Terror and Performance – A Workshop

a short report by Rashna Nicholson
DFG Research Training Group: „Globalization and Literature. Representations, Transformations, Interventions“, LMU Munich, and associate of the GTH project

On 12 May 2015, Rustom Bharucha, Professor at the School of Arts & bharucha_webAesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and acclaimed writer of Theatre and the World: Performance and the Politics of Culture,[1] conducted a workshop in Munich based on his most recent work, Terror and Performance.[2] Beginning with his impetus for the writing of his book (one of these being a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids in Manila in 2001), he went on to delineate the starting point of the work: the desire to free ‘terror’ from the language of ‘terrorism’. In this extrapolation of ‘terror’ from ‘terrorism’ he stated the methodological limits of such a view, the chief one being that of literary ‘sprawling’. Nevertheless such a point of view bolstered the ethical rationale in the process of the writing of the text. The second term that need tackling then was that of ‘Performance’ one that he stated was ‘less conditioned by the ‘artistic’ orchestration of a corporeal, ‘live’, rehearsed, time-and-space bound event, framed within the cultural norms of civic institutions like state theatres, than by a much wider understanding (..) inextricably linked to social interactions, behaviours, strategies, deceptions, manipulations, and negotiations of terror in the public sphere.’[3] Through the reclaiming of Judith Butler’s ‘performativity’ within the realm of theatrical praxis, Prof. Bharucha asked for a rethinking of performance as a set of tools to analyze terror. He explained his use of the latter through his clarifications on the ‘queering’ of Muslims as ‘terrorist’ through personal example and through the concept of performativity animating political discourse in the Truth and Reconciliation process in Rwanda and South Africa. Finally as a conclusion he turned to Gandhi’s activist performances in order to question the potency of non-violence in an age of terror. The discussion that took place after the presentation revolved primarily around methodological questions pertaining to the extrapolation of ‘terror’ from ‘terrorism’ and on the constitutive elements of performance. Visual aspects and the assumption of an audience common to both terrorism and performance were highlighted as also the ethics that need be deployed in the writing of terror or terrorism as performance.

[1] Rustom Bharucha, Theatre and the World: Performance and the Politics of Culture, London: Routledge, 1993.

[2] Rustom Bharucha, Terror and Performance, London: Routledge, 2014.

[3] Ibid., pp. 19-20.


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