forty-ninth part, called “subject matter XLIX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subject matter

What was suppressed in theatre was levity. What caused the suppression was the fluid and mobile nature of the surface: it might spread, like a contagion, bringing with it fluid identities, sexualities, cross-dressers and all manner of erotic, aesthetic, and political perversion. Worst of all, it would inject humour into the proceedings, upsetting them with a disorder related to comedy and the unexpected.

If it did so with, with what it brought and brought out, this was because it was a medium for change, for the dosing out of change. In other words, its power to invoke this power, indulge those tastes, entertain these notions, demanded that it be suppressed. For the sake of order, an order not yet one said to belong to the public, but for the sake of an order related to tragedy, theatre called down on itself a suppression of the surface. This had the result of lifting it up, the surface, to command, command and withdraw, issue orders, hide behind a deus ex machina, or in a cloud. A stormcloud.

A stormcloud voices its displeasure. And, as Anouilh writes in his rewrite of Antigone, the spring is wound up tight. It unleashes a mechanism that punishes exactly what has been suppressed: all the comic actors, as we know, are tragic ones.

They are not yet depressed. Instead they follow the order of tragic necessity. They are not yet just doing their jobs: instead, their jobs are the most important in the world; a tragic knowledge of the threat theatre posed. So, you see, it is the efficacity of the stage that was condemned, what we may call its comic potential.

The reversal, going around the turn of mediation, of what it might bring with, should theatre not be directed in this fashion, made it seem as if the danger, threat, the risk of it, lay in what it represented, making it all the more necessary to represent it, in what we now call a feedback loop, but is really just recursion. The threat of the tragic end of one of our dictators was thought to represent not a subjective power but an objective one, and a political one. This feeds, as we can see, into a politics of representation: better for the dictator to be herself a comic actor.

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