- Theatricality As Medium, and: Theatrical Events: Borders, Dynamics, Frames
"Samuel Weber, taking into account a large body of work written over a number of years, the range and scope of your interests is obviously varied and broad," wrote Simon Morgan Wortham and Gary Hall in an email dated 10 September 2001. They went on to inquire about their correspondent's frequent return to certain themes, such as repetition and theatricality. In his response, composed the same day, Weber invoked Søren Kierkegaard and Jacques Derrida, noting, as he had many times before, the close relation between repetition and theatricality. Weber emphasized the distinction Derrida makes between iterability and iteration, in which the former, "far from designating a possible [End Page 179] realization, is 'actually' much closer to 'impossibility,'" and as such is associated with theatricality (339). Further, he warned that this theatricality has to be distinguished from the concepts of performance and performative, "which often (if not always) imply the realization of an intention, of a purpose" (340). Wortham and Hall fired back a follow-up question the same day, in what was promising to become a dynamic and rigorous exchange. Instead, a hiatus ensued, which ended with Weber's answer dated 12 September 2001. The events of the intervening day as well as public reactions to these events changed the direction of the exchange: It no longer addressed only Weber's work, but also the calls for action and vows of (bloody) purpose that swelled up in the media.
This lacuna in the final chapter of Weber's book, Theatricality As Medium, points back to the theme of irruption developed from chapter one, "Theatrocracy; or, Surviving the Break," to chapter five, "The Place of Death." In the first chapter, Weber juxtaposes Plato's and Walter Benjamin's views on what he calls "theatrocracy" in order to tease out, through masterful analysis of Plato's concepts of theatre and Benjaminian interruption, the notion of theatricality as the unique ability of theatre to disturb the stability of the site as a concrete place, its unity and self-identity, by installing a split into its very center. In the fifth chapter, the focus shifts from the notion of the break-the survival of which is theatre-to the tear in the narrative. Weber calls our attention to Oedipus's death in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus: "All the messenger could witness, when he turned around and back again, was yet another witness, Theseus, shielding his eyes" (156). Oedipus does not die onstage; his death is neither seen nor narrated. "Between his being there and being gone there is no continuity, no smooth transition, but a gap, a gash, a cut, as when de Gaulle's motorcade passes by in Godard's Breathless: First there is the motorcycle escort in font of the limousine, then the cut, and finally the motorcycle escort bringing up the rear" (157; italics in original). This intrusion of cinematic image into the narrative is itself a form of irruption that repeats the staging of the dead in Sophocles' theatre.
The uncanny presence of the dead (not death!) in theatre is one of several themes interwoven in this rich series of reflections. Some of Weber's prominent themes are Aristotle's understanding of action; Walter Benjamin's notions of allegory, disruption, and gesture; displacement of place; linguistic representations of temporality; repetition; and the uncanny. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Each reader will discover her own conceptual threads running through book's 15 chapters.
The importance and precision of the title Theatricality As Medium can be easily missed, especially by those readers unfamiliar with Weber's earlier works. For Weber, the notion of medium includes what is usually called "new media" but is never limited to it. He vigorously opposes reducing the notion of the medium to radio, film, television, and whatever new apparatus of mass...