Symptoms of contemporary performance

Patrick Duggan
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It is interesting that while A. D. Nuttall's investigations in Why Does Tragedy Give Pleasure? focus mainly on ancient and Elizabethan tragedies, he decides to answer the question of his title in the mid-1990s. While trauma has long been the subject of scholarly attention in many other fields, very little has been written on the subject in the context of theatre and performance. Trauma, like performance, is a complex and polysemic phenomenon. Raymond Williams' writings, particularly Modern Tragedy (1966), and his idea of 'structure of feeling' have proved both profitable and influential in the development of the research presented in this book. The book critically traces a particular, 'performative' genealogy of trauma theory through Jean-Martin Charcot and Freud to Cathy Caruth and other contemporary theorists. It addresses the theatrics of Charcot's practice as a means both of articulating the performative lineage of trauma theory and to suggest that trauma symptoms are themselves performative in nature. The book also argues that Williams' notion of 'structure of feeling' can be used to identify a contemporary, societal 'psychic' trauma (in the West) which pervades daily existence. The possibility that live performance can put the spectator into an experience of trauma's central paradox is explored. The book discusses what it means to witness and to be witnessed in the context of trauma in performance. Audience experience, the events of Abu Ghraib, and specific instances of theatrical trauma are discussed. Finally, the book considers questions of ethics in relation to performance which addresses trauma.

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