Fates of the Performative: From the Linguistic Turn to the New Materialism (Thinking Theory) (Paperback)
A powerful new examination of the performative that asks “what’s next?” for this well-worn concept
From its humble origins in J. L. Austin’s speech-act theory of the 1950s, the performative has grown to permeate wildly diverse scholarly fields, ranging from deconstruction and feminism to legal theory and even theories about the structure of matter. Here Jeffrey T. Nealon discovers how the performative will remain vital in the twenty-first century, arguing that it was never merely concerned with linguistic meaning but rather constitutes an insight into the workings of immaterial force.
Fates of the Performative takes a deep dive into this “performative force” to think about the continued power and relevance of this wide-ranging concept. Offering both a history of the performative’s mutations and a diagnosis of its present state, Nealon traces how it has been deployed by key writers in the past sixty years, including foundational thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick, and Judith Butler; contemporary theorists such as Thomas Piketty and Antonio Negri; and the “conceptual poetry” of Kenneth Goldsmith.
Ultimately, Nealon’s inquiry is animated by one powerful question: what’s living and what’s dead in performative theory? In deconstructing the reaction against the performative in current humanist thought, Fates of the Performative opens up important conversations about systems theory, animal studies, object-oriented ontology, and the digital humanities. Nealon’s stirring appeal makes a necessary declaration of the performative’s continued power and relevance at a time of neoliberal ascendancy.
About the Author
Jeffrey T. Nealon is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and Philosophy at Penn State University. His most recent books are I’m Not Like Everybody Else: Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and American Popular Music; Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life; and Post-Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Just-in-Time Capitalism.
"What is 'the performative,' and why is it everywhere in contemporary thought? Jeffrey T. Nealon answers that question in this enlightening and witty book. In search of appropriate responses to our fact-free politics, Nealon offers sharp diagnoses of ‘post-critique’ and the ‘new materialism’ on the way to describing a resistant rhetoric to meet the challenges we face."—John McGowan, University of North Carolina
"Fates of the Performative is a major intervention in the theory of the performative. Although performativity is not severed from language, in Jeffrey T. Nealon's view it is persuasively linked to the biopolitical. No theorist invested in the question of the biopolitical has gone down the path Nealon is following by proposing that we understand the embodied and the material, or the agency of the material, as a version of the performative. The idea that life doesn't adapt but performs—that it is distanced from itself by staging what it is—is a novel proposition, which means that this book will reorient theoretical debate about what the performative is and productively complicate our understanding of it."—Branka Arsić, Columbia University