— Commentary —

Posthuman Performance

Matthew Causey
School of Drama
Trinity College, Dublin

Posthumanism, under a variety of names, is an ongoing project initiated in the late nineteenth century. As a counter-argument to the notions of humanism, which tend to essentialise categories of gender and race, defer difference and construct a ‘family of man’ as the centre of all things, strands of posthumanism have been promoted in the writings of Nietzsche, Freud and Marx. The scheme of dethroning a centralised ‘man’ in favour of more marginalised concerns has continued in poststructuralist, feminist and postmodern thought. More recently, posthumanism, as a component of digital culture and theory (developed and critiqued most clearly in the work of Donna Haraway and N. Katherine Hayles), argues for a model of identity that is dramatically altered within technological cultures. Posthumanism argues that western industrialised societies are experiencing a new phase of humanity ‘wherein no essential differences between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals, exist [...]. Embodiment is seen as an accident of history and consciousness is an evolutionary newcomer’ [1]. Both the body and its conscious (no separation intended) and the spaces it inhabits are challenged and reconfigured. The technologies of scientific visualisation of the body through magnetic resonance imaging, the territorialising of the body through genome mapping and genetic engineering, and the alteration of the body through aesthetic and sexual reassignment surgery and mechanical, electronic and biological prosthetics, mark the speed of change in the ways the body is seen, controlled and constructed. Additionally, this posthuman body ‘lives’ within new spaces of virtual environments and ubiquitous surveillance.

If one assumes that this model of posthumanism has some validity, even if it works as a ‘fictive theory’ [2], and if one believes that one responsibility of art is to articulate and critique culture, then the question for theatre and performance artists is how can their art best respond to these phenomena? What aesthetic gestures are possible and useful toward the understanding of posthuman bodies in virtual and real spaces? The performance work of Stelarc, featured in this issue of Crossings, is an adventurous and beautiful approach to the posthuman-machine hybrid. Stelarc's work gives us a dynamic way of seeing the future and testing the boundaries of our identity. Nonetheless, within the future of posthuman performance, it will not be sufficient simply to ring the bells and buzzers of new technologies in hope of establishing a new aesthetic. It will not be enough simply to add technology as a backdrop to pre-existing aesthetic forms. I would suggest, speaking ethically and politically, that the object of posthuman performance should be to configure a map of the terrain of identity in digital culture while challenging failed models of human subjectivity that threaten to return continually if different systems of subjectivity are not engaged.


Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Badmington, Neil. Posthumanism. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

About the Author

Matthew Causey is a lecturer in Drama at Trinity College Dublin. A theatre and new media artist,he has directed, designed and written numerous theatre, video and multi-media works. He is a contributing author to the anthology Cyperspatial Textuality, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Postmodernism and the Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance. His theoretical writings have appeared in journals such as Theatre Research International, Theatre Journal and Theatre Forum. Currently, Dr. Causey is at work on a book titled Posthuman Performance: Theatre in the Virtual's Mediation of Illusion.

© 2001-2016 Trinity College, Dublin