Presence and Desire

Essays on Gender, Sexuality, Performance
Jill Dolan
Explores current controversies and significant concerns in feminist theater and performance


In Presence and Desire, Jill Dolan critically engages contemporary feminist and poststructuralist theory in addressing the major issues for women in theater. Taking sexuality as a primary category of analysis throughout, Dolan examines a wide variety of performances: academic and professional, mainstream and subcultural, in formal settings and in everyday life.

Dolan explores the potential for performance strategies and theatrical representation to intervene in normative constructs of sexuality and gender, and to provoke American culture to examine and reimagine its social relations. Each essay addresses a different aspect of performance studies, such as U.S. feminist theater since the 1960s, pornography and performance in various contexts, or the potential to increase gay and lesbian visibility through theater production.

Performance is currently one of the most important metaphors in both the humanities and gender studies. Presence and Desire will be useful in theater studies, women's studies, and gay and lesbian studies; it will interest anyone committed to cultural criticism that blends theory and practice from a feminist perspective. 

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . continues Dolan's material feminist attack on censorship, cultural feminism, anti-theory sentiment, and realism. Dolan's intellectual thrust is so powerful, her language so precise, deliberate, and ravenous, that the very reading resembles a sexual act."
    Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review
  • "Writing in a clear and cogent style, Dolan examines current issues centering on representation, sexuality, social relations, pornography, and gender. Believing in the potential of certain performance strategies to provoke American culture to both critique and reimagine itself, she encourages 'actors and dramaturgs and critics to be multilingual in theatre studies as well as in the cultural sense.' Providing a model for such an approach, Dolan eloquently demonstrates the significance of psychoanalytic theory, a materialist approach, and deconstruction as tools-of-the-trade for her overarching feminist concerns. The collection is avowedly autobiographical, and it is Dolan's personal insights coupled with her willingness to critique her own work that give these essays much of their power and strength. . . . Dolan's writing is unabashedly exuberant."
    The Drama Review
  • "This is a book that is not only immensely 'readable' but essential reading for those people who wish to gain a greater understanding of the growth of culture—and its contradictions—in twentieth-century Europe."
    Theatre History Studies
  • "Jill Dolan's Presence and Desire is at once a chronicle of the struggles and debates that have taken place in American feminist theatre studies since the mid-1980s, a theoretical work addressing issues of representation, and a work of theatre pedagogy. Above all else, it is a portrait of a lively mind confronting, from a lesbian feminist perspective, a series of thorny issues in the theory and practice of theatre. . . . [A] rich and consistently engaging text."
    Theatre Journal
  • ". . . an invaluable collection of provocative essays which explore the potential for performance strategies and theatrical representation to interrogate normative constructs of sexuality and gender. Provoking a reimagination of social relations, and claiming presence and recognition for women's bodies and desires, she embarks on a subject with interdisciplinary significance. . . . Dolan examines various aspects of the construction of gender and sexuality within theatrical performance and audience reception. Her close reading of several performance texts and her astute chronicle of historical changes within feminist thought make this book indispensable for theatre studies, women's studies, cultural studies, and lesbian studies, as well as for women who are actively involved in feminist performance. Dolan's acute elucidation of the potential political effectiveness of making alternative sexualities and scenarios of desire visible makes Presence and Desire: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, Performance most highly recommendable."
    Women's Studies

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 232pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1994
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06530-1

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.