Is there politics in theatre? - response Timotheus Vermeulen
a response to Rainer Hofmann's article

Dear Rainer,

I want to thank you for these inspired and inspiring opening statements. I recognize, as I imagine many of us do, with dismay and with disgust but more still with fear, with a deep anxiety, an angst that penetrates my skin and dislodges my organs, that tugs at my nerve endings and wrenches my bones, your observations about contemporary politics: about the extremism and populism of the select and the outrage (often, it seems to me, for outrage’s sake), or what Sjoerd van Tuinen has called the “ressentiment”, of the many.

I further share your belief, or rather still perhaps your hope - a rather more uncertain, yet also more steadfast sensibility, in that we tend to forgo our beliefs before we lose our hope –  that the arts offer us a space to think through these developments, to rethink them, to feel them out, to sense alternative possibilities. Perhaps you and I are old-fashioned, in that sense. For this understanding of art, as an ostensibly autonomous place where actions need have no consequences or, to paraphrase Schiller, a playground, where ideas and affects can be toyed with (constructed one way and destroyed, and constructed another and destroyed, and so on, like lego towers) freed from the rules of the real, dates back to at least the nineteenth century. To be sure, this does not mean that art trade is marginally political; on the contrary, it means that art is political to the max, in so far as it deals in what Giorgo Agamben somewhere calls potere, or potency, that is to say, in potential.

What I am trying to say, I guess, is that there is little here for me to take issue with, little opportunity to polemicize, to create the (yes, there it is) OUTRAGE that has helped all those clickbait sites to thrive and to generate a needy and angry audience. I do, however, want to pose three further questions, or extended thoughts, to further the discussion, even though they are to an extent unrelated.

1. You say, Rainer, that extremism, populism and outrage threaten to “shatter Europe”. But isn’t it precisely because Europe is shattered – in the sense that this Idea of Europe as what Hegel called the “End of History” and Kant the “Kingdom of all ends”, of “perpetual peace”, a humanist unity, which I think many of us, including those of whom you might not expect it, agree on, was reduced, if not from the signing of the Maastricht treaty then at least soon after, to a neoliberal unity, a unity that prioritizes monetary value over all others, services over people, etc. – that these sentiments grow like weeds in the cracks?

2. I would be keen to stress that for me, metamodernism is not so much the label for developments that move beyond irony, but rather those movements that move between an ironic attitude and one that is sincere, or enthusiastic, etc. Artworks that do not simply accept the reality of the status quo – you know, the works that criticize it or celebrate it, yet in doing so, accept it, like the YBAS and the “smart film” and Punk – but that instead affirm the possibility of another scenario, of another History. To be sure, in this sense metamodernism as I understand it is not a programme, let alone a manifesto. For this movement, this metaxy between poles is also what I think we’re witnessing in contemporary politics, whether it be in the informed naivety of #Occupy and the Indignados or the pragmatic populism of Donald Trump and that other idiot with the wig, the one closer to home, claiming truths absolute in one context but surprisingly relative in another.

3. I wonder whether we should also, in these contexts, talk about the moralization and consequent suppression of contemporary discourse; the extent to which everything and everyone, from political speech to jokes on twitter, celebrity interviews to personal diary entries, is always already about to be condemned, or rather still, shamed, which is to say, silenced not on the basis of positions but on the basis of identity. (You feel remorse about something you’ve done; shame is what you experience about who you are.)

Would these be interesting lenses through which to view both our current political moment as well as any number of the performances at the festival?

Best wishes,
Tim Vermeulen

Read the article by Rainer Hofmann here.