Sightlines
Foucault and Naturalist theatre
in Foucault’s theatres
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Although Foucault wrote almost nothing about Naturalist theatre, despite having taught a course on it in the 1950s, The Birth of the Clinic (1973) has close thematic links to that movement: the Naturalists made widespread use of medical imagery in their theory and practice and Foucault’s book is an account of the emergence of the nineteenth-century medical gaze. The affinities between Naturalism and clinical medicine are not merely metaphorical; the chapter shows a series of precise homologies and overlaps between the two, including the silencing of theory and language – which in theatrical terms is effected by producing semiotically dense ‘reality effects’ that attempts to overpower the structures of mere representation, and a ruthless avoidance of metaphor or generalisation. Naturalism, like medicine in Foucault’s terms, produces the realities that it discovers, in part by constituting them as secrets to be revealed. Finally, Foucault’s ultimate project seems to be to establish the birth not just of modern medical practice but also of the modern individual, precisely to mark the finitude of the human; Naturalism, too, is marked not just by the emergence of a new conception of the human, but also of its end. Naturalism is, then, the beginning of theatrical post-humanism.

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