Writing Time, or, thoughts on a book about disappearance that stayed around with Peggy Phelan

peggy event

In 1993, the field of performance studies was shaken by the publication of Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: the politics of performance. Bridging feminist theory and psychoanalysis, deconstruction and art history, Phelan’s book confronted issues that had confounded performance theory until then -- particularly the relation between visibility, embodiment, disappearance and feminism and how these might inform the political-aesthetic (non)value of body art. Written during the raging Culture Wars of the late 1980s early 1990s, in the midst of the AIDS pandemic, during the consolidation of Neo-liberalism as the putative "only option” for organizing societal life, Unmarked shifted the field of performance studies towards a direct engagement with questions of survival and resilience, of disappearance and presence, of representation and reproduction in ways that, for Phelan, constituted the outlines of a feminist political ontology of performance. 

On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the book’s publication, Professor Peggy Phelan (Stanford University) joins PS faculty André Lepecki for a conversation on the book’s many afterlives. After thirty years, what lingers today from this book about disappearance? The current global attacks on trans and queer identities, African-American history, and reproductive freedom return us to some of the same issues Phelan explored. What new lessons can be drawn from the book’s analyses? This event will be an occasion to both celebrate Phelan’s book and also to collectively ask questions about the (non)time of performance (studies) and its (non)value for a minoritarian politics of performance. This conversation will be moderated by PS Ph.D. Candidate, Alhena Katsof.

This event was also Made possible with support from the Center for Research & Study.

Bio: Peggy Phelan is the Ann O’Day Maples Chair in the Arts Professor of Theater & Performance Studies and English. Publishing widely in both book and essay form, Phelan is the author of Unmarked: the politics of performance (Routledge, 1993); Mourning Sex: performing public memories (Routledge, 1997; honorable mention Callaway Prize for dramatic criticism 1997-1999). She edited and contributed to Live Art in Los Angeles, (Routledge, 2012), and contributed catalog essays for Everything Loose Will Land: 1970s Art and Architecture in Los Angeles (Mak Center, 2013), Haunted: Contemporary Photography, Video, and Performance (Guggenheim Museum, 2010); WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007); and Andy Warhol: Giant Size (Phaidon, 2008), among others. Phelan is co-editor, with the late Lynda Hart, of Acting Out: Feminist Performances (University of Michigan Press, 1993; cited as “best critical anthology” of 1993 by American Book Review); and co-editor with Jill Lane of The Ends of Performance (New York University Press, 1997). She has been President and Treasurer of Performance Studies International, the primary professional organization in her field. She has been a fellow of the Getty Research Institute and the Stanford Humanities Center. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004. She chaired the Department of Performance Studies at New York University and the Drama Department at Stanford University. In 2018, Phelan and Richard Meyer co-curated the exhibition ‘Contact Warhol; Photography Without End’ for the Cantor Center for the Arts. The book documenting and analyzing Warhol’s last decade of photography was published under the same title by MIT Press.


Panelists Andre, Alhena, and Peggy


Peggy Phelan