- Editorial–Theatre as Critique
Under the heading "Theatre as Critique", the contributions to this special volume of Forum Modernes Theater examine theatre as a critical practice. With the crisis of the classical groundings of both theatre and critique in mind, the essays aim at a reconsideration of, on the one hand, the history, theory and issues of theatre and, on the other, the concept of critique. At the heart of the debate, therefore, is not just the subject matter of theatre critique but rather critique itself.
One quality of the figures of thought reoccurring throughout the discourse of the occidental theatre is that this theatre–especially where it deals with aspects of the political but also with social practices and tradition–can be seen as a critical examination of that tradition. Theatre as critique is a revision of decisions made elsewhere, a negotiation of the myths picked up upon in the theatre, of historical events and of processes. It is a scenic articulation of an It should be different1 (Theodor W. Adorno)–even when there is no apparent alternative to that which is being propagated as the one and only solution. Philosophers, church dignitaries, dogmatists and guardians of virtue hostile to the theatre have all contributed to this view of the theatre–those who fear the subversive power of the stage, who seek to demonise the theatre and its practitioners–as have those who speak out in favour of the theatre, who in it see a means to criticise both personal and social transgressions, an institution that is able to unsettle authorities that have been constituted elsewhere, that can criticise untenable ideological positions and dissolve patterns of order and doctrines of any kind. Theatre–in accordance with a view widely held until recently by theatre practitioners and commentators–is a critical practice.
This consensus has very recently found itself on shaky ground. It has been radically questioned by two schools of thought, both with regard to the concept of theatre that it idealises as well as in relation to the often all too simple definition of the term 'critique'. The notion of the theatre as a critical entity is idealistic, as it renders a certain concept of theatre absolute. It conceals the material conditions of theatre as well as its, at best, indirectly critical purposes of entertainment, pleasure and cheerful evening activity. On an individual level, it puts aside the satisfaction of one's own narcissism frequently connected with the theatre, and, on an institutional level, it ignores all sorts of aims pursued with the theatre. Moreover, critical theatre–therein comparable with political theatre–must ask itself if its critique, as a rule, is little more than a kind of preaching to the converted. Its references to its own critical potency seem to self-legitimise an institution that not infrequently reaffirms and solidifies norms–precisely in the critical mode. On the other hand, that which marks theatre as an autonomous art form undermines the heteronomous aims it follows, including critique. Thus, perhaps behind the concept of theatre as a critical practice, there lies hidden a charged relationship whose two poles are theatre and critique.
Additionally, the generally accepted idea of theatre as critique seems too simple with regard to the concept of critique perpetuated within this idea, which has been radically shaken in the last few decades, and not [End Page 3] without reason. We refer here to the radical criticism of traditional Marxist ideological critique undertaken by Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, which Adorno once again takes up in his oft-cited essay "Cultural Criticism and Society".2 Secondly, we bear in mind Foucault's genealogy of critique, which he carries out as a proponent of, on the one hand, desubjugation in relation to forms of the art of governing human beings and, on the other hand, of the rejection of every fundamentalist critique, which Judith Butler has taken up in more recent times.3 All three have enquired into the foundations on which critique is based, as well as the possibility of post-fundamentalist critique (Butler). The task of shaking the foundations, for...