Section Editor: Ivan Medenica (Serbia) [1]

Medenica

The first article published in the Essay section is an elaborate overview of the work of the most prominent living Swedish playwright, Lars Norén, whose jubilee was celebrated last year (2014). For our better understanding, Margareta Sörenson, first, contextualizes Noren’s work—by giving us more information about his life, his values, his beliefs, and his relation to cultural institutions and, especially, theatre criticism—and, then, she goes on to discuss the aesthetic development of his playwriting, which starts with realistic social plays that have symbolist and autobiographic elements and focus on the alienation of young people from their family and the whole society.

The plays that follow give us a cruel and dark insight into Swedish and Western society. They carry a strong Chekhovian aura that underlines the collapse of the characters’ dreams and hopes. This development continues with a shift from Chekhov-Eugene O’Neill-inspired plays to more contemporary dramatic forms, mostly fragmentary, with archetypal characters and a structure that seems to be a recycling of the same theme: like in music.

Sorenson concludes that what underlines these poetic shifts is Norén’s projection of a kind of secular faith. An outspoken nonbeliever, Norén projects in his dramatic work a secular concept of individual and social morality which reflects Christian symbols. “He offers faith and values, but no confession,” writes Sorenson. That’s one of the reasons why, as Sorenson stresses as her main point, one doesn’t identify himself or herself only in Norén’s recently published autobiographic prose (diaries) but first of all in his fictional world: “. . . one has the strange feeling of having the keys to many doors which are half open, in an endless labyrinth. It is an almost irritating discovery when one realises that other people, many other audience members, in fact, share this feeling of being addressed personally by Norén.­”

In the second article of this section, Vinia Dakari compares the work of two “outrageous” figures of German contemporary theatre: Heiner Muller and Christoph Schlingensief. She argues that there are several elements that justify this comparison, such as their radical theatrical language and political criticism, especially of German “historical guilt” which, from their mutual point of view, wasn’t overcome with the fall of the Berlin Wall and, subsequently, with the EU project; quite the contrary.

Dakari quotes statements from the two authors which acquire more meaning and relevance at this very moment, which happens to be one of the biggest crises of the EU project. She sharply and metaphorically describes this moment as “the precarious transition from the utopia of European unity to the dystopia of European Union.” These quotes are:

“A reunited Germany will make life unpleasant for its neighbours” (Muller); “a symptom of what society has suppressed, of something [i.e. the National Socialist past] that breaks out because it can no longer be restrained” (Schlingensief).

This symptom of (social and political) suppression which finishes with a (self)destructive explosion is a central topic of Dakari’s article and the major motif that connects, from her point of view, the life and/or testimonial projects made by Muller (Germania Death in Berlin) and Schlingensief (project for the German pavilion at Venice Biennial in 2011): the metaphor of cancer.

The important thing is that cancer is not just a metaphor in their work; it is the illness from which both authors died. As a matter of fact, Schlingensief’s work is posthumous because he died when preparing the exhibition/ installation/ performance for the German pavilion and the curators decided to finish it as an exhibition—homage to Schlingensief, made out of his works (films, performance recordings, plans for the future projects. . .) and conceptually completely done in his “style”. . . . The metaphor of cancer encompasses both authors. It expresses the motives of a radical rupture in the body of the nation between suppressed Nazi past and anti-utopian, anti-ideological, selfish and self devastating present.

What is especially interesting, Dakari stresses, is that Muller and Schlingensief go beyond the metaphor of cancer conceptualized by Susanne Sontag as a result of a long repression of personal and collective guilt, and inject into it some bright light: as if cancer becomes a new romantic disease which “shines” with some bizarre megalomaniac pride.

Dakari concludes her essay in the following (and telling) way: “they shared much more than their ideological opposition, obscene aesthetics, and private suffering. They both sought to escape from their country’s (and Europe’s) poisonous polarities–and, symbolically, from their dying bodies.”


[1] Ivan Medenica (PhD) is from Belgrade, Serbia. He defended his PhD dissertation (Actualization and Deconstruction as Models of Directing Classics) at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts. He works at the FDA as an associated professor, teaching The History of World Drama and Theatre, and holds the position of the Head of the Department for Theory and History. He regularly publishes articles in both the national and the international journals. He was the Chairman or Co-Chairman of four international symposiums of theatre critics and scholars organized by Sterijino Pozorje Festival in Novi Sad and the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC). Medenica has participated in a number of international conferences and given guest lectures at Humboldt University (Berlin), Yale School of Drama, University of Cluj (Romania). Medenica is an active theater critic and has received five times the national award for the best theatre criticism. He was the Artistic Director of Sterijino Pozorje, the leading national theater festival in Serbia (2003-2007). He was a fellow in the International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Cultures” at the Freie Universität in Berlin (2011-2013). He is a member of the IATC Executive Committee and the Director of its international conferences.


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