On the Performance of ‘Dissensual Speech’

In Tony Fisher & Eve Katsouraki (eds.), Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance & Radical Democracy. Palgrave Macmillan (2017)
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Abstract

This chapter offers an analysis of the speech conditions constitutive for the staging of political disagreement. Rather than seeking to offer an explanation for various situations of protest, however, it aims to identify what, if anything, is unique or peculiar to such modes of address. Drawing on the resources of speech act theory, the chapter suggests a reading of ‘dissensual speech’ as a form of ‘unauthorised’ speech through which the ‘people’ appear, however, evanescently. It analyses the peculiarities of dissensual speech in the following ways: first, in terms of specifying its modes of utterance, which are identified with phatic and agonic modes of address and, second, in terms of its performative attitudes. In analysing the latter, I turn to Foucault’s notion of parrēsiastic speech in order to confront a paradox that arises with my reading of dissensual speech viewed in terms of ‘performatives’, since parrēsia—‘speaking truth to power’—is radically opposed to two fundamental rules that govern performatives and illocutionary forces: that they are conventional and that their enunciator must be authorised to use them. The chapter proposes a resolution to this contradiction by showing that an affinity exists between parrēsiastic speech and dissensual speech insofar as both entail ‘risk’ to the speaker in uttering a truth. The question then is whether it is possible to collectivise that risk, or whether parrēsia necessarily remains the speech of the individual martyr.

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