Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance
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Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance
(bio)
Critical Art Ensemble

People are often confused by the ideas of recombination and digitality. The former typically connotes scientific esoterica pertinent to molecular biology, while the latter is associated with information and communication technology. Indeed, these associations are correct, but very reductive. Recombination and digitality are not so specialized. As we shall see, they are the foundations of a new cosmology—a new way of understanding, ordering, valuing, and performing in the world. While some cultural vectors have been faster to embrace digital models than others, no area remains untouched.

Theatre, like all of the fine arts, is now in the process of constructing a relationship with this new paradigm, and this is at times a very embittered struggle. The elder model of the analogic, deeply embedded in cultural institutions, is not voluntarily sharing any territory. Knowledge/culture production in the West has never been a very tolerant practice, and ideas of anarchistic pluralism held by epistemologists such as Paul Feyerabend have never gained much currency. The proponents of any given paradigm aim to eliminate all competitors and thus dominate knowledge production and the rewards that accompany such a position. Theatre is no different from any other cultural vector.

Much more is at stake than the configuration and appearance of theatre in the next century; the formation of digital theatre (in the broadest sense of this term) is a struggle over the microsociology of the performative matrix of everyday life. The digital model, like the analogic, contains both apocalypse and utopia, and the applications constructed now will in part determine the directions in which digital processes will flow. Capitalism is primarily a digital political-economy, much as the medieval economy was primarily analogic. Pancapitalism’s use of the digital thus far has been horrifying, whether one considers the pathological separation and alienation of Taylorist production,1 the false democracy of consumption, the repressive apparatus of surveillance, or the biotechnologies of eugenics. Digital culture is on this same trajectory, with its primary manifestation being an invasive mass media that functions as a reproduction and distribution network for the ideology of capital.

In spite of this parade of the usual suspects that constitute the undesirable hegemony of pancapitalism, there has always been a resistant cultural undercurrent in the digital. The first evidence of it appeared in 1870 when Le Comte de Lautréamont published in Poems: “Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a [End Page 151]

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1. Shareholders’ Briefing, 1996. Austrian Triennial of Photography, Neue Gallarie, Graz. Stage setting for a live briefing by the CEO of Machine World, who speaks to the audience/shareholders of new technological developments in relationship to their military applications and their potential profit. Audience members also receive a written report as they are shown to their seats by a Machine World hostess.

false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.” In three sentences Lautréamont summed up the methods and means of digital aesthetics as a process of copying—a process that offers dominant culture minimal material for recuperation by recycling the same images, actions, and sounds into radical discourse. Over the past century, a long-standing tradition of digital cultural resistance has emerged that has used recombinant methods in the various forms of combines, sampling, pangender performance, bricolage, detournement, readymades, appropriation, plagiarism, theatre of everyday life, constellations, and so on. Maintaining this historical tendency by further refining methods, finding new applications, furthering its theoretical articulation, and increasing its rate of manifestation is an ongoing task for those who hope to see the decline of authoritarian culture.

The Analogic and the Digital

During the millennia it dominated, the cosmological paradigm of an analogic universe may not have made the world perfectly intelligible, but perhaps it offered a sense of certainty about the cosmos to those who lived within its enveloping hegemony. Merely 60 years ago, no one thought that the analogic model could ever be challenged. After all, the sheer weight of the data compiled in its defense was immeasurable. From the phenomenology of everyday life to the most complex...


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