Introduction: Performance and the Tragic Politics of the Agon

Fisher, Tony (2017) Introduction: Performance and the Tragic Politics of the Agon. In: Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance & Radical Democracy. Performance Philosophy . Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 1-24. ISBN 9781349950997


The introduction to the book provides a rationale for the collection by sketching out a ‘tragic conception’ of the political. It is in relation to this conception—understanding the tragic in terms of the finitude and precarity of the political—that the various approaches taken by the authors in the collection might be said to be responding. Core to this approach is the theme of ‘antagonism’ as theorised in the work of Carl Schmitt and later Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. The introduction offers a comprehensive account of the ‘agonistic’ dimension that defines the political as such, beginning by tracing the ‘agon’—meaning ‘struggle’—back to its origins in ancient Greek society and culture. That the ancient Greeks understood the insuperable nature of the agon provides the starting point for a discussion of the limits of the political, grasped as the permanent interplay of contesting forces and thus the impossibility of reaching a final consensus on social and democratic life. How theatre and performance respond to this tragic conception, or deploy it, is then discussed in the final section of the chapter, through a brief analysis of the emergence of ‘post-Brechtian’ aesthetics—central to debates that animate the essays that follow.


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