CRITICAL STAGES/SCÈNES CRITIQUES
MEDICINE AND/IN THEATRE
Critical Stages # 17 (June 2018)
Deadlines: (see below for details)
Special Issue Editors:
- Vinia Dakari, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
- Catherine Rogers, MS, MFA, Lecturer, Narrative Medicine, Columbia University, New York, USA
Over the past decade there has been increased critical attention paid to the intersection of theatre and medicine, although the relationship between the two is far from new. Medicine and science, along with philosophy, religion, and the arts, are central to our society’s efforts to comprehend the mystery of being, to explain pain, and to address mortality. Yet, unlike the metaphysical quest present in the narratives of religion or transcendental philosophies, theatre and medicine share a fundamental preoccupation with what goes on between birth and death.
Public dissections, which enjoyed considerable intellectual and cultural prestige during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, offer us examples of the coming together of medicine, performance, and spectacle. Those medical performances were accompanied by flute music and were illuminated with scented candles, while all spectators were charged admission. Seventeenth-century illustrations of the anatomical theatre at Leiden University in The Netherlands depict the ceremonial gathering around a cadaver while it is being dissected by surgeons. The audience consists of living observers and the skeletons of animals and human beings. These skeletons served as more than mere decoration; like the “Memento Mori” banners we see in the paintings, the skeletons are symbols of mortality (in free translation, “Remember, you will die”).
Much the same as operating theatres, the tiered surgical stages in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were sites where the quest for knowledge was paired with a morbid fascination with witnessing raw pain. Surgery was performed on living people without anesthesia, sterilization or concern for the privacy or dignity of the patient. These spectacles, which have to a great extent shaped the idea of the victimizing medical gaze, projected a forbidden aesthetics of suffering and violence (at least until anesthesia was developed in the 1840s) and were still considered a legitimate form of entertainment in the 1870s.
Theatre and medicine not only address the two events that frame our being in the world, but also tend to interrogate their definiteness and closure. The end of life is reflected in the very end of performance, while the act of witnessing and being-there goes hand in hand with the “presence of someone who may actually die,” as German dramatist Heiner Müller has said.
The operating theatres of early-modern times prepared the ground for the presence of medical figures in Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, O’Neill, and others in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century modern drama. From the second half of the twentieth century to the present day, there has been an on-going experimentation with the theatricality of the medicalized, post-human, diseased body, stretching the limits of its finitude and mapping its multiple identities. This phenomenon includes: Orlan’s theatrical operations; Flanagan’s fetishization of terminal illness; Stelarc’s gastric gallery; Schlingensief’s neo-Dadaist desecration/glorification of patienthood in his illness performances; caricatured medical staff in Lisa Loomer’s The Waiting Room and Edson’s Wit; medical, metaphysical, and ethical dilemmas in DeLillo’s Love-Lies-Bleeding and The Day Room; and, finally, real-life physicians, nurses, and medical practitioners who write and perform plays in order to enter more fully the relational dimension of healthcare. Thus, the ways in which the fields of theatre and medicine interconnect to reflect and reshape knowledge and experience prove that theatre is more than a mere instrument to a product-oriented end, such as the training of good doctors; it also stands for the aesthetic moment that occurs when medical and artistic vocabularies converge.
Issue #17 of Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques invites essays that focus specifically on contemporary medicine-related plays, performances, and issues. For Baudrillard, “the characteristic hysteria of our times” is “that of the production and the reproduction of the real” and the production of “values and commodities.” With his words in mind, what does the fusion of theatre and medicine seek to address in a twenty-first-century context? The emergence of counter-narratives or the construction of realities? The value of multivocality or the commodification of reality?
Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Negotiating boundaries of illness and health; of life and death
- Staged vs. actual illness: content vs. form; assessing reception; the critic’s role
- The doctor-patient relationship
- Representation of medical topics, illness, and the hospitalized/suffering/dying body in theatre: sociopolitical, aesthetic, and ethical considerations
- Popular theatre and illness: a contradiction in terms? Awareness-raising or profit-making enterprise?
- Body-as-machine, body-as-battlefield, the “biomedical gaze,” and other metaphors: truths and myths of medicine as tackled on stage/in performance
- Theatre, medicine, technology: acting under/beyond the skin; exploring new aesthetic horizons; the technological sublime
- From anatomy to prosthetics, neuroscience, and gene mapping: staged perspectives on the notions of self/other, the individual against the State, and precarious existence
- Theatre assisting/attacking the practices of medicine
- On spectatorship: sensation vs. interpretation
- The role of theatre and the arts in medical education: instrumental benefits
- Theatre-based learning in medical education, the Narrative Medicine paradigm, and the rising academic field of the Critical Medical Humanities
- Practicing medicine as performance: professionalism, empathy, and ethical caregiving
- Beyond Western medicine: foundational concepts (i.e. doctor, patient, pain, illness, experience) in theatre/performance around the world
Length of papers: maximum 3.500 words (including notes and works cited)
Proposals: 1 September 2017
First drafts: 1 March 2018
Publication date: June 2018