Ideology and Specularity in per Olov Enquist's 'Tribadernas Natt.'

By Blackwell, Marilyn Johns | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Ideology and Specularity in per Olov Enquist's 'Tribadernas Natt.'


Blackwell, Marilyn Johns, Scandinavian Studies


In his article on Tribadernas Natt Leif Zern suggests that Per Olov Enquist's 1975 drama conducts "en diskussion som bryter sig ut ur den historiska ramen och oppnar sig mot var tid. . . . Bakom mannen ser vi det samhalle som formade [Strindberg] och fortsatter att forma oss historiskt och ideologiskt. . . . Utan ett levande forhallande till traditionen blir all litteratur, all teater dod" [a discussion that leaps out of its historical frame and reaches out into our own time. . . . Behind the man we see the society that formed Strindberg and continues to form us historically and ideologically]. The connection between ideology and culture, between history and tradition, on the one hand, and the present and radical literary practice, on the other, is central to the drama and the specular regime that lies at its core both visually and verbally.

If Tribadernas natt is performed as written, the first images that confront the spectator are of a series of projections on the curtain that is also a screen separating spectator from spectacle. These images are arresting not only became of their content but also because of the place the screen occupies in current film debate. Expanding on feminist film theory which sees cinema spectatorship as informed by certain power relations in which looking is aligned with a masculine position and being looked at with a female position, Judith Mayne argues for a reading of the film screen as a surface on which is acted out the attempt of the male gaze to penetrate and appropriate the female body, a simultaneous passage and obstacle to the cinematic spectator and as such a metaphor for the female body. In this sense screens function as figures for the spectator's contradictory and complex relationship to the cinematic experience. Her notion of the metaphor of the screen as an embodiment of enriching ambivalence (41-3) is a theoretical approach that seems singularly suited to Enquist's work with its questioning of the interdependence of culture, gender, and discourse and its emphasis on the interface between cultural consumer and artistic artifact.

While, to be sure, dramas are not films, the projections that open Enquist's play seem to cohere to no small extent with Mayne's description of how screens function for the spectator. Enquist's images are precisely located at an intersection between intratextual and extratextual experience and foreground the demarcation between the two in such a way as to problematize the illusionistic impulse of much of traditional theater. Although, as Thomas Bredsdorff points out, most directors dispense with these projections as "unnecessary" (171), they are, I would argue, integral to the entire issue of specularity that pervades this work.

We see first the faces of men, "1800-talsmannen," ["nineteenth-century man"] who nonetheless "liknar pafallande oss sjalva" ["resembles us strikingly"]. "Han ser manlig ut . . . aktuell . . . full av aktivitet . . . med jarnkakar" (Dramatik 15) ["He looks masculine . . . quite contemporary . . . full of vitality . . . with iron jaw" (Night 3)]. These men are dressed in uniforms that suggest the monolithic. But then the images begin to show these men engaged in various culturally male activities: "De rider. De befinner sig pa expedition. De later foreviga sig for eftervarlden, och spanner vaderna. De dodar. De uppfinner maskiner, samt kor dem. . . . De dricker sprit tillsammans. De lagrar kvinnor" ["They ride. They travel on expeditions. They let themselves be immortalized for future generations. They stretch out nets. They kill. They invent machines as well as drive them. . . . They drink together. They screw women"]. After these images of male exploits (and exploitation), the images become more detailed: "En fot med matten utsatta. En arm. En muskel i genomskarning, med frilagda nervtradar. En torso: framifran, fran sidan. En detaljerad ritning av en liggande penis innehaller ocksa matt med proportioner" ["A foot with the measurements written beside it. …

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