Writing Politically for the Theatre: the Limits of Identity

Irina Borislavova Samokovska
Irina Samokovska
  Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”


When it comes to writing politically for the theatre in the second half of the twentieth century, two major figures are bound to come up – those of Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Müller. This paper seeks to shed light on the different concepts and strategies of the two dramatists regarding the emancipatory potential of theatre.
I argue that the treatment of identity is a major difference between the two.
Müller, himself a keen commentator on the Lehrstück theory, is often regarded as an author implementing a radicalized version of Brecht’s aesthetics. In my paper I attempt to analyze one parameter of this alleged radicalization, namely the switch to a rhizomatic identity in several of Müller’s most pronouncedly experimental plays.
Borrowing concepts from Deleuze and Guattari’s “A Thousand Plateaus”, I suggest that plays like “Hamletmaschine” (1977) and “Quartett” (1981) demonstrate what it means to let multiplicities speak.
Müller maintained that works of art could only be political through their form.
In “Hamletmaschine”’s case, a play dense in quotations, self-quotations, paraphrases and allusions to a wide range of texts, from canonical literary works to pop culture, the German dramatist is said to deploy “Zitatmaschinen” (quotation machines), or, “Sprechinstanzen” (speaking instances), instead of characters.
In my paper I dwell on the political stakes of making it impossible for a play’s recipient to ascribe statements to subjects. What is the significance of forcing the reader/ theatre-goer into an uphill struggle of finding out who is it that is actually speaking? I claim that the resistance to the use of well-rounded characters with a fixed identity and the recourse to a multivoiced and fragmented personhood is a groundbreaking step on the part of Müller in the sphere of dramaturgy of substantial political significance.

Deleuze - subjectivity - rhizome - postdramatic theatre - alienation