Scenes of Mourning: Theater Between Life and Death


This paper aims to articulate Judith Butler’s thought on the “powers of grief” to some debates on the functions of theater in the political field. This articulation involves revisiting a whole section of the contemporary scene that has confronted the political institution of loss and analyzing from a Butlerian perspective the politics of theatrical representation called by the mechanisms of exclusion of certain lives outside the field of the human. But this articulation implies above all to question the theater that Butler’s reflections on the vulnerability and the springs of the ascent to extreme violence presuppose. From this point of view, the question of the powers of mourning is very closely linked to that of tragedy and the complex relationship it has with the norms by which the political community codifies narratives that deliver the dead to memory and oblivion. The first tragedy to have come down to us, The Persians is an exemplary manifestation of this complexity by the unstable division it provides between the victors and the vanquished and the impossible identifications it implements. It is therefore to Aeschylus’ play that we propose to return, opening the historical context of its creation to that of contemporary staging – those of Jean Prat in 1961 and Peter Sellars in 1993 – which accentuate its paradoxes.

Keywords: theater, political field, mourning, vulnerability, violence, tragedy, representation, Judith Butler

[Full Article PDF]