An Explosive Genealogy: Theatre, Philosophy and the Art of Presentation

By Feltham, Oliver | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, January-July 2006 | Go to article overview

An Explosive Genealogy: Theatre, Philosophy and the Art of Presentation


Feltham, Oliver, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


ABSTRACT: Not only in its conceptual reconstruction but also in the straightforward application of Badiou's thought its problems and tensions coine to light. This paper thus sets out to identify a generic truth procedure in the domain of art; specifically within theatre starting out from the Meyerhold-event and tracing enquiries in the work of Artaud and Brecht. It turns out once one follows the lines of further enquiries one ends up sketching an explosive genealogy that gives rise to the concept of an art of presentation transgressing the boundaries of theatre, art and philosophy.

KEYWORDS: Badiou; Theatre; Truth; Genealogy; Meyerhold; Brecht; Artaud; Presentation

'Il n'y a la peste, le cholera, la variole noire que parce que la danse et par consequent le theatre n'ont pas encore commence a exister' --Antonin Artaud, 'Le Theatre de la cruaute', 1947 (1)

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It is not only in the conceptual reconstruction but in the straightforward application of Badiou's thought that its problems and tensions come to light. When things are no longer quite so straightforward perhaps we can start to think. The purpose of this paper is thus to identify a generic truth procedure in the domain of art; specifically within theatre. It turns out that in doing so one ends up sketching an explosive genealogy whose effects cannot be easily contained.

I. THE HISTORICAL SITUATION

Where to start? The question of origins is tricky in Badiou's thought and not only because the temporality of a truth procedure is that of the future anterior. For the sake of the argument let's start where Badiou's theory of praxis appears to start: with the existence of a historical situation in one of the four conditions of philosophy. (2) For us: the situation of theatre at the turn of the twentieth century. Given Badiou's ontology, we know that this situation is an infinite multiplicity, and that any attempt to circumscribe it linguistically presupposes the excess of its being over any specification of its properties. Thus we should not be embarrassed by our historical situation traversing national and European cultural spheres to include that of Russia which itself includes elements of India (the influence of Hindi philosophy and yoga on Stanislavski).

II. THE EVENT

It is evident that what goes under the name of 'theatre' today is far more varied than what went under that name in the late nineteenth century; thus a certain transformation must have taken place. The problem is where to situate an event that marks the beginning of that transformation. I hold that it is the Meyerhold-event--the dual advent of Meyerhold's scandalous and innovative productions and his writings, which occurred at the beginning of the transformation of the situation called 'theatre'. There are four reasons for this: (3)

1. In Meyerhold's work the plasticity of the acting body is liberated from the constraints of mimesis via the exploratory system of exercises called 'biomechanics'.

2. Meyerhold consciously worked to liberate theatrical space from the box-set with its illusional painted scenery and proscenium arch. (4)

3. Meyerhold named the fourth wall as an obstacle to be dismantled insofar as the spectator was to be transformed into a co-creator.

4. The mask is reintroduced as essential to theatre along with clowning, mime and play-acting. (5)

All of these elements were present in Meyerhold's work from 1907 onwards, over a decade before he attempted to create a proletarian theatre in line with the October revolution. (6) In Meyerhold's essays he names his own productions as evental, claiming that his work along with that of a few other directors constituted 'the stylized theatre' that answers the demands of the age. Thus the Meyerhold-event--which is fragile, note, not just ontologically but in its very mode of appearance; the ephemerality of performance--is named in polemical writings which then circulate amongst theatre practitioners. …

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