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Communication and transformation of subjectivity through performances: A critical discussion of Badiou’s In Praise of Theatre

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In In Praise of Theatre, an interview with Alain Badiou held by Nicolas Truong, Badiou answers questions about his ideas on the value and purpose of theatre. He explains that he takes ‘real theatre’ to be theatre that consists of performances that aim at making the members of the audience to reflect critically on what they have just heard or seen and, more importantly, the possibilities that were only implied by the performance. Contrary to disciplines such as philosophy, politics and literature, Badiou argues, theatre is uniquely suited for this purpose, because it takes place in a ‘here and now’ that is shared by performers and audience, which places the audience in a position to ‘grasp the relation between immanence and transcendence from the view of the idea’. In addition, it uses an indirect mode of representation, instead of a direct mode of teaching. While accepting Badiou’s claim that theatre performances form a valuable means to question social conventions by communicating and transforming subjectivity, in this article I will argue that Badiou’s enthusiasm about the possibilities of theatre lead him to exaggerate its uniqueness in relation to philosophy, politics and literature. That is to say, he stretches the differences between these disciplines too far by portraying them as opposites or even rivals. In what follows, I will show for each of the comparisons that Badiou makes between theatre and these other disciplines, that they are founded on a misunderstanding of theatre’s unique position when it comes to transforming subjectivity through communication.
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Keywords: communication; court trials; existentialism; performativity; philosophy; subjectivity; theatre

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Leiden University

Publication date: May 1, 2018

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