Singularity, Theatricality, Iterability (On Samuel Weber)
This paper will address the thinking of Samuel Weber – most obviously in his book Theatricality as Medium, but also in more recent work – in order to open up some questions around the notion of theatre as ‘singular’ or as ‘event’. While theatrical performance is frequently differentiated from other media precisely in terms of its unrepeatability (its ‘liveness’, its responsiveness to audience, its fall or flight into improvisation, accident or error), its dependence on a fundamental structure of repeatability or iterability renders such claims precarious.
Weber’s work offers a particularly powerful reading of the inevitable instability of notions of theatricality that depend on forms of identification – that is, identification of and with place, identity, action, and so on. Following Benjamin and Derrida, Weber instead poses a notion of singularity that shares characteristics with Derrida’s sense of event. Also at play is a version of the uncanny that appeals to Weber precisely because of its bringing together of concerns around repeatability, familiarity and the strange or other in making possible recognition of the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange. Repetition comes to inhabit, without simply grounding, the chance for a recognition of the different.
Weber’s sense of this opening to difference from ‘within’ repetition is radicalized by his reading of Kierkegaard’s account of ‘remembering ahead’, in other words, repetition as memory becomes an opening to a future, not a mobilization of a past. It is in this sense, I will argue, that Weber’s work itself presents a future for the articulation of theatricality and philosophy, even as he also warns of the dangers of conflating theatricality, theatre and performance.
Mark Robson holds the Chair in English and Theatre Studies at the University of Dundee, Scotland, where he directs the MLitt in Theatre Studies, a collaboration between the university, the Dundee Rep Theatre and the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. He has published widely on drama, literature, film and critical theory. His most recent book is Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Claims of the Performative (with James Loxley, Routledge 2013), which reads these two dramatists through the work of Derrida, de Man and Stanley Cavell on the inheritance of the thinking of J. L. Austin. He is also a playwright, and in 2013 had an attachment to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.