The “Political Apparatus” and Its Potential for Revolution?

I want to use this post to pick up on an important thread between some readings assigned in our performance studies class this past week, especially Brecht, “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre”; Handke, “Offending the Audience”; and States, “The World on Stage” from Great Reckonings in Little Rooms. All of these readings seemed to involve, engage, take issue with, etc. the artistic apparati that Brecht introduces in his text. That is, the apparati that “have taken the handiwork of intellectuals who share in their profits…and processed it to make it fodder for their public entertainment” (34). Specifically of interest to me is the observation Brecht makes that these apparati drive the work that is being performed within them. As Brecht says, “An opera can only be written for the opera” (35). This seems especially interesting in light of our class’ recent discussion about “revolutionary” or “experimental” theater. The problem with revolutionary and experimental theater is the fact that, in order to be performed or presented within a particular apparatus, the art must be written or conceptualized within the parameters or limitations of that apparatus. And even when a performance succeeds in being somehow revolutionary, it so often loses that revolutionary luster after the first viewing.

So I started wondering if maybe the theater isn’t necessarily the place anymore to be revolutionary. There are many interesting and unexpected experimental performances currently on stage (if fact, I think it was Dorothy who made the point that these experimental performances are almost so rife that they’re becoming mainstream and, consequently, no longer “experimental”). I might suggest, though, that these performances seem more often to be experimenting with the art forms within various apparati, rather than with the apparati themselves. I’m not going to even begin to suggest a possible solution to this problem. But I do want to question whether or not we can read politics as an emerging space for performance – a “political apparatus” – in which it might be easier to be “revolutionary” and talk about and ask the kinds of questions Brecht and Handke seem to want the theater to be asking. Or, at least to engage with the type of “immediacy” to life and society that some of these writers seem to be looking for in the theater.

During the Republican National Convention, none other than Clint Eastwood was the guest speaker. That seems an incredibly ballsy choice to me. Over the last decade or so (maybe earlier than that, but I guess I was a bit too young to recognize it happening) politics seems to be coming more and more aware of its own performativity. Not only more aware of it, but starting to recognizing that the American public is also aware of it. Putting Clint Eastwood on stage as the “main act” at the RNC seems to me to be a kind of “giving in” to the performativity of the political apparatus. Almost as if politicians are finally saying, “You know what, the public knows what we’re doing. Why don’t we just let the professionals handle it.” And what a performance Eastwood gave. It’s worth watching the whole thing if you haven’t seen it:

His performance intrigues me for too many reasons to go on about here. But I just want to pose two questions/comments that really struck me in terms of thinking about this as a bona fide political performance. First, the fact that he sets it up as an interview with Obama – an actual staged interview with a prop (the chair) – but it’s a monologue. And not just any monologue. A monologue to the most willing audience he could possibly perform to in light of his content. How does something staged in this way, then, potentially dismantle current definitions of “performance?”

Secondly, in interviews after the convention, Eastwood stated that the entire performance was improvisational. If we can begin to count the political apparatus into our conception of performance, what does this do to the concept of improvisation? Political debates, for instance, are supposed to be improvised, but the candidates are often aware of the topics beforehand and are expected to prepare. When the media then portrays these performances as “live” and “immediate” and, therefore, presumably “unscripted,” how does this shift our sense of immediacy and improvisation? Is this the type of immediacy that Brecht and the other writers are looking for? Or does this warp that sense of immediacy in a really manipulative way?

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