Theater, Philosophy, and the Performing Self
Tzachi Zamir
The first philosophical study devoted solely to acting, offering a meditation on the spillover from acting to life


Why do people act? Why are other people drawn to watch them? How is acting as a performing art related to role-playing outside the theater? As the first philosophical study devoted to acting, Acts: Theater, Philosophy, and the Performing Self sheds light on some of the more evasive aspects of the acting experience— such as the import of the actor's voice, the ethical unease sometimes felt while embodying particular sequences, and the meaning of inspiration. Tzachi Zamir explores acting’s relationship to everyday role-playing through a surprising range of examples of “lived acting,” including pornography, masochism, and eating disorders. By unearthing the deeper mobilizing structures that underlie dissimilar forms of staged and non-staged role-playing, Acts offers a multi-layered meditation on the percolation from acting to life.

The book engages questions of theatrical inspiration, the actor’s “energy,” the difference between acting and pretending, the special role of repetition as part of live acting, the audience and its attraction to acting, and the unique significance of the actor’s voice. It examines the embodied nature of the actor’s animation of a fiction, the breakdown of the distinction between what one acts and who one is, and the transition from what one performs into who one is, creating an interdisciplinary meditation on the relationship between life and acting.

“A vibrant and vital addition to existing studies of acting/performance from an engaged philosophical perspective. Zamir traces the connections between acting and ‘energy,’ ‘intensity,’ and ‘inspiration’ before returning to the question of embodiment, a term with especially complicated conceptual baggage. All of this is imbricated deftly with Zamir’s citation of commentaries from actors and acting teachers/thinkers alike, grounding the work in material practice with a writerly grace rarely found in texts on the philosophy of acting. Zamir’s later turn to the question of ethics and to pornography is both bold and brilliant.”
—Patrick Anderson, University of California, San Diego

“Zamir’s account of acting is grounded in his own experience, deeply informed by his substantial background in philosophy and performance studies. The result is something new: an account of acting that is attuned to many issues currently being hashed out in performance studies and firmly attached to issues of major import in philosophy.”
—James Hamilton, Kansas State University

“Zamir uses a series of fascinating special topics and case studies to make a valuable and highly unique contribution to scholarship in the philosophy of art, theatre, and performance studies.”
—David Z. Saltz, University of Georgia

Tzachi Zamir is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University.

Praise / Awards

  • "As an investigation into the philosophical foundations and ethical implications of what Zamir calls 'the most popular approach to actor instruction in the English-speaking world,' Acts is sure to assume a prominent place in the literature on performance and philosophy. Without ever overlooking the ethical quandaries of the actor’s craft, Zamir gives full-bodied testament to the power of acting in revealing our fullest selves."
    --- Theatre Journal
  • "The resulting book is subtle, careful, has a wealth of good examples, and is responsive and responsible to a wide range of philosophical and nonphilosophical literatures. One of the most remarkable things about the book is the breadth of concerns it addresses.That it does so carefully and responsibly—is a real achievement."
    -- Philosophical Quarterly
  • "[Acts is] an agenda-setting study, and it is among the most rewarding and original works in contemporary philosophy of art."
    --- The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly
  • "[Acts] is a remarkably rich, dense, comprehensive, and breathtakingly insightful book on the experience and nature of the “acts” one undertakes and undergoes as both an actor and as a person in the world outside of theatre."
    --Aili Bresnahan,  Philosophers' Magazine

  • "There is much to admire about Zamir’s book — his deft handling of language familiar to rather different theoretical traditions, his breadth of vision, his combination of philosophical care and theoretical ambition. Zamir’s book achieves something that is rare in philosophy: it’s a good read; it’s daring; it doesn’t bleed with an allegiance to any particular philosophical tradition; it is inspired, creative, and sensitive to actors’ understanding of their art. I’d even go so far as to say that with Acts Zamir has really embodied the role of philosopher and given us a lively performance."
    --Nick Riggle, Notre Dame Philosophical Review

  • Tzachi Zamir’s Acts: Theater, Philosophy, and the Performing Self offers an expansive philosophical treatment of acting that moves through the domains of traditional dramatic theatre to the realm of everyday life.
    --Will Daddario, The Drama Review

  • "Original and interesting analysis..."
    -- Tijdschrift voor Filosofie (Journal of Philosophy)
  • "A stunning achievement...Zamir deftly interweaves a legion of progenitors of drama, dramatic theory and philosophy to the cause of explicating a process that exceeds all such attempts, incisive and prophetic though they may be."
    --New England Theatre Journal?

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 288pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07213-2

Add to Cart
  • $89.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05213-4

Add to Cart
  • $36.95 U.S.

Related Products



  • Acting, theatre, drama, philosophy, aesthetics, roleplaying, puppetry, masochism, pornography, anorexia