Singular Plural Theatre: Representation, Identity Politics and Appropriation in Contemporary Theatre and Theory after Brecht and Marx

Singular Plural Theatre: Representation, Identity Politics and Appropriation in Contemporary Theatre and Theory after Brecht and Marx

Nikolaus Müller-Schöll



The topic of this contribution is the so-called ‘Identity Politics’ currently being discussed with regard to theatre and the visual arts at numerous places: who is allowed to represent whom on stage and in the arts in general? And how should we deal with the alterity of the Other(s) on stage? Since the election of Donald Trump, debates about representation, alterity and the issue of appropriation have been mixed with a second series of questions. According to some theorists and theatre people, this is due to its continuing and increasingly exclusive interest in issues of identity politics, to the extent that the political left has forgotten social issues. Against the backdrop of these debates, and taking up the argumentation of – amongst others – Spivak, in my essay I argue that theatre’s contribution to the debate on identity and diversity lies in its questioning of the very logic of identity as such. With regard to Jan Lauwers’ production Blind Poet and referring briefly to some other examples, I will try to show that theatre has the privilege of questioning these boundaries by confronting us with the foreign Other within ourselves, with an originary de-position of those origins on which our identities are based. Lauwers and the Needcompany are working on a form of performance art, at the centre of which we find the singular plural (Nancy) of each character.

Keywords: Identity Politics, Postcolonial Studies, Marxism, Deconstruction, Needcompany, Appropriation, Representation.

Gegenstand des Beitrags ist die sogenannte „Identitätspolitik“, die gegenwärtig mit Blick auf Theater wie auch Bildende Kunst an unzähligen Orten diskutiert wird: Wer darf wen auf der Bühne und allgemeiner in der Kunst repräsentieren und wie ist dabei mit der Andersheit des oder der Dargestellten umzugehen? In die Debatten über Repräsentation, Alterität und die Frage der Appropriation mischt sich spätestens seit der Wahl Donald Trumps zum amerikanischen Präsidenten eine zweite Fragestellung: Über der Identitätspolitik, so lautete der Vorwurf linker Theoretiker und Theaterleute, habe die Linke in Theorie und Kunst die soziale Frage vergessen. Vor dem Hintergrund der verschiedenen Debatten um Identitätspolitik entwickelt der  Text ausgehend von Spivak das Argument, dass der Beitrag des Theaters zur Debatte um Identität und Diversität darin liegt, dass das Theater die Logik von Identitätsbehauptungen vor Augen führt: Die Ansicht, es gebe so etwas wie eine feste nationale, religiöse oder sexuelle Identität wird im Theater überall dort grundlegend erschüttert, wo die Ausgrenzungen vor Augen geführt werden, die mit der Bildung von Identität in jedem Fall verbunden sind. Dies wird mit Blick auf die Arbeit Blind Poet des belgischen Regisseurs Jan Lauwers genauer ausgeführt. Diese Arbeit kann insofern als beispielhaft für die szenische Dekonstruktion von Identitätsbehauptungen angesehen werden, als sie an einer Form der Performance arbeitet, in deren Mittelpunkt das Singulär Plurale (Nancy) jedes und jeder Einzelnen steht.

Schlüsselwörter: Identitätspolitik, Postkolonialismus, Marxismus, Dekonstruktion, Needcompany, Aneignung, Darstellungspolitik.

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Singular Plural Theatre: Representation, Identity Politics and Appropriation in Contemporary Theatre and Theory after Brecht and Marx

What can theatre add to the passionate debate about ‘identity politics’, ‘diversity’ and ‘alterity’ currently being conducted in the fine arts, political theory and philosophy? What are the specific opportunities that it presents, and what are the problems and risks related to the possibilities it offers for depicting the Other? Why have questions like these increasingly been dominating public debates on theatre in recent years? Wherein lies their actuality, and to what degree has the attention that has been paid to them contributed to today’s political situation, where we are confronted with the rise of right-wing populists throughout the Western world and, at the same time, the decline of the bourgeois centre, especially that of social democrats and socialists?

In the following essay, I will discuss these questions, departing from Gayatri Spivak’s theory of subalternity, which takes up the ideas of Marx and Gramsci (1), and from the play Blind Poet by Jan Lauwers and the Needcompany (2). In this way, I will try to open up a new perspective on the fierce debates about identity politics, appropriation and the necessity of de-colonizing Western theatre (3). By dealing with the issues of identity politics and postcolonialism in a playful way, Lauwers’ production is the continuation of a series of works that reject the idea of representing the manifold Other, thereby continuing the tradition of the early Marx and the Brecht of the early 1930s (4). Bucking the contemporary trend, shaped on the one hand by attempts on the part of radical right-wing groups to reinterpret minority politics and, on the other hand, by the strengthening of a left that argues in a communitarian way (5), I will argue that artists like Lauwers dissolve the premises of fundamentalist claims to identity, as well as the idea that art can be a tool for direct political agitation. Taking up a notion coined by Jean-Luc Nancy, I believe that what is specific to the work of Lauwers and the aforementioned tradition is the different way that they understand the participating performers: each of them is understood as ‘singular plural’ not to be reduced to any pre-formed identity. Likewise, their artistic strategies cannot be reduced to any well-known form (6).

What I would thus like to designate in Nancy’s notions as ‘singular plural’1 and to relate to theatre – or more precisely, what I would like to deduct from the experience of a theatre to be understood in this way – is different both with regard to traditional notions of plurality as well as of ‘singularity’. It introduces a complication both in the thinking of the individual or subject as well as in that of the community or society. It hollows out the fundamentals of the claim to identity, as well as any theory built upon a sovereign subject. By referring to the fact that we – any community or society – share language, space and time as primordial conditions of existence, Nancy inverts the traditional idea, deriving from Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger and to be found in the theory and practice of thinking the individual and the society, identity and alterity. The existence of every single person is to be understood as co-existence, interwoven from the beginning within a net of references, and no community can ever encompass such primarily de-centred subjects as a whole. Any single person therefore is to be thought of as plural, as a plurality, irreducible to just one single identity. This at the same time makes it impossible to reduce any multitude of the many to one single identity. This essay will show to what extent such reflections further the discussion which theoreticians like Spivak have developed in their ‘Subaltern Studies,’ regarding how one is (not) able to grasp the postcolonial ‘Other’, and we can rethink what has been negotiated recently in the debates on ‘identity politics’ in the visual arts, in theatre, and theory.

(1) Epistemic violence – the others behind the “Other” (Spivak)

In the second chapter of her essay Can the Subaltern speak?, an essay which has become a classic of postcolonial theory, philosopher and literary theoretician Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explains what she refers to as ‘epistemic violence’, using Michel Foucault’s concept, by looking at the example of Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education from 1835. She quotes the following lines:

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.2

Spivak remarks, that the ‘education of colonial subjects complements their production in law’.3 This quote is a good example of what Foucault called subjectification, the production of a colonial ‘Other’ who can be regarded as an indissoluble double figure, as he is able to become part of the hegemonic discourse. He could be described as a manifestation of epistemic violence, of an ideology that has taken shape; only this ‘Other’ can appear in the hegemonic discourse, he is subjected to the laws of the language of this discourse and thus betrays the cause of the infinitely different logic, definition and legality of those ‘Others’ whom he represents pars pro toto. His treason is neither mere chance nor conspiracy, but rather the price he has to pay for appearing. He can be called the ‘representative’ of the colonized in a twofold sense: he re-presents them in the sense of a political representative, and also depicts them like an actor on stage, trying to render the outside world mimetically on stage. He owes his ability to speak in the language of the colonizers to precisely that subjugation that separates him from those for whom he speaks.

What Spivak thus illustrates can be called ‘ideology’ in the early Marxian sense: it is not a conspiracy of the ruling elite, preventing the oppressed from recognizing their true position by producing a false consciousness, but, rather, the necessary condition of appearance, which at the same time must be understood as a distortion of that which appears. Although it is in itself a reality, it does not necessarily signify a reality. This understanding of ideology becomes particularly obvious when we read how Marx tries to describe the proletariat in 1843 as ‘the formation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society, which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally is perpetuated against it’.4

There is hardly any other passage that illustrates better the irreducible and unavoidable negativity of what the ‘proletariat’ stands for in the early texts of Marx than his reformulation of the ‘categoric imperative’ as the imperative ‘to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable being, relations which cannot be better described than by the cry of a Frenchman when it was planned to introduce a tax on dogs: Poor dogs! They want to treat you as human beings’!5 As the underdog, the proletariat eludes any positive categorization; it suspends the order of representation.

Based on this insight, and taking up Antonio Gramsci’s work on the ‘subaltern classes’, Spivak criticizes ‘the intellectual’s role in the subaltern’s cultural and political movement into the hegemony’,6 focusing specifically on the role of Gilles Deleuze and somewhat more moderately, on that of Michel Foucault. Their hidden return to a politics of the subject, she argues, is blind to the role played by ideology, or rather to ‘the epistemic violence of imperialism’ as well as to their own geopolitical position and ‘the international division of labour’.7 In opposition to their generalizing language, which is blind to the extremely different groups of oppressed people and minorities, and thus in opposition to their blindness regarding questions of representation and depiction, she argues that the ‘colonized subaltern subject is irretrievably heterogeneous’8 and that the task of speaking up for this subject is therefore linked to the ‘difficult task of rewriting its own conditions of impossibility as the conditions of its possibility’.9 Correspondingly, she speaks of ‘difference’ as the ‘identity’ of the ‘true’ ‘subaltern group’.10 Thus Spivak doubts not only that ‘the margins’ or rather ‘the silent, silenced centre’11 (‘the illiterate peasantry, the tribals, the lowest strata of the urban subproletariat’) ‘can speak and know their conditions’, as Deleuze and Foucault suggest. On the contrary, she postulates that this is categorically impossible, which she illustrates by describing the complexity of what is referred to as the subaltern, with reference to Gramsci’s concept. It is a multitude of heterogeneous groups, each different in itself, which compelled the ‘subaltern studies’ intellectuals ‘in a radical textual practice of differences’, with a ‘deviation from an ideal – the people or subaltern – which is itself defined as a difference from the elite’.12

What Spivak thereby negotiates in her text can be read as the description of a paradox that is found in a similar form in the theoretical discussions of other groups that deal with ‘the general violence that is the possibility of an episteme’ with a violence for which ‘the narrow epistemic violence of imperialism gives us an imperfect allegory’.13 Constructing a homogenous Other fails to take into consideration the myriad otherness of Others in the very moment they are being benevolently addressed.

(2) Playing with the fire of identity – Blind Poet by Jan Lauwers and Needcompany

In Blind Poet, we also face the same problem of depicting a postcolonial heterogeneous Other potentially accompanied by the ‘epistemic violence’ that Spivak deals with in her text, but in a different way. This Needcompany production premiered in 2015 at the Brussels Kunstenfestivaldesarts and has been touring through Europe ever since. The evening begins as an almost baroque spectacle, with aspects of the circus, the fair, the variété, the mechanical theatre and the pop concert. On top of all of this, of course, is performance art, though it is based on a text by Flemish director Jan Lauwers, the mind behind Needcompany, and the author of many of their scenarios, speeches and scenographies. In Blind Poet the production is literally inscribed upon the performers’ bodies. Based on their biographies and family trees, Lauwers wrote a fictional story for each of the performers, which mixes and connects the different nationalities, cultures and languages that are united in his ensemble, and making reference to the last 1000 years of history.

And here they are now, the ones being described: seven performers draped in silky, lustrous coats, a little reminiscent of Japanese kimonos, who are obviously enjoying the process of taking their places in the orchestra pit, to the applause of the spectators. ‘Hello, I am Grace’, says performer Grace Barkey, standing in the middle of the stage, bathed from the back in dazzling light by several rows of large colourful spotlights, which accentuate her yellow and pink dress and, above all, her hat, decorated with long pieces of grass and blossom. Her mouth has been made up to look like that of a clown, in red and white, and her long shoes are also reminiscent of a clown. Her Chinese grandmother, she says, gave birth to her in the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia, and it was thanks to one of the members of her family tree, a German mayor from Bremen, who slept with countless women there 800 years ago, that some black people also bore the Barkey name. She does not just purport to have relations all over the world, she also claims to have visited all of them, and therefore to have travelled the globe.

This peculiar story, which is formed out of a long history and reaches back to the beginning of time, sets the tone for the entire evening. One after the other, the seven performers will introduce themselves by spinning comparable yarns. One claims to be descended from crusaders who ate the children of Jews and Muslims on their journeys; one from the Vikings, who, for their part, were descended from the Trojans; and one from an ancestor who emigrated to China and was hunted down there by Barkey’s grandmother. ‘Everything is connected to everything else’. But at the end, the Tunisian Mohamed Toukabri, who does not have a family tree, reels in the whole story, which now appears to be a history that, like European history, has forgotten that European history and development were preceded by another culture, reflected almost emblematically in the fact that, in Cordoba, a church has been erected where a mosque once stood. Beneath this European history, a prior, Arabic history, shaped by the freedom of women and a liberating distance to religion, becomes discernible.

(3) Identity politics, appropriation and strategic essentialism

The topic addressed by Spivak theoretically and artistically explored and playfully negotiated in Lauwers’ performance (Lauwers almost fobs it off on the audience) is a topic that, in the last few years, has been bitterly contested in forums in the Europe and the U.S. perhaps more than any other: identity politics. What makes us what we are or believe to be? Who is allowed to represent whom – in the twofold sense of re-presentation and depiction – on the stage and in the arts in general? Who is allowed to make use of which forms of representation and which issues? And how do we deal with the alterity of the Other, the stranger on the stage? Where do we draw the line between a solidarity that is permitted, even desired, with the weak – the ‘subalterns’ – on the one hand, and the appropriation of their (hi-)stories as well as showcasing their suffering in the interest of better market opportunities, or gaining cultural importance on the backs of the Other? What is the justification for minorities and underprivileged people forbidding other people from depicting of their histories? And are such questions and problems as important as the huge conflicts on the left that have been raging for decades, about distributional justice? Or are they to be subsumed as ‘side contradictions’ with which international and cosmopolitan leftists and liberals distract us from the social issues that can only be solved within the limits of the nation states?

There is nowhere that this international debate about ‘identity politics’ has been carried out more spectacularly and intensely in the last few years than in the fine arts. Consider, for example, an exhibition of pictures by Kelley Walkers that attracted sharp criticism from civil rights activists. The artist had spattered photographs of the black civil rights movement of the 1960s with tooth paste and chocolate. The activists argued that this was insulting to black people, especially black women and their fight for freedom, and said that they were afraid that these pictures could lead to a re-traumatization. A curator lost his job and Walker finally apologized for his inadequate response to legitimate concerns. The Dakota people protested against Sam Durant’s sculpture Scaffold, in which he had recreated a scaffold on which indigenous members of the Dakota tribe had been hanged. They took this to be a trivialization of their history. Durant apologized, handed over the scaffold to the Dakota people, and agreed to its ceremonial burning.14 However, no other confrontation with the alleged or actual appropriation of the Other has gained as much or even comparable public attention as the petition initiated by the Berlin-based British artist Hannah Black, signed by 50 people, and sent to the curators of the Whitney Biennale in New York, calling upon them to remove and destroy a painting by Dana Schutz.15 In reaction to police brutality against African Americans, the white American artist, born in 1976, had spent several months in 2016 engaging with a photo of 14-year-old Emmet Till, who was tortured and lynched by the police. His mother had published the image in 1955, transforming the documented traces of racial violence into a public denouncement. In her own style of painting, Schutz painted over the photo, using colourful paints in a style reminiscent of Francis Bacon. In this way, she staged the inescapable brutality of her own gaze, that of the empathetic painter showing solidarity, and the inextricable ambivalence of art and its powerful, even ugly beauty. The letter-writer in Berlin, who accused Schutz of ‘transmuting Black suffering into profit and fun’,16 was probably just as blissfully unaware of this complex treatment as the local artivists, who stood in front of the image wearing t-shirts with ‘Black Death Spectacle’17 written on the back. Was it the appropriation of a black Other’s suffering? Or was it, as Schutz said, an act of empathy, one mother showing solidarity with another? The question will probably remain unanswered, but has given rise to a flood of publications, for precisely this reason.

In the theatre, a case that has also been controversially discussed made recent headlines: two stagings by Canadian director Robert Lepage, one of them a production by Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil, attracted hefty protest due to the ‘cultural appropriation’ that activists believed they engaged in. In SLAV, Lepage wanted to remember slavery by using the historical songs of Afro-American slave workers. But after three performances, the production was dropped due to protests by local Black Lives Matter activists. They criticized that, of the seven actors, there were only two people of Colour, and argued that slave songs had not been written for white people to profit from them. In Kanata, Lepage wanted to look at Canada’s treatment of indigenous Canadians in a production with the actors of the Théâtre du Soleil. This was contested by a group of indigenous people in an open letter that criticized the lack of indigenous Canadians among Mnouchkine’s actors. In response to this, an American co-producer bailed out of the production, thereby derailing it. Numerous publications defended Lepage and above all the ensemble of the Théâtre du Soleil, which comprises actors from 26 nations.18 However, some of the group’s earlier works – for example, its huge refugee epic, Le dernier caravansérail – had already given people the impression that they were staging the battle for survival as an aesthetic experience.19

For some time now, the debate about identity politics and cultural appropriation and the issue of representing the Other has been carried out in German-speaking theatres with no holds barred. Continuing the tradition of the Bertolt Brecht of the Threepenny Opera and the early Karl Marx, artists questioned whether it was possible to speak for the discriminated against, the despised and the oppressed Other. In his Threepenny Opera, for example, Brecht puts his condemnation of society, its radical questioning, into the mouth of a pirate, Buccaneer Jenny, who dreams of nothing less than the total annihilation of the city that exploits her, a woman without means who washes glasses in a cheap hotel. She is in no position to rise up to speak herself. Instead, she is represented by another woman, Polly, who stands for Jenny as the proletariat, in the Marxian sense, as an inextricably ambivalent negativity, which cannot be positivized in any way. Jenny, the subaltern in the Spivakian and Gramscian sense, is given a voice and represented by Polly, but, from the very beginning, this act of representation turns her into more, and something other than a victim, being now finally able to speak.20 She embraces a revenge fantasy, becomes a terrorist, commenting on the killing of the whole city in one sentence that, in its coldness, is reminiscent of ISIS spatter videos: Und wenn dann der Kopf fällt, sag ich: Hoppla! (‘And as the first head rolls I’ll say: hoppla’!)21 As such a dehumanized angel of revenge, she becomes a figure of identification for someone who has not been oppressed to the same extent, but who still hopes that her bell will toll with the downfall of the bourgeois society that also oppresses her. All at once, Brecht allows the inevitable conflict to manifest itself, in that moment in which a merely negative category (‘proletariat’ in the early Marxian sense; ‘subaltern’ in the Spivakian sense) is positivized, be it for merely strategic reasons. It is a moment of irreversible and incalculable change. The quarrel over who is allowed to take the place of the voiceless Other in the community of speakers, over who has the right to claim the Other for themselves, is unavoidable.

Later, it was the characters in the plays of Heiner Müller who assumed this Brechtian tradition of negativity. A prime example are the revolutionaries in his play The Mission: Memory of a Revolution.22 They are all anti-heroes, asocial characters, the product and negation of an asocial colonialist order, who only lend themselves to identification if we read the play superficially. But the same can be said for the character of Grace in Lars von Trier’s film Dogville23 who at first invites the spectator’s empathy. We suffer with her the humiliations and sadism of a whole city, and later may experience pleasure when we watch with her the annihilation of the whole city, and then become frightened – of ourselves.24 The Lebanese artists Rabih Mroué and Lina Majdalanie also pick up upon this tradition when, time and again, they demonstrate that there is no way to adequately represent the Other, for example, the victims of the violence of the war in Lebanon. By mixing facts and fiction they make us aware of the fact that we always see more, and something other, than just that mute negation of every contemporary society. When for example in Riding on a Cloud25 Rabih Mroué has his brother tell his story of how he was injured in the civil war in a way that reinvents this story by mixing fact and fiction, we cannot have any doubts about the injury, but we certainly do have doubts about its reformulation on stage. He thus shows that there is no possible representation of the Other that is not already its simultaneous appropriation. The survivor on stage giving an account of the harm done to him is not identical to the silent or screaming victim in the moment of his/her injury. He is both more and less than this. The plays of Mroué and Majdalanie teach us that to depict is a privilege that separates the depicting from the depicted, even if the two of them are – indeed, or presumably – one and the same. This is precisely the reason that Brecht insists, like the artists who have followed him, that the difference between the person who is showing – the actor or the performer on the stage – and the character being shown – the Other, the subaltern – cannot be obscured; that, instead, the distance to what is being shown must be exhibited in the act of showing.

(4) De-colonizing the (municipal) theatre

Over the course of the last six years, the debate about the appropriate way to represent the subaltern Other has taken on a new character in German-speaking theatre. Activists are now demanding with increasing frequency that theatres acknowledge their own blindness when it comes to dealing with the postcolonial Other, and that they work on the de-colonizing of those institutions shaped by the white male Europeans. The protests have repeatedly focused on works performed using blackface. Whereas the condemnation of the use of black makeup for the character of Midge in Herb Gardner’s I am not Rappaport was directed at the popular, rather conservative television comedian Dieter Hallervorden,26 activists then began directing their denunciations at the thoughtlessness of theatre people considered to be on the left. For example, a group calling itself ‘Bühnenwatch’ attacked Sebastian Baumgarten’s production of Brecht’s Saint Joan of the Stockyards,27 contending that the production reawakened ‘colonial fantasies’ by using ‘blackface’ and ‘racist stereotypes and stylistic devices’.28 The protest received a lot of publicity, not least because Baumgarten’s production had been invited to take part in the Berlin ‘Theatertreffen’ – which, in the German theatre business, is the highest possible honour awarded to a production. Since then, similar cases have been piling up in the German-speaking world.29

In Germany, these more or less spectacular cases are an expression of a growing sensibility for some chapters of colonial history and the slave trade and their ongoing effect in the present that have not yet been processed. For a long time, little attention has been paid to these chapters of Germany’s history, because the atrocities of the 20th century, above all the Shoah, have been at the centre of the reappraisal of the German past. For some years now, however, a number of new productions have been reflecting the everyday discrimination against people of colour in the German-speaking world and Europe, parallel to the historical reappraisal of the massacres carried out by Germans in the African colonies.30 For example, Frank Castorf’s production of Faust, with which he ended his directorship at the Volksbühne in Berlin, placed the focus of the evening on Faust as an archetype of the German colonizer. A play entitled Black Bismarck by andcompany & Co examined the ‘Afrika-Konferenz’ that took place under the aegis of Bismarck in Berlin, where Africa was viewed as an empty page and then divided up and distributed as such.31 At the Münchner Kammerspiele, Anta Helena Recke successfully re-staged the theatre’s most successful piece, an adaptation of the novel Mittelreich, by the famous author, stage director and playwright Joseph Bierbichler, as musical theatre, but by filling all of the roles with dark-skinned performers.32 In the discussions that this piece provoked, it became apparent that, in the past, dark-skinned people applying to acting schools had been frequently rejected with the justification that they were not suitable to play the consistently white roles of the German classics and that they thus did not have any job prospects in German theatre ensembles. All at once, the production illustrated how homogeneous the highly subsidized bourgeois theatre of Germany’s municipal and state theatres still was.

Actions and productions like those of Castorf, Recke and andcompany & Co receive significant support from a movement that calls itself ‘critical whiteness’. In theory and politics, it has taken up the cause of making white people aware that they, as the author Millay Hyatt phrases it, ‘are not just people, but white people’.33 Anti-racist movement developed in the US in the 1990s to confront white people with their own privilege. For approximately ten years now, this approach, which is as theoretical as it is activist, has been spreading throughout Germany as well. Not just in the theatre, but outside of it too, the target is people in whom mainstream society puts its faith: thoughtless intellectuals, artists and journalists who blindly take on and disseminate clichés. Hyatt says that the movement is about revealing that ‘white’, ‘black’, and ‘Asian’ are ‘categories created by society’, and about critically pointing out how individual phenotypic characteristics are turned into a means of identifying a group, and then linked to other characteristics.34

(5) Against identity politics

While theoreticians and at least some activists, especially the group Bühnenwatch – which argues in a very differentiated way – are opposed to all constructions of identity based on ethnic or racial characteristics, and try to undermine them, other activists are fighting in the name of precisely the kind of identity that is assigned to them by the normalizing majority. This could be said, for example, about the activists who stood in front of the painting by Dana Schutz, fighting against discrimination in a kind of essentialist way.

It is activists like the latter whom the British stand-up comedian, playwright and the self-proclaimed leftist Andrew Doyle denounced in his column for the online magazine spiked as a ‘coterie of preening killjoys’.35 Driven by their ‘bourgeois obsession’, the authors petitions, articles and social-media posts have turned them into a kind of ‘sledgehammer tactics’ aimed at peddling ‘mindless identity politics as a substitute for rigorous debate’.36 It has long been an ‘authoritarian movement,’ ‘spearheaded by well-intentioned activists who are seemingly blind to their own bigotry’.37 Doyle is not alone in his polemics against the ‘identity politics’ of ‘people of colour’ but also of advocates of the rights of the LGBTTIQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex and queer), which acts in a similar way. Writing about a LGBTTIQ pride parade led by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Slovenian cultural philosopher Slavoj Žižek objected by saying that it functioned according to the principle of a community unified against an enemy. Here, the enemy is ‘heterosexism’, which privileges heterosexuality ‘as a universal order that reduces other sexual orientations to a secondary deviation’.38 It is, he writes, formed by ‘well-educated white, privileged women and men (…) with high social status’ and is represented as an ideology of ‘unity in diversity’, which masks the reality of the way that other lifestyles are similarly excluded today in a ‘beautiful new harmonium’ that cannot be interfered with. It excludes, he says, activists like Black Lives Matter Vancouver, who did not want to march alongside a police car, the queer Muslim groups that feared racist retribution, and with them, transgender people ‘whose lives are full of fear and social uncertainty’.39 Didier Eribon’s successful essay “Returning to Reims”40 was received similarly in Germany: as one interpretation of the book claimed, the reason that the working-class milieu in France had been lost to the Front National and in Germany to the AFD was because the left had been increasingly busy with identity politics in recent years instead of focusing on the issue of class. The Sammlungsbewegung (nonpartisan movement) ‘Aufstehen’ (stand up) has utilized this argument and has received support from some newspaper commentators pleading against the ‘Vergrünung’ (greenification) of the left and for a return to social issues41.

In these polemics against ‘identity politics’, there is an unmistakable echo of a debate from 1998 that we could retrospectively describe as one between the communitarian, latently or openly nationalist left on the one side, and an international left on the other; since Donald Trump’s election, Richard Rorty’s book Achieving our Country42 has been quoted with increasing frequency. In this essay, the American philosopher describes how the rise of the ‘new left’ has gone hand-in-hand with a shift from social issues to identity politics in the topics discussed by the left. Instead of the egotism of the wealthy, it is the sadism practiced against minorities that is stigmatized. Moreover, he writes, the left has lost the victims of globalization, who could only ever have been helped by a social-democratic policy of wealth redistribution within national borders. The consequence of this shift, as he asserts with regard to his country, is the rise of right-wing populists. It was Rorty who predicted the possibility of the ascent of an authoritarian leader who would win over the forsaken victims of globalization with his protectionist promises, which then became a reality with Trump’s election.

However, in 1998, Jacques Derrida defended the left wing criticized by Rorty by saying that it was wrong to claim an opposition between advocating for, on the one hand, the underprivileged and discriminated, and, on the other, the fair distribution of wealth.43 The point he made was taken up and further elaborated in a remarkable series of dialogues published under the title Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, in which Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler expressed their divergent views. While Žižek in his attempt to found a new political universality had argued that the fight for cultural hegemony presupposed and naturalized the capitalist ‘background’ which made possible that fight, Butler rejected this argument, insisting on the necessity to consider the trace of the others excluded by any universal order because they don’t speak the proper language to assert their claim – thereby referring to Spivak and taking up earlier debates between herself and Žižek.44 Correspondingly, Didier Eribon strongly objected to the way that his essay had been reduced to a theory of the leftist betrayal of workers by pointing out that the ‘rights of women, of black people, of sexual minorities’ and of ‘migrants’ and environmental issues could not merely be seen as the ‘egoistic issues of the middle class’, which would then have to be set in opposition to the social and economic struggle as the only important struggle.45 Continuing this defence of the battle against discrimination against minorities is the intersectional approach, first brought up by the American legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, which emphasizes that it is socially disadvantaged people in particular who often suffer from discrimination on the basis of their skin colour, their gender or their sexual orientation.46

While identity politics activists receive criticism from a somewhat traditionalist left wing, the extreme right is trying to suggest that they are on their side. On the homepage of what is referred to as the ‘identitarian movement’, a collection of right-wing populist and radical right-wing publicists, we read: ‘We finally want to have an open debate about the question of identity in the 21st century. The established court of opinion narrows this issue down to the utopia of a homogeneous one-world ideology. We, in turn, demand a world of diversity, peoples and cultures. The importance of preserving our ethnocultural identity must be established in society as a matter of fundamental consensus and a basic right’.47 Their call for difference and diversity, for the right to their own ‘ethnocultural (…) identity’48 and their critique of globalization do not sound much different from the way they are presented by leftist, alternative or postcolonial groups.

But, in fact, there are huge differences. While minorities fend off attributions based on the culturalistic identity concepts used by a dominant culture to turn them into deficient, underdeveloped, deviant Others outside the norm, the right wing and the ‘identitarian movement’ invoke an essentialist concept of identity that binds identity to ethnic origin, blood, earth and race. Modified in this way, this left-sounding rhetoric can be inserted into proto-racist, nationalistic or homophobic argumentation. Donald Trump’s election campaign was based on a similar strategy, which continuously suggested to his right-wing-populist devotees that it was now finally time to claim the equality demanded by minorities for the oppressed majority: white men, especially those in economically underdeveloped areas. This pattern is similar to the one that the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has termed ‘aggressive identities’,49 which can frequently be found, as he explains, in places like National Socialist Germany or in the Serbia of the Yugoslavian wars, where the suggestion is made to the majority that it could itself become a minority if another minority does not disappear.

(6) The theatrical dissolution of identity

In contrast, anywhere that theatre is not reduced to its plot or a message, and thus not being instrumentalized by a cause (even if it is the best one) it provides us with an insight into the inextricable hybridity of every cultural identity, and the irreversible otherness and heterogeneity of any seemingly homogeneous Other. It thus hollows out the foundation to which conservative politicians believe they can lay claim, together with new right-wing populists and right-wing extreme groups. Using a term coined by Günther Heeg, we might speak within this context of ‘transcultural theatre practices’. They take place anywhere that a culture’s ‘own specific traditions and cultural phantasma’ are processed and distorted into ‘recognisability’, where a culture becomes aware of the strangeness inherent to it and where the ideals and illusions that it has formed to demarcate itself against a supposedly external stranger are dissolved.50

The piece by Jan Lauwers that I mentioned is an attempt to bring about such a dissolution or, more precisely, the dissolution of the phantasm of a stable cultural identity in whatever form it may take, and stages this attempt in an exemplary manner. Blind Poet is an evening that presents ‘history’, ‘family trees’ and ‘truths’ vouched for by certificates forming the basis of differentiations between races, nations and tribes, as stereotypes, constructions and fictions. The performance shows that, as such, they cannot be dissolved by pointing to a substantial truth, a reason or an essence, but only by means of affirmation, by carving out what is singularly deviant in the supposedly special case of a general race, nation, religion or sexual orientation  – that which singularly emphasizes the transcultural mixture in each individual, and which every formation of identity, even a merely strategic one, must forget.

In this way, theatre, and the theatrical condition of reality to be discovered therein, appears as an opening and a liberation from the constraints of the one and only telling of history, ethnic origin and nation. During the course of an evening, it can give way to a process of doubling and multiplication at all levels, beginning with the blind poet in the title of the play, who, for the western viewer, might be reminiscent of Homer, but, in this case, is the Syrian poet Abu al’ ala al-Ma’arri. The piece evolved out of an encounter with him and the Andalusian poet Wallada bint al Mustafki. What attracted Lauwers to Ma’arris, who lived in the 10th and 11th centuries, was that Ma’arris was primarily interested in the sound, not the content of a story. But one could say the same about the way Lauwers writes: at the level of content, it is shaped by an almost scandalous negligence. It is not a form of writing that will produce great literature. It is difficult to spend much time concentrating on his texts, because they are jotted down superficially, fleetingly, in a way that is suggestive for their further analysis. Their content is so confused and convoluted that you forget it as soon as you have heard it. However, this does not minimize the strong impact made by Needcompany’s stage works – on the contrary.

They are shaped by a method of acting that combines elements of the commedia dell’arte, the fairground theatre, and the performance culture cultivated by pop concerts. What characterizes the performers on the stage is the sovereign approach they take to dealing with that which is supposedly authentic, their own, their own biography and history. The way that they act highlights the problematics of embodiment: it is the production of an Other, the so called ‘character’, who is supposed to appear on stage as if the performer were identical with him or her. Embodiment thus obscures the difference between the performer and the role, as well as the distinction between the role and the character. It therefore eliminates the alterity of the Other. But they are aware of the problematics of claiming authenticity, seen where performers purport to be nothing but themselves. What they claim to be, what makes them distinctive, becomes a gateway for an even stronger fiction and figuration, which is not recognized for what it is, because we take the name to be the real person and take the biography that has been reduced to stereotypes to be a depiction of that person. This is because we forget both the writing and the body that enable the scene and, with both, the intangible otherness that withdraws itself from what they refer to. In other words, it is a theatrical answer to the problem that Spivak addresses when she talks of epistemic violence. So, the evening is quite clearly not just a topical confrontation with claims to identity and their untenability, but also – and this is what makes it political theatre or rather theatre done in a political way – the formal translation of this confrontation into a strange mixture of acoustic, visual and dramatic means, of facts, fictions, and cultural props, which all appear to be inextricably plural, intermixed from the very beginning. The production playfully works on dissolving the epistemic violence that is at work in all theatre, using traditional techniques of depiction and stereotypically applied codes, thereby creating the impression that we could learn something about the truth of the Other by means of a realistic or naturalistic stage performance. At the same time, it refers to the breaks and palimpsest-like layered overpainting in which different histories become noticeable, comparable to what subaltern studies has brought to light.

Using the phrase by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy cited at the beginning and thereby concluding with the reference given in my title, one might describe this theatre as ‘singular plural’51: In a singular way, plural is already the montage of citations from different storylines – from myths, history (or histories) and literatures – in his text, which reminds one of the method of sampling in contemporary music. In the end we can always recognize more than one plot, and thus not a single one any more. Singular plural appears as the group of performers in front of us deconstructing permanently the claim of each’s uniqueness by the plural of the co-appearing performers who are likewise unique, having us understand the irreducible human condition of ‘with’: They are, we are from the very beginning with others, appearing together with them, amongst them, sharing a stage, sharing attention, sharing fame, sharing fictions. Singular plural are last but not least the forms of theatre and representation in general, which the evening brings on stage, mixing theatre, performance art, the visual arts, popular show business, carnival and many other forms, well known and unknown. All seemingly aesthetic decisions of the evening can and perhaps have to be understood, as well as political ones: No one on stage is the kind of stereotypical ‘Other’ replacing multiple Others according to the logic explained by Spivak with regard to colonial (hi-)stories. Each person on the stage is already plural here, an inextricable mixture of sometimes conflicting tendencies, entailing both more and less than merely one identity. And, in turn, singular plural people like this can never lead to the creation of any kind of closed society that is identical with itself, constituted by the exclusion of that negative entity defined as ‘proletarian’ by the early Marx. They will force any given society to open itself up to the Other, who is never yet part of it, and they will thus force any possible society to accept its own inability to become a whole society. It is the singular plural rest that presents both a threat and an opportunity to create a society that is always different, new and other, and that is yet to come.

Translated by Lydia White.

1. Jean-Luc Nancy, Être singulier pluriel (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1996).

2. Thomas Babington Macaulay, Speeches by Lord Macaulay: With his Minute on Indian Education, ed. G. M. Young (Oxford: Oxford University Press, AMS Edition, 1979), 359, quoted from: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, „Can the Subaltern Speak?,“ in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grosberg (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 282.

3. Spivak, 282.

4. Karl Marx, Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. Joseph O’Malley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 8. (Translation modified, NMS).

5. Marx, „Introduction,“ 5. (Translation modified, NMS).

6. Spivak, 283.

7. Spivak, 289.

8. Spivak, 284.

9. Spivak, 285.

10. Spivak, 285.

11. Spivak, 283.

12. Spivak, 285.

13. Spivak, 287.

14. Cf. on all these examples: “Das geklaute ich,” Monopol, no. 9 (September 2017): 36–56.

15. Hannah Black, “Open letter to the curators and staff of the Whitney biennial,” See Calvin Tomkins, “Why Dana Shutz Painted Emmett,” The New Yorker, April 10, 2017,; Kolja Reichert, “Es lebe die Kunst! Nur welche? Und warum?,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 8, 2017, 9; Klaus Speidel, “Dana Schutz’s ‘Open Casket’: A Controversy around a painting as a symptom of an art world malady,” Spike Art Magazine, no. 55, spring 2018,

16. Black, “Open letter”.

17. See the illustration to Black, “Open letter”.

18. See Julian Bernstein, “Theater der Minderheiten”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 3, 2018; Peter W. Marx, “Ein Akt der Überschreitung”, tageszeitung, August 21, 2018,!5528515/.

19. Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, “Der Überlebenskampf als ästhetisches Erlebnis. Ariane Mnouchkine und das Théâtre du Soleil gastieren mit Le dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées) in der Bochumer Jahrhunderthalle,“ in Theater über Tage. Jahrbuch für das Theater im Ruhrgebiet, ed. Ulrike Haß, Guido Hiß, and Jürgen Grimm (Münster: Rhema, 2004), 264–269.

20. She is represented and has been read and commented on as if she were a mere victim, speaking by herself. However, she is infinitely more than that – a Brechtian version of what we might call with Derrida a supplemented translation: the only possible representation, and yet a misrepresentation at the same time.

21. Bertolt Brecht, Die Dreigroschenoper (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 14 ed., 1979), 28, trans. NMS. (The existing English translations of this song are mostly rather poetic translations. However, the specific laconic cruelty of Brecht is important for my argument. That’s why I retranslated it in the most literal translation possible.)

22. Heiner Müller, “Der Auftrag Erinnerung an eine Revolution,” in id. Herzstück (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1983).

23. See Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, “Politik des Pakts (mit dem Publikum). Ideologie und Illusion der Gemeinschaft in Lars von Triers Theaterfilm ‘Dogville’,” in Peter Weiss Jahrbuch für Literatur, Kunst und Politik im 20. Jahrhundert. V. 13 (St. Ingbert: Röhrig Universitätsverlag, 2004), 131–248.

24. Another example is the production “Via Intolleranza II” by Christoph Schlingensief, which develops the impossibility of a dialogue with Africa out of the privileged position of a Western stage director and ends with a fundraiser. See Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, “Wie denkt Theater? Zur Politik der Darstellung nach dem Fall,” in Das Drama nach dem Drama. Verwandlungen dramatischer Formen in Deutschland seit 1945, ed. Artur Pelka, and Stefan Tigges (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2011), 364–368.

25. See Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, “Posttraumatisches Theater (3). Rabih Mroués Theater der Anderen,” in Momentaufnahme Theaterwissenschaft, ed. Gerda Baumbach et al. (Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2015), 75–90.

26. Hadija Haruna, “Schwarz auf weiß,” Der Tagesspiegel, January 11, 2012, accessed September 21, 2018,, vks/dpa, “Hallervorden weist Rassismus-Vorwürfe zurück,” accessed September 21, 2018,

27. “Kunstmittel oder Beleidigung? Vier Stimmen zum Blackfacing in der ‘Heiligen Johanna der Schlachthöfe’,” Theatertreffen Blog, accessed September 21, 2018,; see “Bühnenwatch,“ accessed September 21, 2018,

28. “Kunstmittel oder Beleidigung?”

29. In this context mention could be made of Johan Simons’ adaptation of Genet’s “Les Nègres” (“Jean Genet ‘Die Neger’ (‘Les Nègres’) – Regie: Johan Simons,“ Hamburger Schauspielhaus, accessed September 21, 2018,, of Roger Vontobel’s production of Bernard-Marie Koltès’ highly complex play “Combat de Nègre et de chiens ” in Bochum in 2017 (Gerhard Preußer, “Afrika als Metapher,” nachtkritik, accessed September 21, 2018, or of the performance Sorry, a subtle and extremely sophisticated play by the group Monster Truck, which made a point of exhibiting racial stereotypes.

30. See amongst others Rebekka Habermas, Skandal in Togo. Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialherrschaft (Frankfurt: Fischer, 2016).

31. See andcompany&co, accessed September 21, 2018,

32. Münchner Kammerspiele, accessed September 21, 2018,

33. Millay Hyatt, “Weißsein als Privileg,” Deutschlandfunk, May 3, 2015,

34. Hyatt.

35. Andrew Doyle, “It’s time us left-wingers stood up to pc,” spiked, accessed September 21, 2018,

36. Doyle.

37. Doyle.

38. Slavoj Žižek, “Ihr verteidigt auch nur eure Privilegien,” Neue Züricher Zeitung, May 31, 2017,

39. Žižek.

40. Didier Eribon, Rückkehr nach Reims, trans. Tobias Haberkorn (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016).

41. Martin Reh, “SPD und Linkspartei entgrünen,” tageszeitung, September 12, 2018,!5531319&s=vergr%C3%BCnung/.

42. Richard Rorty, Achieving our country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 1998).

43. Jacques Derrida, “’Ich mißtraue der Utopie, ich will das Un-Mögliche’,” Die Zeit, March 5, 1998, .

44. Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Žižek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso Books, 2000). See also Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter (New York: Routledge, 1993).

45. Didier Eribon, “Ein neuer Geist von ’68,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, April 16, 2017, 41.

46. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”, University of Chicago Legal Forum, no. 1, 1989, 139–167.

47. “Eine offene Debatte über Identität,” Identitäre Bewegung, accessed September 21, 2018,

48. “Eine offene Debatte”.

49. Arjun Appadurai, Die Geographie des Zorns, trans. Bettina Engels (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2009), 67–69.

50. Günther Heeg, “Das transkulturelle Theater. Grenzüberschreitungen der Theaterwissenschaft in Zeiten der Globalisierung,” in Momentaufnahme Theaterwissenschaft. Leipziger Vorlesungen, ed. Gerda Baumbach et al. (Berlin: Theater der Zeit), 154.

51. Jean-Luc Nancy, Être singulier pluriel (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1996).


andcompany&co. “Black Bismarck.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

Appadurai, Arjun. Die Geographie des Zorns. Translated by Bettina Engels. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2009.

Badura, Leander F.. “Nicht gecheckt.” Freitag, May 17, 2017.

Bernstein, Julian. “Theater der Minderheiten.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 3, 2018.

Black, Hannah. “Open letter to the curators and staff of the Whitney biennial.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

Brecht, Bertolt. Die Dreigroschenoper. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 14 ed., 1979.

“Bühnenwatch.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

Butler, Judith, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Žižek. Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. London: Verso Books, 2000.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum, no. 1 (1989): 139–167.

“Das geklaute ich.” Monopol, no. 9 (September 2017): 36–56.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Michel Foucault. “Les intellectuels et le pouvoir.” L’Arc, no. 49 (1972) 3–10.

Derrida, Jacques. “Ich mißtraue der Utopie, ich will das Un-Mögliche.” Die Zeit, March 5, 1998.

Doyle, Andrew. “It’s time us left-wingers stood up to pc.” spiked. Accessed September 21, 2018.

Eribon, Didier. “Ein neuer Geist von ’68.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, April 16, 2017, 41.

⸺. Rückkehr nach Reims. Translated by Tobias Haberkorn. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016.

Identitäre Bewegung. “Eine offene Debatte über Identität.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

Habermas, Rebekka. Skandal in Togo. Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialherrschaft. Frankfurt: Fischer, 2016.

Hamburger Schauspielhaus, “Jean Genet ‘Die Neger’ (‘Les Nègres’) – Regie: Johan Simons.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

Haruna, Hadija. “Schwarz auf weiß.” Der Tagesspiegel, January 11, 2012.

Heeg, Günther. “Das transkulturelle Theater. Grenzüberschreitungen der Theaterwissenschaft in Zeiten der Globalisierung.” In Momentaufnahme Theaterwissenschaft. Leipziger Vorlesungen, edited by Gerda Baumbach, Veronika Darian, Günther Heeg, Patrick Primavesi, Ingo Rekatzky, 150–163. Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2014.

Hyatt, Millay. “Weißsein als Privileg.” Deutschlandfunk, May 3, 2015.

“Kunstmittel oder Beleidigung? Vier Stimmen zum Blackfacing in der ‘Heiligen Johanna der Schlachthöfe’.” Theatertreffen Blog. Accessed September 21, 2018.

Marx, Karl. “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.” Translated by Joseph O’Malley, 8. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Marx, Peter W. “Ein Akt der Überschreitung.” die tageszeitung, August 21, 2018.!5528515/.

Monster Truck. Sorry. Accessed September 21, 2018.

Münchner Kammerspiele. “Mittelreich.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

Müller, Heiner. “Der Auftrag Erinnerung an eine Revolution.” In Heiner Müller, Herzstück, 43–70. Berlin: Rotbuch, 1983.

Müller-Schöll, Nikolaus. “Der Überlebenskampf als ästhetisches Erlebnis. Ariane Mnouchkine und das Théâtre du Soleil gastieren mit Le dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées) in der Bochumer Jahrhunderthalle.” In Theater über Tage. Jahrbuch für das Theater im Ruhrgebiet, edited by Ulrike Haß, Guido Hiß, and Jürgen Grimm, 264–269. Münster: Rhema, 2004.

⸺. “Politik des Pakts (mit dem Publikum). Ideologie und Illusion der Gemeinschaft in Lars von Triers Theaterfilm.” In Peter Weiss Jahrbuch für Literatur, Kunst und Politik im 20. Jahrhundert. V. 13, 131–248. St. Ingbert: Röhrig Universitätsverlag, 2004.

⸺. “Posttraumatisches Theater (3). Rabih Mroués Theater der Anderen.” In Momentaufnahme Theaterwissenschaft, edited by Gerda Baumbach, Veronika Darian, Günther Heeg, Patrick Primavesi, and Ingo Rekatzky, 75–90. Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2015.

⸺. “Wie denkt Theater? Zur Politik der Darstellung nach dem Fall.” In Das Drama nach dem Drama. Verwandlungen dramatischer Formen in Deutschland seit 1945, edited by Artur Pelka, and Stefan Tigges, 357–372. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2011.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Être singulier pluriel. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1996.

Reh, Martin. “SPD und Linkspartei entgrünen.” die tageszeitung, September 12, 2018.!5531319&s=vergr%C3%BCnung/.

Reichert, Kolja. “Es lebe die Kunst! Nur welche? Und warum?” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 8, 2017, 9.

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Speidel, Klaus. “Dana Schutz’s ‘Open Casket’: A Controversy around a painting as a symptom of an art world malady.” Spike Art Magazine, no. 55, spring 2018.

vks/dpa. “Hallervorden weist Rassismus-Vorwürfe zurück.” Accessed September 21, 2018.

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Nikolaus Müller-Schöll is chair of theatre studies at the Goethe-University in Frankfurt/Main and head of the master’s programs in Dramaturgy and Comparative Dramaturgy and Performance Research. He has curated numerous conferences and workshops. In 2016 he co-directed the international congress “Theatre as Critique” and is currently Vice President of the German Society for Theatre Studies and a member of several boards. His major research interests include Theatre studies as critical theory, the question of alterity, gesture, the fictioning of the political, potentiality, representation ‘after Auschwitz’, theatre architecture as built ideology, dramaturgy as police and politics, identity politics and institutional critique. He also continues to work on the subjects of his PhD and his Habilitation: Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Heiner Müller, and Heinrich von Kleist, as well as the “Comical as a Paradigm of the Experience of Modernity” and the politics of representation.


Nikolaus Müller-Schöll ist Professor für Theaterwissenschaft an der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main und Leiter der Masterstudiengänge Dramaturgie und Comparative Dramaturgy and Performance Research. Er (co-)organisierte zahlreiche Konferenzen und Workshops, so 2016 den internationalen Kongress “Theater als Kritik”. Er ist gegenwärtig Vizepräsident der Gesellschaft für Theaterwissenschaft sowie Mitglied verschiedener Kuratorien. Forschungsschwerpunkte: Theaterforschung als kritische Wissenschaft, die Frage der Alterität, die Geste, das Darstellen ‘nach Auschwitz”, Theaterarchitektur als gebaute Ideologie, Politische und Polizeiliche Dramaturgie, Identitätspolitik und Institutionenkritik sowie weiterhin die Gegenstände seiner Dissertation und Habilitation: Benjamin, Brecht, Heiner Müller, Kleist, das “Komischen als Paradigma der Modernitätserfahrung” und die Politik (in) der Darstellung.