The myth of performativity
from Aristotle to Arendt and Taminiaux
pp. 233-251in: Véronique Fóti, Pavlos Kontos (eds), Phenomenology and the primacy of the political, Berlin, Springer, 2017https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8
What I want to call the "Myth of Performativity" is a theoretical conception, mistakenly attributed to Aristotle, about what distinguishes praxis in the strict sense (i.e., morally and politically relevant actions) from other kinds of human activities. According to the Myth, actions constitute pure performances—i.e., a sheer display of ethical virtue—and do not leave behind themselves concrete traces in the world—i.e., any traces significant for appraising their goodness. If that is what performativity would amount to, it can only be mythical. So how can the Myth be a pitfall? The reason is that the Myth takes inspiration from a correct understanding of actions: to differentiate actions from other kinds of human activities—for instance, from productions (poiêsis)—it is useful to ascribe a sort of performativity to the former. The Myth becomes, however, a real risk once one distorts the performativity proper to actions and, instead, celebrates pure performativity. And the Myth of Performativity in this latter form becomes an irresistible temptation for those who hold inappropriate views about the political realm and the role assumed therein by certain Promethean activities which are supposed to be performative in a paradigmatic way. In this paper I mean to show that, throughout his work, Taminiaux's concern remains one and the same: to alert us to the dangerous attractions of the Myth of Performativity. I will expound the above claims in two steps; first, by showing—pace Arendt and Taminiaux—that Aristotle himself had militated against the Myth and, second, by demonstrating that the phenomenology of action casts doubt on the legitimacy of the Myth.