Performing Cultural Trauma in Theatre and Film

Cultural Trauma

9 May 2008

Since the groundbreaking work of, amongst others, Cathy Caruth (Unclaimed Experience. Trauma, Narrative, and History, 1996) and Dominik LaCapra (Representing the Holocaust. History, Theory, Trauma, 1994 and History and Memory After Auschwitz, 1998) the notions trauma and memory are employed to fill up the deficit of historical representation. Literature and historical science have already been profoundly nourished by trauma study. Importantly, the theatre and film sciences have not lagged behind, but until now, the efforts made into researching the performance aspect of cultural trauma have not been properly drawn together. In organising this contact forum, it is our intention to close this gap.

The key question underpinning this contact forum is, in essence: how do theatre and film deal with traumatic events that mark out a culture in such a way that they seem to become an integral part of its identity. Whilst at the same time, the representation of these events is impossible, or at least problematic? This inevitably calls into question to what extent the mechanisms of memory developed by theatre and film are proper to these media. Film and theatre are pre-eminently called representative media. If the relationship between memory and history is dislocated and the model of historical representation is no longer valid, then the limits of the classic dramatic aesthetic also become visible. Does the role of 'post-traumatic' film and theatre (Hirsch, 2003) remain restricted to an 'acting out' and 'working through' of the cultural trauma by means of narrative or dramatic structures, or is an aesthetic specific to the trauma created? How do mechanisms of memories function in theatre performances and films become 'post-dramatic'? (Lehmann, 2006) What can the representation of recalcitrant pasts in theatre and film impart to historiography, traditionally the discipline par excellence, that gives meaning to the past? Can theatre and film develop an alternative form of historiography that is not based on representation but on experience?

Institutional Partners & Funding

Sponsered by The Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts