Sight as trauma : the politics of performing and viewing the body on stage
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My thesis aims to partake in the controversial and theoretical debates surrounding sight which can be traced as far back as Plato. It seeks to provide an overview of the cultural history of the gaze in order to set up a triangulated and in-depth schema or triadic relationship between theatre, text and trauma through the lens of psychoanalytical, phenomenological and socio-theoretical frameworks. More specifically, it attempts to explore the various interactions, along the axis of representation, between theatrical metaphors and those of traumatic vision, as well as traumatic representations on stage of viewing and the multi-layered and socio-political implications of various ways of looking (or non-looking), which often trigger traumatic responses. By examining two canonical plays – Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Macbeth – as well as the modern performances of artists such as Orlan and Franko B, I hope to show how visual trauma can transcend time and space and how the stage, as well as dramatic performances, can function as a body or body politic upon which various visuo-spatial and traumatic themes can be inscribed and re(enacted). The shift in emphasis, beginning with Freud and onwards, from physical to psychological trauma has often led to a blurring and obfuscation of the question of sight and the various lines of inquiry related to it. It has unfortunately often been overlooked in trauma theory, together with the issue of how certain sights/sites can often lead to broken, baffled and even traumatic responses when there is a failure to adequately interrogate, interpret and subsequently assimilate various events both on and off-stage. This failure is further compounded by various theoretical strands which view trauma as being non-representable. Thus by bringing trauma and vision to the fore, my research aims to inflect the cultural history of the gaze by showing how it contributes invaluably to a greater understanding of identity formation and hermeneutical activity in particular, as well as theatrical practices and even gender discourse analysis in general. By recourse to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, two canonical plays which draw heavily on notions of sight, blindness and the traumatic implications of viewing certain objects or events, as well as through an interrogation of various responses to the theatrical performances of more modern bodily-based performance artists such as Orlan and Franko B, who cut and refashion their bodies in front of a large audience, this work seeks to bring together various theoretical approaches ranging from psychoanalysis to phenomenology in order to shed light on how sight can lead to trauma both on and off the stage, thus contributing to the ongoing theoretical debates surrounding the body and the theatre.