Anaesthesis: Dance Marathons and the Limits of Sense

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


‘Anaesthesis’, this chapter argues, can be understood as an (anti-)aesthetic realm beyond failure, where sensation itself is depleted. With dance marathons in 1930s America, movement 24/7 for days, weeks, months, depleted participants’ energies in a show of exhaustion. But this is not a Beckettian exhaustion, in which one is not certain whether to sit or stand, and lie down one last time; rather, this anaesthetic exhaustion tends catabolically towards a limit – the limit point on an ever-receding horizon where any distinction between night and day, work and life, vanish. At this limit-point, where ‘worker’ ‘productivity’ and self-fulfilment become evacuated from the scene of capitalist modernity, another sort of emergence arises: that of senseless feeling, a space of chaosmotic nothingness in which resistance to overproductivity and gestureless motion signal an order of worklessness that is not bound to fear – or fear of failure. Beyond failure – beyond the feeling or fear of failure – lies a horizon of potential mutuality the exhausted dancers barely glimpse. In this zone of (in)distinction, they are too exhausted to care – thus, they cannot be exploited or subjectivated, in an economic regime that requires self-fulfilment and self-making. They may begin to feel again; to feel better.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Failure: New Essays on the Cultural History of Failure in Theatre and Performance
EditorsTony Fisher, Eve Katsouraki
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781351247733
ISBN (Print)9780815370994, 9788815370987
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • exhaustion
  • productivity
  • work
  • 1930s
  • America
  • dance marathon
  • capitalism
  • modernity
  • affect
  • feeling
  • sensation
  • aesthetics
  • aesthetics and politics
  • sense
  • limit


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