369
Number of pages15
JournalContemporary Theatre Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2008


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