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‘Did you mean post-traumatic theatre?’: The vicissitudes of traumatic memory in contemporary postdramatic performances

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/2009
JournalPerformance Paradigm ( online)
Journal number2
Volume5
Number of pages33
Pages1-33
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article returns to the relation between trauma and theatre/drama by exploring how postdramatic forms of theatre might relate to posttraumatic forms of memory in the twenty-first century. It raises the question whether there ‘might not be an affinity between trauma’s incommensurability, inaccessibility and ultimate resistance to narrative representation and postdramatic theatre’s antirepresentational impetus’ (p.1). The article contents that critics such as Jeanette Malkin, in her Memory-Theatre and Postmodern Drama have narrowly focused only on textually based dramaturgies and ‘have stopped short of questioning whether the terms ‘drama’ and ‘dramatic’ with their implications of a teleological narrative and closed off fictional universe are still apposite descriptions for the works she describes’ (p.3).
Arguing further that the heterogeneity of postdramatic forms also leads to multifarious ways in which the postdramatic relates to the posttraumatic, my readings performances seek to begin to map a continuum of these many ways in which postdramatic performances may engage with the nature of traumatic memory.
Drawing on Freudian and post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory (Lacan, Caruth, Zizek), I explore a range of performances with a focus on three main case studies: Goat Island’s When will the September roses bloom? Last night was only a comedy (2005) is analysed in terms of how the ‘real’ of trauma is intimated here and how it is formally negotiated by this innovative performance. After Dubrovka (2007), an installation performance by Neil MacKenzie and Mole Wetherell is critically explored in terms of a blindspot I perceived in this act of remembrance that could lead to a ‘mis-remembering’ or ‘forgetting’. This insight leads me to consider the ways in which trauma is mediated by contemporary theatre and how the latter addresses the increasing experience of mediatised trauma in contemporary life. Mediatised trauma as ‘remediated’ on stage is more explicitly addressed in my reading of Forced Entertainment’s Void Story (2009) which argues that traumatisation can also reside in the very form of global mediatisation itself.
The article concludes that by defamiliarizing perception postdramatic productions seek to actively involve the spectator and rehone our responsibility for trauma and traumatic damage in the twenty-first century