Begin Here: For the End(s) of the Performance

  • Crystal Downing


Few people would think to end a book on Dorothy L. Sayers with an analysis of Begin Here, Sayers’ s “memorandum of what some of us in Britain were thinking and feeling in the Winter of 1939.”1 Usually dismissed by scholars due to its hasty inscription and resulting errors, Begin Here nevertheless alludes to a fundamental problem addressed by theorists of our own time: the problem with assessing origins, both of life and of art. If, as suggested by this chapter’ s epigraph, “life is an interminable serial story,” who authorizes the writing performance and how much power does the hero have to change the plot? Since the “back numbers” of life are not fully accessible, how might we build upon or challenge what “History” has taught us about ourselves so that we can perform responsibly? (Begin 19). Upon what authority does any human act? When and where does the self begin? The difficulty of answering these questions may explain why Begin Here “ranges widely, and somewhat superficially, through history, economics, theology, and philosophy.”2 Sayers is wrestling with the legitimacy of human agency as she struggles to assess how much control one has to direct the “exciting episodes” in one’ s own life, let alone to change the world at large. As we shall see, her questions and concerns parallel interrogations and analyses of “discourse” generated by preeminent shapers of postmodern thought: Jean-Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler.


Human Agency Period Attitude Discursive Practice Hate Speech Ethical Agency 
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© Crystal Downing 2004

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  • Crystal Downing

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