- Grotowski’s Bridge Made of Memory: Embodied Memory, Witnessing and Transmission in the Grotowski Work by Dominika Laster
Dominika Laster is a TDR Books section coeditor. She was not involved in the commissioning or editing of this review.—Ed.
Dominika Laster’s Grotowski’s Bridge Made of Memory: Embodied Memory, Witnessing and Transmission in the Grotowski Work offers a sustained critical analysis of key concepts in Jerzy Grotowski’s praxis and rhetoric that spans the entirety of his (and his successors’) work, one informed by close critical study; an impressive number of first-person interviews conducted in Polish, French, and English; and a nuanced understanding of Polish linguistic and cultural contexts.1
The volume, part of Seagull Press’s Enactments series, edited by Richard Schechner, is handsomely produced, with 17 photographs, 14 of which are by Andrzej Paluchiewicz, a member of the Laboratory Theatre from 1966 to 1976.
Laster’s approach is thematic rather than chronological. Her primary labor has been “to understand by approaching, as closely as possible, Grotowski’s own understanding and praxis of these themes” (5). By approaching key terms from a variety of perspectives, Laster develops a palimpsest of meanings for these terms, rather than fixing rigid definitions. Since Laster’s approach is to elucidate the use of these terms within “the Grotowski work” (as she terms it), she for the most part does not challenge the use of terms such as “essence,” “verticality,” or even [End Page 179] “memory” by interpreting them in relation to other critical discourses (a few exceptions are noted below). This leaves the reader to determine whether or not the Grotowski work speaks to other discourses of embodied knowledge, or whether it is a hermetic system, understood only on its own terms, by sanctioned practitioners or interpreters. However, her book provides a useful and provocative analysis for those who wish to understand the lexicon of the Grotowski work in context.
In the brief and affecting Preface and Introduction, the author positions herself as someone whose “exposure to Grotowski” growing up in Wrocław, Poland, in the 1980s and 1990s was “long and gradual” and for whom Grotowski “has always been a point of reference, someone I measured myself up to and against” and even (in a phrase that develops meaning as the argument of her book moves forward) “an imagined relative” (3).
The heart of the book is divided into four chapters. In the first, “Embodied Memory,” Laster addresses key concepts such as “body-memory,” “body-life,” “essence,” and “the I-I” from Grotowski’s early theatre work through his phases of research on Paratheatre, Theatre of Sources, and Art as vehicle, concluding that for Grotowski “memory functioned, at least in part, as a mode of inquiry, an instrument of the rediscovery of essence” (49).2 The significance of memory as a mode of inquiry is emphasized by one of the insightful linguistic glosses Laster develops throughout the book, in this case on the term “man of knowledge [człowiek poznania]” from Grotowski’s important and dense text “Performer” ( 1997): “[C]złowiek poznania is not, as the English rendering might suggest, one who is in possession of knowledge; rather it is the person who is actively engaged in a continuous search for knowledge and discovery” (40). This slight shift of emphasis, from one who knows to one who does is central to the analyses of Laster’s study, and to a true understanding of the Grotowski work.
The implication of memory functioning as “a mode of inquiry,” Laster shows, is that the importance of the memory is not its objective veracity, but rather its efficacy as a stimulus to “body-in-life.”3 As Thomas Richards told Laster, “there is an ‘as-if’ involved. I’m doing this ‘asif’ it was my father in a specific instance that I am remembering” (41). It is less important that the experience/event occurred as such, than that the precise details of remembering/imagining provide a stimulus to the...