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backtalk To the Editors: This letter is written in reponse to Gordon Rogoff's review of HAMLETMACHINE in PAJ 28. I find critical response to the Robert Wilson/Heiner MUller alliance problematic . Robert Wilson can be and is evaluated as an individual artist. The work of Heiner MUller is evaluated as it appears after it has been theatrically translated by Robert Wilson. This hegemony over a playwright is disturbing enough in and of itself. However, the crucial problem lies in the fundamental differences of political stance between Wilson and MUller. How is it that the most apolitical (reactionary) theatre artist around (Wilson)becomes the definitive director of one of the most radical, politicized, historically conscious and sophisticated of theatre artists (Muller)? What a strange and potentially controversial alliance. But critics seem to ignore or fail to recognize the contradiction in this alliance and instead rush to proclaim the obvious union of the two men, the perfect coupling of the visual and the textual. If critical or artistic work were undertaken on MUller in his own right, on his own terms, this perfect coupling might become suspect and the subject of healthy debate. There might be a body of artistic and critical work which would do more than quote MUller's dense and challenging statements and then retreat without explaining them or finding a way to apply them. It would be a criticism which would locate in his theatre, in specific ways, a radicalization of our ideas of theatre and history and the relationship between the two. Rogoff does little more than quote, citing some difficult Muller adages. (Which sound profound and incendiary and make the critic sound smart, but which actually need quite a bit of analysis.) And his conclusion substantiates the idea of the absolutely complimentary union between Wilson and MUller: "MUller wants the audience to make up its own mind. Wilson lets the audience think." This is a perfect example of the critical neglect I am addressing. What Rogoff says about MUller may be true and is a valuable idea in one sense, in 131 a certain context. But the complete phrase in this context becomes applause for equivocation, a celebration of the bourgeois value of fairness. I think it would be more appropriate to say, instead, that MUller emphasizes the importance and inevitability of conflict, of irresolvable contradictions of experience and history, of struggles during which the best course for action may be difficult to ascertain. The important thing is not that the audience be allowed to make up its own mind but that it be forced into a confrontation with contradiction and conflict. The audience, in this sense, may never "make up its mind." What is being challenged, in part, is the very way the bourgeoisie "mind" works in the first place, its tendency to want to construct wholeness, totalities, seamless realities. MUller, in ways which are in themselves problematic, injects the theatre with a European and Marxist sensibility about history. I think that critics, while paying lip service to Muller's ideas, while quoting him, are actually responding to him as though he were an inexplicable and obscure disease and rushing to apply the antidote of Robert Wilson's formal structures. Mdller is done a disservice. Wilson has the last word. The theatre remains as bourgeois as ever. This situation may exist because it is easy for theatre artists and critics to pass the responsibility for confronting this dense and difficult playwright into the hands of someone who claims the ability and desire to do so. Or it may be part of the general cultural tendency to denude political artists of their real force and challenge. Or it may be a combination of both. Whatever the case, I think a valuable and potentially progressive opportunity for dialogue is being passed over. Maurya Wickstrom Brooklyn, N.Y. 132 ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 131-132
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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