It is the desire to occupy a place from which one can take everything in, first and foremost visually, but also orally and audibly, that renders the theatre and theatricality so suspect.

– Samuel Weber, Theatricality as Medium, Fordham University Press, New York, 2004, p. 7

Samuel Weber calls Plato’s ‘cave’ in The Republic a theatre. He calls for a mediumistic interpretation of theatricality. I would rather consider the cave in Plato’s story theatrical on the basis of its exaggeration, its blatant artificiality. Theatricality, then, is problematic for being artificial by nature, rather than suspect for interesting us in its panoptic potential. This view of theatre includes the impression it gives of potentially showing everything and when Weber calls on Walter Benjamin’s notion of allegory to attest to the extra, the remainder, of what is in excess of the signifying system or regime installed by theatricality, he is sensitive to what I would more readily like to call exaggeration.

If Plato’s theatricality is not in the image he has chosen but first and foremost in his choice of adding a theatrical dimension, what we have in the ‘cave’ is indeed theatre by way of metaphor. The thought behind it has chosen a theatrical metaphor and done so not to express a theatrical truth or truth about theatre and its placing and setting of us up to see, hear and taste (? Weber writes ‘orally’) everything but to stage a truth about everything or set up a theatrical stage in order for that truth to be represented: the theatrical is constituted here by its metaphoricity. I would prefer to contrast this metaphoricity of the thought as it is theatricalised and/or performed with a theatricality particular in every instance of performance, a theatricality, that is, of theatre as it is thought. The theatre of thought depends on a generality, that supplied by metaphoricity. The thought of theatre is used to find a way to express and analyse the problematic natural artificiality we call theatricality.

As a note further on this line: I was reminded of the difference and the difference in relation to difference of theatricality and metaphoricity watching a DVD of Kraftwerk’s Minimum-Maximum. This is Kraftwerk in performance – which means doing not much apart from standing in a row in front of identical keyboards… while behind them a three-part screen explodes with all sorts, carefully contrived and often synched up with the songs, of graphic illustration.

I was struck by how innately theatrical the machine is. And it is so without speaking of our desire to see, hear, touch, taste, experience everything through our senses. It’s not its prosthetic McCluhan dimension that makes the machine dynamically theatrical, it is its strong artificiality. And this is where the risk lies, the danger: machines are sexy and dangerous. If they are prosthetic, the danger appears to lie in their exaggeration of single qualities, speed for example, strength, tele-vision. That they are machines makes them theatrical. Machines stage their own risky qualities. They make what they do obvious. They exaggerate. And this constitutes their appeal.

Machine designs are often said to be ‘revolutionary.’ I don’t think this is an entirely baseless description but applies less to the superfices of the machine than to its artifice: what it does AND what it stages. The delicious threat of being replaced or degraded by or upgraded to a machine exists and is compelling because robots are to the nth degree not us. The Big Other is a robot. We are literally upstaged by robots. Which is why robots are the future. (& Crime Oil – which is a trademark: contact for your order now.)

From the more limited point of view of metaphoricity, machines virtualise, become virtual, in the sense of virtual reality. They are put to work at creating a moral image, much like the ‘cave”s use of a theatrical metaphor. Virtual reality is only sexy and dangerous to the extent that the artifice is highlighted, that it exaggerates us, itself or not us. The appeal of Second Life appears to lie directly in this performative dimension of prostheses or body modification. And the appeal of talking about Second Life or the immersive experience appears to have more to do with real-world implications on the nexus between artifice and nature, which is exactly that realm opened up, I would suggest, by the problematic of theatricality. In other words, our self-performance in virtual reality really really happens. It is exaggerated and signposts its artificiality. It takes place not within theatricality as a medium but theatricality as a problematic field.