Performing teaching: in search of the profound

Access full-text files




Wright, Arthur Lawrence

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study is a contribution to the ongoing project of scholars and practitioners of performance studies in particular and students of communication and teaching in general to understand something more about what it is to be human. Specifically, it examines the phenomenon variously described as ecstasy, flow, jouissance, nirvana, rapture, Zen, the Tao, grace, or simply the ineffable. Performance as it is understood in communication is a special case of communication, and I understand teaching as a special case of performance. But performance in my experience is more, and that is what I have set out here to explore. Performance cannot be completely situated in this discussion without exploring the philosophy of experience itself, without exploring how performance creates self and generates narrative, how performance mystically opens a window of opportunity to act, perhaps only now and then, in that liminal space of peace, wholeness, integrity, unity. Performance is attractive in the study of the phenomenon variously described above because it offers one way I know to predictably recreate it. Teaching is attractive because it offers a yardstick to assess what audience members think and feel while the performer – the teacher – operates within the phenomenon. It is simultaneously a worthy project to seek to improve the process of teaching by dissolving the subject/object relationship of teacher/student that is the ultimate tyranny of pedagogy. Principles of subversive pedagogy ably describe this circumstance of the teacher-as-performer and the students-as-audience and suggest that several fundamental human values – love, humility, surrender – form the backbone of an enlightened pedagogy. Though several branches of performance theory ably set the stage to consider teaching as a performing act, no performance theory I have encountered explains or addresses either the mystical phenomena that can arise in teaching or how that phenomena relates to satisfaction of the audience – in this case students. But I have found an explanation of sorts in the work of Gregory Bateson. He offers a framework that explains how application of these values through communication has the potential to elevate the conversation to a level where the inadequacies of self fade and all things become possible.