Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Theatre and Performance


Marvin Carlson

Committee Members

Peter Eckersall

Jean Graham-Jones

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Intellectual History | Modern Languages | Modern Literature | Performance Studies | Theatre History | Theory and Criticism


Aby Warburg, Jane Harrison, Antonin Artaud, Colonialism, Temporality, Modernism


This dissertation traces a genealogy of research methodologies for documenting, transmitting, and analyzing embodied, non-textual performance practices from the late-nineteenth through early-twentieth centuries. I uncover intersections between these methods and the conflations of race and temporality that are ubiquitously threaded through modernist cultural practices during this time in the form of primitivism. The researchers whose work I analyze all saw European modernity as fundamentally detached from physical culture, while viewing other cultures—especially those of the people most directly threatened by colonial and capitalist expansion during this time—as having access to a “lost” corporeal knowledge. I argue that primitivism is not only an aesthetic trope of European modernism, but that it is also enmeshed with historical methodologies for performance research. The project takes a comparative approach, with chapters on the British classicist Jane Harrison, the German art historian Aby Warburg, and the French theatre director and theorist Antonin Artaud. The people that I have chosen as the subjects for my chapters were all historically positioned in colonial centers of power and have often been previously theorized as unremarkably detached from the processes of colonial annexation, dispossession, and settlement that in actuality bracket their work ideologically and materially. In encountering these histories, I do not separate out the migration paths of images, words, and gestures from those of materials, bodies, and capital as they flow through global capitalism and colonialism. Rather, I argue that cultural and material transmission are ambivalent co-facilitators.

This dissertation also connects key theoretical ideas from Harrison, Warburg, and Artaud more broadly to performance studies as a field, both in the early years of its development in the 1960s and 1970s and in more recent permutations. In particular, I am looking at how these methodologies for the study of/with performance might intersect with notions of cultural appropriation, colonialism, and time. What are the implications if the common avant-garde trope of primitivism is seen as having not only shaped and been shaped by aesthetic technique but also as threaded into the histories of performance research methodologies? What other genealogies of performance studies might be uncovered when it becomes entangled in histories of cultural appropriation and primitivism? What does it mean for theatre and performance studies to trace this genealogy, and how might it allow us to think differently about bodies, time, and performance?

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Monday, September 30, 2024

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