Memory-Theater and Post-modern Drama

By Barnett, David | German Quarterly, April 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Memory-Theater and Post-modern Drama


Barnett, David, German Quarterly


Mallkin, Jeanette. Memory-Theater and Postmodern Drama, Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1999, 260 pp., $49.50.

Memory-Theater and Postmodern Drama addresses issues central to an understanding of memory and history in the cultural context of Postmodern performance. The author takes five dramatists (Samuel Beckett, Heiner Miller, Sam Shepard, the less well known Suzan-Lori Parks and Thomas Bernhard) as examples of the different directions and strategies that have been employed to explore the faculty of memory on the stage in recent years.

Malkin prepares the ground for the study by articulating and examining theoretical and historical issues in the first chapter. The focus of the initial inquiry is the tension between Modernist and Postmodernist conceptions of the memory play. Well-executed critiques of Chekhov, Strindberg, Williams and Miller allow a complex yet coherent definition of Modernist memory to emerge. This becomes a significant reference point for the rest of the book and is employed as an analytical tool in the following chapter.

The order of the chapters is sensible, and by placing the chapter on Beckett next, Malkin provides the reader with a dramaturgical basis for the discussions that follow. The survey of Beckett's configurations of memory, from the more Modernist Krapp's Last Tape to the Ohio Impromptu, sets the scene for the chapters to come. The tension between Modernism and Postmodernism, convincingly worked through in the introduction, is related to Beckett's textual experiments. The mechanics and effects generated in his work over the years are set up as abstract, a-historical approaches to the business of dramatizing memory. Malkin detects important motifs in Beckett's evolution that recur in the more political and historically conscious dramaturgies encountered in the other dramatists.

Germanists will be drawn to the chapters on Miller and Bernhard. As in all the subsequent chapters, Malkin introduces the writers under discussion in broad terms, suggesting a sense of development, before proceeding with a more detailed examination of two or three salient texts.

The chapter on Miller deals with Der Auftrag and Der Findling in some depth. It also takes the time to investigate Miller's "Brief an Robert Wilson. …

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