Plus d'un rôle. On the Politics of Playing Together in Contemporary Theatre and Performance Practices
How can we conceptualize a thinking of the political in the realm of theatre (in all its variant forms)? And how is it related to questions raised by the recent debates on the political and politics as well as on the retrait of the political - namely to the renewed question concerning community as it was brought up first of all by J.L. Nancy and R. Esposito. By taking a closer look to some contemporary forms of a critical practice in theatre and performance I would like to develop in my contribution that theatre intervenes in a political way where it analyses and deconstructs the inherent ideology of its own forms and frames. As example I will take the model of the role in theatre. It is in the centre of the idea of modern theatre as it was constituted in the 18th century and at the same time it is marked by the strategy of immunisation which goes along with this constitution. Not accidentally in the 20th century the different forms of contemporary theatre in the 20th century work on the dissolution of it. Departing from different forms of contemporary scenic research (L. Chétouane, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, Ivana Müller) this process of a gradual erosion of the role seems to be a symptom of a change of paradigms in society of which theatre is both a part as well as a mirror. It bears witness to a change of the notion of role which might be grasped most properly following Derrida's phrase that we are always already in more than one language and in no language any longer (plus d'une langue).
Citizenship Under Pressure/Erasure?
Etienne Balibar has argued persuasively that we are facing a crisis of sovereignty, the heart of which is the ‘disappearance of the people, both as an instance of symbolic legitimation and as an instance of real control’. With a similar attenuation of law, that situation becomes dire: ‘But with neither people nor law there can only exist a phantom public sphere, a regression and not a progress in relation to the history of democratic states’ (emphases in the original).
However, the appearance of the people may be dependent on their embodiment and representation in concrete particularity, and the recent dismissal of identity categories on the part of a number of important theorists further exacerbates the predicament of how the people are to appear as citizens. In this short paper, I want to criticize the attempts to dismiss identity categories in relation to concerns about the category of citizenship. In the last part of the paper, I’ll argue that performances remain an important site to articulate identity and citizenship in relation to a public sphere Exploring the limits as well as the advantages of Aihwa Ong’s ideas about ‘Flexible Citizenship’ in a transnational context, I’ll argue that while the market overrides most structures of filiation, performances still presuppose a relationality that cannot be completely absorbed by the transitory flow of capital and populations.
The Body Politic Versus the Body of the Non-citizen
S. E. Wilmer
The asylum-seeker occupies both a local and an international position, straddling the borders of the nation state. By definition s/he is in a state of becoming (as Gilles Deleuze or Hannah Arendt might put it), an exile of one country and not yet a citizen of another. S/he is in a liminal state or in a kind of no man’s land, a non-person contained by the nation-state in a specially contrived holding centre, unable to work or function properly in society, effectively deprived of human rights, and subject to deportation at any time. This paper uses the writings of Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, Cecilia Sjöholm and Judith Butler to theorize the deprivation of the stateless person in the nation-state within the discourse of biopolitics, and shows how performances have enhanced and provided a new perspective on tales about refugees and homelessness. The paper looks at how theatre might bring understanding to the relationship between the citizen and the non-citizen.
Hannah Arendt has argued that the human rights of the exile or stateless person are not protected by the nation-state. Taking this idea further, Giorgio Agamben comments: “In the nation-state system, the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man prove to be completely unprotected at the very moment it is no longer possible to characterize them as rights of the citizens of a state”. Cecilia Sjöholm clarifies, “While the nation-state has proven to be a powerful organization when it comes to protecting its own citizens, those that have not enjoyed the protection of the nation-state have come to be doubly exposed. The human being who is exiled by force and who is not recognized as a citizen in any state has proven not only to lack nationality, but has also not been able to enjoy any rights”. Moreover, as Judith Butler explains, “The category of the stateless is reproduced not simply by the nation-state but by a certain operation of power that seeks to forcibly align nation with state.” This paper focuses on specific performances, some of which use the bodies of actual refugees, that call attention to the bare life of the refugee and question the exclusive nature of citizenship in the nation-state. It demonstrates how the performing arts can illuminate the relationship between human rights and citizenship in contemporary society.
Performance and Metaphor: Some Thoughts on Sarah Palin’s Alaska
Sarah Palin’s Alaska, a “reality” television show launched on the Learning Channel last fall in America is the latest in a series of strange paradoxes abounding in the land of almost permanently dislocated boundaries between performance, politics and reality. While the significance of a politician’s ability to perform well publicly is a given, performance in this sense has historically referred to skills in rhetoric, vision, diplomacy, etc. But over the last decade or so the line demarcating political performance from any other kind of performance has been critically displaced and Sarah Palin’s Alaska — featuring the former Vice-Presidential nominee and darling of the far right perfectly coiffed and manicured while slaughtering caribou — fairly obscures it forever.
In a land where many consider the most hard-hitting and accurate news reporting to be a daily show on the Comedy Channel this is not, perhaps, surprising. But the events of the weekend of 8 January just might profoundly dislodge our ease in the face of a notable slippage in categories and in the relative ease with which the language of such performance has found its way into everyday political debate.
Following the shooting of Congresswoman Gifford in Tucson Arizona, Palin’s website hastily removed an incendiary page which featured a map of the United States identifying 20 House Democrats who had voted for the Health Care Bill marked with crosshairs/bulleyes and a strap line that read “It’s time to take a stand”. Of course, guns, gun-toting, gun lobbying, rugged individualism in the Wild West and shooting caribou in the wilderness are all signal parts of the Palin performance persona, and that persona is a calculated metaphor for a kind of ideology. The problem, as I hope to examine, is NOT that we underestimate our ability to distinguish metaphor from reality. The problem, I will argue, is that we underestimate the power of metaphor.
Manifesto for hapless heroism: the event, the subject, & absurdity
While the word ‘communism’ is widely pervasive today in light of the current crisis in neoliberal capitalism, its use in academic circles is cautious – Badiou’s ‘communist hypothesis,’ Groys’ ‘communist postscript,’ and the well-known ‘Idea’ of communism. Justifiably wary of repeating the catastrophe of 20th century socialist states, the word ‘Manifesto’ is missing. But as Katsouraki suggest, it is only in ‘acts of self-founding declaration’ that communism names itself and therefore can be made manifest. In light of the opportunity presented by capitalist crisis for new modes of organisation to emerge, this circumspect refusal to ‘name’ communism cannot but strike us as a kind of Hamlet’s gamble. Meanwhile, activist movements under the banner of anti-globalisation are attempting to indeed name, and even make visible, these new modes of organisation, sometimes with recourse to the very word Marx and Engels’ appended to their idea of communism.
What form, then, will a viable Manifesto for the dispersed and multiple situation of anti-capitalism resistance take today? How can it articulate and transform our idea of citizenship? The Socialist Surrealism Manifesto of Waldemar Fydrych can be seen as the document that retroactively names a number of forms of direct action, which Simon Critchley has since called ‘tactical frivolity,’ and which generally appears as a type of show or performance of silliness that disrupts the functioning of the state, seen in groups such as Orange Alternative, Pink and Silver Bloc, and Rebel Clown Army. This paper challenges the validity of Fydrych’s manifesto in light of its manifestation in contemporary protest. In doing so, I propose an anti-manifesto for resistance based on a very different form of comic heroism. This anti-manifesto is a paradoxical situation that identifies the form or programme of resistance as precisely a refusal to assign a form or programme. Against the acceptance of what Badiou calls the ‘presentation of the situation,’ which I identify as the problematic dimension of contemporary practices of ‘tactical frivolity,’ a Manifesto for Hapless Heroism proclaims resistance as acceptance or submission to doubt and uncertainty. It suggests, following its literary models – Amis’ Jim Dixon, Toole’s Ignatius Reilly, and above all, Melville’s Bartleby – resistance as the subject’s fidelity to the Event, to be followed to its ultimately absurd end.
The subversion of performance: performing manifestos – manifesting performance
Marx’s Communist Manifesto can be said to have invented a kind of performance of the future revolution through a literary format with which revolutionary modernity becomes possible because it comes to know itself by making and, namely, manifesting itself. The Manifesto in this case is instrumental not only in forging Marxian thought but in presenting, in accordance with Marx’s thesis on Feuerbach, that the task of philosophy is not just to look at and interpret the world, but also to actively shape and, most importantly, change it. Cast on the meeting point that urges its creator to both leave the past behind and seek the future to come, the Manifesto incarnates the arrival of the modern revolution through acts of self-founding declarations, an ultimate praxis of self-creation that arrives in a series of actual or attempted participatory interventions. Gramsci, Burke, Althusser and Anderson have carefully pointed out the ability of the manifesto to merge political activism and social theory with poetic expression. The Manifesto in this instance can be understood as a political document of an artistic nature which does not outline an unconscious political vision but forces this unconscious to unveil itself through the manifesto’s submerged desire to undertake collective attacks. This explains why the art of the manifesto through the history of the avant garde unfolds as a celebration of pure and violent speech-acts that aim to allow a new collectivity to emerge by turning language into participatory action. Marinetti’s futurist manifesto art is an early example of participatory agitated interventions that theatricalises art in order to change it, deform it, even destroy it completely. Dada’s cabaret events are another such example but go even further. By seeking to theatricalise the audiences themselves through provocation which leads to spontaneous reactions, and through favouring short interludes and revue-style episodes, all of which are of course qualities celebrated by dadaism as much as futurism, the manifesto unfolds its performance in a series of participatory acts.
In this paper therefore I will be examining such acts of participation found in theatrical posing, unauthorised speech and projective positioning that is evident in each manifesto, including the Communist Manifesto and which challenge and seek to transform the idea of citizenship, our ability to take charge of our membership in given society. These are not mere theatricalised or politicised praxes, but interventionist acts seeking to occupy spaces, to make claims, to found movements and to declare positions in direct relation to a played out dynamic between theatricality and real performative power that requests and enacts participation. As I aim to demonstrate, the manifesto becomes a performance genre which subverts performance itself while performing carefully calculated acts of participation and collectivity which are proposed on forms of extremely aggressive, agitated, provocative, live, theatrically spoken word.
Not a lost cause: Text in performance in protest
This intervention reflects on the performance of text in protest. It focuses particularly on the example of US-based performance artist Sharon Hayes’s project In the near future, but asks larger questions about the citizen in protest and the operation of text (and in particular, text in the form of slogans on signs) in the address of civic discontent.
In the near future is performed by Sharon Hayes in urban sites internationally. She sets up in spaces that resonate generically as appropriate for public assembly: open squares, large sidewalks, the steps of civic or governmental buildings. For several hours in each location, she simply stands and holds a sign. In New York, for instance, she has stood with signs that read, among others, ‘Ratify ERA Now’ and ‘I AM A MAN’. The Equal Rights Amendment is no longer on the USA feminist agenda and the memory of sanitation workers agitating for civil rights in Memphis, Tennessee is forty-four years old. To state the obvious: Sharon Hayes is holding the wrong sign. A difficult question is staged: what are the right signs now? And then: are there any?
A project like this might seem frivolous in the context of recent street protest around the world, from the revolutionary people’s protest in Egypt, to the student protests in the UK. However, the questions that are staged by Hayes resonate broadly. What is the status of the citizen in protest in relation to the crowd s/he stands in? How do slogans and protest signs develop, and to whom are they addressed? What are the implications of the transformation of a sign or slogan into an icon? Considering these questions might be crucial in organizing causes that will be neither lost nor forgotten.
Subjective Pile Up (Badiouan questioning of choreographer Willi Dorner’s Bodies In Urban Spaces)
Austrian choreographer, Willi Dorner, conceives human sculptures to explore the relationship between bodies and urban structures. The performance, Bodies In Urban Spaces, questions physical, social and perhaps political relationships of passers-by to public spaces and renews the Vitruvian notion of the human body being the measure of all architecture. More than a resistance against the authority of the urban architectural order, what is striking is the malleability and resilience of the performers’ bodies to fit into the tiniest and most awkward structural recesses in an open invitation to invent new ways to embrace (literally) the urban space. Yet, this chain of ephemeral physical interventions devised with the timed precision of occupying forces, is also a radical mode of being together; it is a most concrete physical experience of the collective, especially when the choreographer calls upon sweaty volunteers to pile up top-to-tail; it conjures up the political power of the few and the discipline attached to political restricted action. For these reasons, Dorner’s work resonates with Badiou’s notion of incorporation. In his latest Second Manifesto For Philosophy, Badiou defines a truth process as the construction of a new body that appears gradually in the world, as all the multiples sharing the same intensity of belonging to the situation than the trace of an event, are drawn together. I would like to ponder whether Dorner’s piling up of anonymous hooded bodies merging into "body-sculptures" can flesh out Badiou’s theory of incorporation to a subjectivable body.
Authenticating the citizen – a study of real and fake bodies
Franziska Bork Petersen
The self has long been recognised as a constructed entity. Social constructivism dominates the sociological discourse at least since Goffman or Foucault, and characterises the feminist argumentation. But when it comes to bodily materialities, the popular media as well as (feminist) philosophers and social theorists – perhaps surprisingly – invoke long-discarded notions of authenticity, nature and the monstrously fake. In this regard, fashion has long been sociology’s hobbyhorse; tirelessly denounced as confirming and repeating repressive orders, and denied any potential to also shatter these. Even with the increasing normalisation of plastic surgery, the ostentatiously shaped and fashioned body is considered dubious. Reality shows, women’s magazines and internet forums avidly endorse tummy-tucks, droopy eyelid surgery and nose jobs – but only until they become conspicuously visible and turn their receivers into ‘monsters’.
I suspect that beneath the condemnations there might be a direct association of the openly constructed body with the disciplined and commodified body; a body that is necessarily enslaved by beauty ideals (or other ideals of optimisation and enhancement). But isn’t there also a potential for resistance inherent in exposing naturalised body constructions as artificial?
Marking corporeality as constructed in performance art can draw attention to bodies’ generally constructed state. Performance artists use different strategies that mark bodies’ material construction and defy the notion of authenticity: one of them is an overemphasis on the body’s artificial making. Matthew Barney lets bodies appear as malleable landscapes of cool exteriority. His body depictions remain all surface even when he ‘digs into them’ with the camera. I discern a similar focus on excessive artificiality and exteriority in works by Philippe Decouflé and Édouard Lock. These examples mark the notion of an authentic connection between an expressive body and an expressed interiority as a construction. The popular appeal and relevance of this strategy to our everyday practices can be seen in Lady Gaga’s body performances.
Napoleon, Corneille and Theatrical Action
This paper poses the question: what can Napoleon Bonaparte (first “Emperor of the French”) and Corneille’s play Cinna tell us about the nature of theatrical action and its relation to subjectivity? Corneille’s play was said to be Napoleon’s favorite, one which he saw on no less than twelve occasions. This play, in which the Roman Emperor Augustus uncovers a plot hatched by his close friend to overthrow him, defies the usual conventions of tragedy by ending in reconciliation rather than a bloodbath. Crucial to an understanding of Augustus’ clemency is an awareness of a bifurcated subjectivity which connects both the fictional interpretation of Augustus created by Corneille in the 1640s, and the historical figure of Napoleon for whom Corneille’s Augustus held a deep significance. By taking the conjunction of Corneille’s Cinna and Napoleon Bonaparte as a point of departure, this paper explores how the stage actor can stand as a model of a particular mode of being with respect to subjectivity and action. How might this mode of being, in which the individual acts upon the world through the medium of a self-created persona (which at the same is not simply identified with the “self” of the individual) be situated within contemporary ideas of the relation between subjectivity/citizenship and performance?
Hypothesis on Spectator Pedagogy
If we think about the “pedagogical” effect a scenic performance can have on its spectator, we face a paradox. In fact, the whole term should be understood in a reversed way. What a performance does first and foremost is that it returns its subjects into a more childish position, into a playful state of mind. It leads us, at least momentarily, into childhood again. What kind of political implications that transformation may have? Especially: how does it change my status as a political subject, as a citizen?
Addressing non-humans as co-actors in performance/world
If ‘society’ and ‘social’ are not understood as a human sphere nor a domain but as diverse connections between human and non-human co-actors, what does it mean to performance theory and practices? Behind this question is the redefinition of the notions of society and social made by Bruno Latour and the actor-network-theory developed by Latour and Callon. I am exploring this question in and through my artistic research project The potential nature of performance. The relationship to the non-human in the performance event from the perspective of duration and potentiality, which I began in 2006 at the Theatre Academy Helsinki. The research incorporates series of performances called Memos of Time. To date I have concentrated on developing the practice and theory of non-human agents (actor and spectator) in performance.
I will explore what implications to our understanding of performance and human it might have, if we began to address performances to non-humans – occasions that have been arranged in Memos of Time.
Further, I will outline a potential formation of performance with human and non-human agencies as a place listening, mediation and translation of dissonant co-beings; a place consisting of participators which subjectivities are not based on human spectatorship but on connecting and associating with their environment and its actors; a place fusing the pervasiveness of performance.
Elisabeth Grosz and the Steaming Earth
If we consider ourselves as earthlings, citizens of planet earth, the question of meaningful performance practices can be approached in a broad way, including performances that transform mainly the performer. And if the indissolubility of performer and environment is taken seriously, every thought and action has effect. In an interview (2007) Elisabeth Grosz emphasized how “joy, affirmation, pleasure, these are not obstacles to our self-understanding, they are forms of self-understanding.” This prompted me to read her study Chaos, Territory, Art (2008) where she tries “through Deleuze, Guattari and Irigaray, and their opening up of both nature and culture to unrecognized and open-ended forces … to develop new ways of addressing and thinking about the arts and the forces they enact and transform and thus, indirectly, new ways of conceptualizing … the ways arts and politics can be linked together”. She builds on their ideas about art as producing sensations, affects and intensities rather than representations or signs and suggests that arts frame or compose chaos so that sensation can be created and proliferate. In my intervention I try to combine some of her thoughts and a video of performances with volcanic steam (Furnas & Krysuvik 2010). They differ from my ordinary practice centered on repetition and temporality (which is more easy to understand as “aesthetic education”) since they focus on occasional moments of indeterminacy, confusion and beauty when encountering forces of the earth.
Bodies of Knowledge: Theorizing The Art of Acting
What are the conditions for the transformation of the actor/performer into a work of art? How is it possible to formulate the cultural, social and ideological parameters of this transformative process and to theorize the unique “bodies of knowledge” the actor/performer embraces and (quite literally) incorporates? Which consequences do these modes of knowledge have for the larger public sphere? And last but not least, do these modes of knowledge have any significant impact on the study and research in the humanities and the arts, as well as on performance practices?
In my presentation I will examine two contexts where a broad range of answers to these questions have been suggested. The first is the philosophical and the theatrical milieu of Classical Greek culture, focusing mainly on Plato’s dialogue Ion, where Socrates discusses performance interpretations of Homer with a young rhapsode. The second context is Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Hamlet in his speech to the players argues that the “purpose of playing” is “to show Virtue her own feature,/ scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his/ form and pressure.” In Ion as well as in Hamlet actors/performers are interrogated and instructed by philosophers, who through their intellectual endeavours appropriate the role of the performer.
And in both contexts a riddle about the human body and what it means to be human is put forward. In Oedipus Tyrannos the eponymous hero has solved the riddle of he sphinx, while in Hamlet the riddle about who builds the strongest houses appears in the grave-digger scene. Finally I address the issue what we gain by trying to solve these riddles.