For an Audience

Paul Thom
Book Cover

HC: $59.95
EAN: 978-0-87722-991-9
Publication: Nov 92

256 pages
6 x 9

A philosopher offers a way to evaluate performance art


This is an examination of the criteria for identifying, evaluating, and appreciating art forms that require performance for their full realization. Unlike his contemporaries, Paul Thom concentrates on an analytical approach to evaluating music, drama, and dance.

Separating performance art into its various elements enables Thom to study its nature and determine essential features and their relationships. Throughout the book, he debates traditional thought in numerous areas of the performing arts. He argues, for example, against the invisibility of the performer—"the vehicle of representation in performance"—then critiques Diderot's Paradox of Performance, calling it "the most extreme formulation of the traditional valorization," and declaring that such thinking must be abandoned.

Developing several lines of reasoning regarding music, Thom considers questions of incompleteness and authenticity in relation to the score, the score's function, and the sense in which musical performances are interpreted, or are open to interpretation. It is this audience interpretation that is the final ingredient in the blending and interrelating of the performers, the performance, and the audience. Thom discusses the impact of music, drama, and dance performances on audiences, and evaluates their expectations, reception, and interpretations. He contends that audiences play an active role as interpreters, without becoming performers themselves.


"Thom succeeds in laying the foundations for a philosophy of the performing arts in the analytic tradition."
Laurent Stern, Rutgers University

Table of Contents


Performing/Nonperforming Arts • Artistic/Nonartistic Performance • The Tradition of Philosophizing about the Performing Arts • The Traditional Valorization of the Performing Arts • The Traditional Structure • Philosophical Problems and Theories

Part I: Performing a Work
1. Works for Performance
The Absent Author • The Marginalization of Staging • Works of Art • Works for Performance • Works for Playing
2. Performance without Works
Improvisation • Routines • The End of the Work
3. The Value of the Work
The Incompleteness of Works for Performance • Authenticity in Performance • Interpretation • Interpretation of Works for Performance • The Traditional Valorization of Performative Interpretation • The Consummate Performer • Radical Interpretation

Part II: Performance as Representation
4. Representation
Kinds of Representation • Representation in the Performing Arts
5. Performance without Representation
6. The Value of Representation
The Metaphysics of Mimesis • Diderot's Paradox • The Materials of Representation

Part III: Beholding a Performance
7. Performances
Performing • Performance Institutions • The Scrivener's Contract • Projection • Presence • Performances • The Constitutive Audience
8. Beholding without Performance
The End of Performance
9. The Value of Performance
The Incompleteness of Performances • The Empty Hall • Reading the Performance • Audience Response • Audience Interpretation • The Traditional Valorization of Audience Interpretation • The Consummate Spectator • Radical Interpretation • Conclusions


About the Author(s)

Paul Thom is head of the Philosophy Department, The Faculties, Australian National University.

In the Series

  • The Arts and Their Philosophies edited by Joseph Margolis

    The volumes in The Arts and Their Philosophies, edited by Joseph Margolis, include: overviews of such well-defined sub-disciplines as the philosophy of music, film, and literature; studies of important figures, schools, and movements; monographs on such topics as postmodernism, texts and interpretation, reference in fiction, and the methodology of art history; explorations of the intersection of the arts and other disciplines, such as feminism and interpretation, art and politics; and translations of major works.