Friday, December 23, 2016

The new wall is up: retirement, and thank-you

There was an attack on the marketplace in Charlottenburg, Berlin - I was not there, I extend my sympathy to the victims.

My primary critical guide, Australian critic Alison Croggon, used to periodically give kind of 'critical updates' where she would review her own critical position. To be honest, I always found reading these cringe-worthy as they seemed to be self-indulgent, somehow hopelessly ceding impartiality for the sake of communicating something that looked a lot like navel-gazing. Closer consideration revealed its true function: such updates make clear the criteria a critic is basing their responses upon, involves readers in a discussion of the principles of criticism - and their role in shaping that position. This promotes critical thought as an activity, and acknowledges and its key role in culture, and life. So I will attempt to follow suit here.

There are distinct differences between Croggon's project and my own - she has/had a fixed location, for example, writing for an audience that is relatively stable, and has comparatively fixed cultural assumptions from, I argue, a defined readership. In this project I frequently write from different locations and across audiences, locations, and artists with wildly diverse cultural histories and political contexts. This makes building any kind of stable readership almost impossible, and offers me a naturally different set of objectives. Further to this is the multidisciplinary nature of the writing - following a family tragedy which saw me spend the first half of the year in Australia, most of my 2016 seems to be occupied with presenting papers at conferences, or running workshops. I have barely had a chance to see any theatre in Berlin, nominally the home of the platform, and itself brazenly multi-everything. This is not a new development - since the beginning, this platform has taken me to Ukraine, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Croatia, the UK, Italy, and only sometimes Germany. Therefore, my critical position is formed out of a strange kind of 'floating' position - heavily involved in cross-cultural exchange, radically multi-disciplinary, somewhat representative of New World Anglosphere, and trying to shape some meaning from the global world order from a European perspective, albeit as an outsider to any one locality. On one hand, this makes it some kind of bellwether to pan-European discourse. On the other, it makes me prone to wild, often seemingly unjustifiable positions, evident only to myself, and shared by no-one.

But there are been some consistencies. Since I began this project 4 years ago, it has been all but openly anti-fascist, and one of my constants is that  if a works upholds reactionary positions - even accidentally - I am likely to be unusually brutal with it. Occasionally, I have been enthusiastic to the extent that I have probably manufactured these positions, or stated them when they are not evident to anyone but myself (which may amount to the same).

The reasons for this might be clear now. If it wasn't obvious earlier, we are being led by the Anglosphere into a period of extreme contraction of rights and international cooperation. Beginning with Australia and Canada, followed recently by Trump and Brexit, and the apathy of the preceding 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall are finally, I claim, catching up. Despite the apparent suddenness of the rise of Trump, the legitimising of xenophobic sentiments of far right groups in Europe, the United States and Australia, the seeds for this apparently sudden curtailment of freedom were planted long ago. The empowerment of white supremacist groups and their 'defence of culture, traditions and bloodlines' is to the detriment of the the collective whole.

There are many questions here, but in some ways, what could be asked meaningfully, has been already. Artists who had presided over this period from the 1990s - particularly in the UK for some reason - were all but telling me (mostly subliminally) that the good times, founded upon a cultural liberalism offsetting the nastier sides of economic exploitation, were going to end. Change was going to come, and it would have an ugly face. Indeed, change did come - and a survey of my liberal friends in shock would reveal us blissfully unprepared for it. Many of the nominal criticisms, shock and disbelief of these two extreme events, Brexit and Trump, (Brump?) have the same hurt undertone "How could my good, comfortable, liberal life be coming to an end?" This position I take the most issue with - a kind of soft 'not in my name', an unsubscribing from those perceived as too redneck, too small-minded, or too simple, and an evacuation of local obligations. "The Southerners elected Trump". No, they didn't. The truth is complex and painful, but the sooner we see it, I claim, the better.

It is easy for me to retrospectively justify my positions, and perhaps I should to some degree, more as a way of apologising. What seems harsh at the time can simply come down to different understandings of the role of the critic. To me, a critic's role is not to take popular or comfortable positions, but point out how the specifics of a work are related to an individual critical context, which is specific to that critic, but general in that it concerns what is outside of them, and which they build in collaboration with artists. My critical context, as I stated earlier, unashamedly resists fascism through an emphasis on cross-cultural communication, and stems from a concern that the alliance between capitalism and liberalism is fundamentally based on a lie that permits us to avoid confronting violence (something I share with certain members of the alt-right, although with different foundations and intentions).

There are plenty of contradictions to this, but its roots, at least in Western Theatre, are consistent: theatre is seen to uphold a particular position in relation to 'the other' and formation of a public - driving understanding, community, and empathy through the stage. Theatre is universally a very human act, tied inexorably to humanity itself, our vulnerabilities and our seeking of connection. In common with other arts, it seeks to communicate where discourse is otherwise not possible. Its premise is that what makes us human is something complex, and not reducible to binaries, systems, or shock statements. Mostly, these are direct and powerful anti-fascist tools, operating fundamentally against white supremacist and other exclusionary narratives, and fundamental to contemporary western ideas of democracy. But they can easily be twisted to mean something else - as might be shown from the women's victim stories at the hands of the president-elect during the US presidential election. What should have been unequivocal disqualification of a candidate were paradoxically affirmed into reaffirmations of patriarchy and white, male power. The subtext being - 'yes, we know it's bad. That's how we feel about ourselves right now'.

Although I am somewhat more optimistic and self-affirming than this (not naively positive, but as a matter of free will) I understand where the sense of doubt is coming from. Humanity indeed faces great challenges in the near future, and potentially cataclysmic events. These are not the ones which are being reported in the mainstream media, or Breitbart news. If you want to know about them, talk with a climate scientist, someone involved in human mobility, or military (or better, all three). This urgency entails a critical context that must change with the global context, and the next period will see me engage more heavily with trying to comprehend this 'white man's narrative' - to which I am inexorably linked - which positions the ultimate cataclysm as being the collapse of Western Civilization, through islamification, de-purification of bloodlines, or some other medieval cause. I'm sorry - if we are talking cataclysm, there are many, many worse things if you use your imagination (Oh, the lows we could sink to together...!) And it is these other things which are likely to lead me to take a more active role in opposing such narratives. The lies on which they are based are not specific - they prey at fears, and paranoia about identity and essential human nature. Here is where the comparisons with the 1930s are apt. As many have stated, now is undeniably the time for action, and less for words.

This leads me to something of a roadblock. In some ways, at this point in history, I have never had so much to say, and at the same time felt so incapable of productive discourse. I acknowledge that now is not the time for silence, but I am not convinced that continuing to run conversation about culture on this particular platform is the best method. To do so would be to claim a self-expression which I feel has contracted to a point where it no longer exists. There is a role for criticism in this new world order, but it may not be exactly the mildly antagonist role that I have been playing here. Something has to change, this goes for me as well. There can only be one answer to this conundrum - to let the project go a little bit, and see what happens.

So this is goodbye for now, and if I am not returning, and this was indeed the last post, thank you for reading and keep in touch! Regardless of its level of activity, and whether I am back writing in 2017, or whether this project takes some other form, I will leave this blog here as a historical archive. It was fascinating to hear people's responses, participate in dialogue with you, to involve you in the process of forming positions which I have come to know and love as Theaterstuck. May the joke upon which the name of the blog is formed - the German 'das Theaterstück' meaning 'a play', and the English misspelling referring to theatre's state of paralysis as I perceived it (literally 'stuck') - no longer apply in the future. Now is the time to shift gears - for culture to play a role in shaping meaningful resistance to dehumanisation, militarisation, and distancing mechanisms fed by unchecked capitalism and its various symptoms.

This is never achieved individually, but together, and the answers to contemporary questions lie within each other.

Yours with love and solidarity,

xx rp

As always, if you want to contact me I am available at I will continue my artistic practice - probably with more vigour - which can be tracked a little bit at

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