Theatre and image in an age of emergencies

This book is about the relationship between emergencies and the spectator. In the early twenty-first century, ‘emergencies’ are commonplace in the newsgathering and political institutions of western industrial democracies. From terrorism to global warming, the refugee crisis to general elections, the spectator is bombarded with narratives that seek to suspend the criteria of everyday life in order to address perpetual ‘exceptional’ threats. I argue that repeated exposure to these narratives through the apparatuses of contemporary technology creates a ‘precarious spectatorship’, where the spectator’s ability to rationalise herself, or her relationship with the object of her spectatorship, is compromised.

In terms of the ways in which emergencies are dramatized for the spectator, this book focuses primarily on the framing and distribution of images. Because images are cheap and easy to produce; because they can be quickly and limitlessly distributed; because they are instantly affective and because they can be easily overwritten, they have become a pre-eminent tool in the performance of emergencies. In response to this, the book proposes theatrical performance as a space in which the relationship between the spectator and emergencies may be critically examined, and I analyse a range of contemporary theatrical pieces which challenge the spectator under the aegis of emergencies.

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bottom of the screen, cutaways to presenters saying ‘some viewers may find these images disturbing’. Three months later, David Cameron will declare that he ‘does not mind, within limits, people seeing a little bit’ of these videos, in order to understand that IS is a ‘death cult’ (Withnall, 5 January 2016). Although Cameron is likely unaware of it, his words are rendered ironic by a warning made by Paul Virilio twelve years earlier, that: 144 144 Precarious spectatorship [t]‌elevision –​a ‘museum of horrors’ or a ‘tunnel of death’ –​has, then, gradually transformed

in Precarious spectatorship
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Emergencies and spectatorship

1 Introduction: Emergencies and spectatorship Extended state of emergency. Wow. These are the perfect words to describe like just your normal now. Kieran Hurley, 2017, p. 23 Performing emergencies In late 2015, the organisation known as ‘Islamic State’, ‘IS’, or ‘Da’esh’, the self-​declared Sunni Muslim caliphate operating out of Iraq and Syria, seemed to be gaining on its objective of becoming a viable ‘state’. Intractable conflict with the Syrian government and other rebel factions, as well as an international campaign of airstrikes led by the US, in which

in Precarious spectatorship

in which theatrical performance might productively respond to what I have been calling a ‘precarious spectatorship’. This idea of a precarious spectatorship started to take form in Chapter  1, in dialogue with Judith Butler’s theories on ‘grievability’, where ‘presentation affects our responsiveness’ to suffering (2016, p. 63). Butler locates this process within the ‘timeless’ and ‘spaceless’ quality of the image itself, described here in relation to the Abu Ghraib torture photographs that were released in 2004: They are shown again and again, transposed from

in Precarious spectatorship

misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some [hamartia] error or frailty’ (1902, p.  45). Further, they ‘must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous  –​a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes, or other men of such families’, otherwise they will not have sufficiently far to fall for their descent to be considered ‘tragic’ (ibid., p.  47). The idea of the ‘renowned and prosperous’ tragic hero has been challenged across the gamut of twentieth-​and twenty-​first-​century tragedies, with one of the more iconic arguments 80 80 Precarious spectatorship

in Precarious spectatorship
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marking 18 18 Precarious spectatorship out those who will not. This is why the ‘national frame’ became so important in the aftermath of the Paris assassinations, reinvigorating the hyper-​nationalism that had spread through France after the IS-​related attacks on the staff of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, which had happened in January of the same year. Although the French military increased its bombing campaign against IS positions in Syria and Iraq, the principal focus of the state of emergency was the policing of domestic rather than international

in Precarious spectatorship

has dominion, and within which the subjects are denied the capacity for self-​identification (2011, p. 2). His examples include the slave plantations of the nineteenth century, the theatres of war of the early twentieth century and the contemporary global counterinsurgency resonant within (but not restricted to) the War See: www.state.gov/​j/​prm/​releases/​statistics/​251285.htm 2 50 50 Precarious spectatorship on Terror. To these despotic arenas could be added the refugee camp, detention facility, customs office and –​because it becomes a site of visual

in Precarious spectatorship
The broken body and the shining body

Ever Since Laura Mulvey identified the visual pleasures of narrative cinema, the objectification of the female body on screen has been a staple of film criticism. 2 Our chapter argues that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga complicates that story of spectatorship by positioning the female heterosexual viewer as ambivalent agent, not just victim. The Twilight Saga, both books and

in Open Graves, Open Minds

147 5 u Immersive spectatorship at the panorama and the aesthetics of the sublime While academic painting could accommodate the aesthetics of the Enquiry by conflating the great style with terrifying, supernatural or irrational subject matter, it did not initially respond to the call for formal innovation that was implicit in Burke’s criticism of painting. The confidence given by neoclassical precepts –​but also by the new status conferred on artists by the Royal Academy –​made it possible to overlook Burke’s argument that, as a literal and mimetic medium

in The challenge of the sublime

In Ann Radcliffes The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, the sublime in nature represents a benevolent patriarchy which works in tandem with ‘the heightened awareness’ that characterizes sensibility in order to educate and empower Emily St Aubert and Ellena di Rosalba. Both of these forces work symbiotically within the gazes (read ‘spectatorship’) of the heroines. Conversely, these forces are threatening to the heroes, in that they limit Valancourts and Vivaldis ability to gain their desires and to influence the events surrounding their beloveds. This gender-based disparity reflects eighteenth century familial politics and suggests that, despite Radcliffes apparent protofeminism in giving her heroines agency over the patriarchal weapons of the sublime and sensibility, her reinventing these forces to empower her heroines at the expense of the heroes actually buys into and supports patriarchal ideals of the roles of difference and sameness in heterosexual desire.

Gothic Studies