Caryl Churchill’s Identical Twins as neo-avant-garde (radio) drama
Pim Verhulst uses Caryl Churchill’s Identical Twins (1968) as a case study to investigate the role of radio in the neo-avant-garde, relating it to the historical avant-garde and (late) modernism, as well as movements such as postdramatic theatre and the Theatre of the Absurd. While Churchill’s destabilising treatment of language and speech as sound or noise aligns her with avant-garde predecessors in Britain and abroad, the postwar institutional context of the BBC is explored archivally as a typically neo-avant-garde environment that aims to reconcile new aesthetic experiences with concerns about audience reception, particularly through stereo. Usually exploited by neo-avant-garde artists as an experimental feature, it is atypically used by the BBC production team as a means to constrain the radical identity-blurring so characteristic of Identical Twins. An intermedial analysis investigates its status as an ‘interior duologue’, as well as the friction between theatre performance, textuality and recording. Finally, the chapter studies the formative role of radio in Churchill’s oeuvre and its lasting effect on her later drama, to argue more generally that the medium played an important but neglected part in the theatrical revolution that innovated the British stage from the 1950s onwards.
This chapter analyses Beckett’s reconceptualisation of the body in his later theatre – Happy Days, Play, That Time, Footfalls and Not I – against the background of his work for radio and, to a lesser extent, television in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing in particular on All That Fall, Embers and Eh Joe. Through concepts such as intermediality, remediation and embodiment, it argues that Beckett’s early opposition between technological and non-technological genres, in terms of physicality and voice, becomes increasingly untenable in the 1970s, which leads to a re-embodiment of his theatrical work by way of radio’s disembodying influence. The chapter thus shows how Beckett’s exposure to new media throughout his later career invited him to revisit as well as revise his own preconceptions about drama in its various forms, and use that experience as a driving force of theatrical innovation.
Tuning in to the neo-avant-garde offers the first in-depth study of the radio play’s significance for the neo-avant-garde. In the postwar period, radio began to function as a site of artistic experimentation for the literary neo-avant-garde, especially in the form of the radio play. In the wake of the historical avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde had a strong interest in aural media, in the seemingly autonomous power of sound and voice. Therefore, it is not surprising that postwar avant-garde artists and literary writers in particular all across Europe, the US and the UK started to experiment with the radio play. Neo-avant-garde artists actively engaged with newly created studios and platforms in the postwar period. The contributions to this book examine how the radiophonic neo-avant-garde stages political questions and acknowledges its own ideological structure, while taking into account the public nature of radio. Alongside these cultural and political contexts, the book also reflects on intermedial and material issues to analyse how they have impacted artistic production in different parts of the world. Specific attention is paid to how artists explored the creative affordances of radio and the semiotics of auditory storytelling through electroacoustic manipulation, stereophonic positioning, montage and mixing, while also probing the ways in which they experimented in related genres and media such as music, sound poetry and theatre, questioning the boundaries between them. Because of its exclusive focus on the audiophonic realm, the book offers a valuable new perspective on the continuing debate surrounding the neo-avant-garde and its relationship with the historical avant-garde.
The acoustic neo-avant-gardes between literature and radio
Inge Arteel, Lars Bernaerts, Siebe Bluijs, and Pim Verhulst
The introductory chapter explains what is at stake in the exploration of postwar radiophonic experimentation and discusses some recent perspectives, such as those of sound studies and theories of the avant-garde. In particular, the chapter relates the radiophonic adventures of literary authors and other artists to the tradition of the avant-garde and the debates surrounding it. A lot of postwar creative radio art, for example pieces by Antonin Artaud or Georges Perec, continued the aims and strategies of the historical avant-garde. At the same time, they confronted and dealt with the intrinsic limitations of radio as a mass medium. This leads us to reconsider the question, raised by Peter Bürger, whether the neo-avant-garde is a failed avant-garde. Referring to a rich variety of radio plays and offering an outline of the volume, the introductory chapter argues that the neo-avant-gardes across Europe and North America both continued and renewed the views and means of the historical avant-gardes.