Hauntological Dramaturgy
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Hauntological Dramaturgy

Affects, Archives, Ethics

Glenn D'Cruz

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eBook - ePub

Hauntological Dramaturgy

Affects, Archives, Ethics

Glenn D'Cruz

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About This Book

This book is about some of the ways we remember the dead through performance. It examines the dramaturgical techniques and strategies that enable artists to respond to the imperative: 'Remember Me' – the command King Hamlet's ghost gives to his son in Shakespeare's famous tragedy, Hamlet. The book develops the concept of hauntological dramaturgy by engaging with a series of performances that commemorate, celebrate, investigate, and sometimes seek justice for the dead.

It draws on three interrelated discourses on haunting: Derrida's hauntology with its ethical exhortation to be with ghosts and listen to ghosts; Abraham and Torok's psychoanalytic account of the role spectres play in the transmission of intergenerational trauma; and, finally, Mark Fisher's and Simon Reynolds' development of Derrida's ideas within the field of popular culture. Taken together, these writers, in different ways, suggest strategies for reading and creating performances concerned with questions of commemoration. Case studies focus on a set of known and unknown figures, including Ian Charleson, Spalding Gray and David Bowie.

This study will be of great interest to students, scholars and practitioners working within theatre and performance studies as well as philosophy and cultural studies.

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1 Memorialisation, Memory and Practices of Archival Care

Ghosts can manifest in a variety of places, but archives, institutional and personal, provide an especially conducive environment for spectres since they contain ephemera associated with dead people, past events and bygone eras. These remnants mediate our encounters with ghosts. Archives, then, are haunted places. And the institutional archive is an especially foreboding place. In the words of Elin Diamond, it ‘reeks of legality and ceremony. It’s where you curtsy even when you don’t intend to. It’s where you mark the difference between this place and every other place’ (2008, 24). This type of official repository is often difficult to access without the appropriate academic or professional credentials, and, as we shall see, it functions as stern arbiter of truth and a source of historical authority. That said, archives have never been so prominent in scholarly discourse.
David Carlin believes that archives, in recent times, have lost their dowdy reputation and have become ‘enticing’ (2020, 32). No doubt, this transformation is partly a consequence of the digital revolution, and many scholars, including Carlin, have pointed out that we need to rethink the ontology of the archive in the light of digital technology since, today, archival objects, or digital representations of such objects, are, theoretically, available to everybody. The Internet may be the biggest archive ever built, but material collecting institutions—galleries, libraries, archives and museums—still exist, and access to their materials continues to be restricted. Gunhild Borggren and Rune Gade make a similar point to Carlin when they note that the idea of the archive has expanded in recent years
from the idea of a physical storage space that preserves objects and documents to virtual archives of data collections accessed through computer screens, collective memory engaged in reinterpretations of history, or political dimensions of archives invested with issues of accessibility and power.
(2013, 9)
It is no coincidence that various digital technologies—digital audio and non-linear video editing software along with digital storage and retrieval mechanisms—provide a condition of possibility for the appearance of ghosts that I write about in this book.
Inevitably, archives house incomplete records, and these omissions generate debate and rancour amongst all scholars concerned with questions of history, legacy and inheritance, but archives also pose a particular set of practical and philosophical problems for those interested in preserving the legacies of performances and performers. A welter of critical commentary on these difficulties testifies to the way the archive troubles the ontology of performance. Paul Clarke and Julian Warren point out that from the 1960s, ‘performance’s origins have been ontologically founded on disappearance and ephemerality as vanishing’ (2009, 47). Peggy Phelan’s claim that performance only exists in the present is the most famous articulation of this position. ‘Performance,’ she writes, ‘cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance’ (1993, 146). While Phelan was referring to performance art in this passage, I think her observation also applies to theatre since it is difficult to maintain the distinction between different genres of live performance in absolute terms—the theatre production I discuss in the second part of this chapter is, as we shall see, a case in point.
Rebecca Schneider adds a deconstructive twist to Phelan’s oft-cited ontological declaration when she argues that
the scandal of performance relative to the archive is not that it disappears (this is what the archive expects) but that it both ‘becomes itself through disappearance’ (as Phelan writes) and that it remains—though its remains resist ‘house arrest’ and Derrida’s noted domiciliation.
(2001, 105)
I will unpack Derrida’s commentary on the archive shortly. For now, it is sufficient to acknowledge that Schneider disturbs archival orthodoxy by asking whether ‘in privileging an understanding of performance as a refusal to remain, do we ignore other ways of knowing, other modes of remembering, that might be situated precisely in the ways in which performance remains, but remains differently?’ (2001, 101). This chapter is about some of these other ways of remembering, which more often than not manifest as embodied practices of care, to use Heike Rom’s phrase (2013, 38). Erdmut Wizisla points out that we remember Walter Benjamin, the celebrated literary and cultural critic, because of
the strategic calculation with which he deposited his manuscripts, notebooks, and printed papers in the custody of friends and acquaintances in various countries. His archives landed in the hands of others, so that their documents might be delivered to posterity.
(2007, 1)
Benjamin’s friends cared for his archive as a body of work and eventually found ways to disseminate his rich scholarship to the world. But what about those writers who never had the foresight or opportunity to care for their legacies? And what becomes of the legacies of those artists whose work cannot be preserved on the page or is distorted by recording mediums? This chapter engages with these questions but in so doing it will unpack the politics of the archive by paying particular attention to its spectral character. These tasks necessarily require a conversation with ghosts and an explication of the archival theory that underpins the concept of hauntological dramaturgy.
This chapter tells two ghost stories. The first concerns the memorialisation of Vicki Reynolds, an emerging playwright who died before her first full-length play, Daily Grind, was performed. I first encountered Vicki’s spectre when I was compiling a history of MWT in 2006. Sorting through a collection of dusty boxes containing the production ephemera of the company, I found a mysterious untitled VHS videotape, which, as we shall see, facilitated my interest in Vicki’s life and its memorialisation. The second section of this chapter is about the relationship between human memory and the archive. It analyses this connection by contrasting my memory of seeing what was, for me, an especially formative theatre production (John Laws/Sade by the Sydney Front) with viewing the archival video record of the same work 30 years after my original viewing. The Sydney Front, a dynamic, experimental Australian theatre company, has haunted me since I saw them perform John Laws/Sade in 1986. My encounter with the video record of this production was a singularly unsettling experience since it exposed the unreliability of my memory but also raised questions about how the unreliability of human memory can function as an archival practice of care if it remains true to the spirit of a person or an event—a topic that haunts most of the subsequent chapters in this book. Having outlined the broad structure of this chapter, we can now converse with our first hungry ghost, Vicki Reynolds.

Letter to a Dead Playwright

The original production of Daily Grind began with video footage of Roxy performing a strip and the live actor coming on to complete the routine. The juxtaposition of live and recorded images of the same woman—the one passive, viewed, the other confrontational, speaking—helped to highlight the way in which the female nude is generally positioned in an X-rated cinema compared to the way in which Roxy is positioned within Daily Grind.
(Stevenson 1995, 110)

Table of contents

Citation styles for Hauntological Dramaturgy
APA 6 Citation
D’Cruz, G. (2022). Hauntological Dramaturgy (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/3190241/hauntological-dramaturgy-affects-archives-ethics-pdf (Original work published 2022)
Chicago Citation
D’Cruz, Glenn. (2022) 2022. Hauntological Dramaturgy. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/3190241/hauntological-dramaturgy-affects-archives-ethics-pdf.
Harvard Citation
D’Cruz, G. (2022) Hauntological Dramaturgy. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/3190241/hauntological-dramaturgy-affects-archives-ethics-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
D’Cruz, Glenn. Hauntological Dramaturgy. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2022. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.