Prof. Julia Steinmetz
Pratt Institute • Spring 2017 • Performance and Performance Studies MFA


This seminar begins with two foundational texts: Freud’s 1929-30 Civilization and Its Discontents and Stuart Hall’s 1997 Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. A rich site of inquiry emerges from this pairing: artists working from minoritarian positions inevitably feel the “burden of representation,” which is to say the undue weight placed on individuals bearing marks of cultural otherness to stand in for or represent entire communities or racial/ethnic/sexual/gender/class based groups. Politically engaged artists, especially those working with performance, have a complex and vexed relationship to this demand, by turns embracing, rejecting, bearing and interrogating it. There is a close relationship between the burden of representation and the function of “civilization” as described by Freud. We will explore the role of representation as a “civilizing” function on the artist as cultural other, as well as examining Freud’s concept of the “narcissism of small differences” as they pertain to performances of self in minoritarian and activist communities. We will use a Performance Studies lens to examine the mechanisms, politics, and histories of visual/cultural representation and, of course, its discontents.


  1. Students will become conversant with major theories of representation emerging from the fields of visual semiotics, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, critical race theory, indigenous studies and disability studies.
  2. Students will develop a critical language for discussing questions of representation as they relate to performance practice and theories of performativity.
  3. Students will apply the critical apparatus developed in this course to their individual practices as performing artists and scholars.


Participation: 40%

Seminar Paper (7 pages): 20%

In class performance: 15%

Final paper (15 pages) and presentation: 25%
Approved practice based research project: 25%


All readings can be found in our Google Drive Folder:

Week 1: Introduction, course overview

Week 2: The Narcissism of Minor Differences
Sigmund Freud Civilization and Its Discontents

Week 3: Signifying Practices
Stuart Hall “The Work of Representation”; Guest lecture: Katie Brewer-Ball

Week 4: The Rhetoric of the Image   2/13
Roland Barthes “Myth Today” and “The Rhetoric of the Image”

Week 5: Disidentifications 2/20
José Esteban Muñoz Disidentifications
“Introduction” and “Performing Disidentity”

Week 6: The Burden of Representation 2/27
Stuart Hall “New Ethnicities” ; Isaac Julien and Kobena Mercer “De Margin and De Center” ;
Kobena Mercer “Black Art and the Burden of Representation” 

Week 7: Unrepresentability 3/6
Fred Moten “Resistance of the Object: Aunt Hester’s Scream” and “Resistance of the Object: Adrian Piper’s Untitled for Max’s Kansas City (pages 233-254 — PDF of entire book In The Break included so you have it for future reference)
*Jacques Ranciere “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” (recommended)

Week 8: Spring Break 3/13

Week 9: Speaking in Tongues 3/20

Gloria Anzaldua “How to Tame A Wild Tongue”
Cherrie Moraga “La Guera”
Alex Vasquez “Salon Philosophers”

*Spivak “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (recommended)

Seminar paper: Peggy Performance: Peggy

Week 10: The Master’s Tools 3/27

Audre Lorde “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”
Adrian Piper “The Triple Negation of Colored Women Artists”
Sarah Ahmed “Diversity”

Week 11: Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face 4/3

Laura Mulvey “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”
Craig Owens “The Medusa Effect”
bell hooks “Black looks”
Joan Rivière “Womanliness as a masquerade”

Week 12: Enactments 4/10

Sandra Ruiz “Waiting in the Seat of Sensation: Ryan Rivera’s Brown Existentialism”
Joshua Chambers-Letson “The Viral Strategies of Felix-Gonzales Torres”
Christine Bacareza Balance “Notorious Kin: Filipino America Re-imagines Andrew Cunanan”

Week 13: Traces, Rumors, Survivance 4/17

Paul Chaat Smith “Americans Without Tears” from Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong
Gerald Vizenor “Penenative Rumors” Fugitive Poses
José Esteban Muñoz “Ephemera as Evidence”
*Diana Taylor selection from “The Archive and the Repertoire” (recommended)


Week 14: Passing 4/24

Judith Butler “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”
Riley Snorton “The Psychic Life of Passing”
Adrian Piper “Passing for White, Passing for Black”

Week 15: The Revolution Won’t Be Televised  5/1

Gregg Bordowitz “Picture a Coalition”
Richard Dyer “It’s Being So Camp as Keeps Us Going”

Week 16: Final presentations/performances 5/8
Final papers/projects due.