#8- 32: Theater of accomplices
First publication – Translit #5 (2009)
Recently I understood clearly that art couldn’t help but be communist. This is not at all a manifestation of ideology, as it would seem to some. Nor is it dogma. It is just that suddenly it became obvious that all art – from Ancient Greece to the present day; that art which has overcome the egoism and conceit in itself – contained the potential to be communist. Regardless of its pessimism or optimism, such art is dedicated not to some social group but to one and all. This is not some kind of propaganda trick. That’s what happens with an artist whose art is not afraid of people. Often art is either afraid of losing itself in the crowd or, the other extreme, it attempts to be artificially populist so it isn’t suspected of being refined or subtle, or is addressed to an in-crowd of discerning connoisseurs and experts.
When I say communist of course I have in mind not membership in a party but a worldview. It is this breadth of worldview, which exceeds the boundaries of a single state, nation, class, artistic school, and the private or even spiritual interests of a specific individual, that predetermines the communist potential in a work of art.
This means that the artist has the strength to be not just one person, but many – the strength to not merely observe life and the multitude of living beings but to be or become them by means of art.
THE THEATER OF THE OPPRESSED IMAGE THEATER TECHNIQUES: RASHOMON
Inspired by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s study in multiple perspectives, Rashomon is an improvisatory technique that highlights the role of perception in the creation of the “Other.” Rashomon is specifically designed for the study of the rigid patterns of perception that create a negatively-charged Other, in an oppressive, closed, recurring situation; as such, it is particularly suited for exploring the role of individual perception in generating biases and hate.
I gave to this talk the title: « the emancipated spectator » . As I understand it, a title is always a challenge. It sets forth the presupposition that an expression makes sense, that there is a link between separate terms, which also means between concepts , problems and theories which seem at first sight to bear no direct relation on each other. In a sense, this title expresses the perplexity that was mine when Marten Spangberg invited me to deliver what is supposed to be the “keynote” lecture of this academy. He told me that he wanted me to introduce this collective reflection on “spectatorship”, because he had been impressed by my book The Ignorant Schoolmaster. I first wondered what kind of relationship there could be between the cause and the effect ? This an academy bringing together artists and people involved in the world of art , theatre and performance on the issue of spectatorship to-day. The Ignorant Schoolmaster was a meditation on the eccentric theory and the strange destiny of Joseph Jacotot, a French professor, who, at the beginning of the 19th century, made a mess in the academic world by asserting that an ignorant could teach another ignorant what he did not know himself , proclaiming the equality of intelligences and calling for intellectual emancipation against the standard idea of the instruction of the people. His theory sank in oblivion in the middle of the 19th century. I thought it necessary to revive it in the 1980’s in order to put a new kind of mess in the debate about Education and its political stakes. But what use can be made, in the contemporary artistic debate, of a man whose artistic universe could be epitomized by names such as Demosthenes, Racine and Poussin?
The Lehrstьcke take a dramatically different path in relation to this line. Their name – ‘the teaching pieces’ – invokes their pedagogical, instructive nature, but the point is not that the theatre should instruct the audience and preach, for ultimately only the participants, the actors, are the ones to be instructed. They should take turns at playing different parts, to assume all the attitudes, try all the angles and stage them. This is in the limit a theatre without an audience, restricted in its teaching aims, an elite theatre which instructs the instructed. But the instruction of participants should not be carried out in such a way that they would endeavour to play their roles in the most convincing manner (let alone, god forbid, to express themselves). Brecht’s directions for www suggest a firm discipline and deindividualization; instead of empathizing and identifying with the roles he recommends reciting, declamation, mechanical peroration as if without understanding, like saying the prayer. If ideology demands of individuals senseless repetition of ritualistic formulas, but in disguise, under the cover of ideas, then Brecht takes this as his own guideline, he stages it and surpasses it, without disguise. One has to take away the appearance of thought and stage the mechanical repetition, not only as the way to debunk ideological illusions and confront them with the ritual at their core, but to treat in the same way one’s own ideas, through the mechanical www rather than understanding. Here Brecht meets Althusser.