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“Action-Metaphor”: The Performatic Sources of Human Meaning-Making

L'« Action-Métaphore » : les sources performatiques de la production humaine du sens
Fabrizio Deriu


Le présent dossier thématique mettant en évidence une relation potentielle entre la notion (théâtrale) de « performance » et la notion de « pratiques sémiotiques », plutôt que celle de « performance » dans le sens proprement sémiotique, l’un des objectifs de notre contribution est de fournir une réponse indirecte à la raison de ce choix. Après une courte présentation du changement de paradigme, des études théâtrales aux Performance Studies, au cours des dernières quatre/cinq décades, on cherche à décrire le vaste cadre théorique dans lequel ce changement s’est produit. On complexifie le couple conventionnel oralité-écriture à travers l’insertion de deux strates sémio-cognitives, correspondant aux notions de « performativité » et de ce qu’on appelle en anglais « electracy ». Dans la dernière partie de la contribution, on se concentrera sur l’œuvre de Merlin Donald, un chercheur canadien en sciences cognitives qui a développé la théorie des trois étapes pour l’évolution de la cognition humaine. Cette théorie suggère que ce que l’on pourrait appeler « action-métaphore » est la source « performatique » et non-linguistique des processus de création du sens humain.

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1. Introduction

  • 1 “Les pratiques sémiotiques (que l’on peut qualifier également de sociales) se présentent comme des (...)

1The claim of this journal issue properly points out a potential relationship between the notion of semiotic practices, as it is defined in Semiotic and Language. An Analytical Dictionary (Greimas & Courtés 1979), and the notion of performance, as it has been coined and elaborated by the American scholar and theatre director Richard Schechner (Schechner 1977, 1985, 2013). According to the above-mentioned dictionary, semiotic practices are “signifying series of organized somatic behavior, the realizations of which go from simple social stereotypes [they can indeed “be qualified as social practices just as well”] up to the programmations that are algorithmic” (Greimas & Courtés 1979, English tr. p. 240).1 However, it is somehow harder to fully grasp the logical relationship between semiotic practices and language, as it is outlined in another section of the same entry:

  • 2 “[…] en tenant compte de ce que les organisations sémiotiques se constituent à l’intérieur de ces d (...)

[…] taking into account the fact that semiotic organizations are constituted within the two macrosemiotic systems (natural languages and the natural world), we will call semiotic practices the semiotic processes that can be recognized within the natural world and that can be defined in a way comparable to discourses (which are ‘verbal practices’, that is, semiotic processes located within natural languages) (Ibid.).2

  • 3 There is not enough space here to fully quote the five sub-definitions of the entry performance; su (...)

2Yet, it is neither unfair nor futile to remember that in the same dictionary there is the entry performance. Why has it not been chosen to establish the above-mentioned relationship? A side effect of this paper could indeed be to supply an indirect answer to the question.3

2. From Theater Studies to Performance Studies

3In the last four decades of the Twentieth Century, the academic field of Theater Studies underwent a major paradigm shift, under the drive of the powerful conceptual constellation revolving around the notion of performance. Alongside more traditional approaches centered on fairly well-established Western notions such as theater or drama, the different, interdisciplinary and multi-cultural perspective of Performance Studies emerged in North America, and ever since it has gradually gained importance and acceptance in all English-speaking countries as well as in the rest of the world.

2.1. Performance: A Definition

4Of all the scholars who contributed to this endeavor, there is little doubt that Richard Schechner has played the most visible and consistent role in shaping the Performance Studies paradigm. As a scholar and editor, but also as an experimental theater director, Schechner has manifested in his work an eclectic though focused interest in social science, especially cultural anthropology. The basic assumption of his theoretical view is that theater is only one node along a “continuum” of human behaviors, better described and understood under the inclusive term performance. Performances occur in many different instances and kinds, and they can be construed as a “broad spectrum” of human actions ranging from ritual, play, sports, popular entertainments, the performing arts (theater, dance, music), and everyday life performances, to the enactment of social, professional, gender, race, and class roles, and on to healing (from shamanism to surgery), the media, and the Internet:

The “broad spectrum” includes performative behavior, not just the performing arts, as a subject for serious scholarly study […] How is performance used in politics, medicine, religion, popular entertainments, and ordinary face-to-face interactions? What are the similarities and differences between live and mediated performances? The various and complex relationships among players—spectators, performers, authors, and directors—can be pictured as a rectangle, a performance “quadrilogue”. Studying the interactions, sometimes easy, sometimes tense, among the speakers in the quadrilogue is what performance studies people do. These studies are intensely interdisciplinary, intercultural and intergeneric. Performance studies builds on the emergence of a postcolonial world where cultures are colliding, interfering with, and fertilizing each other. Arts and academic disciplines alike are most alive at their ever-changing borders (Schechner 1993, p. 21).

5Diana Taylor, another distinguished scholar in the field, argues that performances function “as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated or what Schechner himself has called ‘twice-behaved behavior’” (Taylor 2003, pp. 2-3). “Twice-behaved behavior”, also called “restored behavior”, is a crucial notion for the field. Certainly, performances are actions, but performing is a difficult concept to define: from one point of view—distinctly stated by Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)—performing is a mode of behavior that may characterize any activity. Therefore, performance is more a quality that can occur in any situation than a fenced-off genre. “Restoration of behavior” is the key process of every kind of performance (art, ritual or ordinary life), since all behavior consists of “recombining bits of previously behaved behaviors” (Schechner 2013, p. 35). This means that performances are made by patterned actions that people train for and rehearse:

Restored behavior is living behavior treated as a film director treats a strip of film. These strips of behavior can be rearranged or reconstructed; they are independent of the causal systems (personal, social, political, technological, etc.) that brought them into existence. They have a life of their own. The original “truth” or “source” of the behavior may not be known, or may be lost, ignored, or contradicted—even while that truth or source is being honored. How the strips of behavior were made, found, or developed may be unknown or concealed; elaborated; distorted by myth and tradition. Restored behavior can be of long duration as in ritual performances or of short duration as in fleeting gestures such as waving goodbye. […] Performances are marked, framed, or heightened behavior separated out from just “living life”. […] Because it is marked, framed, and separate, restored behavior can be worked on, stored and recalled, played with, made into something else, transmitted and transformed (Ibid., pp. 34-35).

6On one level, the “broad spectrum” of human performances constitutes the object of analysis (albeit performances are something more of a process than of a material object); on another level performance is the “methodological lens” that enables scholars to analyze events “as” performance—even those not generally recognized as such.

2.2. The Intellectual Roots of Performance Studies

7The intellectual roots of Performance Studies can be found in the Fifties of the Twentieth Century, at a moment when theorists in the social sciences began to employ theater as a model for studying language, ritual, and everyday interactions (see Schechner 1989; McKenzie 2005). Pivotal works here are Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Motives (1945) that set forth a “dramatist” model for analyzing the motives behind phenomena ranging from communicative actions to the history of philosophy; Victor Turner’s Schism and Continuity in an African Society (1957) that developed the notion of “social drama” to understand ritual processes in resolving conflicts and crises; Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) that likewise proposed a dramaturgical approach for studying how people negotiate everyday interactions through carefully managed social performances.

8Then, around the Sixties, experimental theater directors and groups moved in the reverse direction, from theater to ritual: people such as Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba, and Peter Brook began exploring the boundaries between theater and ritual and between art and life, seeking to transform theatrical practice, as well as theater’s role in contemporary life. This work was both applied and theoretical. Influenced by the writings of theater artists such as Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud, and of anthropologists such as Claude Lévi Strauss, Albert Lord and Gregory Bateson, those people (and many more from various different countries) frequently employed, in their productions as well as in their training methods, performance models from indigenous traditions around the world, drawing artists to research in folklore and anthropology.

9At the same moment, visual artists, dancers and musicians were moving away from the image of the detached artist and the disembodied “work of art” to focus on the creative body. Inspired by an avant-garde performance-art tradition that stretched back to Dada, innovative new art forms included the dance of Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer, the musical explorations of John Cage, the Happenings of Allan Kaprow, and performance events by Carolee Schneemann, Nam June Paik, and many others.

10Finally, in the Seventies, these developments converged to produce and formalize Performance Studies as a new field devoted to the study of cultural performances. The performing arts provided a perspective—a formal model—for framing and analyzing social, personal, and communicative phenomena; while the social sciences provided conceptual tools—a functional model—for theorizing the social and psychological dimensions of performance. As Schechner observed at an early stage of his project:

There are two main realms of performance theory: (1) looking at human behavior—individual and social—as a genre of performance; (2) looking at performances—of theater, dance, and other “art forms” —as a kind of personal or social interaction. These two realms, or spheres, can be metaphorically figured as interfacing at a double two-way mirror. From one face of the mirror persons interested in aesthetic genres peep through at “life”. From the other side, persons interested in the “social sciences” peep through at “art”. Everything is in quotation marks because the categories are not settled. The very activity of peeping through unsettles the categories. Or, as Erving Goffman slyly remarked in 1959: “All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify” (Schechner 1983a, p. 190).

  • 4 For a short though brilliant overview of the history of Performance Studies as an academic field se (...)

11To sum up, Performance Studies is a new (post-)discipline, that takes the useful, though even contested notion of performance as the organizing concept for the study of a wide range of behavior (including but not limited to the performing arts). Scholars in the field widely draw on and synthesize approaches from the Social Sciences (Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology and Psychoanalysis, Media Theory, etc.), the Humanities (History, Literature, History of the Arts, Philosophy, Semiotics, etc.) and the Arts. Although Performance Studies maintains strong ties with the academic institutions from which it developed (mostly departments of theater, linguistics, communication, anthropology, sociology, visual arts), it refuses “to confine itself to the limits of these disciplines. Performance Studies […] is postdisciplinary in the sense that it resists becoming a discipline with definable limits; it is (forever) an ‘emergent’ field” (Taylor 2016, p. 200).4

12As an academic field, Performance Studies is therefore wide open and diverse in its methods, subjects, and persons. Moreover, as Marvin Carlson points out in a book which offers a valuable survey of the field, since the dawn of the new millennium the concept of performance has emerged not only as a particular new orientation within the world of theater, but also as a meaningful critical metaphor within contemporary culture at large:

[…] covering almost every aspect of human activity […] [p]erformance discourse and its close theoretical partner, “performativity”, today dominate critical discourse not only in all manner of cultural studies, but also in business, economics, and technology. The rise of an interest in performance reflects a major shift in many cultural fields from the what to the how, from the accumulation of social, cultural, psychological, political, or linguistic data to a consideration of how this material is created, valorized, and changed, to how it lives and operates within the culture, by its actions (Carlson 20042, p. ix).

3. Performativity, Orality, Literacy, Electracy

3.1. Artworks vs. Flowing Practices

13Where does Performance Studies intersect with Semiotics? Elsewhere (Deriu 2004), I have argued for a clear opposition between the two approaches. I started by applying Umberto Eco’s explanation of the difference between artworks (“opere”) and flowing practices (“pratiche a flusso”; Eco 1998) to the separate domains of mediated vs. live performance. A work, in the art’s field, can be defined as any kind of outcome of human creativity, provided that this outcome has the qualities of a man-made object: the material result of the doing of an agent, separate and independent from the action that made it (in Aristotelian terms, an artwork belongs to the category of pòiesis: the kind of human action which generates a physical product, i.e. an “artefact”). According to Eco flowing practices are, to the contrary, manifestations such as the Greek tragedy, a Baroque feast, a liturgical ceremony, Peter Greenway’s multimedia installations, and so on:

  • 5 “Ecco, il punto discriminante mi pareva quello tra opera finita (e non importa se sia l’opera wagne (...)

To me, a clear-cut distinction should be made between the finished work (and it does not matter whether it is a Wagner’s opera or a printed novel without illustrations) and actions that flow without ever having a beginning and an end, so that the idea of author is as well undermined. If we want, an example of these continuous actions was Einstein on the Beach by Wilson and Fosse, which lasted hours and where the audience was allowed to watch a section, go out, come back, and potentially it could go on endlessly if only the actors make it through (Eco 1998 – my translation).5

  • 6 This very large and critical issue has been extensively examined by Diana Taylor in relationship wi (...)

14Beyond Eco’s paradoxical reasoning, it is generally acknowledged that in the aesthetic domain (or ritual and religious ones) flowing practices do have beginnings and ends too, even though they can be blurry and unstable to a certain extent: they are performances (in Aristotelian terms, performances belong to the category of pràxis: actions that concern only the doing in itself and do not generate material outcomes). As aesthetic practice, a pure and integral flow cannot exist (otherwise, it should coincide with life itself); nevertheless, any attempt to “capture” or fix it is bound to fail, because the audiovisual recording of a performance is not a performance.6

15We gain a relevant advancement if we realize, on the one hand, that the distinctive point of artworks, compared to flowing practices, is the fact that they are the result of writing practices and techniques; and that therefore they necessarily own features of “closure” and “freezing”, both on the formal and structural levels. As Derrida has famously noted, a written sign carries as its very structure a “breaking force” in respect of its own context, that is “the collectivity of presences organizing the moment of its inscription”:

  • 7 “Un signe écrit comporte une force de rupture avec son contexte, c’est-à-dire l’ensemble des présen (...)

To be what it is, all writing must, therefore, be capable of functioning in the radical absence of every empirically determined receiver in general. And this absence is not a continuous modification of presence [i.e. a flowing practice], it is a rupture in presence, the ‘death’ or the possibility of the ‘death’ of the receiver inscribed in the structure of the mark (Derrida 1972, English tr. p. 8).7

16Thinking the artwork as a writing output, on the other hand, means to look at it as signifying weaves, rather than as a material thing. Roland Barthes described this “epistemological slide” as a move from the notion of work to the notion of text:

  • 8 “En face de l’œuvre — notion traditionnelle, conçue pendant longtemps, et aujourd’hui encore, d’une (...)

Over against the traditional notion of the work, for long—and still—conceived of in a, so to speak, Newtonian way, there is now the requirement of a new object, obtained by the sliding or overturning of former categories. That object is the Text […] It would be futile to try to separate out materially works from texts. In particular, the tendency must be avoided to say that the work is classic, the text avant-garde; it is not a question of drawing up a crude honours list in the name of modernity and declaring certain literary productions “in” and others “out” by virtue of their chronological situation […] The difference is this: the work is a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of books (in a library for example), the Text is a methodological field (Barthes 1971, English tr. pp. 156-157).8

  • 9 “[…] sviluppa una metafora in cui le parole che costituiscono un’opera sono viste, dati i legami ch (...)
  • 10 “Nell’accezione prevalsa fino a questo secolo, si tratta di discorso scritto (la cui realizzazione (...)

17It is common knowledge that the word text derives from the Latin textus meaning “fabric”: it “develops a metaphor in which the words that constitute a work are seen, given the bonds that join them, as a fabric” (Segre 1985, p. 29 – my translation).9 Since the Middle Ages, a period to which the beginnings of the use dates back, the term is applied to texts endowed with a special authority (The Bible, the Gospels, and later legal documents), and always refers to something that can be thought of as a fixed sequence of graphic signs: “In the prevailing sense up to this century, [text] is a written discourse (whose oral rendition can no longer be called a text)” (Segre 1985, p. 361).10

18Such an argument—one that can be put in relation with the general opposition between orality and literacy—brings many Performance Studies scholars to reject any analogy between the two notions of text and performance. Although they share some qualities, performance has unique properties that disappear when it is considered as a text. According to the anthropologist Edward Schieffelin, for example, performance are contingent processes and “living social activity”, not fully predictable:

While they refer to the past and plunge towards the future, they exist only in the present. Texts are changeless and enduring. […] While texts and performances may be produced out of one another, this is very different from saying they are reducible to one another. Text can never be “duplicated” in performance, and performance is not reducible to text (Schieffelin 1997, pp. 198-199).

  • 11 “[…] it can be readily seen that […] the three traditional parts of the message do not call for the (...)

19At this point we come across, once again, a large gap between the study of live performances and the study of artworks (including audiovisual artworks as movies, TV series, multimedia, etc.).11 That gap has developed into a consistent parallelism, in the academic research of the past three/four decades, resulting in strong autonomy of two separate disciplines: film semiotics at one end, theatre studies at the other (following a period, especially during the Seventies of 20th Century, marked by an intense dialogue).

3.2. A New Cognitive Phase: Electracy

20I still have confidence in the arguments discussed in the previous paragraph, but they are clearly poor and inaccurate facing the present-day digital revolution. A key fact, one of most relevance in giving birth to Performance Studies, is that the field was triggered by the awareness of belonging to a period of rapid metamorphosis in the human sensory apparatus from the age of the written word (generally referenced to as literacy) toward a new set of communication skills and tools supported by electricity and electronics—a new cognitive phase, in the history of the human species, ushered in by the “technological reproducibility” (Benjamin 1936) of images and sounds; and culminated in present-day “digitality”.

21Sharply shifting from a prevailing technological perspective to a cognitive one, Gregory Ulmer (1989, 2003) coined a neologism for this new phase: electracy. The term describes the kind of literacy or skill and facility necessary to exploit the full communicative potential of new electronic media. Ulmer argues that new media are affecting our moment the way print affected Renaissance Europe, or the way the alphabet affected Ancient Greece. Electracy (which is to digital media what literacy is to print) is still under construction, and it encompasses the broader cultural, institutional, pedagogical, and ideological implications inherent in the transition from a culture of print literacy to a culture saturated with electronic media. The term is a “portmanteau” word, combining “electricity” with “trace”, the fundamental terms used by Derrida to name the relational spacing that enables and delimits any signification in any medium. As such, electracy denotes a broad spectrum of research possibilities including the invention and history of mnemonic practices, the epistemological and ontological changes resulting from such practices, the sociological and psychological implications of a networked culture, and the pedagogical implementation of practices derived from such explorations. As an apparatus or social machine, electracy involves a transformation of identity at the individual and collective levels, as well as changes in equipment and reasoning practices. It does not replace literacy but supplements it (literacy is still the most powerful apparatus for the establishment of knowledge). While modifying them, electracy encompasses and revitalizes both literacy and orality. Furthermore, fully acknowledging this new cognitive layer can deeply improve our understanding of the earlier ones, shedding light on an ancient, or even archaic human cognitive resource that is fully grounded in performativity.

3.3. Orality as Cognitive Skill

  • 12 See also (Auslander 1999; 2008).

22Recent developments in the field of Performance Studies seek to adopt this stratified perspective: text, architectures, visual arts or any other item of art and culture are examined not in themselves but as players in ongoing relationships: “whatever is being studied is regarded as practices, events, and behaviors, not as ‘objects’ or ‘things’. This quality of ‘liveness’—even when dealing with media or archival materials—is at the heart of Performance Studies” (Schechner 2013, p. 2).12 Since Performance Studies favors, as its core object of study, live practices and “liveness” rather than written texts and mediated (or mediatized) phenomena, its main focus is especially directed towards orality as a cognitive factor of renewed importance in the contemporary electronic age. Scholars such as Marshall McLuhan, Eric Havelock and Walter Ong have indeed examined quintessential examples illustrating how orality, literacy and electracy are actually superimposed and intertwined in historical as well as in contemporary scenarios. Two short examples can be chosen from McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962)—although many similar good points could just as easily be excerpted from Understanding Media (1964).

23At the beginning of the Prologue, McLuhan argues that The Gutenberg Galaxy “is in many respects complementary to The Singer of Tales by Albert B. Lord” (McLuhan 1962, p. 1). In his academic career, Lord carried on the work of Milman Parry, whose Homeric studies had led him to consider how oral and written poetry naturally followed different patterns and functions (Lord 1960). McLuhan suggests that Lord’s book is “quite natural and appropriate” to our electric age because we too are experiencing a “moment of interplay of contrasted cultures”. A little bit further on in the Prologue, McLuhan says that “[i]n the electronic age which succeeds the typographic and mechanical era of the past five hundred years, we encounter new shapes and structures of human interdependence and of expression which are ‘oral’ in form, even when the components of the situation may be non-verbal” (McLuhan 1962, p. 3). I agree, but I would not say “even when the components of the situation may be non-verbal”. Instead, I would rather underline that oral forms of communication imply in each and every case nonverbal components. The reason is that oral forms always rely on bodies in action—namely, they are performances.

24This is indeed a crucial issue in a true Performance Studies perspective, because the substance or, as it were, the “raw material” of performances of any kind—and especially the performing arts: theatre, dance, music—is precisely constituted by bodies in action (trained bodies who rehearse and perform patterned actions, including vocal and verbal actions). This simply means that the distinctive feature of the performing arts is their intrinsic and inescapable relationship with cognitive and expressive skills and facilities tied up with orality. Put in other words—sounding more semiotic—any kind and genre of the performing arts deals with oral/behavioral signification regime.

3.4. Inside/Below Orality, the Performatic Dimension

25As electracy further develops, improves and eventually transcends literacy, so does performativity with respect to orality. It is useful to enlarge a little upon this argument. Considered as an “apparatus” of knowledge and expression, orality goes far beyond verbal language. The term mainly refers to the spoken word, but from a theoretical point of view in the Humanities, and particularly in Performance Studies, this implies a limited understanding, because orality does indeed concern a whole mode of thinking, expressing and organizing experiences, which is deeply affected by performance and performativity. Walter Ong was the scholar who clearly brought the connection to the fore: while examining the peculiar aspects of the “psychodynamics” of orality, he emphasizes that among “primitive” (oral) people, as well as for anyone who has a sense of what words are in oral culture, “language is a mode of action, and not simply a countersign of thought” (Ong 1982, p. 32). Likewise, there is a substantial difference between oral and written/textual memorization and knowledge, because the former has “a high somatic component” (Ibid., p. 65). In brief, as Ong argues, in an oral world, “[s]poken words are always modifications of a total, existential situation, which always engages the body. Bodily activity beyond mere vocalization is not adventitious or contrived in oral communication, but is natural and even inevitable” (Ibid., p. 66).

26As for Eric Havelock, there is a plenty of compelling arguments in his writings in this regard. For instance, in his well-known Preface to Plato (Havelock 1963), he lists the basic psychological principles governing the “poetic performance” in Ancient Greece as well as, presumably, in all oral cultures: (1.) every speech is created by physical movements performed in the throat and mouth; (2.) it can be preserved only as it is remembered and repeated; (3.) to ensure ease of repetition (hence, remembrance) the physical movements must be organized in a special way, setting up patterns that are highly economical (that is, rhythmic); (4.) these patterns, supported and strengthened by parallel movements in other parts of the body, progressively become automatic reflexes; (5.) the entire nervous system, in brief, “is geared to the task of memorization” (Havelock 1963, p. 15). In other words, this means that meaning and knowledge plunged in oral culture are by nature embedded in performance behaviors. Yet, if we accept this assumption, the reverse must also be admitted: even in literate, and now “electrate” societies, performance activities—and especially theater and performing arts—are oral meaning-making practices in a fully cognitive sense.

27It is worth underlining once again that in a Performance Studies perspective the adjective oral cannot simply mean “verbal”. It does not refer to the “spoken word” as opposed to the “written word”; rather, the term concerns a much larger and encompassing notion of embodied meaning and knowledge. Whether or not a theatrical, musical or dance performance involves the use of speech, I propose to qualify as performatic this layer of signification based on action and embodiment (Deriu 2012; 2013). Adopting this adjectival term, I take up a suggestion put forth in Diana Taylor’s book The Archive and the Repertoire (2003). According to her, performance’s staying power stands opposite to the “archival” memory made of documents, archaeological remains and whichever item that is “supposedly resistant to change”. Conversely, performance constitutes a “repertoire” of embodied knowledge, a learning and a remembering through the body (by means of gestures, movement, singing, dancing and so on), as well as a means of creating, preserving and transmitting knowledge. Yet, to signal these cognitive and expressive resources by means of cognate terms such as “performative” and “performativity” could be misleading, because of the different uses of those very terms. In linguistics, a “performative utterance” is a sentence that does not describe a given reality, but one that is realizing the action described by the verb (for example: promises, oaths, and threats; Austin 1962). Philosopher and gender studies scholar Judith Butler, following J.L. Austin’s theory as well as Derrida’s notion of “iterability”, connects “performativity” to the process of socialization whereby gender and sexuality identities are produced through “citational practices” (Butler 1988). Thence, Diana Taylor observes:

In this trajectory, the performative becomes less a quality [or adjective] of “performance” than of discourse. Although it may be too late to reclaim performative for the non-discursive realm of performance, I suggest that we borrow a word from the contemporary Spanish usage of performance—performático or performatic in English—to denote the adjectival form of the non-discursive realm of performance. Why is this important? Because it is vital to signal the performatic, digital, and visual fields as separate from, though always embroiled with, the discursive one so privileged by Western logocentrism (Taylor 2003, p. 6).

  • 13 For those who like acronyms, this theoretical model of cognitive-semiotic layers easily gets its se (...)

28In a sense, the strategic quality of this unconventional term precisely results from the challenge that the embodied, performatic meaning and knowledge bring to “the preponderance of writing [namely, verbal language] in Western epistemologies” (Taylor 2003, p. 16). To sum up, it is my opinion that paying attention to how live and mediatized performances generate meaning demonstrates the inadequacy of the traditional dyad orality/literacy. In order to study the in-action dimension of meaning, a more sophisticated conceptual schema of the cognitive-semiotic layers is needed. On the one hand, technological reproducibility of image and sounds has superimposed a new, pervasive and extensive stratum to literacy—that is, electracy. On the other hand, a level of embodied, non-verbal knowledge emerges as a relevant human cognitive and expressive resource, beneath orality—that is, performativity.13

4. The “Action-Metaphor”

4.1. The Performatic Sources of Culture and Meaning

29Philosopher and cognitive linguist Mark Johnson (2007, p. 208) argues that “To discover how meaning works, we should turn first to gesture, social interaction, ritual, and art, and only later to linguistic communication”. Performatic meaning arises from deep and archaic layer of human symbolic skills. It is not unlikely that it deals with the very origin of human cultural meaning-making procedures and protocols. Schechner (2015) suggests someway this hypothesis in an essay in which he reworks his farsighted vision of the field of Performance Studies as an intersection of theatre studies and social sciences, especially cultural anthropology. He broadly explained his view in several of his writings, firstly in Points of Contact between Theatrical and Anthropological Thought (Schechner 1983b), were six points were discussed: transformation of being and/or consciousness; intensity of performance; audience-performer interactions; the whole performance sequence; transmission of performance knowledge; how performances are generated and evaluated. At that time, he wrote:

I turn to anthropology not as to a problem-solving science but because I sense a convergence of paradigms. Just as theatre is anthropologizing itself, so anthropology is being theatricalized. This convergence is the historical occasion for all kinds of exchanges. The convergence of anthropology and theatre is part of a larger intellectual movement where the understanding of human behavior is changing from quantifiable differences between cause and effect, past and present, form and content, et cetera (and the linear modes of analysis that explicate such a world view) to an emphasis on the deconstruction/reconstruction of actualities: the processes of framing, editing, and rehearsing, the making and manipulating of strips of behavior—what I call “restored behavior” (Ibid., p. 33).

30Recently reconsidering these arguments Schechner asks a number of questions: Are the older “points of contact” still relevant? Are there new points of contact? Have the theatrical and anthropological paradigms converged even more or have they separated? The answer is that the older points of contact are still valid, but things have progressed a long way since then. In anthropology a “performative turn” has occurred, and Performance Studies as a distinct field of study has now been well established in a large number of countries and universities; a broad range of new topics has emerged in the field, and, most importantly, a new galaxy of points of contacts has developed over the last two or three decades. These new points, Schechner (2015, p. 160) says, “are interlaced with each other, reflecting and interacting with each other”. However, they can to some degree be listed under three major headings:

1. Embodiment. Experience as the basis of indigenous knowledge that is shared through performing. Indigenous epistemologies and practices which enact the unity of feeling, thinking, and doing. Some of this work follows from the “performed ethnographies” staged by Victor and Edith Turner in the 1980s. It critiques classical “objective” Western scholarship and respects indigenous theory-in/as-action.
2. The sources of human culture are performative. The question of what makes humans unique is frequently asked because we are a narcissistic species. Upright stance and locomotion, thumb and finger dexterity, tool-making, making/controlling fire, clothing, brain complexity, developed language that is both practical and poetic, arts creating beauty and depicting and enacting fantasy. Of course, all of these, and more, are absolutely unique but evolutionarily developed from qualities and behaviors seen in other animals. No single biological, behavioral, or cultural trait sets humans apart. It is the confluence of them all, the incredible complexity of the package that marks homo sapiens. What interests me here is “performativity”: the ability of humans to behave reflexively, to play with behavior, to model behavior as “twice-behaved”. This is evidenced strongly in the paleolithic “cave art” of southwest Europe and somewhat later in south Africa; and perhaps elsewhere in yet to be discovered sites.
3. The brain as a performance site. Is the mind a muscle […]? Can the brain be trained? What do trance performances, catharsis and empathy, mirror neurons, and emotional training techniques […] have in common? What does recent research indicating that some learned behavior can be coded into the genes and transmitted across generations say about traditional knowledges that rely on “brain tuning” by means of rhythm, music, dance, and song? Are we after two centuries rehabilitating the theory of the heritability of learned behavior proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829)? (Ibid., p. 160)

31Two things are worth to be noted. First of all, the summoned range of academic disciplines to appear is no longer restricted to anthropology, heading towards an even more radical transdisciplinarity of the field. Secondly, it could be underlined that each of these three points might be connected to a different set of established disciplines along a continuum that goes from ethnography (1. Embodiment), through cognitive sciences (2. The sources of human culture are performative), to neurosciences (3. The brain as a performance site). What holds these new points of contact together is that performance constitutes a repertoire of embodied knowledge, a learning in and through the body, as well as a means of creating, preserving and transmitting knowledge. Schechner and many others Performance Studies scholars share the strong belief that human culture is basically performative. For instance, Bruce McConachie assumes that performance is “the ‘foundational’ activity from which theatre, rituals, sports, music and other performative activities emerged in the course of our biocultural evolution” (2015, p. 10); the anthropologist Edward Schieffelin argues that “The central issue of performativity, whether in ritual performance, theatrical entertainment or the social articulation of ordinary human situations, is the imaginative creation of a human world” (1997, p. 205); the psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald contends that “the primal form of distinctly human culture is theatrical, embodied, and performance-oriented” (2012, p. 56).

4.2. “Action-Metaphor”: Merlin Donald’s Theory of Mimetic Culture

32A very valuable contribution to the exploration of this issue comes exactly from Donald’s work. He spent most of his academic career studying the evolution of the human cognition by using and bridging several disciplines in the Life Sciences, the Social Sciences and the Humanities; his major achievements are explained in a series of papers and two books (Donald 1991, 2001). In an essay entitled Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement (2007) the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks introduces Donald’s theory this way:

Rhythm […] may well have had a crucial […] function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community. This, indeed, is central to the vision of cultural evolution presented by Merlin Donald in his astonishing 1991 book Origins of the Modern Mind […]. An essential feature of Donald’s vision is his concept that human evolution moved from the “episodic” life of apes to a “mimetic” culture—and that this flourished and lasted for tens, perhaps hundreds of years before language and conceptual thinking evolved. Donald proposes that mimesis—the power to represent emotions, external events, or stories using only gestures and posture, movement and sound, but not language—is still the bedrock of human culture today (Sacks 2007, pp. 246-47).

33Assuming a Darwinian evolutionary perspective, Donald tries to explain the most likely scenario of human cognitive emergence by means of a sequence of three different transitions—or “breakthroughs” —for the evolution of human culture and cognition: modern human mind evolved from the primate mind through a series of major adaptation, each of which led to the emergence of a new cognitive system; but each of them has remained intact within our current mental architecture, so that the modern mind should be conceived as a mosaic structure of cognitive vestiges from earlier stage of human emergence (1991, pp. 2-3).

34The third, more recent transition started about 40.000 years ago and is still under way. It did not involve much, if any, biological evolution (as it happened for the previous ones, as we will see in a while); it is largely culturally driven and it is characterized by the invention of external memory devices, from the pictograms and drawings of the Upper Paleolithic to the different writing systems and codes; from photography and phonography to digital computers (it is clearly linked to the more recent couple of cognitive layers in the POLE model: literacy and electracy).

35The previous transition (i.e. the second one, in Donald’s chronological sketch) occurred much earlier and, as archeological markers indicate, lasted from 500,000 to 100,000 years before present: “During that time a variety of archaic sapient types emerged, and the modern vocal tract began to take form. This is the period when language is most likely to have evolved, culminating in the high-speed speech skills of modern Homo sapiens” (Donald 1993, pp. 155-156). It is commonly assumed that it has been precisely the appearance of language that has made our species unique in the world, far differentiating us from any of our animal predecessors, even those biologically closest like the primates (chimpanzees and bonobo).

36Despite our close genetic relationship to apes, the cognitive distance is indeed extraordinarily great, much greater than might be imagined from comparative anatomy. The primate mind of apes can only produce what Donald describes as “episodic culture”: “Their lives are lived entirely in the present, as a series of concrete episodes” (Donald 1991, p. 149). Compared to our primate predecessors, human beings have evolved a completely novel cognitive strategy: a “distributed communication network” which Donald refers to as a “brain-culture symbiosis”. As a consequence, the human brain cannot realize its design potential unless it is immersed in a distributed communication network, that is, a symbolic culture, during its development. Some apes can be trained to use human symbols in a limited way, but they are not able to invent them from scratch.

37There is hence a huge gap between the pre-symbolic cognition of the animal kingdom and the symbol driven cognition of the human mind. The question is: How did this gap come to be bridged? Where would these complex communication networks have come from in the first place, if they were largely absent in our animal ancestors? According to Donald, language is not the only answer; and certainly, it was not the first step. He assumes that a first great cognitive breakthrough occurred about 1,5 million years ago, when major changes in human genome ended with the appearance of the archaic hominid species called Homo erectus. He refers to both paleoanthropological and neuroanatomical data, which show that a relatively slow change started to occur 5 million years ago, when the hominid line and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor, continued with several hominin species (australopithecines, Neanderthal, Homo abilis), until the appearance of Homo erectus 1,5 mln years ago. At this point, greater changes occurred, anatomical (much larger brain) as well as cultural: elaborate tools and toolmaking procedures, migration out of Africa, seasonal base camps and shelters, domestication and use of fire. Evidence about Homo erectus’s social activities seems to presume developed cognitive skills, of a kind that we are used to associating with language; but there is no evidence at all for linguistic abilities in Homo erectus. If language came late (likely with Homo sapiens, but not before 300,000 years ago) we must presume an intermediate cognitive layer, which “rests on the ability to produce conscious, self-initiated, representational acts that are intentional but not linguistic” (Donald 1991, p. 168). The key issue is, however, a fundamental change in the nature of mental processing, when human mind somehow perceived the utility of symbols and representations: “somewhere in human evolution the evolving mammalian nervous system must have acquired the mechanisms needed for symbol-based thought” (Donald 1993, p. 145). Thus, he proposes a category of archaic but distinct human culture that mediated from ape to human; that is, a link between the pre-symbolic knowledge systems of animals and the symbolic systems of modern humans (often Donald refers to it as the “missing link” in human cognitive evolution).

38Many scientists are fixed on the idea that language is the one and only agent accountable for the invention of a symbolic environment; that this great cognitive breakthrough came early with Homo erectus (approximately 1.5 million to 300,000 years before present times) and that all the higher human mental abilities followed from this breakthrough. Donald finds this idea unconvincing, for a couple of reason. First, archaeological evidence doesn’t place speech so early in evolution; neither of the principal markers for human language (the descended larynx and rapid cultural change) appears in the archaeological record until Homo sapiens, who evolved over a million years later than Homo erectus. Second, early hominids had no existing linguistic environment. This issue is crucial: since words are symbols, to use even the simplest language you need the ability to voluntarily store and recall specific memory items (in other words, linguistic symbols, even the simplest, could not suddenly pop up in evolution before first having established some principle of auto-cueing memory retrieval in the hominid brain; to be at all useful, lexical inventions had to be voluntarily retrievable as well as alterable).

39Donald’s key proposal suggests that, most likely, there were two distinct steps or “breakthroughs”: the first one from a primate episodic culture to a culture provided with symbolic skills, but not yet linguistic ones; and the second one in which verbal language underwent specific elaboration. In other words, before lexical invention and usage became a realistic possibility, the first step was to establish the skill to voluntary recall and retrieve information in the pre-linguistic brain. Donald strongly underlines that “autocuing” is a wholly new kind of mental skill: the ability to voluntarily recall specific memory items, providing retrieval paths to a knowledge base already present, but not intentionally accessible, in the primate brain. The key proposal—one of special interest for the understanding of human meaning-making processes by means of performance activities—is therefore the hypothesis that the first breakthrough in our cognitive evolution was a radical improvement in human motor control that fortuitously provided a mental activity capable to generate distributed meaning. Even if evidence is indirect, Donald feels the hypothesis persuasive, and he calls this cognitive and semiotic layer mimetic culture on the basis of the dominant governing mode of symbolization:

Homo erectus’s great gift to humanity was “mimetic skill”, a revolutionary improvement in voluntary motor control, leading to our uniquely human talent for using the whole body as a subtle communication device. This body-skill might be called pure mimesis, or a talent for action-metaphor. This talent, without language, could have supported a culture that was much more powerful, in terms of its toolmaking abilities, refinements of skill, and flexible social organization than any known ape culture. […] mimetic skill logically precedes language, and remains fundamentally independent of truly linguistic modes of representation. […] Basically, mimesis is based in a memory system that can rehearse and refine movement voluntarily and systematically, in terms of a coherent perceptual model of the body in the surrounding environment. It […] allows any action of the body to be stopped, replayed, and edited under conscious control (Donald 1993, p. 150).

40“Action-metaphor” (or pure mimesis, according to Donald’s terminology) is a “supramodal” skill. This means that it is not restricted with regard to employing specific muscle group in the body. An “action-metaphor” can be acted out with hands, feet, eyes, locomotion, facial expression, voice (even without phonetic vocalization); or any combination of these modalities. The uniquely human behavior known as “rhythm” is a special manifestation of the “action-metaphor”: rhythm can be defined as the motor translation of a sound pattern or, conversely, the conversion of sound into motion. The “action-metaphor” (or simply “mimetic action”, as Donald calls it in some of his recent articles) includes but it is not limited to imitation; the term describes a cluster of mental and bodily capacities that “have evolved as a cognitive elaboration of embodiment in patterns of action” (Donald 2006, p. 15). Mimesis, according to Donald, is “an analogue or holistic style of thought” (Ibid.) more basic to human culture and way of thinking than language or logic. Underlying cognitive mechanism of mimetic actions are sophisticated event-representation and metacognition (or self-monitoring), that is, the ability to rehearse and refine movements (Donald 2013, pp. 180-183). These are anything but the basic mechanism of any kind of performance behaviors, especially as they have been practiced and nurtured in the performing arts by the hominids since many hundreds of thousands (or maybe million) years ago, exploiting the whole body as an expressive device:

An advance in human motor representation of this magnitude would automatically have had ramifications in the area of expressive capacity. Actions and events could be represented and re-enacted independently of the environment; and this resulted in improved toolmaking and tool use, and in constructional and other instrumental skills. But, as in many evolutionary adaptations, mimetic skill would have had unforeseen consequences: now hominids had a means of re-presenting reality to themselves and others, by the use of voluntary action. This means that hominids could do much more than rehearse and refine existing movement patterns; they could also imagine and invent completely new ones, as human gymnasts, dancers, actors and divers still do. And they could re-enact events and scenarios, creating a sort of gestural proto-theatre of everyday life. The body became a tool for expression; it was just a matter of discovering the social utility of this possibility (Donald 2004, pp. 47-48).

5. Concluding words

41Interesting enough, Merlin Donald’s theory about mimesis and mimetic culture has been enrolled as a major influence by scholars engaged in the emerging field of Cognitive Semiotics (Zlatev 2012). Defined as a “trans-disciplinary study of meaning” and arisen in the past two decades, Cognitive Semiotics aims to methodologically blend semiotics, cognitive sciences and linguistics, developing empirical as well as theoretical research in a wide range of topics: development of meaning making in children; biological and cultural evolution of meaning-making; intersubjectivity; interaction between speech, gesture and depiction. Core insight of Cognitive Semiotics is the assumption that “viewing meaning in purely static, structural terms is insufficient for understanding the essentially relational, subject-relative, and (often) interpretive nature of semiosis” (Zlatev 2015, p. 1061).

  • 14 With the exception of some papers on the semiotic of dance (see for example Sonesson 2009b; De Luca (...)

42Even though the performing arts neither explicitly appear in Cognitive Semiotics’ topic list nor they have so far got relevant space in the field’s published papers14, it is clearly my opinion that any attempt to apply a semiotic perspective in order to better understand how performances are constructed and put in circulation in the social dimension cannot avoid to follow such an approach: “[…] irrespective of empirical, terminological, and theoretical differences, meaning needs to be understood as a dynamic phenomenon, stretching across a number of different temporal scales, from the micro-scale of ongoing interaction and experience to the macro-scales of history and evolution” (Zlatev et al. 2018, p. 1).

43Both Sonesson and Zlatev extensively make use of Donald’s theory in their own works. The latter deeply expanded Donald’s theory about mimetic culture in many parallel but linked research paths, including the role of mimesis in the context of the ontogenetic cognitive development. In his works, Zlatev elaborates Donald’s ideas in order to offer more specific definitions of bodily mimesis and the hypothesis of a mimetic hierarchy which allows to classify human socio-cognitive skill “along a scale consisting of at least four distinct stages” from “proto-mimetic” to “post-mimetic” (Zlatev et al. 2005, p. 5), so that a semiotic approach to the topics has been made easier. In a recent paper, Zlatev updates and synthesizes his theoretical proposals, showing how bodily mimesis “has contributed to uniquely human capacities, or at least to uniquely high levels” within domains such as skills, social learning, memory and planning, rites and rituals (Zlatev 2014, pp. 201-202). As far as my own research on performing arts’ role in contemporary hyper-mediatized culture is concerned, I can only subscribe here to Zlatev’s conclusion:

I have attempted to further strengthen the theory by arguing that mimesis was never just a “prerequisite” to be used and then pushed away like the proverbial ladder, but that the transition to language should be conceived of as partial. The lower layers of bodily mimesis are very much alive and kicking, i.e. functional in everything from everyday communication, performance, empathy and learning—also of language itself (Zlatev 2014, p. 214).

  • 15 In his valuable work designed to interweave Semiotics and the Cognitive Sciences, Sonesson deeply e (...)

44As for Sonesson, interested as he is in the human production of meaning beyond or, so to speak, around and before the emergence of the semiotic function, even himself finds it useful and remarkable for his whole thinking (i.e., not only for the analysis of the pictorial signs) Donald’s idea about a stage preceding the attainment of language capacity that requires memory located in the body.15 Interestingly enough, Sonesson repeatedly stress the fact that, in order to bring to the fore the distinction between token and type (which is essential and preliminary, in a sense, for the concept of sign), memory records can only function as memory to the extent that they are “separable” from the body (Sonesson 2007a; 2007b; 2009; 2012a): an argument which strongly recalls and resonates with the “restoration of behavior” as the basic mechanism of any kind of performance. Equally, or even more interesting appears, in my opinion, Sonesson’s dealing with Donald’s notion of mimesis, especially when he suggests that “[s]omewhere in between mimesis and language the semiotic function arises” (Sonesson 2012a, p. 87). Following his manifold reflections about the distinction between the semiotic concepts of meaning and sign, it could be put forth an additional hypothesis—one which claims that somewhere in between mere action and mimesis (considered, as Donald has proposed, as the emergence of conscious, self-initiated, voluntary representational acts) human making-meaning arises.

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1 “Les pratiques sémiotiques (que l’on peut qualifier également de sociales) se présentent comme des suites signifiantes de comportements somatiques organisés, dont les réalisations vont des simples stéréotypes sociaux jusqu’à des programmations de forme algorithmique” (Greimas & Courtés 1979, p. 289)

2 “[…] en tenant compte de ce que les organisations sémiotiques se constituent à l’intérieur de ces deux macrosémiotiques que sont les langues naturelles et les mondes naturels, on appellera pratiques sémiotiques les procès sémiotiques reconnaissables à l’intérieur du monde naturel, et définissable de manière comparable aux discours (qui sont des “pratiques verbales”, c’est-à-dire des procès sémiotiques situés à l’intérieur des langues naturelles” (Ibid.).

3 There is not enough space here to fully quote the five sub-definitions of the entry performance; suffice it to say that it starts with and generally relies on the Chomskian sense of the notion.

4 For a short though brilliant overview of the history of Performance Studies as an academic field see Bial 2014; for a more extensive investigation of the institutional history of performance theory (but limited to the USA, and up about the end of 20th Century) see Jackson 2004.

5 “Ecco, il punto discriminante mi pareva quello tra opera finita (e non importa se sia l’opera wagneriana o un romanzo scritto e stampato senza illustrazioni) e azioni che fluiscono senza mai avere un inizio e una fine, per cui entra in crisi la stessa nozione di autore. Se vogliamo, una avvisaglia di queste azioni a flusso continuo era Einstein on the Beach di Wilson e Fosse, che durava ore e dove il pubblico era autorizzato a vederne un pezzo, uscire, tornare, e potenzialmente la cosa avrebbe potuto continuare all’infinito se gli attori ce l’avessero fatta” (Eco 1998).

6 This very large and critical issue has been extensively examined by Diana Taylor in relationship with Unesco’s World Heritage programs, especially those directed toward the so called Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH): “Dances, rituals, songs, and other types of performance that require human bodies, energy, virtuosity, and intentionality cannot be objectified and locked away. They are always in situ; their meanings come from the context in which the actions take place” (Taylor 2008, p. 94).

7 “Un signe écrit comporte une force de rupture avec son contexte, c’est-à-dire l’ensemble des présences qui organisent le moment de son inscription […] Toute écriture doit donc, pour être ce qu’elle est, pouvoir fonctionner en l’absence radicale de tout destinataire empiriquement déterminé en général. Et cette absence n’est pas une modification continue de la présence, c’est une rupture de présence, la « mort » ou la possibilité de la « mort » du destinataire inscrite dans la structure de la marque […]” (Derrida 1972, pp. 375-377).

8 “En face de l’œuvre — notion traditionnelle, conçue pendant longtemps, et aujourd’hui encore, d’une façon, si l’on peut dire, newtonienne —, il se produit l’exigence d’un objet nouveau, obtenu par glissement ou renversement des catégories antérieures. Cet objet est le Texte […] Il serait vain de chercher à départager matériellement les œuvres des textes. En particulier, il ne faut pas se laisser aller à dire : l’œuvre est classique, le texte est d’avant-garde; il ne s’agit pas d’établir au nom de la modernité un palmarès grossier et de déclarer certaines productions littéraires in et d’autres out en raison de leur situation chronologique […] La différence est la suivante : l’œuvre est un fragment de substance, elle occupe une portion de l’espace des livres (par exemple dans une bibliothèque). Le Texte, lui, est un champ méthodologique” (Barthes 1971, pp. 72-73).

9 “[…] sviluppa una metafora in cui le parole che costituiscono un’opera sono viste, dati i legami che le congiungono, come un tessuto” (Segre 1985, p. 29).

10 “Nell’accezione prevalsa fino a questo secolo, si tratta di discorso scritto (la cui realizzazione vocale non è più denominabile come testo)” (Ibid., p. 36).

11 “[…] it can be readily seen that […] the three traditional parts of the message do not call for the same method of investigation. The emission and the reception of the message both lie within the field of a sociology: it is a matter of studying human groups, of defining motives and attitudes, and of trying to link the behaviour of these groups to the social totality of which they are a part. For the message itself, however, the method is inevitably different: whatever the origin and the destination of the message, the photograph [= any instance of audiovisual texts] is not simply a product or a channel but also an object endowed with a structural autonomy. Without in any way intending to divorce this object from its use, it is necessary to provide for a specific method prior to sociological analysis and which can only be the immanent analysis of the unique structure […]” (Barthes 1961, English tr. pp. 15-16).

12 See also (Auslander 1999; 2008).

13 For those who like acronyms, this theoretical model of cognitive-semiotic layers easily gets its self-generating name: POLE, i.e performativity, orality, literacy and electracy.

14 With the exception of some papers on the semiotic of dance (see for example Sonesson 2009b; De Luca 2017).

15 In his valuable work designed to interweave Semiotics and the Cognitive Sciences, Sonesson deeply elaborates on the notion of embodiment (see, at least, Sonesson 2007a; 2007b).

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Fabrizio Deriu, « “Action-Metaphor”: The Performatic Sources of Human Meaning-Making »Signata [En ligne], 11 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2020, consulté le 30 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Fabrizio Deriu

Fabrizio Deriu (Ph.D., “Sapienza” University of Rome). Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, Department of Communication Sciences, University of Teramo (Italy); Faculty member of the Ph.D. Program in “Music and Performance Arts”, “Sapienza” University of Rome. Main research interests: Performance Studies; History of Italian actors and acting in 20th and 21st centuries’ theatre, film and audiovisual media. He authored five books (the most recent are Performatico. Teoria delle arti dinamiche, 2012; and Mediologia della performance, 2013) and several articles in peer-reviewed journals and in edited books. He lectured and/or presented papers in international conferences in Italy and abroad (MDW-Wien; University of Surrey; Cambridge, UK; Paris-Sorbonne; Universidade Nova de Lisboa; University of Malta, University of Toronto, Jagellonian University, Krakow). He edited an Italian anthology of essays by Richard Schechner (Magnitudini della performance, 1999) and by Diana Taylor (Performance, politica e memoria culturale, 2019).
Email: fderiu[at]
Fabrizio Deriu (Ph.D., Université de Rome « Sapienza »). Il est Professore associato en Études théâtrales et Performance Studies, dans la Faculté de Communication de l’Université de Teramo (Italie) ; il est également membre du programme doctoral en « Musique et Arts du spectacle » de l’Université de Rome « Sapienza ». Ses intérêts et champs de recherche sont : les Performance Studies, l’histoire des comédiens et des techniques de la performance dans le théâtre, le cinéma et d’autres médias audiovisuels aux xxe et xxie siècles. Il est l’auteur de cinq ouvrages (dont les plus récents sont Performatico. Teoria delle arti dinamiche, 2012, et Mediologia della performance, 2013) et de plusieurs articles et chapitres d’ouvrages. Il a participé à de nombreuses conférences internationales, en Italie ainsi qu’à l’étranger (MDW-Wien, University of Surrey, Cambridge, Paris-Sorbonne, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, University of Malta, University of Toronto, Jagellonian University, Krakow). Il a également édité le recueil en italien des écrits de Richard Schechner (Magnitudini della performance, 1999), et de ceux de Diana Taylor (Performance, politica e memoria culturale, 2019).
Courriel : fderiu[at]

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