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Bones Have Their Fates Greg Whitehead Above all in America, above all towards the close of the twentieth century, it is hard not to get haunted by the thought of a dead theatre. Above all in America, above all towards the close of the twentieth century, it is equally as hard not to get excited by the thought of a dead theatre. Here in the crossing between haunt and excitement, in the complex jointing between the hangover fears of being buried alive and the unholy delights of graveyard hangers on, are the raw materials for the only theatre hearty enough to outghost the present. Half-mourned and half-desired, deeply embedded in a thick crust of spent bodies and empty texts, are pickings enough for a thousand odd skeletons, skeletons on which to hang the plastiflesh representations of a distinctly vital necropolitan theatre, a theatre genetically selected to survive all media firestorms, all Jumbo Jet executions, all toxic dumpsites, all postmodernisms, all rapid deployments, all communicable diseases; a hard theatre, as hard to fabrication as it is to thought, still in pieces, still in the making, available on spec-the theatre of bones. II In the age of neomort organ transplants, theatre's daily obituary reads like little more than an invitation to the kick-off event in a promotional campaign . Theatre is dead, but no cause for alarm: even the most highly practiced death diagnosticians speak a clinical language riddled with medical agnosticisms. "There is," confides one noted pathologist, "no certain way to confirm absolute death, the death of the whole organism." Dead as a whole, the body continues to live through the resiliency of its most willful parts. Might this not explain the apparent immortality of certain categories of quotation, and their tendency-once unleashed-to dominate whole genres of textual activity? Further, according to demographic projections performed in concert with leading medical minds, the next fifty years will see the population of 234 biologically living body parts, stripped from the physiologically dead, equal and finally surpass the world's total whole-body population. In anticipation of so massive a surplus of loose living organs, scientists have already initiated a broad search for physically appropriate housing, that is to say, for suitable bones. Practitioners in a dead theatre will either join this search or stand helplessly by as the most willful organs buried alive inside countless stacks of dead letters get, wildly, out of hand. Most significantly, at least for the thought of a dead theatre, radioastronomers report that cadavers "buried" in space act in such a way as to absorb and store all radiophonic impulses passing through the atmosphere . Though this research is still purely speculative,there is some indication that the high receptivity of space corpses to electronic communications can be traced to the hithero unexplored conductive properties of bones. In live theatre, talking to bones has a long history; in dead theatre, the bones talk back. Ill Like the drive for a universalized commodity, the dream of a universal theatre, where there is quite literally something for everybody, dies hard. For the rest of the century and well into the next, against all residual provincialisms and last gasp calls for "purity," experimental plays will represent themselves through theoretical constructs born to the head of this dream, bizarre composite humanoids assembled in the research laboratories of dramaturgically predisposed paleontologists. Why are they here, and where did they come from, with their Noh stomping feet, with their dervish torsos, Victorian hands, Broadway hips and circus heads, with their uncanny fluency in Sanskrit and Sumerian, with their larynxes thoroughly inflected by synthetically ossified compressions of Shakespeare, commedia dell'arte, chilled-out street talk and operatic arias? As any library scientist will confirm, a book is designated as dead when it can no longer be handled, that is, when it has been handled too much. In a world that has come to reproduce itself principally through the accelerated circulation and recirculation of information, all bodies-dead or alive-begin to change hands with phenomenal frequency. After massive and prolonged exposure to repeated bleedings and biopsies, constant manipulation and scrutiny, living bodies decrease and dead bodies disintegrate : bodies of language...


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pp. 234-236
Launched on MUSE
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