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Contemporary Theatre Review
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(Post)Modern Subjectivity and the New Expressionism: Howard Barker, Sarah Kane, and Forced Entertainment
Karoline Gritzner

Online Publication Date: 01 August 2008

To cite this Article Gritzner, Karoline(2008)'(Post)Modern Subjectivity and the New Expressionism: Howard Barker, Sarah Kane, and

Forced Entertainment',Contemporary Theatre Review,18:3,328 — 340
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18(3).1080/10486800802123617 . using aesthetic approaches which heighten the ‘damaged’ nature of the subject (Adorno). Adorno who drew attention to the diminishing possibilities of subjective experience in late-capitalist (postmodern) society. this is not the case in contemporary drama. However. The concept of subjectivity is considered a redundant category in much of postmodernist theory. an empty signifier for a series of roles or socially constructed positions. For Adorno.informaworld. resistance to the reification of the self in post-Auschwitz culture can only be found in an encounter with the aesthetic or. as is demonstrated in analyses of the work of Howard Barker. postmodernism is defined as an extension and problematization of modernist questions to which the problem of subjectivity remains a central concern. in experimental theatrical form. theatre and performance. and Forced Entertainment Karoline Gritzner ABSTRACT In this article. Sarah Kane and Forced Entertainment. 328 – 340 Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 (Post)Modern Subjectivity and the New Expressionism: Howard Barker. Vol. Rather than Contemporary Theatre Review ISSN 1048-6801 print/ISSN 1477-2264 online Ó 2008 Taylor & Francis http://www. 2008. The examples of ‘new-expressionist’ theatre and performance discussed here engage with the crisis of subjectivity (a modernist trope) in a late-capitalist context. or from the subject’s encounter with others (both onstage and in the audience). The theoretical framework of this discussion is based on the work of Frankfurt School member Theodor W. Sarah DOI: 10. A casual observer of postmodernity might assert that it leaves the human subject or self dissolved or in pieces. in an encounter with the distinctively theatrical. and in the particular immediacy of the performance event. however. as is argued here. Subjectivity is articulated in a series of confrontations with outer and inner limitations. in this article I argue that in the theatre there is no escape from the self.Contemporary Theatre Review.

which suggests an absence of the subject from representations without origin or reference to reality. the principal philosopher of deconstruction. it does not pretend that culture has become a freefloating aesthetic devoid of dialectical materiality. Influenced by structuralist and poststructuralist methodologies. P.3 His model of subjectivity takes the principle of domination (of the outer and inner world) as a central force in the development of self-definition. Such an understanding of modernity and postmodernity engages with historicity and the social constitution of culture. Ever since its ostensible ‘birth’ in modernity. Sign. selfhood) has been an issue of contention for much of postmodernist theory in this debate. postmodernist theory denounces the notion of autonomous subjectivity as an illusory humanist category that has dominated the western philosophical discourse of modernity since the Enlightenment (Descartes). Taking the logic of de-centring to an extreme. This simplified account of the relationship between subjectivity and theatre derives from the assumption that the socio-historical and cultural conditions of the postmodern age (postmodernity) are distinctively different from those pertaining to modernity. the manifestations of mass culture in the ‘culture industry’ present Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 . said: ‘The Subject is absolutely indispensable. if not more urgent. The development of a capitalist ideology has led to different nuances of the relationship between the individual and society. by Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Simulations. Jacques Derrida. 2. and postmodernist theatre (performance) considers the category of the self redundant. Foss. I situate it’.1 However. suggesting that the Enlightenment enthronement of rationality as an absolute has led to an increasing reification of subjectivity and a radical reversal (regression) into barbarism (epitomized by the Holocaust). social discourse and power. According to Adorno’s critical theory. the concept of subjectivity has found expression in the performing arts. I don’t destroy the subject. along the following lines: early-modern theatre constructs subjectivity according to the ideologies of humanism and enlightenment (Shakespeare and Racine). and its theatrical trajectory is conventionally summarized. the postmodernist deconstruction of the self is problematic and misleading if it implies and encourages a theoretical redundancy of the category of selfhood. in The Structuralist Controversy. by P. the notion of a ‘death of the subject’ has emerged. modernist theatre redefines subjectivity to prepare its liberation from totalitarian politics (Brecht and Artaud). trans. I follow an Adornian Marxist understanding that postmodernity itself is a continuation of modernity. 1983). As Derrida.2 One of the major philosophers of the twentieth century whose work was primarily concerned with the question of subjectivity and its historical development is Theodor W. The theories of Althusser and Foucault (especially in The Order of Things). See Jean Baudrillard. leading member of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ [1966]. Patton. ‘Structure. within the contemporary cultural logic as it was at the height of modernism in the earlier twentieth century. attempt to de-centre the subject by conceiving it as a mere reflex of language. and P. accepting that postmodernity erases the significance of the subject. for example. and the crisis of the subject is as pertinent. very broadly. notably in Baudrillard’s dystopic theory of simulacra.329 1. but it has not altered their fundamentally antagonistic dialectic. The category of the subject (self. ed. The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e). Adorno.

pp. theatre and performance demonstrates the continuation of a modernist preoccupation with explorations of subjectivity. metatheatrical techniques that question the possibilities of art (theatre). The expressionist ‘revolution of poetic form and vision’6 in the work of Frank Wedekind. and subsequently led to a variety of aesthetic explorations. After World War II Adorno and Max Horkheimer rebuilt the institute and Adorno’s work on sociology. Adorno. Ibid. 3. 7. p. music and mass culture provided important contributions to the revival of German intellectual life. Theodor W. the concept of the self continues to be decentred and re-imagined on the contemporary stage where it functions like a residual reminder of the unrealized (utopian) promise that was once central to the categories of subjectivity and modernity – namely. which found experimental theatrical articulation in expressionism. Expressionism and the Performing Self Postmodernism is an extension and problematization of modernist questions to which the problem of subjectivity (in particular subjective experience) remains a central concern. .330 1970). Aesthetic Theory. 6. did not aim to suggest a resolution of social or personal conflict but emphasized the ‘fragmentariness. in particular. indeterminacy. the promise of freedom. de-personalising effects of capitalism (Karl Marx). Sokel. 232. by John Cumming (London: Verso. p. 1959). 271). and Franz Kafka. ranging from theatrical rehearsals for revolutionary protest (agit-prop and Brechtian theatre) to dramatic expressions of existentialist despair. for example. 4. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 further negatively advanced forms of regressive subjectivity – that is. The ‘performing self’ paradigm of modernism.4 It will be argued that the attention given to the complexity of the subject in new-expressionist drama. The major critics of modernity have drawn attention to the reifying. according to Adorno. continues to resonate in the cultural climate of postmodernism where the unresolved problematic of a modernist sense of cultural crisis continues to be reflected in the 5. 247–72 (p. p. 34. p. German expressionist drama. The Writer in Extremis (Stanford. using aesthetic approaches which heighten the ‘damaged’ nature of the subject (Adorno).5 The crisis of experience and the experience of crisis are articulated in modernist art through the use of reflexive. 1997). The modernist techniques of expressionist drama in many ways pre-figured the deconstructions of the self in postmodernism. the disenchantment of the world (Max Weber) and the withering of experience (Walter Benjamin). and ambiguity’7 of the modernist vision of subjectivity. Having survived its postmodernist demise. Oskar Kokoschka. forms of subjectivity that have internalized the reifying structures of a capitalist commodity ideology which ‘impresses the same stamp on everything’. 120. The newexpressionist dramatists and practices under consideration here engage with the crisis of subjectivity (a modernist trope) in a late-capitalist context. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. 1997). CA: Stanford University Press.. The Frankfurt Institute for Social Research was founded by Marxist German intellectuals in 1923. 227. Walter H. Dialectic of Enlightenment. trans. manifested a series of earlytwentieth-century attempts to articulate the pain of the world. but now under the conditions of postmodernity or late capitalism which. What is characteristic about modernism is its ability to lend aesthetic expression to this modern ‘crisis of experience’. which lends support to my contention that the value of subjectivity has been reformulated but by no means eliminated in contemporary theatre and performance. trans. Theodor W. by Robert HullotKentor (London: Athlone Press. have irrevocably diminished the possibilities of the individual.

explores the category of individuality as an experience of transgression and transformation. The loss of individuality and the waning of authentic subjective experience that Adorno ascribed to the totalising ‘culture industry’ (his early recognition of the conditions now known as postmodernity) diminish the possibility of resistance to the status quo. MA: MIT Press. as I would like to argue. performers.8 This idea of an extension of modernist questions in a seemingly different cultural reality is also implied by Fredric Jameson. broadly speaking following an Adornian historicist line of thought. See Albrecht Wellmer. For Adorno it meant that resistance to the reification of the self in post-Auschwitz culture could only be found in an encounter with the aesthetic. xii. and Barker’s current work seems to foreground to an even greater extent the (catastrophic) intersections between erotic desire and death. Such resistance is predicated on the preservation of an independent subjective standpoint from which the commercial mediation and abstraction of the self in modern culture can be criticized. in her ` Polylogue (Paris: Seuil. who describes postmodernism as yet another reflex of capitalism or. The theatre provides an imaginary space for subjects-in-process (Kristeva)10 – speaking and moving subjects (characters.13 His subsequent work paid increasing attention to explorations of sexuality. 1998). See Julia Kristeva.9 Jameson. 1991). Aesthetic Theory. David Ian Rabey employs the term ‘New Expressionism’ with reference to Howard Barker. Adorno. Howard Barker’s unique aesthetic reformulation of the tragic genre. emphasizes the continuity between modernism and postmodernism in an endeavour to preserve the possibilities of a radical politics (and aesthetics) in the context of global consumer capitalism. being aware of the utopian implications of his model of subjective autonomy and resistance to totality. 235. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 10. in an encounter with the distinctively theatrical. 133–78. An Adornian approach to theatre would suggest that the theatrical space can provide the conditions for subjective freedom only if the aesthetic principles employed create a world that is sufficiently removed from the social and moral prescriptions of objective reality. In the examples of ‘new-expressionist’12 theatre and performance discussed here. 1998). 11. NC: Duke University Press. pp.14 Barker’s vision of transgressive subjectivity finds aesthetic articulation in his ‘art of theatre’ – a rejection . Postmodernism. Endgames: The Irreconcilable Nature of Modernity. or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham. by David Midgley (Cambridge.331 8. and Timberlake Wertenbaker in whose work the subjective is the domain of powerful ‘active transformation’. in experimental theatrical form. nevertheless holds on to the idea of freedom and locates it in the realm of art and the aesthetic. Kristeva challenges the unitary and autonomous (male) subject of western thought with her model of subjectivity as an energetic and contradictory process of language. as he calls it. and in the particular immediacy of the performance event. See endgames of subjectivity. Barker’s engagement in the 1970s and 1980s with the fraught legacy of political socialism already revealed a clear interest in the complexity and contradictions of individuality. ed. subjectivity is articulated in a series of confrontations with outer and inner limitations. in The Tel Quel Reader. ‘Le sujet en proces’. spectators) whose experiences of becoming are linked to the theatrical negotiations of alterity. Fredric Jameson. by Patrick Ffrench and Roland-Francois Lack ¸ (New York: Routledge. Reprinted as ‘The Subject in Process’. the contemporary ‘logic of late capitalism’. Howard Barker: Tragedy and Desire The Theatre of Catastrophe. or. Caryl Churchill. Adorno. p. 1977). David Rudkin. 12. trans. In criticizing the modern subject’s growing ‘decay of experience’11 as a result of the suffocating effects of the (Enlightenment) rationality principle. he prepares for a philosophical and aesthetic recovery of the possibility of subjective experience and expression in art. 9. p.

ed. p. Howard Barker. The play articulates a tragic subjectivity on the level of dramatic action and characterization as a symbol for resistance. lies not in their entertainment value. but he determinately holds on to the concept of the subject as a possible agent of social transformation. 93. His artistic practice. 178. pp.18 The tragic. the critique of the alienation of experience resulting from societal modernization. however. See Karoline Gritzner. ed. p. but also their possibilities. Barker locates the possibility of authentic individual experience in the realm of the tragic. 1997). . in Theatre of Catastrophe. 13. 2005). rev. More importantly from my point of view. which conspires to diminish individual experience at all levels. but in their power to devastate the received wisdom of the collective. is a good example of an individual who is compelled to continually re-define himself through dangerous encounters with the other. 14. the protagonist of Hated Nightfall (1994). pp. 2006). 1992).16 Barker’s diagnosis of modern culture as a context in which individual experience is diminishing echoes a key argument that has defined the discourse of artistic modernism – namely. 24– 42. recognition of tragedy not only offers us an experience and understanding of social contradictions but it might also lead to social transformation. 2003). See Charles Lamb. pp. The One and the Art of Theatre.332 David Ian Rabey. in Genealogies of Identity: Interdisciplinary Readings on Sex and Sexuality. from the historical point of view of late capitalism. 128. p. See Chris Megson.17 For Barker. tragedy offers a ‘return to individual pain’ by ‘divid[ing] the audience into its individual components’. The tragic individual places herself in opposition to the moral consensus of the collective by means of a passionate effort of will. Dancer. by Margaret Sonser ¨ Breen and Fiona Peters (Amsterdam: Rodopi. 16. The Theatre of Howard Barker. as characterized in Death. which he considers to be sufficiently enigmatic and powerful enough to act as a counterforce against the dominant liberal-humanist ideology of mass culture. see Baz Kershaw. Arguments for a Theatre (Manchester: Manchester University Press. ‘England Brings you Down at Last’. especially the chapter ‘Postmodernism and the Theatre’. 95–106. negation and implied (but non-utopian) transcendence. nor in their ability to ‘change perceptions’ in pursuit of some common purpose. despite a rejection of humanist ideology. in social circumstances such as the present. by Karoline Gritzner and David Ian Rabey (London: Oberon Books. 2006). making the individual (character and audience member) aware of their limitations. Barker’s position in this respect is less dissimilar than it might appear from the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton’s view of tragedy. Adorno also argues. 17. notwithstanding its resistance to rationality and its questioning of the concept of ‘truth’ (which therefore makes Barker a fitting candidate for the theatre of postmodernism in Charles Lamb’s view)15 is deeply informed by an Adornian cultural criticism which is articulated in passages such as this: Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 I would like to propose that the value of works of art. Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic of the humanist ideology of much mainstream theatrical activity (‘the theatre’) which seeks to entertain and enlighten by offering the audience a clear message of some sort. In Eagleton’s view. ‘Catastrophic Sexualities in Howard Barker’s Theatre of Transgression’. English Drama since 1940 (London: Longman. 124–35. See Terry Eagleton.19 presents an opening to death and explores the myriad operations of desire. Tragedy matters for Eagleton because it sharply opposes the status quo of bourgeois conformism and restores the possibility of subjective agency and liberation. The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention (London: Routledge. edn (London: Routledge. that the possibilities of authentic subjective expression are radically undermined by bourgeois society. The description ‘neoexpressionist’ finds an earlier application in Baz Kershaw’s characterization of certain alternative theatre groups that are ‘committed to the subjective as the determining domain of theatrical conventions’. 15. his work throws a bourgeois understanding of the autonomous subject into crisis without accepting that the subject can be ignored or bypassed as a problematic concept.

‘Commitment’. p. . ´ Benjamin. More generally. He refers to himself as a ‘transient phenomenon’ and recognizes a powerful desire without feeling the impulse to define its nature or direction. 144. Adorno. the children’s tutor. 177–95. . it is difficult and intellectual and resists ‘easy consumption’. 18. solitary experience. Barker’s theatre of catastrophe. See Theodor W.] will be poorer than my imagination predicted [. in Adornian terms).22 His theatre ‘prefers darkness. p. 23. 2005). if only to separate the audience from itself and oblige the individual to confront their pain in isolation’. Barker. pp. physical and emotional disarray. and is driven by a need. effects which become manifest in dramatizations of linguistic. but even such a possibility is rejected as too harmonious and suffocating to his catastrophic imagination. 1976). it ‘complicates life’. this Theatre of Catastrophe seeks to disrupt an audience’s moral certainty and ideological security. what cannot be borne’. by R. Barker. 22. By turning the stage into a platform where ‘wrong actions are passionately performed in pursuit of self-consciousness’23 and where Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 . affirm and explain. 147. Arguments. The One and the Art of Theatre (London: Routledge. Death.. Yet as Dancer maintains. Adorno believes. thus using the intrusion of death as yet another stimulus for the performance of self. The Party has officially endowed Dancer. Barker’s work suggests that the experience of tragedy is essentially a subjective. 2003). . Adorno. Adorno uses the term ‘forced reconciliation’ in his critique of the Hungarian Marxist philosopher Georg Lukacs’ belief that art ´ should offer an image of a resolution of class conflict and social contradiction that does not exist in present society. By confronting the spectator with images of terrifying beauty. Lukacs.]’ (47). Dancer experiences his condition as abject. he is afraid that ‘death even [. Dancer is drawn to Queen Caroline and at one point for a brief moment imagines their union in a world ‘beyond’ conflict and damage. in Aesthetics and Politics: Debates Between Bloch. Barker does this by exploring the disorientating effects of the individual’s collisions with the unsatisfactory prescriptions of the world. Dancer rejects the ‘forced reconciliation’ (Adorno)20 of inevitable social and political contradictions imposed by totalitarian Party rule.333 (Oxford: Blackwell. that such conflicts and contradictions enter the form of art and need to remain unresolved in order for art to retain a perspective of critique. Hated Nightfall dramatizes the mystery surrounding the murder of the Russian Imperial family by communist revolutionaries. p. Hence. He is driven by a need for negativity. irrational actions and complex poetic language. rather than celebrate. Ibid. a compulsion. Such real possibilities of escape are ludicrous to Dancer’s cruel imagination. indeed he insists on the perpetuation of his abjection even when the possibility of a practical escape from the crisis emerges (by means of a car journey across the border). a desire for a form of love which recoils from suggestions of domesticity and sexual morality. and trans. Taylor (London: New Left Books. 19. Brecht. . discovers the beauty of pain and the violence of love. and often involve displaced historical locales and surrealist theatrical images. with its poetic re-visionings of a tragic drama without reconciliation or redemptive value. Ibid.21 exposes suffering. ed. 57. which is articulated in terms of absolute refusal. it confronts the spectator with ‘the unbearable – literally. with revolutionary power and the duty to kill the Romanoffs but his persistent refusal to submit to any ideology (be it monarchic or communist) compels him to a precarious (but wilfully accepted) existence on the edge of political reason and moral action. 20. he is rejected by ‘the world’ and he considers this his destiny. in contrast. Howard Barker. Adorno uses the term to denote capitalism’s ideological tendency to conceal and even falsely resolve the underlying antagonisms of its system. Barker’s theatre professes to disturb and contradict. which becomes more discriminating and unrelenting in the face of death. constitutes a form of resistance to the transparency and instrumental (means – end) rationality of ‘the world’ (or late capitalism. Arguments. Like many Barker protagonists. 97.. 21. pp. 59. His sacrificial gesture towards the end of the play (when he is physically abused by a female Party comrade) contributes to a heightened sense of subjective freedom despite (or because of) the death that it implies.

See Graham Saunders. a dominating model of reductive simultaneity that was only just emerging when Adorno was writing in the 1960s. 25. 27. Barker’s dramatizations of self-definition allude to a Nietzschean ‘will to power’ as an instinctual energy or transformative urge that is both constructive and destructive. Rainer Friedrich. which might lead to a revaluation and potential re-organization of the dominant ethical landscape. this speculative theatre instils. in Barker’s view. F. trans. refuse to articulate or embody any useful new values. Theodor W. 1974). expressive.334 24. The revaluation of values on Barker’s stage might be devoid of (moral and political) directionality but it certainly does not lack emotional and libidinal intensity. by E. 283). 19. her plays can be read as experimentally aesthetic (theatrical) responses to the contradictions of late-twentieth-century global capitalism. 282–97 (p. leading the individual ‘beyond good and evil’. 2004). ‘Love Me or Kill Me’: Sarah Kane and the Theatre of Extremes (Manchester: Manchester University Press. N. Adorno. 26. the largely positive.26 Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 Sarah Kane: The Presentation of Self and the Development of Theatrical Form Sarah Kane has been celebrated as the leading British playwright of the 1990s and many critics agree that her brief theatrical career has given expression to a new aesthetic sensibility in modern British theatre. Self-transformation is pursued with a passion. Jephcott (London: Verso. only a compulsive return of our attention to its irrational. is ‘a phase when the subject is capitulating before the alienated predominance of things’. However. p. ‘The Deconstructed Self in Artaud and Brecht: Negation of Subject and Antitotalitarianism’.27 Over and above the experiential qualities of her work. but merely another stage. even death does not constitute an endpoint for the imagination. By confronting the spectator with the irrational and unsettling will of stage characters in an unashamedly direct. and intimate manner. a sense of anxiety in its audience. Kane’s presentation of the self is in many ways more radical . expressionist) theatre. Forum for Modern Language Studies 26 (1990). Rainer Friedrich suggests that modernism is a more complex phenomenon than postmodernism. world-affirming attitude of the Nietzschean hero is counteracted by Barker’s own ‘negative’ characters who. 2002). Aleks contradictions remain unreconciled. Dead Hands (London: Oberon Books. The theatrical expression of subjectivity as unresolved tension and restlessness places Barker’s work within the tradition of European modernist (in particular. another possibility for subjective transformation. and continues to offer radical aesthetic critiques of (post)modern culture which. 76. However.24 But there is no escape from the problem of the self in Barker’s theatre. which in many cases leads to (wilful) self-damage and an embrace of the possibility of death. Barker. while postmodernism simply dissolves the tension by opting for one of its poles’25 – namely. like Dancer. p. fragmentary and irreconcilable nature. that of self-cancellation. Barker allows the spectator to become a privileged witness of forbidden actions and ‘criminal’ thoughts. As Istvan in Dead Hands (2004) exclaims when confronting the dead body of his father: ‘I make his death another pretext for self-laceration self-examination selfintoxication self self self I am so tired of self I am so sick with I this I my I’. ‘sustaining as it does the unresolved tension that results from the opposing strivings in modern subjectivity for self-assertion and self-cancellation. as Adorno warned us. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life.

internally directed. Ian (a middle-aged journalist) physically and mentally abuses his ex-girlfriend Cate (a young girl. There is a consensus that Kane’s theatre is provocative. the stage directions tell us that Ian has died – ‘He dies with relief. 29. actions and sound-scapes intensify the oppressive atmosphere of prolonged suffering and endless despair which engulfs the characters. Sarah Kane. Dan Rebellato. Kane’s later work (Crave and 4. problematized and devoid of psychological realism. p. ‘Love Me or Kill Me’. which is reflected in the plays’ experimental dramatic forms. these plays refuse any clearly identifiable social or political context of reality and for this reason can be best described as abstract. The proposition that Ian has apparently died problematizes any theory that he has suffered and learnt something from his pain in a humanist fashion. 25. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 28. absurdist space in which the unthinkable crimes of war unfold. New Theatre Quarterly XX. / It starts to rain on him. he is only paying attention to what is happening at the level of the content of the play. We seem to enter a Beckettian domain that rejects naturalist conventions of geographical space and chronological time. coming through the roof. 2001). ‘Love Me or Kill Me’. nevertheless articulates a sense of moral conflict. / Eventually.30 Kane’s plays are not ‘issue plays’ with identifiable (and easily consumable) social messages. 280–81. / Ian: Shit’28 – but then he continues to exist and interact with Cate. or ‘closing in on themselves’. Kane’s interest in experimentation with dramatic form is already reflected in her first play Blasted (1995). from an Adornian perspective Bond’s reading may be seen as misjudged because. ‘Sarah Kane: An Appreciation’. 30. More than her previous work. because she explores the possibilities and limits of self-construction in a way that reveals the extent to which subjectivity has become instrumentalized and therefore almost extinguished within late-capitalist consumer society. Complete Plays (London: Methuen.48 Psychosis) is characterized by the thematic flights of the self from the world. whereas for Adorno the dislocated and fragmented form of Blasted would carry its political significance. Rather. for Kane even the minimal self that Barker appears to accept is potentially put into question. in which the dramatization of the characters’ relationships to the external world. prone to epileptic fits) in a posh hotel room in Leeds. This treatment of Ian suggests how even in her earliest performed play Kane puts into question the representation of the human subject in her drama. as well as maintaining a humanist perspective. The striking uses of explicit and violent visual images. The entrance of a soldier and the explosion of a mortar bomb radically change this realist setting of the Leeds hotel room into a war-torn.335 Sierz. However. is still capable of constituting a locus of theatrical meaning and dramatic action.3 (1999). however fraught. quoted in Saunders. Edward Bond claimed he was moved by ‘the humanity of Blasted’29 and its apparent ability to alter our attitudes to the world around us. than Barker’s treatment. It is indicative of Bond’s humanistic and rationalising perception of drama to interpret Kane’s work in terms of its wider political (in the sense of moral and consciousness-raising) potential. or a judgement on the moral ills of society. her experimental treatment of . p. while compromised. Edward Bond. However. Whereas for Barker the self. 2001). Saunders. 156. Bond’s reading of Kane as a humanist playwright largely depends on addressing an implied moral context for the content of her work. and that its distinguishing experiential aesthetic disturbs habitual audience expectations and responses. p. which begins in a naturalist fashion that is later rejected. visceral and emotionally honest. In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (Faber and Faber. At the end of the play. 60.

space and movement. 22. as a riddle. Aesthetic Theory. indeed insists on its damaged articulation. which transfigure linguistic structures and decentre subjectivities by ‘produc[ing] events that are effectively discontinuous’. and thus its potential for critique. at the level of aesthetic form (rather than social content). intention remains ambiguous. and Mime. 1997).33 In 4. 33. in Mimesis. 282–88 (p. language ‘scapes’ or layers that do not immediately signify recognizable realities. which entails a distinctive de-centring of the self. not sufficiently articulated. See ‘The Culture theatrical form suggests a movement towards aesthetic abstraction. The self is nevertheless articulated. ‘Energetic’ aesthetic form embraces a libidinal and irrational economy of energies and intensities. Reification denotes the commodity character of art and the alienation of human relations. pp. nor can it be projected entirely onto the spectators’ responses.32 The explosion of narrative development and character description in Kane’s work suggests a commitment to experimentation with theatrical constructions that reveal the intersections between subject and form. deliberately bewildering but painfully emphatic. thus most clearly representing Adorno’s conception of art which locates the subjective domain (the subjective ‘spirit’) of a work of art. However. by Timothy Murray (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. a wound.48 Psychosis the breakdown of linguistic control goes hand in hand with a collapse of the speaker’s reality. Adorno applies the Marxist theory of reification to his analysis of the commercial mediation and instrumentalization of consciousness in the ‘culture industry’. a distorted form which invites . ¸ ‘The Tooth. one is confronted with the challenging proposition that the self is no longer a direct agent of. Masochism. meaning. autonomous aesthetic form provides a critical statement on the (administered) social reality. rather. where language assumes a quasi-autonomous function in relation to character. p. ed. which approached realization in her later work where the experience of alienated and fragmented subjectivity is closely associated with a collapse of dramatic form. Here we have plays for voices rather than characters. or vessel for. 287). it would be misleading to assume that for this reason subjectivity is erased within the theatrical space that is transfigured by language. The subjective dimension of her texts merges within the theatrical aesthetic in which it seeks and finds an objective expression. Meaning multiplies and fragments. is carried out most radically in Crave (1998) and 4.336 31. Kane’s project embodies a Beckettian challenge to dramatic meaning yet nevertheless works in the tradition of expressionist theatre which physicalizes the emergence of subjective desire as a critical urge (irrational. compulsive. but takes on characteristics of Lyotard’s concept of an ‘energetic theatre’. The Palm’. Kane’s later work moves beyond drama in the sense that it eschews a direct relationship between character and the created illusion of a stage fiction. Adorno. action and narrative. in fact it testifies to the acuteness of the crisis of the subject in the latest turn of reification in global late capitalism. self-destructive) that blasts the forms of linguistic and physical movement in time and space.48 Psychosis (2000). Jean-Francois Lyotard. Although this might appear a confirmation and perhaps celebration of a de-historicized generic postmodernist treatment of the self. The subjective voice speaking in Kane’s work cannot be reduced to the author’s.31 Kane’s later work is no longer dominated by a logic of dramatic mimesis. precisely by shutting itself off from reality’s utilitarian concerns. Such experimentation with dramatic form. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 32. According to Adorno’s definition of art as negation. but is constituted as an effect of language. The socio-political relevance of aesthetic abstraction is therefore not denied but emerges as an ‘allegorical reaction to a world that ha[s] become abstract’.

antiideological stance. modernist in its espousal of the concept of selfhood. play. hybridity. thus constructing the collective as witnesses rather than ‘mere’ observers. ‘Not Even a Game Anymore’: The Theatre of Forced . preserves subjectivity. 25. including The World in Pictures (2006). 95. 1974). nor a traditional relationship with the audience. contradictory emotional responses (from performers and spectators). despite their attempts to break the illusions of theatre (with occasional playful references to the conventional ‘fourth wall’). ‘From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context’. ironic and incomplete account of history. in a vestigial way. Even in non-text-based theatre the interrogation of the subject as a way of producing theatrical action and meaning remains central. Using eclectic performance techniques such as repetition. Philosophy and Literature. It is interesting to note that. Jephcott (London: Verso.35 The World in Pictures offers a self-reflexive. Forced Entertainment do not generally renounce the theatrical set-up as such. an ethos bordering on kitsch and camp’. It 35. Ihab Hassan states that the following categories pertain to the postmodernist style: ‘fragments. parody. Forced Entertainment’s work takes place within theatre buildings. 1). Adorno. 2001). Although I would question whether there is as much distinction between witness and observer as Forced Entertainment’s work would appear to suggest. In Forced Entertainment’s performances the emphasis on subjectivity (subjective experience) remains central. Yet I would argue that this show is. by E.1 (2001). p. as its opposite’. in Dialectic of Enlightenment. and hybridization of genres. trans. See Ihab Hassan. 1994/95). Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. In a revisionist article about postmodernism.337 Industry’. by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. by aestheticizing the failure of the subject Kane’s work puts the subject back into the frame and. relativism. and their ‘effort to maintain theatre as a space’36 suggests that rather than breaking with theatre altogether (and branching into performance art) they seek to reexamine the possibilities and challenges of the theatrical medium. F. exaggeration. Placed in the context of Adornian negative dialectical thought. 1–13 (p. even though it is no longer exclusively linked to the principle of narrative illusion. The performers. for example. 34. but becomes increasingly articulated in moments of self-reflexivity experienced by the individual audience members. pp. or ridicule and verbally attack them (First Night. The audience might stay or walk out of a performance by Forced Entertainment. perhaps surprisingly. but they are still an audience and therefore distanced from the actual performers. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 Forced Entertainment: Articulating the Self through Theatrical Self-reflexivity The narrative structure of much of Forced Entertainment’s theatre performance work. suggests a continued interest in explorations of the structures of subjectivity through the medium of theatre. Theodor W. 120–67. What Kane dramatizes so effectively through her experimental approach to theatrical form is the extent to which late-capitalist reification has effectively produced a failed subject. it is more important that this is consistent with a modernist emphasis on the need to make reception more active than in naturalist theatre and to construct active subjects conscious of their own individual responses within the audience of a performance. N. in rooms with walls.34 In other words. confess to the audience (Speak Bitterness. parody. the operations of deconstruction apparent in Kane’s ‘theatre of extremes’ (Saunders) may suggest that ‘[t]he image of undistorted nature arises only in distortion. pastiche. Adorno. which is arguably postmodernist in its determined evasion of meta-narratives. 36. an ironic.

Minima Moralia. impossible to authenticate and difficult to remember. At the end of this chaotic spectacle. the performers convey significant moments of the world’s history in a frenzied tour de force which blends the comic and grotesque with profound moments of reflection. ed. and what will remain.39 a process in which the spectator experiences his/her self in transition and transformation. A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. The World in Pictures ultimately encourages the individual (internal) performance of reflexive subjectivity. personal. the temporal distinctions between past and future collapse when the performer who introduced the show returns and offers a solemn monologue that confronts the audience with the fragility of individual memory. capitalism’s claim for universality and comprehensibility is imaginatively challenged (deconstructed) by means of a performance that . There is a sense that the particular immediacy and frequent contradictory nature of spectator response encouraged by Forced Entertainment reflects an impulse towards a self-reflexive emancipation from a dependence on conventional strategies of narration and reception. Performance is here defined in the Derridean sense of an event as ‘an irreplaceable and irreversible empirical particular’. 2004). 10. 72. with questions about personal identity. colourful costumes.37 which is a unique. this ‘mock-epic theatrical picture-book of the history of man’ (programme note) is a playful attempt to tell a metanarrative that is too big to be encapsulated by any theatrical means and therefore The World in Pictures undermines the ideological prescriptions of globalization from the outset. which culminates in a suicide attempt involving a fall from a rooftop which leaves us – and the story – hanging in the air. The very title of The World in Pictures invokes the gesture of global capitalism’s desire to subsume individual experience under a framework of totality. ed. according to which the subject performs its traces of autonomy vis-a-vis the claims of the general. private. p. p.338 Entertainement. Adorno ascribes a specific radicalism to the principle of individuation in the work of art. eclectic music. 88. See Tim Etchells in ‘Not Even A Game Anymore’. incomplete. The intractable gaps and blind spots that are part of the constructions of individual history and personal memory throw a shadow of uncertainty and incredulity over the meta-history of Mankind. it invokes consciousness of our personal histories that happen in local contexts and are particular and unique. the ‘here and now’ of the performance event. Reason. our place in history. and bizarre props. The overriding concern is with presence. However. The show begins with a story told by a single performer who invites us to imagine a stroll through a city. 1991). tentative stories that we tell about ourselves and to each other. The deconstruction of the history of the world as it is presented in performance here gives way to the creation of small narratives (Lyotard). Thus. never-to-berepeated experience in a spatial and temporal dimension shared by performers and spectators. by Judith Helmer and Florian Malzacher (Berlin: Alexander Verlag. seems that performative examinations of subjectivity lie at the heart of such endeavours. Using an array of pantomimic action. p. and the unified Subject. 77. The events that we are encouraged to reflect upon in the last moments of the production by the performer’s questions – ‘How did you get to the theatre tonight? Who did you meet on your way? Do you remember the person sitting next to you on the bus?’ – are necessarily fragmentary. Adorno. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 38. The company’s ` acknowledged adoption of an aesthetic of failure38 furthermore supports such a ‘perseverance of lingering with the particular’. by Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press. Then the performance of the ‘history of Man’ begins. p. 39. 37.

The majority of the performance can be regarded as a playful. The crisis of subjectivity is. memories and desires with the unsuccessful claims for a totalized subjectivity and comprehensive history. returns us to the fragile. which nonetheless remains contained within the fourth wall created by the audience. is a response to our consciousness of death. at the same time. However. the inevitable end and possible oblivion of our selves. theatrical gestures and spontaneous reactions – it is the juxtaposition. In the final moments of The World in Pictures the return to personal history. ¸ The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. particular moment of presence. a manifestation of the subject’s possibilities which are imaginatively suggested in those types of theatre and performance that locate the . dissolution and failure seems a distinguishing feature of the Forced Entertainment aesthetic. theatrical exposition of Lyotard’s thesis of the postmodern ‘incredulity toward meta-narratives’. such possibility of disruption is presented when the distinction between performance character and performer collapses. blurring and ultimate collapse of the distinction between illusion and reality. Through all the heterogeneous materials that are used in Forced Entertainment productions – film. In this manner the effects produced in Forced Entertainment’s work are similar to those of contradiction. dramatic fiction and ‘real’ action on the stage that is at once emblematic of the postmodernist performance style but also. when the conventions of theatre (based on the illusory semblance of an imagined reality) are wilfully undermined until two possibilities emerge: reality seems like a game or the game seems real (‘not even a game anymore’) due to the manifestly real. a continuation of a modernist motif – namely. xiv. The risk of interruption. offers a resource for initiating a possible standpoint of opposition to the production of reified subjectivity under late-capitalist ideology. The inherent possibilities of our own lives and the particularity of our subjective responses. p.40 and in this case the specific meta-narrative foregrounded is that of the unifying effects of the mechanisms of late capitalism. complexity and emotional force in the text-based theatres of Barker and Kane. by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press.339 40. The last moments of The World in Pictures confront the spectators with their own positionality with regards to the events of the performance. here juxtaposed to the brave but futile (yet humorous) staging of the wider history of humanity. rehearsed dialogue and improvised material. Jean-Francois Lyotard. physical and emotional investment and risk-taking of the performer in the present moment of action. 1984). trans. however. Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 Conclusion Adorno’s perspective offers us a different way of conceiving the crisis of subjectivity within postmodernity in a historicized fashion as contextualized within the development of late capitalism and the aesthetic thinking that responds to that same crisis. the delicate ‘here and now’. the questioning of the conditions of theatre and the probing of the possibilities of subjective expression within its aesthetic structures. in effect. who cannot intervene to change the performance from their position. juxtaposing their lived experiences. video and Internet footage.

Her work is devoid of postmodernist irony and instead offers theatrical explosions of the ‘accumulated. 42. 44. p. Minima Moralia. Adorno.41 The category of the self is neither redundant nor in need of a harmonising resurrection in the calculated uniformity of the culture industry. Neither does Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life (1997). 238. Ihab Hassan – one of the earliest theorists of postmodernism – argues that an understanding of what might lie beyond postmodernism should imply a renewed. Both Crimp and Ravenhill do not aestheticize the failure and possibilities of the subject to the extent of Barker and Kane. As Adorno suggested and as these theatrical projects witness. manifestly influenced by Barker in terms of the treatment of challenging subject matter and the suspension of readily available meaning. they nonetheless search for the possibility of self-transformation and self re-definition by dramatising the erasure of the subject while at the same time refusing to accept that same erasure. Aesthetic Theory. seems to enact a negative dialectic between endorsing the freedom of consumer capitalism and implicitly rejecting that same freedom. 40. modern society’s encounter with the problem of subjectivity depends on a renewed realization of the subject’s fundamental claim to freedom. 43. In a section of his essay entitled ‘Beyond Postmodernism: An Inconclusion’. Kane’s work. An Adornian analysis could also be carried out for playwrights such as Mark Ravenhill and Martin Crimp.44 . for example. irrationality and ambiguity into formal categories without. Hassan. The problematic of the self migrates into theatrical aesthetic form. diverse natures. potential for resistance (the self’s claim to freedom) precisely in the fragmentary character of subjective experience and response. And the incomplete.340 Downloaded By: [Escola De Comunicacoes E Artes USP] At: 12:41 22 October 2009 41. of eroticism and death). although the play does not particularly centre on the tribulations of the self. where subjectivity’s contradictions and aporias are played out in texts and performances. ‘From Postmodernism to Postmodernity’. failed stories and disorientating effects produced in the work of Forced Entertainment emphasize the importance and irreducibility of subjective experience in the aesthetic event. Adorno. however. p. which suggests an underlying radical absence of self amid a world of artificial media constructs that are in constant flux. Both of these (postmodernist) perspectives of subjectivity must be rejected if one adopts an Adornian view. the whole universe itself’. In Barker’s ‘art of theatre’ the moral and social assumptions and prescriptions guiding reality are suspended in a series of theatrical transgressions. Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking (1996). We need a ‘more dialogical sense of ourselves in relation to diverse cultures. p. 13. speechless pain’43 that Adorno saw suppressed by the ‘cheerful’ art of the culture industry.42 Hassan argues that this can perhaps be achieved if we make an effort to re-imagine the condition of postmodernity as a project that encourages the individual to explore ‘modes of self-transcendence’. While none of the theatre pieces discussed suggests that a simple correction of social conditions by the subject through the medium of theatre is feasible. combining unconventional formal and thematic explorations (for example. ethical conception of the dialectic between the self and the other. In this manner they point to (at least an imaginary) negative dialectical recovery of subjectivity and distance themselves from the postmodern context of surface play and ‘everchanging sameness’. provides theatricalizations of subjectivity that embrace and transform the ostensibly postmodernist principles of uncertainty. suggesting a compliance with the cultural assumptions underlying late capitalism.

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