Seminars'What art thou?' Ghosts on Stage: The uneasy Persistence of the Past (July, 5-7)
The seminar “'What art thou?' Ghosts on Stage: The uneasy Persistence of the Past”, held by Prof. Peter Marx (Bern) and Prof. Martin Puchner (Columbia/Harvard) investigated the appearances of ghosts or the likes in a selection of dramas from the classical Western canon. The aim was to examine in close reading what function the ghost served in the play, in a dramatic as well as an allegorical way, as the embodiment of a past that cannot pass but that must return to enact its force upon the present. In order to compare and contrast appearances of ghosts throughout dramatic history we studied sections of the following plays (in historio-chronological order):
• Aeschylus: Oresteia
• Seneca: Thyestes
• Shakespeare: Hamlet
• Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus
• Alfred Jarry: Ubu Roi
• T.S. Eliot: The Family Reunion
• Handstring Puppet Company: Ubu and the Truth Commission
Our investigation took its point of departure from the question “Why do ghosts appear?” which appeared to be deeply connected to the eponymous question “What art thou?”: What do ghosts stand for? The common themes we discerned throughout the “ghost-plays” across history were revenge, justice and the need for reconciliation. The ghosts, i.e. Hamlet’s father in Hamlet, appear with a desperate desire for justice. As an epitomy of an unreconciled past, they return and through an agent enact their revenge. We found that certain themes, such as the demand of the past for justice that reaches into the present, recurred in all plays.
Besides the dramas themselves, we grounded our discussion in Hans Blumenberg's philosophical text Work on Myth, which explores the human need of “naming the unknown” in order to ban the “terror” of human existence by creating images and stories with which to describe the world.
As may become clear from the mind map below, the seminar was not laid out to provide a structured summary of all dramatic ghosts, yet it was meant as an overview of the wide and intertwined motifs for ghostly appearances on the stage.
ACTING THE PAST (July, 12-14)
The seminar „Acting the Past“, held by Prof. Friedemann Kreuder (Mainz) and Prof. Stefan Hulfeld (Wien) investigated the way in which actors represent the past. It explored the question of the proximity or distance of staged representation to its objects of presentation, and thus how acting methods as well as their associated discourses may be understood as key indices of the realisation of cultural values, as well as a possibility of commenting upon them. Seminal texts by Freddie Rokem and Marvin Carlson, as well as productions of plays such as Elfriede Jelinek’s “Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel)” or René Pollesch’s “Das purpurne Muttermal” provided the basis for an in-depth discussion of the relation of the actor, acting and the past.
THEATRE AND NATIONALISM (July, 5-7)
The seminar “Theatre and Nationalism”, held by Prof. Steve Wilmer (Trinity Collge Dublin) on the one hand focussed on plays and theatrical events in Europe and North America from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries and their role in establishing or challenging national values, such as Schiller’s William Tell and The Maid of Orleans, W. B. Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan, J.M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight: L.A., Tony Kushner, Angels in America. In addition to plays and theatrical events, students examined theoretical and philosophical texts on nationalism and the construction of national identity (such as those by Anthony Smith, Benedict Anderson, Homi Bhabha, Ernest Gellner, Ernest Renan, and Eric Hobsbawm). On the other hand, the phenomenon of the German “Fanmeile” (fan zone), an event where football or other sports are televised and watched in public, was chosen as an example to reflect upon postmodern concepts of nationalism and national identity. In particular, their performative quality in respect to the emergence of national identity from a collective memory of a shared past and present was taken into focus.