Title page for ETD etd-04052005-105607

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Terry, David Price
Author's Email Address popsicledrip@yahoo.com
URN etd-04052005-105607
Title Spalding Gray and the Slippery Slope of Confessional Performance
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Communication Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Michael Bowman Committee Chair
Joshua Gunn Committee Member
Tracy Stephenson-Shaffer Committee Member
  • personal narrative
  • Spalding Gray
  • Michel Foucault
  • confession
  • autoperformance
Date of Defense 2005-03-16
Availability unrestricted
Beyond Spalding Gray’s iconic position as a confessional performer, he serves as a representative character for a culture increasingly consumed with both self-reflection and self- disclosure, where confessional speech is understood as somehow more “authentic” or “pure” than other forms of discourse. I argue that confession is a performative, not a constative utterance (a doing not a saying) and that it is a productive not a libratory act; it does not free an already existing self, but produces a new self in the act of performance. Consequently, though the confessional performance style typified by Gray can be aesthetically compelling for audiences and politically constructive for performers, the power dynamics between performer and audience in confessional performance are far from benign. Care must be taken to ensure that the act of confession is ethically sound and artistically/intellectually productive.

I begin by placing Gray’s work into a historical context. In Chapter 2, I trace some problematics of the confessional voice in academic, literary, religious, legal and psychoanalytic contexts. Chapter 3 examines some of the contentious issues of the confessional voice in Spalding Gray’s work, offering a reading of It’s a Slippery Slope from a Foucaultian post-structuralist perspective. Finally I offer a reading of my own confessional performance work (inspired by and in response to Gray’s) which has been created using the emerging analytical idiom of haunting, and which I believe to be capable of resolving some of the generic problems of confessional discourse outlined in my study.

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