Dr. Julia Rösler

Synopses of Chapters

I  The Performance of Language

Language as a key determinant of subject positions is the starting point of the thesis and one of its constant focal points. Chapter One sets out the theories of language that are employed throughout the study. The analysis of Wertenbakers THE LOVE OF THE NIGHTINGALE and THE GRACE OF MARY TRAVERSE interrogates relations of language to power and of agency to performance. Looking at the ways in which these plays identify in language the oppressive structures of meaning and signification as well as the potential to deconstruct these schemas, this chapter evaluates the attempts to reposition them in different, non-repressive ways.

II The Art of Playwriting

The conditioning of text and performance by the media requires to look at how the theatrical forms themselves work to represent subject positions. Rejecting the inscription of women in society and on the stage as a projection of male desire, the political nature of Western theatre has become a focus of many plays of women. The exploration of critical models and methodologies for the theatre in women’s dramatic writing challenges value embedded in notions form, practice and interpretative processes. This chapter examines the ways in which Wertenbaker’s AFTER DARWIN, OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD and THE LOVE OF THE NIGHTINGALE engage in the self-reflexive investigation of the issues of representation involved in theatrical practice. Dealing with questions of mimesis, repetition and identification, my investigation addresses the processes which determine the constitution of the subject as well as the possibilities of subversion which arise within these structures.

III Playing with History

The revision of history in order to include women’s experiences is one of the key issues in women’s dramatic work. However, the participation of women in history is itself not unproblematic since the construction of narratigve works within the circle of ideological reflection. In the third chapter I look at different approaches proposed by women dramatists to confront the politics of existing histories. Taking history as a starting point for the understanding of the subject, this part of the thesis asks about the writing of history itself, involving a critical analysis of what counts as historical. The analysis of Sarah Daniels’ BYRTHRITE as well as Caryl Churchill’s CLOUD NINE, VINEGAR TOM and TOP GIRLS highlights attempts of women’s theatre to problematize the dominant role that the male subject has traditionally played in historical narrative. This focus is related to the formation of subjectivity and to the question of the materiality of the body and its role in discourses that continue to have impact on women’s position both in society and on the stage. The revision of history and the repositioning of women’s subjectivity within historical narrative is a key issues. Positioning subjectivity as a strategic provisionality rather than an epistemological foundation, this study investigates the implication sof a notion of historical discourse that constantly contests its own production process, thus opening up the narrative framework to allow for unsuspected subject and gender positions.

IIV Spectacle on the Stage

In Sarah Daniels’s plays, the dramatic actions confronts the audience with thought-provoking presentations of discourses such as history, science, social institutions, mental health and language. Ideological structures disclose themselves at the level of everyday life. The depicition of daily life accumulates to provide a sense of the fragmentation of identity, a catastrophe of individuality. In this chapter, seeing and being-looked-at are investigated as essential determinants of (inter)subjectivity. Through an evaluation of the structures of communication, interaction and perception in theatrical performance, the chapter proposes an analysis of the processes through which Daniels’ RIPEN OUR DARKNESS, BYRTHRITE and HEAD-ROT HOLIDAY attempt to (dis)engage the spectator in the play of gazes which contitute representation. The plays dealt with in this part of the study make explicit the deepening attention to the play as image, as structure of visual forces and perpetual activity. In this context, the chapter lookds at attempts of women’s theatre to deconstruct a spectatorial consciousness based upon an observer who stands outside of what s/he perceives, replacing it wit an audience that is inscribed in a much more active role.

V No Laughing Matter

The discussion of Daniels’ plays BESIDE HERSELF, BYRTHRITE and THE DEVIL’S GATEWAY explores laughter as a strategy used to dislocate the structures of language and representation. Laughter is revealed to be a vital factor in women’s attempts at achieving self-determination, female bonding and exchange. The analysis shows how laughter as performative shatters the foundations of Western metaphysics and closure and, therefore, opens up new perspectives on the construction of gender positions. Themes dealt with include the repression of laughter in traditional Western thought, the connection between humour and power in social interaction, the effect of the carnivalesque in discourse and the particular comical and critical function of parody as subversive repetition. Laughter as an element of Daniels’ plays is closely connected with the question of language. The study emphasizes the normative-centralizing processes of language and the dominance of a transcendental signifier which leads to the construction of seemingly fixed values. Laughter in the plays is explored as a performative that threatens this very structure from within. This playful transgression anticipates a change in women’s perception of their bodies, sexuality and self-knowledge.

VI Limits of Representation

sThe last chapter offers a reading of Churchill’s THE SKRIKER and A MOUTHFUL OF BIRDS. Her innovative work sets in motion a process of undermining the decisive logic of identity, opening up alternative possibilities in the field of sexual difference. Here, the experience of self is not dramatized as a systematic question but is achieved in complete loss and abandonment of rational discourse. Churchill’s dramatic work stages a radical negation of subjectivity, a dissolution of the boundaries between self and other. While in A MOUTHFUL OF BIRDS bacchic possession and carnivalesque structure lead to a redefintion of identity concepts and structures of meaning, the elements of carnival in THE SKRIKER amount to a menacing disintegration of value categories and social relationships. My analysis proposes that this is achieved throught the destabilization of the spoken word. Churchill’s play systematically deconstructs the mechnisms of the symbolic signfying systems through which reality is perceived. In this context, the study shows how plays by women dramatize challenging ways in which the subject can be rethought, in its diversity, in terms quite other than those implied by various dualisms.


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