- Editorial Comment: Vocalic Bodies, Scriptive Things, Phantom Limbs, and Other Paradoxes
This general issue circles around paradoxes, disarticulations, dissociations, and ghosted absences. Jenny Hughes leads off the issue with “The Theatre and Its Poor: Neoliberal Economies of Waste and Gold in Les Misérables (1985) and Road (1986).” Her essay sets the issue’s paradoxical tone by examining the relationship between theatre and poverty in two of the most economically successful theatrical ventures of the 1980s. In spite of their considerable differences—the former emerging from a controversial public/private partnership between the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cameron Mackintosh Overseas Limited, the latter from an impoverished Royal Court Theatre ravaged by cuts to public funding—both productions, Hughes argues, successfully transformed representations of poverty, together with the theatrical impoverishments introduced by neoliberal economic policy during the period, into enduring forms of monetary and aesthetic value. She contends that both theatre companies formed productive coalitions with neoliberal economies, which worked both onstage and off to transform the “human waste” of impoverishment into gold. Her sophisticated analysis surprisingly reveals the productions’ economic and aesthetic similarities rather than their more immediately apparent differences, both incurring significant risks and ultimately reaping significant rewards.
Hughes examines the motif of waste and wasted life and its “transubstantiation” as a source of wealth across three trajectories: 1) the role of theatre and theatricality in activating the transubstantiations of poverty and wealth apparent in the economic and theatrical life of the two productions, including the ways in which subsidized theatre in this period was at risk of becoming designated as waste. In response to this, these shows’ critical and economic successes were generated by impoverishing labor and theatricalizing poverty, suggesting that theatre mobilizes and is mobilized by, rather than defies, neoliberal logic, albeit in ways that also signal resistance; 2) the reconfiguration of state funding, which exposed British theatre to precarious forms of life (including the exploitation/impoverishment of performers) concomitant with a free-market economy, raising a specter of waste in ways that disciplined theatre-makers to conform to new economic agendas; and 3) the evocation of human waste as a key feature of the representation of the poor onstage in both productions.
Hughes’s sophisticated analysis marshals critical and theoretical voices that range from Marx to Rancière, and Maurizio Lazzarato to Foucault to Dominique Laporte’s History of Shit. It also examines neoliberal policy documents from the period and the devastating impact they had on the production of new, experimental, politically Left, and regional work. And it takes carefully into account, in detailed ways, the material realities of theatrical labor. The essay ends, noting the fact that the poor are not now the audiences for theatre and observing that representations of poverty sell, with the provocative question: “What of theatre and the poor?”
Brandon Shaw’s contribution to the issue turns from poverty to grief. The paradox presented in “Phantom Limbs and the Weight of Grief in Sasha Waltz’s noBody” has to do with the theatrical representation of absence, with the use of the vibrant bodies of dancers to represent death, and with what Shaw calls “the vitality of the dead.” Evoking the phenomenon of phantom limbs, drawing on the phenomenological work of Merleau-Ponty, and contesting, critiquing, and complementing the psychoanalytical work of Freud, Shaw considers the physicality of grief and the porousness of the division between the living and the dead. His case studies are Martha Graham’s 1930 solo choreography Lamentation and, more extensively, Sasha Waltz’s 2002 dance noBody, both of which enact grief, and both of which animate (stretchy) fabric to do so. [End Page ix]
Beginning with Graham’s struggle with the fabric in which she shrouds herself in Lamentation, Shaw points to the ways in which the dance awakens spectators to a corporal, kinesthetic sense of the weight of grief, its gravity (versus the rupture that is bereavement and the liberating sorrow that is mourning). When he turns to Waltz’s work, he extends his analysis to treat, first, a duet between a living and choreographically dead body yoked together by the elastic fabric of a shared pair of trousers—a duet that evokes the...