Kélina Gotman

In Foucault’s reading of Oedipus the King, delivered in the first four weeks of his course ‘On the Government of the Living’ at the Collège de France in 1979-1980, Foucault articulates a theory of the relationship between power and knowledge hinging on what he calls the ritual manifestation of truth – alēthourgia. This performative sort of truth-showing takes place through ‘rituals, ceremonies, and various operations of magic, divination, and the consultation of oracles, of gods’. Aligning such alēthourgia with the African-born Roman emperor Septimus Severus’ performative display of his destiny to rule in a sky chart he exhibited in his palace, Foucault describes dramatic procedures by which events are shown as truth, theatrically. Trajectories and roles, masks, and garb reveal facets of truth peripatetically and paratactically – and, as he suggests of his own method, anarchaeologically, by contingency. Just as African masks, Souleymane Bachir Diagne reminds us, after Négritude poet and statesman Léopold Sédhar Senghor perform their own rhythmic (mis)alignment and adjacency in edges and hollows, constituting a philosophical way of being as movement and articulation (rather than exhibiting any underlying ‘truth’), alēthourgia – the chapter argues – describes a play of light and shadow, visible and invisible, hidden and manifest, a rhythmic dramaturgy of power.

in Foucault’s theatres

This edited collection is the first to engage directly with Foucault’s thought on theatre and with the theatricality of his thought. Michel Foucault was not only one of the most controversial and provocative thinkers of the twentieth century, he was also one of its most inventive and penetrating researchers. Notoriously hard to pin down, his work evades easy categorisation – philosopher, historian of ‘systems of thought’, ‘radical journalist’ ‒ Foucault was all of these things, and so much more. In what some see as a post-critical landscape, the book forcefully argues for the urgency and currency of Foucauldian critique, a method that lends itself to theatrical ways of thinking: how do we understand the scenes and dramaturgies of knowledge and truth? How can theatre help understand the critical shifts that characterised Foucault’s preoccupation with the gaze and the scenographies of power? Above all, what makes Foucault’s work compelling comes down to the question he repeatedly asked: ‘What are we at the present time?’ The book offers a range of provocative essays that think about this question in two ways: first, in terms of Foucault’s self-fashioning – the way he plays the role of public intellectual through journalism and his many public interviews, the dramaturgy of his thinking, and the appeal to theatrical tropes in his work; and, second, to think about theatre and performance scholarship through Foucault’s critical approaches to truth, power, knowledge, history, governmentality, economy, and space, among others, as these continue to shape contemporary political, ethical, and aesthetic concerns.

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Theatre, performance, Foucault
Tony Fisher and Kélina Gotman

The introduction sets out the rationale of the book, and specifically unfolds its core aim, that of examining the ongoing influence of Michel Foucault to contemporary theatre and performance scholarship, simultaneously examining how theatricality enters Foucault’s own critical and philosophical practice. Discovering a ‘theatrical Foucault’ enables a reassessment of the political and ethical importance of his approach to questions of truth, governmentality, and critique. Of specific import to the introduction is the notion that shifting the critical gaze is a theatrical endeavour, one that is central to Foucault’s performance as a public intellectual and salient critic of contemporary life. The introduction proposes that the present political context makes it ever more urgent to analyse the theatrical and performative structures of power and knowledge, so as to rearticulate ways of cultivating forms of resistance and practices of autonomy. It is not paradoxical, the chapter argues, for Foucault’s own work to play with language and rhetorical style, just as he examines the aesthetic dimensions of historical and contemporary modes of subject formation.

in Foucault’s theatres