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Thinking Through Tragedy and Comedy A Symposium on Performance Philosophy and the Future of Genre

December 4-5, 2014
At the ICI Berlin


Simon Critchley

The New School

Erika Fischer-Lichte

Free University Berlin

Hans-Thies Lehmann

Goethe University Frankfurt/Main


  • Russell Ford

    Elmhurst College

  • Rupert Glasgow

    Independent Scholar

  • Joachim Küpper

    Free University Berlin

  • John Morreall

    College of William and Mary

  • Nikolaus Müller-Schöll

    Goethe University Frankfurt/Main

  • Freddie Rokem

    University of Tel Aviv

  • Jennifer Wallace

    Cambridge University

  • Stephen Wilmer

    Trinity College Dublin

About the Symposium

Tragedy and comedy describe manners of action as well as modes of thought. Philosophy's interaction with tragedy is well established while comedy has remained, until recently, something of a stepchild.

As performance enters the disciplinary rivalry between theatre and philosophy, we have to stake out new ground for the encounter with tragedy and comedy. It seems both apt and timely to break down oppositions between dramatic genre and performance as event. Instead, the suggestion that one might think through drama and performance invites a closer look at the relationship between corporeality and thought, between philosophy and the theatre.

In order to foster an international as well as interdisciplinary dialogue about the structures of thought that drama and performance enable, scholars from Berlin, Paris and London created the Performance Philosophy Working Group “Tragedy and Comedy: Genres of Dramatic Thought”. Our inaugural symposium brings together a select group of international scholars from across the disciplines of Philosophy, Literature, and Theatre & Performance Studies to reconceive the notion of genre in relationship to more recent theories of performance and explore them in their radical interdependence.

Genre has long operated beyond the sphere of literary taxonomy as a vehicle of thought, be it as a tool for philosophy (e.g. Hegel, Nietzsche) or history (e.g. Marx; Hayden White) to reinvent itself. Likewise has the question of the death or rebirth of a genre been an issue of ethics instead of technics. As Susan Sontag's claim that “the burial of a literary form is a moral act” ("The Death of Tragedy"), points to the intertwining of at least philosophy and dramatic literature. Still, the subversive stance that defines the theoretical potential of performance in relation to concepts of normativity seems to make performance antithetical to the taxonomic impetus of genre. Derrida instead suggests that "the whole enigma of genre" ("The Law of Genre") lies in its impurity, its application to and simultaneous division of physis and nomos. Or, to formulate it differently: genre speaks to performing bodies in performance as well as textual modes of writing. In this light we want to explore the possible futures of genre. How does performance remake genre in its role of shaping the cultural imagination? What new forms might genre take in the encounter with Performance Philosophy?

Our symposium calls for a re-engagement with the genres of tragedy and comedy, in order to propose new ways of performing thought and thinking performance beyond disciplinary divides. Our symposium calls for new stories to be told about the idea that is embodiment.


Attendance of the symposium is free of charge. All keynotes and panel discussions are open to the public and you do not need to pre-register.

Registration for seminar sessions has closed.

If you have any questions, please send an email to:


Organized by Maïté Marciano, Ramona Mosse, and Anna Street (Performance Philosophy Working Group: Genres of Dramatic Thought) in cooperation with the Dahlem Humanities Center; the Center for International Cooperation at the FU Berlin; and the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, who have kindly agreed to host the event.