Someone dared to reveal an open secret: (post)dramatic theatre is boring. Florence Dupont did just that.1
The writing you are reading is a set of associations triggered by this spectacular revelation; spectacular not only because of its breaking effect, but also in a figurative sense, as Dupont also contributes to an innovative perception of the spectacle, completely different from the one we are used to from the theatre experts in love with (post)dramatic.
An open secret: the (post)dramatic theatre is boring
Aristote ou le vampire du théâtre occidental (Aristotle or the Vampire of the Western theatre) belongs to those atypical studies that speak beyond, hence do not easily enter mainstream and even more difficult the academic ivory towers. Speaking beyond almost necessarily means weaving into one’s performance the courage to understand politics as a matter of the common, which is also a dangerous practice and a rather rare phenomenon among intellectuals, academics, critics, theorists and theatre creators. Thanks to this kind of language of the writing, the clarity and passionate writer’s attitude regarding Aristotelianism can also be connected with the issue of politics in the theatre at a time when “politics in art” is a fashionable trend, when “It is not easy to be a non-Aristotelian”, as the title of the opening chapter of the book reads.
A key and at first glance invisible dimension of Aristotelianism as a fascinatingly thin (yet no less solid) foundation of Western theatre is the subordination of production to text or the text in general. This subordination is functionally consolidated in such a way that it enables the administrative separation of “production” from creativity (even though artistic creation is production, too, or production is inherent in it). It appears as locking creativity into a safe (theatrical) box. What’s in this system called production (a mimicry name of the basic administrative mechanism of the field of culture) is essentially alienated from actual producing, and today this alienation most obviously flows into general precarization.
The rule of the text (what is to be told, the storytelling, the fable based performance) thus enables the existence of the theatre machine as we know it, the one which constantly depoliticizes the public space. The Western theatre traditionally occupies it in such a way as to ensure a non-political effect of creativity, even though it is increasingly trying to present itself in the exact opposite light and even if it is occasionally possible to detect in this context the political potency in rare (individualistic) cases.
A meaningful insight into the ancient Athenian theatre is possible only after removing the unreliable historical/academic layers, which, as Dupont shows, are often fictions written in the labyrinths of Western scholasticism, since many modern and contemporary scholars boldly eliminate the Athenian tradition of theatre as a celebration in order to make the Western theatre based on the text or fable as a “Greek” heritage—relying on Aristotle’s contribution as a convenient “evidence” of the sense of such a practice, while they “forget” or overlook the musical, social, ritual and participatory dimensions of the discussed topic.
The literalization or basing of the stage performance on the text and, consequently, the direction, means a radical reckoning with all its other dimensions, which work in favor of the pleasure of co-participation, or co-shape its communitarian character. The book reminds us how important it is in the field2 of culture to control socialization, which art/creativity can either suppress or encourage/produce; how socialization is limited from within, from the theatre field itself (which is part of the field of art within the field of culture), by its agents. In the theatre field itself is the answer to why communitarianism is suppressed, why the audience is only an audience, the director is only a director, an actor is only an actor, and this field is so narrow.
To allow the chance
The chance is embedded in the concept of theatre as a celebration (ancient Athenian, other non-Western practices, rare modern and contemporary practices). But the contemporary theatre field copies the apparatus paradigm in order to nestle itself in the cultural field as one of the sub-apparatuses that tame socialization, most often by artificializing it with various methods and reducing it to a procedure or encoding it into a certain protocol in which there is no room for chance.3 This is precisely the reason for the actual non-political nature of attempts to introduce the political—always as a projected statement (agitation, addressing), never as an experience (a situation that includes the chance)—into the non-political framework of the field.
Ubiquitous literalization ensures the elimination of randomness in approach, procedure and performance, since randomness is incompatible with linguistic ethnocentrism and the textual adhesion of coded procedures (script, direction, dramaturgy, acting, watching and listening); the separateness of these procedures is inscribed in the performances themselves in the form of divisions or interruptions that do not allow risk (mimesis), and authentic interactivity is excluded simply because it cannot be codified. And theatricality within the existing theatre canon has been reduced to the point that we only watch castrated signs, illustrated audio books and seemingly political gestures.
Where the chance is suppressed, communitarianism, in which randomness is immanent, is suppressed as well, consequently also a potential political effect.
Eliminated chance (as a result of aristotleization or literalization) or allowed chance (as a result of the decision to perform the desire) in the final instance mean a boring or attractive, alienated or potentially communal creation.
To dramatize the situation: no αρχή
Dupont does not approach the problem of passivization of viewing (or the viewing-listening regime) in a deconstructive way (various forms of stage related deconstruction are a feature of postdramatic), but above all in a wide-ranging, erudite way. Her contribution is qualitatively decolonizing. This also means that it is not welcome in the contemporary theatre field, which operates according to the colonization logic and openly manifests itself as a permanent occupation of space (as an institution or agents of the field, even as the “independent” ones) with a reading paradigm (the Italian box as a meta-book), or rather as an empty space of politics. In all possible ways (ideological, academic, economic) and by censorship, the linear connection between the drama writing, directing and acting (as well as between authorship, stardom and managing positions) establishes and maintains the existing order, in which the fixed function of the audience, a.k.a. the applauding observers, is guaranteed.
Aristotle or the Vampire of the Western Theatre can be read as a warning not only about the fact that such a structure, in the bottom line, mainly guarantees the boredom to those who contribute to it as viewers, but also as an expansion of the field of the possible and a view gazing into the impossible: there is a different way of approaching the stage, which is conceptually beyond-stage; it comes from a personal decision to step beyond and a personal affinity to the common—from the desire to relativize the Self during the experiment in the One; to direct yourself as well if you direct others.
To think of the theatre constellation beyond the dualism scene vs. audience means being able to move into the forbidden, to act outside the comfort zone. To think and act in this way means to first rethink one’s own actions. It is not easy to be non-Aristotelian, to be able to loosen the fixed identity of playwright, director, dramaturgist, actor, dancer, performer and spectator as part of the audience. This can lead to the sudden finding that your canonized profession or function is quite limited, that it is somehow embedded in the colonization logic, even if you may believe that you are justified by your own criticism, leftism, existential circumstances or something else.
Being not an Aristotelian today means rejecting the identitarianism of the stage machine and thereby also its projection outwards, rejecting identitarian limitations as the basis of a wider social structure; first of all, taking a different approach to the community and the public in which you operate and show your work to.
Being not an Aristotelian does not mean rejecting the text a priori, but rather taking an approach to the text as something that in itself does not have the status of exception/difference (just because it is written in a certain language). Performativity can operate with difference as, for example, a potential tension/rupture embedded in a scenic (stage) event, and staging a text in a postdramatic context in the final instance only reinforces the status of difference. In this case, performativity is not a guarantee of eventfulness (in the context of theatre as a celebration), but it can encourage it, while the staging of the text already in itself (in procedurality itself, functionalism itself, canon) inhibits eventfulness, as it supports and strengthens the hierarchy of distinction between functions, even when tending to bridge it;
the postdramatic does not have a hybrid dimension in its vital sense, since each of its attempts at hybridization is more encoded in the context of the development of the theatrical form than embedded in meta-theatrical communitarianism; the use of multimedia, less typical spatial layouts, crossing the ramp and similar variations on the theme of a slightly different theatre box or a different fabulativity through the use of images, movement and bare narration do not change the fact that the playwright, director and actor are merely telling something to the audience, just addressing it; it is about conveying a message in a distinctly mediated (representative) context;
the term spectacle, usually used by theatre critics either in a pejorative or sensationalist sense, turns out here to be another inverted term; spectacle in the context of theatre as a celebration means relationships and conditions in which the emergence/development of meta-performativeness is possible, which operates affirmatively with the difference or allows its realization at the meta-theatrical level; spectatorship is understood as “contained” in the (artistic) intention itself; a spectacle, even in its most commercial form, can have the event potential because it operates with elements of celebration or relies on them (its commerciality is not qualitatively different from the commerciality of postdramatic performances);
the mediating context of the staging, based on the rule of the text, eliminates eventfulness/politicization (of theatricality); to eliminate the rule of the text thus means to open up the possibility of live contextualization, the possibility of performativity in the everybody-for-all mode; what is spectacular about this mode or strategy is that it allows for the dramatization of the situation (instead of situating the drama/text/direction);
the eventfulness turn, as can be understood, does not mean only the rejection of the rule of the text (it is not about the abolition of the text as such, the emphasis is on the rule), but necessarily something broader: the elimination of the very paradigm of rule, which at the level of the theatre as a system means the rejection of the hierarchical nature of the production (which manifests itself in the codified procedures of addressing, reproduction, reconstruction, rhetoric, space formation, placement of actors and passivated observers, in the ethnocentricity of speech and institution) or the elimination of αρχή—the supposed exceptionality of every beginning, origin, command, source of action, fixed principle, (methods) of governing—which is incompatible with a spectacular celebration;
the spectacular celebration cannot therefore be based on a fixed method or staging strategy, but on a variably curved method, which abandons the fixation on the space-time of the procedure in the service of the performance-as-a-product and allows the “risk” of “nothing is happening”, because only then does it open up the possibility of happening as a dramatization of ever-changing situations; eliminating αρχή (with)in a situation is the key “method” of the ludic happening.
“The urgency that comes from outside”
Aristotle or the vampire of the Western theatre is an all-round reality check. It relativizes the boundaries and limitations of the theatre field by revealing the surprising or unpleasant fact for many theatergoers that they actively contribute to the constant reproduction of boredom. The book is a groundbreaking intervention in the perception of the ideology of the Western (globalized) theatre system. It does not attack its most current and prominent expression, but shows that the postdramatic continues the tradition of Aristotelianism in the wider context of what is called modern democracy.
Florence Dupont concludes with some concrete suggestions—”give the theatre texts an urgency that comes from outside”—and with a reference to Luigi Pirandello’s discovery: “learn to write starting from the stage”.
To think of a performance as sharing and co-creating something (in the) common—and therefore not making a performance. A celebration of decentralized performativity in the common instead of a performance that consolidates democracy, which it is not.
1 In her book Aristote ou le vampire du théâtre occidental published in 2007. Translated from French and published in Serbian in 2011 and in Slovenian in 2019.
2 The “field” related to Pierre Bourdieu’s structured idea of fields.
3 Dupont does not write about the chance, assuming its elimination in the literalization context. While emphasizing right that, I only refer to the message of her writing.