Reactor blog

Žižek and Performance

Nov 30, 2014

My name is Daniel Oliver. I have written a chapter about Reactor for the recently published Žižek and Performance book, edited by Broderick Chow and Alex Mangold, published by Palgrave Macmillan (2014). The book collects essays that either bring together key performance theories with key theories from Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, or read certain performances or performance practices through a Žižekian lens. Mine does the latter.

The chapter emerges from an ongoing research project that seeks out awkward methods and modes of facilitating participation in contemporary art and performance. This is my PhD project, based in the Drama Department at Queen Mary University of London, which I am in the process of writing up. My work with, alongside, and for Reactor since 2003 has played a key role in sparking this interest, emerging from a frustration with finding participatory performance practices that matched the peculiarities of the experiences Reactor offer, or critical writing that account for these peculiarities.

My particular focus in this chapter is on the Christian concept of neighbourly love. The chapter takes one thread of Žižek’s approach to this concept (there are many) and uses it to discuss the encounters between participants and artists and between participants and participants that, in my experience, Reactor facilitate. This approach is, in summary, based on the Freudian/Lacanian/Žižekian idea that we often disregard or suppress a particular element of our neighbour, or of our encounter with them, when we approach them with love and tolerance. The chapter argues that Reactor projects, such as Big Lizard’s Big Idea and GHAOS, foreground these (often uncomfortable) elements of inter-subjective interaction instead of problematically burying them.

If you would like to read something else that I’ve written about Reactor, from a Žižek perspective, there’s an article about paranoia available free online here.