THIS BOOK has had a long period of gestation and a hybrid history. It goes back, first, to a fascination with texts, “fictional” or not, in which the reader is called upon to play an active part. This summons is surely coextensive with all reading in the strong sense. But certain texts render the awareness of this possibility more accessible than others. From Sterne to Kafka, Kierkegaard to Derrida, Freud to Lacan, a transformative involvement of the reader is required in order for the text “itself” to function—just as an “audience” is required for a representation to be “theatrical.” The second source was less academic and developed from the experience of working as a dramaturge in German productions of theater and opera during the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike the director, stage designer, or actors, the dramaturge, like the academic, is primarily concerned with texts. Whereas the academic tends to be guided by a notion of a longlasting, if not eternal truth, however, the goal of a theatrical production is far more ephemeral, more localized, and more singular. If, as the O.E.D. speculates, the word truth derives from the Old English word for truce, this etymological filiation remains palpable today in the process of theatrical staging: its result resembles a temporary truce between warring factions rather than a peace treaty of long duration. It can therefore differ from performance to performance and in any case rarely outlives them.
This experience contrasts with certain aspects of “scholarly” life, where belief in a durable truth often functions as the tenet of a secular faith. In providing an alternative perspective to this faith, “theatricality” offers another perspective from which to approach the relation of institutions, interpretation, and media investigated in my previous work. For theatricality—which is not the same as theater, although also not separable from it—spans the gap dividing “old” and “new” media