Patrick Anderson is Professor of Expressive Culture and Performance at the University of California, San Diego. He teaches in the departments of Communication, Ethnic Studies, and Critical Gender Studies. He is the author of Autobiography of a Disease (Routledge, 2017) and So Much Wasted (Duke University Press, 2010) and the co-editor, with Jisha Menon, of Violence Performed (Palgrave, 2009). With Nicholas Ridout, he co-edits the “Performance Works” book series at Northwestern University Press. He has served as Director of the Critical Gender Studies program and founding facilitator for the Social Justice Practicum at UC San Diego; as Vice President of the American Society for Theatre Research; and as Editorial Board member for the University of California Press. In 2018, he was appointed by the Mayor and City Council of San Diego to the Community Review Board on Police Practices, which represents the community in reviewing complaints against the police, officer-involved shootings, and in-custody deaths. A former Fulbright Scholar and Berkeley Fellow, Anderson holds a PhD in Performance Studies (Designated Emphasis: Women, Gender, and Sexuality) from the University of California, Berkeley; an MA in Communication and Cultural Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and a BS in Performance Studies and Anthropology from Northwestern University.
Generally speaking, my work is situated in the fields of Performance Studies and Cultural Studies; more specifically, my research has aimed to understand the role of violence, mortality, and pain within distinct institutional settings, including the theater, the gallery, the clinic, and the prison. The central conceptual directive throughout my research has been to understand two interwound binaries—liveness and mortality, and subjectivity and objecthood—whether these adhere within a single body or practice (a hunger striker, for example) or whether they populate a particular constellation of beings within a specific place (a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, for instance). I frame all of my work in terms of political effects, by which I mean that I aim to attend closely to the flows of power, practices of representation, productions of difference, and evolving vocabularies of “care,” within and among all of the institutional contexts I consider. Methodologically, I rely on tools provided by a variety of formal disciplines to pursue these queries: ethnography in general (Geertz’s “deep hanging out”) and specific (interviews, ritual analysis) terms; performance and visual culture analysis; archival research; close reading of texts from a range of institutional contexts; and critical theory (not limited to the Frankfurt School or its timelines/genealogies). My work has been centrally influenced by scholarly and artistic genealogies that have understood gender, sexuality, and racialization to be foundational to the production of modernity, the human, and the social; and so my research aims to attend closely to these forces within and among the institutional contexts I study.
My first monograph, So Much Wasted: Hunger, performance, and the morbidity of resistance (Duke UP, 2010), focused on the shifting meanings of self-starvation as a practice and as a representational form within the domains of the clinic, the gallery, and the prison. The book begins with an extended consideration of debates among performance theorists about the ephemerality at the heart of live performance—its conjoining of enactment and/as disappearance—alongside Foucauldian notions of the subject and Freudian theories of the self. These conceptual frames enabled me to explore, in the chapters that follow, how self-starvation operates as a spectacular, resistant practice in the context of clinical history (hysteria, anorexia nervosa), cultural production (staged fasting, performance art), and prison rebellion (hunger strikes, death fasts). I argued that in each of these scenes, extended self-starvation produces a subject (the hunger striker, the faster, the anorectic) in both senses of that word: an agential subject whose refusal to eat commands attention, and a body subject to the excruciatingly dire physical effects of starvation, ultimately including death. This conundrum describes precisely what Foucault called subjectivation; it also befouls conventional understandings of “resistance” in binaristic terms (active/passive, subject/object, empowered/disempowered).
So Much Wasted is structured fairly conventionally, with constitutive chapters devoted to case studies of specific sites: the origins of the modern clinic in early diagnostic practice with hysteria; the emergence of anorexia nervosa as a distinctly gendered diagnostic category; Victorian-era “fasting girls” and the elaborately staged “fasting demonstrations” of their contemporary physicians; avant-garde performance art in galleries and other locations; hunger strikes and death fasts staged in prisons in Turkey and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and the contemporary use of feeding tubes in clinics and prisons alike. With my second monograph, Autobiography of a Disease (Routledge, 2017), I took a dramatically different approach in my attempt to understand the distinctly atomizing and yet profoundly social experience of medicalization in contemporary US hospitals and clinics. This book was based experientially on my own extended, life-threatening illness during the early years of the 21st century; but it was ultimately crafted from research on microbiological history and practice; interviews with medical practitioners, patients, and care-givers; social histories of public health and epidemiology; and an admittedly convoluted form of ethnographic observation (from the position of a patient who could not always trust his observations).
Following precedents in the fields of Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities, Autobiography of a Disease offers a portrait of illness not simply in biological terms (a functional collapse initiated by an invasive agent that must be exterminated) but in the context of a richly social scene populated by human and non-human beings and things, all of whom share the context of that illness from drastically distinct positions. Perhaps unconventionally, the book is narrated not by a distanced, scholarly voice, but rather from multiple perspectives: most notably, a bacterial cluster, but also clinical monitoring machines; discarded bodily tissues; nurses, physicians, and other care-givers; and the patient himself. In this, the book attempts to critically revise clinical rhetoric that situates illness in militarized terms—as a “war” between the body of health and the invasive enemies of disease—while also attending to the complex and often paradoxical experience of being subjected to the vast range of clinical practices that constitute diagnosis, treatment, and “care.” It is in this context that the experience of illness eventuates a kind of crisis for the ill person, who is as often a clinical object as an agential subject. The book embraces this crisis as both emblematic of and essential to the experience of medicalization in the 21st century US.
While writing Autobiography of a Disease, I have also been working on my next book, Empathy’s Others. This project is founded on a deep suspicion that what colloquially (and especially in political discourse) goes by the name of empathy does not offer the kind of profound and revolutionary engagement that it seems to promise. I begin with etymological history, excavating the origins of the word empathy: coined first in the early 20th century to translate a German word developed by aesthetic philosophers to describe the relationship between a viewing subject and an object of beauty (an artistic artifact, a piece of architecture, or a geographical feature, for example). I then trace the emergence of that word through numerous fields, including the early development of psychology, theatrical practice, art history, and broader cultural/political dialogue. I have published five essays from this research—not all of which will directly appear in the book, but which generally demonstrate the direction the project is taking. “Architecture is Not Justice” is the earliest example, and represents my first pivot towards questions of affect and empathy after completing So Much Wasted. Three of these essays—“A Slender Pivot,” “Colour Blind,” and “I Feel For You”—consider what I call empathic crises in the context of very different particular scenes (choreography and/as political action; Disability and political representation; illness and the experience of “care”). The most recent essay, “To Be Undone” (in Performance Research), begins with one specific origin story for the spread of “empathy”—an ancient sculpture described in a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke—before turning to radical queer practice during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.