Advanced Seminar with Monika Greenleaf
LATENCY AND SEASON: HOW RUSSIAN THEATER PERFORMS IN TIME
The provisional title of my book project is Amor fati: How Russian Theater Conceives Time. It grew out of the year 2007-2008 when I lived in Moscow and saw 90 plays over six months, which was itself an unnaturally condensed experience of time. My intensive reception-diaries recorded the sensory unfolding of every “postanovka,” as well as my changing perceptions of their relation with the current of life outside. This profound and novel experience generated many questions that pertain to writing about a live medium whose nature is to evanesce. I will present highly specific material at the session; these questions open up Parts I and II of the book.
1) What can we learn from a theater season? The 2007-2008 season was filled with time-travel. I felt that I was encountering a different philosophy of temporality in the bare, movement-filled stagings of Russian theater – both in the reorganization of the senses and flows of attention during the theatrical performance, and in season’s preoccupation with immersing audiences and performers in the shifting texture of many different pasts. In 2008 the ministry of education suddenly mandated the use of just two revised history textbooks in the classroom, in order to teach a single purged and unified narrative of Russian history, which in turn dictated the interpretation of all emergent events. Highly theatrical government interventions in the life of the Moscow theater began that year and have become commonplace in 2016-2017, in a split-screen answer to performance-art’s interventions in the life of government, just as Sorokin predicted.
2) How does the theater keep its finger on the pulse of current time, yet speak indispensably to other times? One intriguing concept developed by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht in his books 1926 and Latency takes seriously the Heideggerian premise that Stimmung, the atmosphere or “tuning” of an inchoate time, is eventually precipitated into a world by a poet’s thought. In Part II, I look at plays which emerged in a period of restless latency; surprised their own authors with the intensity of their quasi-musical form; failed miserably in their own time; and became “playable” and even indispensable in later eras of verbal crisis. I have selected Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, Turgenev’s Mesiat’ v derevne, Dostoevsky’s Idiot, and Petrushevskaya’s plays Uroki muzyki and Moskovskii khor as such failed scripts or mute “scores,” which become acts of self-discovery in the performance experiments of another time. I examine the unexpected postanovki of these works by searching directors of the 20th century, culminating in the contentiously vying efforts of theatrical leaders of the Putin era.