Techno-Performance in a Knowledge Culture in Transition

Masterclass with Jon McKenzie, Iris van der Tuin and Maaike Bleeker.

Offered by the Centre for the Humanities and the Transmission in Motion research group ( at Utrecht University, in collaboration with NICA and SPRING Performing Arts Festival.

 22 May 2018, 10-17h, Het Huis (Boorstraat 107, Utrecht)

Lyotard’s classic The Postmodern Condition ([1979] 1984) is widely known for its observations on the collapse of metanarrative as a legitimizing force, and on the emergence of performativity as the fundamental principle of contemporary science. Lyotard’s observations are indicative for how, as Jon McKenzie (2004) observes, in the course of the twentieth century performance replaces discipline as onto-historical formation of power and knowledge. Equally relevant and important with regard to current transformations are Lyotard’s observations on the impact of technologization on knowledge. Lyotard points out that “the miniaturization and commercialization of machines is changing the way in which learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited.” Almost 40 years later, Lyotard’s observations have lost nothing of their actuality. Developments since then point to an even more pervasive impact of technology that extends beyond learning and knowledge transmission to practices of research and knowledge production, and affects our understanding of the very nature of knowledge.

In this masterclass we take Lyotard’s report on knowledge as a historical point of reference for a closer look at  the performance of technology in our current knowledge culture, and the onto-epistemological implications of this role. We do so together with Jon McKenzie, who with his groundbreaking Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance (2004) draws attention to technological performance, or Techno-Performance, as key to understanding performativity as legitimizing force. McKenzie will focus on the relation between Lyotard’s theory of postmodern performativity and his own general theory of performance. At one level, techno-performance, especially that of computers and software, can help us understand Lyotard’s concept of performativity as the optimization of inputs and outputs. Such optimization increasingly informs the nexus of research, assessment, and funding. At another level, Lyotard’s performativity enables us to understand performative power/knowledge as displacing the disciplinary stratum described by Foucault. Finally, Lyotard’s description of paralogy as a mode of description capable of resisting or transforming performativity is one way of approaching what McKenzie calls ‘perfumance’, the iterative mist surrounding any and all performance. Iris van der Tuin will extend Lyotard’s perspective to algorithmic culture in a discussion based on the project Ethics of Coding: A Report on the Algorithmic Condition (Colman et al. 2017). Maaike Bleeker will relate McKenzie’s notion of techno-performance to what Mark Hansen describes as 21st century media and reflect on how their performance expands the sensible.

Jon McKenzie is Dean’s Fellow for Media and Design and Visiting Professor of English at Cornell University. He is the author of Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance and such essays as “Laurie Anderson for Dummies,” “Democracy’s Performance,” and “Global Feeling: (Almost) All You Need Is Love.” His work has been translated into a half-dozen languages. McKenzie’s StudioLab pedagogy combines seminar, studio, and lab activities to bring scholarship to communities and policy-makers. He also creates experimental videos and gives workshops on performative scholarship and transmedia knowledge. In 2013, HOBO Art Foundation and the New Theatre of Warsaw co-produced Disastronauts, an experimental theatre work with dance and Theremins based on Perform or Else and his video The Revelations of Dr. Kx4l3ndj3r. McKenzie is Centre for the Humanities SPRING Festival Fellow 2018, a fellowship generously sponsored by the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University.

Iris van der Tuin is professor in Theory of Cultural Inquiry and director of the School of Liberal Arts at Utrecht University (The Netherlands). She co-authored New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies (Open Humanities Press, 2012) with Rick Dolphijn, wrote Generational Feminism: New Materialist Introduction to a Generative Approach (Lexington Books, 2015), and edited Nature for Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Gender (Macmillan Reference USA, 2016). Iris currently chairs the COST Action New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on ‘How Matter comes to Matter’ (2014-18).

Maaike Bleeker is a professor in the department of Media & Culture Studies at Utrecht University. Her work engages with questions of perception, cognition and agency from an interdisciplinary perspective, with a special interest in embodiment, movement, and technology, and the performativity of meaning making and knowledge transmission. Her monograph Visuality in the Theatre was published by Palgrave. Recent publications include the co-edited volume Performance and Phenomenology: Traditions and Transformations (Routledge, 2015) and the edited volume Transmission in Motion. The Technologizing of Dance (Routledge, 2016).

Credits: RMA Students can acquire 1 EC if they actively participate in the masterclass, complete the readings and write a blogpost (750-1000 words) about the subject of the masterclass. There are limited places for this masterclass. Please register with Eloe Kingma through Make sure to indicate your home program and university.

Participants are encouraged to also visit the performance Deep Presence by Jinsun Kim and the aftertalk with Jon McKenzie and Jinsun Kim at the same day (May 22, 21h in Theater Kikker, see and Jon McKenzie’s lecture performance the next day (May 23) at 15h (



Lyotard, François. The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge.

McKenzie, Jon.” Performance and democratizing digitality: StudioLab as critical design pedagogy” and “Stratification and Diagrammatic Storytelling: An Encounter with ‘Under the Dome’”, both downloadable at

Bleeker, Maaike and Iris van der Tuin (2014). Science in the Performance Stratum – Hunting for Higgs and Nature as Performance. International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 10 (2): 232-45.