Foucault’s philosophical theatres
in Foucault’s theatres
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Foucault often writes with an eye on the stage. In famous passages, he cites the theatre to explain violent displays of royal power or the oldest rituals of Christian penance. Elsewhere he coins technical terms on theatrical models (‘Ubu power’, ‘alethurgy’). Sometimes he cannot convey the importance of theatre except by repetition or superlatives: ‘the dramatization of the drama’, he says, or ‘maximum theatricality’. If these references occur throughout Foucault’s writing, in relation to varied topics, sustained discussions of theatrical performance appear where they may be least expected: in relation to philosophy itself. The clearest example is the essay entitled (in deliberate Latin) ‘Theatrum philosophicum’ (‘Philosophical Theatre’). The essay is typically read as Foucault’s reckoning with Deleuze. It is that, of course. It is also and more importantly a meditation on Pierre Klossowski’s erotic-theological tableaux vivants. More than Deleuze, Klossowski’s Nietzschean efforts to write philosophy as theatrical script provoke or inspire Foucault’s own writing. ‘Theatrum philosophicum’ declares his own practice as an author and thinker – that is, a dramaturge.

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