Cover of Philosophers and Thespians by Freddie Rokem
Philosophers and Thespians
Thinking Performance
Freddie Rokem

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2009
248 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804763493
Paper ISBN: 9780804763509

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The interaction between philosophy and theater or performance has recently become an important and innovative area of inquiry. Philosophers and Thespians contributes to this emerging field by looking at four direct encounters between philosophers and thespians, beginning with Socrates, Agathon, and Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium and ending with a discussion between Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht about a short text by Franz Kafka. Rokem also examines in detail Hamlet's complex and tragic split identity as both philosopher and thespian, as well as the intense correspondence between Friedrich Nietzsche and August Strindberg. His investigations—which move between the fictional and the historical—culminate in a comprehensive discussion of the notions of performance and performativity as derived from the discursive practices of philosophy and performance. At times competitive or mutually exclusive, these discourses also merge and engage with each other in creative ways.

About the author

Freddie Rokem, author of the prizewinning Performing History: Theatrical Representations of the Past in Contemporary Theatre, is the Emanuel Herzikowitz Professor for 19th and 20th-Century Art at Tel Aviv University.

"This book, by theater historian and preformance theorist Freddie Rokem, makes a significant contribution to both fields . . . Rokem has crafted an enaging and vigorous study of the relationship between theater and philosophy that does as Horace recommended theater do, instruct and delight."

—Monica Prendergast, Comparative Literature Studies

"Philosophers and Thespians is a cultural-studies discourse on human life as a journey. Rokem's book embraces wide-ranging cultural contexts that complement his philosophy of history. In contrast to the proponents of new historicism, Rokem supplements his subjective narration with substantive intertextual and historical research. The practical and detailed applications of the concept of performativity make this book a valuable companion to graduate cultural studies and philosophy programs."

—Anna Kawalec, Philosophy in Review

"This is an exemplary book of both comparison and drama. It describes four historical encounters between thespian-like philosophers and philosophically inclined thespians . . . Philosophers and thespians share in thinking and doing, in word and action. Rokem's method of writing and thinking—a method of eyewitnessing and commentary—intends to match and indeed does match his subject matter. The match makes this a most worthwhile book to read and to review."

—Lydia Goehr, Comparative Drama

"Rokem plays out interaction between Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin as theatricalized philosophical thinking. The volume's second part, 'Constellations,' ponders 'performative agendas' embedded in narratives, wistful imaginings in which constellations of dramatic form take shape from points of thought."

—P.D. Nelsen, Choice

"This book's central—and brilliant—idea is to treat the relation between philosophy and theater not as an abstract, disciplinary one, but as an encounter between philosophers and theater people. By portraying actual and fictional encounters between philosophers, playwrights, and directors, Rokem reminds us that theater history has always been entangled with philosophy and that philosophy ignores the theater at its own peril."

—Martin Puchner, Columbia University