Complete Story

Casper, Kevin

Fall 2014, 44:4, pages 343-362

I Didn’t Do It, Man, I Only Said It: The Asignifying Force of The Lenny Bruce Performance Film

Abstract: This essay draws on Jacques Derrida’s theories of performativity to explore how a performance by Lenny Bruce dramatizes the positive productive potentials of language’s breaking force. Because this performance dramatizes how Bruce’s comedy act gets reinscribed and reinvented in multiple contexts that produce a wide array of effects, it provides a way to look at how language, in this case, humorous appeals in the form of jokes, is always already interrupted by its future instantiations and can never fully be contained in a given context, not even the context of the intentions of the human consciousness. This performance shows us that persuasive appeals do not emerge from a fully realized self-present subject and, therefore, gives us reason to question who or what is at the center of the rhetorical situation if it is no longer a stable human subject.

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