Ludic and absurd theatre as political strategy in context of performative theory
In my presentation, I wish to discuss Judith Butler’s book Giving an Account of Oneself in relation to the specific features of Central European avant-garde theater (Václav Havel, Ivan Vyskočil). In her book, Butler demonstrates that the subject is necessarily ungrounded in itself due to its primordial engagement in linguistic and social structures. Such a project, however, is not ethically irrelevant: the non-transparency and vulnerability of the subject represent a constitutive means for becoming ethical. Giving an account of oneself and criticizing institutions can be then carried out without insisting on the autonomy and arrogance of moral narcissism. Ludic (Vyskočil) and absurd (Havel) theater can be shown to undertake Butler’s project of non self-sufficient subject, but it intensifies it with a particular broadminded lightness and laughter. This laughter creates a very special dramatic distance (not separation) from reality, especially from subjects themselves. Here, the self-opacity of the subject reveals not only the subject’s vulnerability, but also a special sort of cognitive freedom from itself that uncovers what could be called a phenomenological field of play. Fantasy to the point of absurdity, repetitions carried out until they cause explosions of laughter and extremely playful fiction deconstruct views of reality and lead ultimately to a new form of generality and seriousness (”the lightness of the play enables the turn to what is serious indeed”) and, to put it provocatively, to self-cognition. Does this project have any ethical or socio-political force? I wish to argue that the repeated Central European pattern of not fully playing role games is a strong subversive political stance localized beyond the duality of power and powerlessness, the dialectics of master and slave. The ethics of play enables us to take up a distance from ourselves, to turn ourselves toward the world and to give an account of this world we are part of.
Alice Koubová works as a senior researcher at the Philosophical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Czech Republic and as a teacher of contemporary philosophy and the Non-theater of Ivan Vyskočil at Charles University in Prague. Her professional focus is oriented on performance philosophy, expressivity, post-phenomenology, phenopraxis, ethics of the play and corporeity. She is director of an international project Philosophy in Experiment web.flu.cas.cz/filosofievexperimentu/en/ in cooperation with M-body-research in Media, Dance and Philosophy (Freiburg), member of Expedition Philosophie Verein, Germany and Performer Training Platform (Helsinki). She has conceived and carried out a number of experiments hovering on the boundaries between philosophy, improvisation and authorial presentation, presented at different Theatres in the Czech Republic and Germany. She is the author of Self-Identity and Powerlessness (Brill Publisher) and other books and articles. This year she is organizing “Gnothi seauthon – no paper conference”, an event that is sponsored by the Performance Philosophy network.