Truth in Theatre – Part 3 Acting


So there is no truth to be found in the theatre text. Adorno said that you can’t squeeze a statement out of “Hamlet”. And Bertrand Russell concluded succinctly that all the propositions in “Hamlet” are false because the person Hamlet never existed2. But the actor (or actress) who plays Hamlet does exist.  And he (or she) is supposed to be true.

Truth in theatre is not knowledge that can be experienced or formulated, it is a demand on the performance of actors and actresses. This use of the term “truth” has a long tradition in the theory of acting.

Truth as deception

One of the oldest formulations of this ideal of the art of acting is found in 1749 by the French theatre theorist Sainte-Albine:

“Dramatic poems please us the more they resemble true stories, and the perfection we demand in their performances is actually what is called truth, in the language of the theatre. One understands by this word here the confluence of all probabilities which can serve to deceive the spectators.” 3.

Johann Jakob Engel, for a time director of the Berlin National Theatre, still adopted this view in 1785:

“When words, tone, movement, are in the most perfect agreement with each other, and all in the most perfect agreement with passion, situation and character; only then does the highest possible degree of truth arise, and through this truth the highest possible deception.” 4

Here, then, truth has the function of deceiving. The fact that this contradiction in terms somehow overstretches the concept of truth was soon to be noticed.

Denis Diderot was more cautious in his use of the term:

“Think for a moment about what being true means in the theatre. Does it mean showing things as they are in nature? Not at all. The true, in this case, would be nothing other than the ordinary. But what is the true on stage? It is the conformity of actions, of speech, of appearance, of voice, of movement and gesture to an ideal conceived by the poet and often exaggerated by the actor. This true is the miracle.” 5

Here, then, the true is the miracle – also a use of the concept of truth that needs a lot of explanation.

Truth and beauty

In contrast to his teacher Hegel, for whom the truth of art consists in the concordance of the external and the internal 6, for the theatre critic Heinrich Theodor Rötscher, truth in the performing arts is only one of the two sides that theatre must combine.

“In the art of acting, which is based on the sensualisation of drama, they {the opposites of the general and the individual} appear in the demand to let beauty as well as truth come to their rights in equal measure.”7

For him, beauty stands for ideality, truth for sensually perceptible reality. Without ideality, meaning the dramatic text created by the poet, the actor sinks down to mere “natural truth” 8. Truth alone is not enough. In Rötscher’s idealistic theatre aesthetics, then, truth is no longer the term used to designate the supreme goal of the art of acting.

Truth as belief

It is Stanislavski who gives the concept of truth in theatre a more precise meaning. For him, truth is a quality of the actor’s inner feeling.

“In the theatre it is not important that Othello’s dagger is made of cardboard or metal, but that the inner feeling of the actor himself, which justifies Othello’s murder, is true, sincere and genuine. … We talk about this truth of feeling in the theatre. Here is that scenic truth which is necessary for the actor at the moment of his creation. There is no real art without such truth and belief!” 9.

In Stanislavski’s work, the conceptual pair “truth-deception”, which could be  seen in Sainte-Albine and Engel, becomes the connection “truth-belief”. What the actor’s truth produces is no longer “deception” but “belief”:

“Truth produced belief.” 10.

This “truth” is something the actor or actress produces, not something he or she finds or names.

“Logic and consistency of the actor’s physical actions and sensations lead to truth. 11

Truth for Stanislavski is something internal:

“Truth on stage is what we sincerely believe both in our inner selves and in the souls of our partners.” 12.

This internal state is twofold: it is both a psycho-physical state experienced by the actress or actor and the reflection of this state: one “sincerely believes” in this state. With Stanislavski’s psycho-technique, the actor creates an inner process in order to achieve an effect (belief of the spectator). Because the actor or actress believes in his or her deliberately aroused emotion and feels it as his genuine emotion the audience believes this emotion to be the “truth”.

That the concept of “truth” (Правда) is once again overstretched here only became clear to Stanislawski’s German translators at a later stage. In the GDR, they initially followed Alexandra Meyenburg’s old translation. Ottofritz Gaillard (after 1945 director of the German Theatre Institute in Weimar and later of the acting department of the Theatre Academy in Leipzig) wrote in his handbook for training actors in 1947:

“The truth of the stage as a framework for the truth of sensation and, on the other hand, the truth of sensation as a prerequisite for the truth of the stage, that is the knowledge on which we continue to build.” 13.

His mentor Maxim Vallentin (1927-1932 director of the agitprop group Rotes Sprachrohr, artistic director of the Maxim Gorki Theatre 1952-1968) goes even further: the “stage of truth” unites

“three truths – the truth of feeling, the truth of the stage and the social truth” 14

Here the concept of truth is transferred from the actor (“sensation”) via the content of the theatre productions (“stage”) to politics: the construction of socialism in the GDR is the “social truth” that the theatre serves.

Truth as truthfulness

In West-Germany, people were a little more cautious when dealing with truth. Hans-Günther von Klöden, director of the Hanover Drama School since 1950, felt a slight unease about this Stanislavskian concept of truth:

“So what are we to understand by ‘truth’? […] Perhaps we have made a linguistic slip-up and ‘truthfulness’ is what is meant?” 15

“Truthfulness” (“Wahrhaftigkeit”) is also the term used by the translators of the later GDR edition of Stanisławski’s writings to translate Правда (Pravda).  16 Von Klöden is not satisfied with this way out either:

” … for we are nevertheless thrown back on the concept of truth, since truthfulness is nothing other than the virtue of always telling the truth.”17

Nevertheless, he returns to the concept of “truth”:

“Aristotle only speaks of the truth of propositions or more precisely of  ‘judgements’. But we think that a thing, a process or any other phenomenon can also be true ‘in itself’. And thus ‘truth’ takes on the meaning of ‘reality’, ‘authenticity’. Authenticity of action arises from the ‘centre of gravity’ of the human being. (…) We are not only concerned with playing inwardly, but from the inside out. According to this, art would be above all: the ability to speak the truth clearly.” 18

Here, too, the actor’s truth is something complex: genuine acting out of the person’s centre of gravity and its deliberate clarification.

In English-language textbooks, on the other hand, the Stanislavskian notion of truth seems to persist: “Truth” is the word emblazoned in large letters on the cover of Susan Batson’s acting textbook.

“Stanislavski understood that actors bring characters to life by using the truth of their own experience. The actor’s truth is the truth of honest sensation.” 19.

The German publisher has carefully added a subtitle to the triumphant title: “Wahrhaftigkeit im Schauspiel” (truthfulness in acting).

Truth as an individual relation

In his essay “On the Philosophy of the Actor” (“Zur Philosophie des Schauspielers”), Georg Simmel tries to save the concept of truth in the actor by redefining it. For him, truth is no longer the correspondence between statement and object, nothing universally objective, but a relation between an individual and an object:

“What we call truth about an object is something very diverse, depending on the being for which the truth is to apply (…) Thus for every being there is a truth about every given object that is different because of its individuality.”20

Truth is not a relation between subject and object that would be the same for all intelligent subjects but is different for each “species of being”. “Truth” for Simmel is only the “expression for the appropriate relation between subject and object”. Actors who are “different in their temperaments and talents” also belong to such different “types of being”. Thus, for every type of actor there is a “true” portrayal of a certain role (the example, as always, is Hamlet), but it is not the same for every type of actor and this truth is not always achieved. Thus the concept of truth dissolves and becomes an individual ideal of the relationship between actor and role. How this ideal is to be recognised remains open. The only indication of this ideal is that, if this ideal is not achieved, the viewer’s emotional reaction will be: this realization of this role in this performance  “does not satisfy us” (“befriedigt uns nicht”).

In his collection of texts, Jens Roselt has traced the zigzag path of acting theory between hot and cold actor, between playing from the outside in or from the inside out, in all its details and concludes:

“The dispute about the ‘genuineness’ of feelings cannot be settled in theory.” 21

Intermediate result 3

Truth as a term to denote the goal of acting, of the embodiment of a role, has a tradition that goes back a long way. However, on closer analysis of this use of the term, it dissolves and proves to be unsuitable.

  1. Please forgive me that I use of the generic masculine. The reason for this lies in the texts of acting theory reproduced here. Even in the 21st century, the masculine “the actor” is often used in them when speaking of acting in general. Where it is stylistically bearable, I have tried to make it clear that the statements also refer to actresses as well.
  2. “The propositions in the play are false because there was no such man.” Bertrand Russell, An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth, London: Allen and Unwin, 1962, p. 277
  3. Engl. transl. G.P. „Dramatische Erdichtungen gefallen uns desto mehr, je ähnlicher sie wahrhaften Geschichten sind, und die Vollkommenheit, die wir in ihren Vorstellungen verlangen, ist eigentlich das was man in der Sprache des Theaters, Wahrheit nennet. Man versteht durch dieses Wort hier den Zusammenfluss aller Wahrscheinlichkeiten, welche dienen können, die Zuschauer zu täuschen.“ Rémond de Sainte-Albine, der Schauspieler. Übers. v. Friedrich Justin Bertuch. Altenburg 1772, p.49, original: “Les fictions Dramatiques nous plaisant d’autant plus, qu’elles sont plus semblables à des aventures réelles, la perfection que nous desirons le plus dans la Représentation est ce qu’au Théatre on nomme Vérité. On y entend par ce mot le concours des apparences, qui peuvent servir à tromper des Spectateurs.” Le comédien : ouvrage divisé en deux parties / par M. Remond de Sainte-Albine. Nouvelle édition augmentée & corrigée. Paris: Desaint & Saillant, 1749. p.107. Bertuch translates “apparences” as “probabilities (Wahrscheinlichkeiten)” while actually “appearances” is meant
  4. Engl. transl. G.P. „Wenn Worte, Ton, Bewegung, auf das vollkommenste unter einander, und alle auf vollkommenste mit Leidenschaft, Situation und Charakter übereinstimmen; dann erst entsteht der höchste mögliche Grad der Wahrheit, und durch diese Wahrheit die höchste mögliche Täuschung.“ zit. in: Jens Roselt (Hg.), Schauspieltheorien. Seelen mit Methode. Schauspieltheorien vom Barock – bis zum  postdramatischen Theater. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2005, S.154
  5. „Denken Sie einen Augenblick darüber nach, was auf dem Theater Wahrsein bedeutet. Heisst das, die Dinge so zu zeigen, wie sie in der Natur sind? Keineswegs. Das Wahre in diesem Fall, wäre nichts anderes als das Gewöhnliche. Aber was ist denn das Wahre auf der Bühne? Es ist die Übereinstimmung der Handlungen, des Sprechens, der Erscheinung, der Stimme, der Bewegung und der Geste mit einer von dem Dichter ersonnenen Idealvorstellung, die vom Schauspieler oft noch übersteigert wird. Das ist das Wunder.“ Engl. transl. Ftom German G.P., Denis Diderot, Paradox über den Schauspieler. transl. u. eingeführt von Felix Rellstab. Wädenswil: Verlag Stutz & Co, 1981, p.22. Original: “Réfléchissez un moment sur ce qu’on appelle au théâtre être vrai. Est-ce y montrer les choses comme elles sont en nature? Aucunement. Le vrai en ce sens ne serait que le commun. Qu’est-ce donc que le vrai de la scène? C’est la conformité des actions, des discours, de la figure, de la voix, du mouvement, du geste, avec un modèle idéal imaginé par le poet, et souvent exagéré par le comédien. Voilà le merveilleux.” Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien. Ouvrage posthume. Paris: Sautele, 1830. p. 21.
  6. G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik I. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970 (= Theorie Werkausgabe Bd. 13), S.205
  7. Engl. transl. G.P. „In der Schauspielkunst, welche auf die Versinnlichung des Dramas ausgeht, treten sie {die Gegensätze des Allgemeinen und des Individuellen} zunächst in der Forderung auf, die Schönheit wie die Wahrheit gleichmäßig zu ihrem Rechte kommen zu lassen.“ Heinrich Theodor Rötscher, Die Kunst der dramatischen Darstellung in ihrem organischen Zusammenhang wissenschaftlich entwickelt. (First volume) Leipzig: Otto Wiegand, 2nd edition 1864, p.19
  8. “Naturwahrheit”, ibid. p.21
  9. Engl. transl. from German G.P. „Im Theater ist nicht wichtig, dass der Dolch des Othello aus Karton oder Metall ist, sondern, dass das innere Gefühl des Schauspielers selbst, das den Mord des Othello rechtfertigt, wahr, aufrichtig und echt ist. … Über diese Wahrheit des Gefühls sprechen wir im Theater. Hier ist jene szenische Wahrheit, die für den Schauspieler im Augenblick seines Schaffens nötig ist. Es gibt  keine echte Kunst ohne solche Wahrheit und Glaube!“ Konstantin Sergejewitsch Stanislawskij, Das Geheimnis des schauspielerischen Erfolges.  übers. v. Alexandra Meyenburg. Zürich: Scientia AG, o.J (1940?). {zuerst Moskau 1938}. S.185
  10. „Die Wahrheit erzeugte den Glauben.“ ibid. p.225
  11. Engl. transl. from German G.P „Logik und Folgerichtigkeit der physischen Handlungen und Empfindungen“ des Schauspielers führt zur Wahrheit. ibid. p. 225
  12. „Die Wahrheit auf der Bühne ist das, woran wir aufrichtig sowohl in unserem Innern glauben, als auch in den Seelen unserer Partner.“ Ibid. p. 185
  13. „Die Wahrheit der Bühne als Rahmen für die Wahrheit der Empfindung und andererseits die Wahrheit der Empfindung als Voraussetzung für die Wahrheit der Bühne, das ist die Erkenntnis, auf der wir weiterbauen.“ Ottofritz Gaillard, Das deutsche Stanislawski-Buch. Lehrbuch der Schauspielkunst nach dem Stanislawski-System. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1947, S.191
  14. Die Bühne der Wahrheit“ vereine „die drei Wahrheiten – die Wahrheit der Empfindung, die Wahrheit der Bühne und die gesellschaftliche Wahrheit“ ibid. Geleitwort S.11.
  15. „Was also sollen wir unter ‚Wahrheit‘ verstehen? (…) Vielleicht ist uns eine sprachliche Schlamperei unterlaufen, und es ist ‚Wahrhaftigkeit‘ gemeint?“ Hans Günther von Klöden, Grundlagen der Schauspielkunst II: Improvisation und Rollenstudium. Velber bei Hannover: Friedrich Verlag, 1967 (Reihe Theater heute 24) p.19
  16. Stanisławski. Die Arbeit des Schauspielers an sich selbst. Tagebuch eines Schülers. Teil 1 Die Arbeit an sich selbst im schöpferischen Prozess des Erlebens. übers. v. Ingrid Tintzmann. Westberlin: das europäische Buch, 1981, z.B. S. 148ff, 181
  17. „ … denn wir werden doch wieder auf den Begriff der Wahrheit zurückgeworfen, da ja Wahrhaftigkeit nichts anderes ist als die Tugend, stets die Wahrheit zu sagen.“ A similar, but not entirely synonymous definition is found in Otto Friedrich Bollnow: “While truth (according to the traditional, but for the present context entirely sufficient definition) means the (objective) agreement of a statement with its object, truthfulness means its (subjective) agreement with the opinion of the speaker. (…) But truthfulness (or untruthfulness) turns inwards, i.e. it lives in man’s relation to himself. (…) Truthfulness, therefore, goes to the behaviour of the human being towards himself. It means the inner transparency and the free standing up for oneself.” Übers. G.P., „Während die Wahrheit (nach der überkommenen, aber für den gegenwärtigen Zusammenhang völlig ausreichenden Bestimmung) die (objektive) Übereinstimmung einer Aussage mit ihrem Gegenstand bedeutet, meint die Wahrhaftigkeit ihr (subjektive) Übereinstimmung mit der Meinung des Sprechers. (…) Die Wahrhaftigkeit aber (oder Unwahrhaftigkeit) wendet sich nach innen, d.h. sie lebt in der Beziehung des Menschen zu sich selbst. (…) Die Wahrhaftigkeit geht also auf das Verhalten des Menschen zu sich selbst. Sie bedeutet die innere Durchsichtigkeit und das freie Einstehen für sich selbst.“ Otto Friedrich Bollnow, Wesen und Wandel der Tugenden. Frankfurt/M: Ullstein, 1958, S.138f
  18. “Bei Aristoteles ist nur von der Wahrheit einer Aussage, genauer eines ‚Urteils‘ die Rede. Wir aber meinen, daß auch eine Sache, ein Vorgang oder sonst irgendein Phänomen „in sich“ wahr sein kann. Und damit bekommt die ‚Wahrheit‘ die Bedeutung von ‚Wirklichkeit‘, ‚Echtheit‘. Echtheit des Handelns erwächst aus dem ‚Schwerpunkt‘ des Menschen. (…) Es geht uns nicht nur darum, innerlich, sondern von innen nach außen zu spielen. Kunst wäre hiernach vor allem: die Fähigkeit, die Wahrheit deutlich zu sagen.” v. Klöden, op. cit., p. 20f.
  19. Susan Batson, Truth: Personas, Needs, and Flaws in the Art of Building Actors and Creating Characters. Webster/Stone, 2006 (German: Truth. Wahrhaftigkeit im Schauspiel. Ein Lehrbuch. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2014)
  20. Georg Simmel, “Zur Philosophie des Schauspielers”, in: G.S., Das individuelle Gesetz. Philosophische Exkurse, ed. by Michael Landmann. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1987, p. 85f. The essay was first published posthumously from the estate in: Internationale Zeitung für die Philosophie der Kultur, vol. 9 (1920-1921), pp.339-362. It is not identical with the essay of the same title in: Der Morgen 2.Jg., No.51/52, 18 December 1908, pp.1685-1689
  21. „Der Streit um die ‚Echtheit‘ von Gefühlen kann in der Theorie nicht beigelegt werden.“ Jens Roselt (ed.), Schauspieltheorien. Seelen mit Methode. Schauspieltheorien vom Barock – bis zum  postdramatischen Theater. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2005, introduction p.47

Truth in Theatre – Part 2 Drama

Neither Hegel nor Heidegger nor Adorno apply the concept of truth to theatre. They are concerned with art in general, and in Hegel’s case with drama in particular. The side of theatre that is not identical with the word, the visualisation of text in a theatre performance or the non-linguistic side of theatre, are not essential for its truth content. The work of art is the work of words.

Theatre text and theatre performance

Hegel completely devalues the non-linguistic side of theatre 1 and if a theatre performance succeeds, it is only because the theatre poet has created the right conditions for it in the text.2.
For Heidegger, even all art is ultimately poetry.3 As for Hegel, language has a superior role in art4. If Heidegger mentions theatre once in passing, then in a pejorative sense as a machine of experience, as a medium of showmanship5.
Adorno, on the other hand, describes himself as “half a theatre child.”6. But by “theatre” he always means either drama or opera. His “Notes on Literature” contain the influential essays on dramas by Goethe, Beckett, Brecht, Horvath, etc. In the lovingly ironic essay “Natural History of the Theatre”, which is more a collection of aperçus about the audience and the various premises of a theatre building, it is also only about the opera audience and opera houses.7 He thinks nothing of opera directors who try to save operas “through the mise en scene” or try to “modernise it somehow” 8. Thus, one can expect little enlightenment from Adorno on the relationship of theatre (not drama and not opera) to truth.

One of the few theatre practitioners who dealt with the concept of truth was the director Adolf Dresen 9. He emphasises that the truth of art is a new truth, thus, similar to Heidegger, Adorno and Badiou, he sees truth as something developing, emerging, not as something fixed that art must achieve10. For him, the truth of art is always a “new truth”, and – entirely in the Heideggerian idiom – a truth that reveals itself11. But he too only explains his understanding of the truth of “art” in general, not of the particular role of truth in theatre.

The truth of the theatre text

If one now tentatively agrees to understand truth on the theatre only as the truth of drama, i.e. the theatre text, – what can be said about it using the example of Jon Fosse’s drama “Dream in Autumn” addressed by Ivan Nagel?12

Let’s take the first sentence of Jon Fosse’s text:

“MAN: No is it you”13

No criterion of truth can be applied to this sentence: it is the beginning of a dialogue (between a man and a woman), it is spoken in a specific situation (reunion at the cemetery), it is fictional (part of a text that constructs its own reality), it is an interrogative sentence. Let’s try another sentence:

“MOTHER: Nothing stays / everything moves / like clouds / A life is a cloudy sky /before it gets dark.”14

This looks like a propositional sentence, but how are we to judge that it is true? It contains a metaphor and judges something as general as “a life”. Metaphors cannot be true. Nor is the truth of a theatre text to be sought at this level. There are only a few such life-like sentences in Fosse’s work. He also immediately devalues them with sentences like:

“MAN: We’re just talking /Actually all nonsense /What we say /Just talk/ Yes”15.

Fosse himself also sees the truth of his texts not in the individual sentences but, quite Hegelian, in the whole:

“Didn’t someone say here: Truth is always concrete? … I am concerned with the whole of a text, and the world in the text speaks of the whole and is therefore present in every part, in every detail of the text.”16

The truth of a drama, or its participation in truth, cannot therefore lie in individual propositions, but only in the drama as a whole. The drama as a whole speaks a non-discursive language (although it also consists of many discursive sentences). So what this truth is that the drama expresses or conveys cannot be discursively formulated. But nevertheless it is supposed to exist, this trans-subjective something, the truth of the work of art. For Adorno, then, critique would have to work out this truth, although it cannot be squeezed out of the drama as a statement (see Adorno’s remark about “Hamlet”17).

The example of “Dream in Autumn”

So what would be true about “Dream in Autumn”? The experience of time, for example, how past and present mix in consciousness. In Fosse’s play, the time levels mix imperceptibly, forwards and backwards. Of course, in real life we can distinguish past and present, but in our consciousness current perceptions, memories and plans for the future do mix. Only these expanded temporal dimensions give meaning and significance to our perceptions in the here and now. Would that be the truth of this play? If so, – it has been worked out, it is the result of the reflections of an individual recipient. It is trans-subjective at most as an imposition on others to agree with this truth (cf. Kant’s judgement of taste) 18. Of course, “Dream in Autumn” has a part in the “untruthfulness of the age”: the characters are not happy, their communication is unconsciously instrumental, the image of women that the three female characters portray is pitiful, even if at the end they march into the future as a surviving, seemingly reconciled trio.

What is crucial, however, is that what is called “truth” in Heideggersch-Adornitic diction emerges from a communicative act between artwork and recipient. Viewed soberly, this “truth” is different in every head – and thus loses the justification of a supra-individual validity. If everyone has their own truth, there is no point in ascribing truth to these different thoughts of different individuals. 19 That these many thoughts are stimulated by a single object, the work of art, or in theatre by a common experience, is the essence of art. Art is communication, not truth, that is the insight of hermeneutics20. Gadamer does take up the question of the truth of art, but then resolves it in the back and forth of the playful conversation between the work of art and the art recipient. The claim of “lifting {so-called} reality to its truth” through art 21 becomes in the end only the “truth of play” 22. This overstretches the concept of truth beyond its possible meanings.

If there were one or more “truths” in “Dream in Autumn”, they must surely have been noticed by someone. In the reviews of the world premiere at the Schaubühne Berlin and in those of the production of the Münchner Kammerspiele invited to the Theatertreffen, the word “truth” is not to be found, not even the adjective “true”. The judgements of the play, the theatre text as distinguished from its performance, are cautiously positive in the premiere, but negative in the Munich production. The relationship between the evaluation of the theatre text and the production is reversed. Günther Grack in the Tagesspiegel only notes at the premiere that Fosse’s play abstains from “any message pointing beyond it” 23. Eva Corino criticises “flight into false simplicity” 24, Barbara Villiger-Heilig complains on the occasion of the Munich performance that the text “cannot hide its weak points where it becomes philosophical” 25. Marietta Piekenbrock immediately hands out “the sour pickle for the weakest play of the season” 26. The production of the world premiere is benevolently depreciated (“schade” Dirk Pilz 27, “remarkably successful in extracting a maximum of atmospheric appeal and psychological tension from the diffuse web”, Günther Grack28), the Munich production unambiguously praised: “wonderful” (Dirk Pilz), “wonderful” (Rüdiger Schaper29), “great” (Simone Meier 30).
If you look for truth-apt sentences in these reviews that go beyond the description of what happens on stage and the reproduction of the audience’s feelings, the most you will find are sentences like the one by Dirk Pilz:

“To live is to prepare for death, to love is to practice saying goodbye.” 31

Or Christopher Schmidt’s:

“Two things, death and love, take you off your feet.” 32

However, as in many theatre reviews, these sentences deliberately remain in limbo between the reproduction of views attributed to the theatre text or production and general statements by the critic. They are part of the game. Such statements do not claim general validity, they are subjective attempts to mediate between the theatre text or the experienced performance and the spectator, are tentative generalisations that are aware of their unalterable subjectivity. 33.

Interim result 2

The application of the concept of “truth” to a theatre text is thus only possible if truth is something absolute, the idea, the whole, being or the like. Truth as propositional truth is not applicable to texts of theatre literature. Empirically, the use of the term “truth” as an evaluative concept of art reception seems to have died out sometime in the 1970s. Only the philosophical fossil Alain Badiou still uses it.


Part 3 (The Actor’s Truth) and Part 4 (Truth and Representation) will (hopefully) follow soon.

  1. see my contribution “Hegel and the Theatre”
  2. see my contribution “With Hegel in the Theatre”
  3. “All art, as letting happen the arrival of the truth of being as such, is in essence poetry.” „Alle Kunst ist als Geschehenlassen der Ankunft der Wahrheit des Seienden als eines solchen im Wesen Dichtung.“ Martin Heidegger, Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks. Mit der „Einführung“ von Hans-Georg Gadamer und der ersten Fassung des Textes (1935) Frankfurt/M: Klostermann, 2012, p.59
  4. “Nevertheless, the linguistic work, poetry in the narrower sense, has a distinguished position in the whole of the arts.” “Gleichwohl hat das Sprachwerk, die Dichtung im engeren Sinne eine ausgezeichnete Stellung im Ganzen der Künste.“ Heidegger, Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks, op. cit. p.61
  5. “Everything to be represented should only act as foreground and surface, aiming at the impression, the effect, the wish to impress and stir up: ‘theatre’.” „Alles Darzustellende soll nur wirken als Vordergrund und Vorderfläche, abzielend auf den Eindruck, den Effekt, das Wirken- und Aufwühlenwollen: ‚Theater‘.“ Martin Heidegger, „Nietzsche I“ in: Gesamtausgabe Bd. 6,1. Frankfurt/M: Klostermann, 1996, S.85. Quoted by Marten Weise, „Heideggers Schweigen vom Theater“, in: Leon Gabriel, Nikolaus Müller-Schöll (Hg.) Das Denken der Bühne. Szenen zwischen Theater und Philosophie. Bielfeld: Transkript, 2019. Weise fictionalises a vision of theatre  that Heidegger should have written but did not
  6. “After all, I consider myself half a theatre child.” “Ich betrachte mich ja selber als ein halbes Theaterkind.“ Theodor W. Adorno, „Theater, Oper, Bürgertum“ in: Egon Vietta (Hg.), Theater. Darmstädter Gespräch 1955. Darmstadt: Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt, 1955, p.139
  7. Adorno, Musikalische Schriften I-III. Gesammelte Werke Vol. 16, pp.309-320. The individual texts first appeared in the “Blättern des Hessischen Landestheaters, Darmstadt” 1931-33.
  8. Adorno, Darmstädter Gespräch 1955, op. cit. p.139
  9. Adolf Dresen (1935-2001) was a theatre director first in the GDR at the Deutsche Theater, then at the Burgtheater in Vienna, in Frankfurt am Main and later an opera director at various European theatres
  10. “The truth of art is {…} the new truth, it depends on the real discovery of truth. When truth is discovered, it is in contradiction with the previous image of the world, with the previous truth, the old truth. The truth of art takes truth seriously as a historical category.” „Die Wahrheit der Kunst ist {…} die neue Wahrheit, es kommt ihr an auf die wirkliche Entdeckung der Wahrheit. Wenn die Wahrheit entdeckt wird, ist sie im Widerspruch mit dem bisherigen Bild der Welt, mit der bisherigen Wahrheit, der alten Wahrheit. Die Wahrheit der Kunst macht Ernst mit der Wahrheit als einer historischen Kategorie.“ Adolf Dresen, „Wahrheitsagen“, in: Siegfrieds Vergessen. Kultur zwischen Konsens und Konflikt. Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 1992 {auch in Sinn und Form 1992}, p.212
  11. “It is this crust of self-evidence that art breaks through. {…} Truth is a performance. It is the reality behind reality, the other reality not of the existing, the recognised, the established, but of the astonishing, the astounding, even the miraculous. {…} The truth of art is the new truth, but it is also the new truth. It is neither a flat imitation nor pure aestheticism, but cognition. It is neither the existing truth nor the ignored truth, but the truth that has been unknown until now, the truth that is revealing itself.” „Es ist diese Kruste der Selbstverständlichkeit, die die Kunst durchbricht. {…} Die Wahrheit ist eine Leistung. Sie ist die Wirklichkeit hinter der Wirklichkeit, die andere Wirklichkeit nicht des Bestehenden, Anerkannten, Festgestellten, sondern des Erstaunlichen, Verblüffenden, ja des Wunderbaren. {…} Die Wahrheit der Kunst ist die neue Wahrheit, aber sie ist eben auch die neue Wahrheit. Sie ist weder der platte Abklatsch noch der pure Ästhetizismus, sondern Erkennen. Sie ist weder die bestehende noch die ignorierte, sondern die bis eben unbekannte, die sich offenbarende Wahrheit.“ Adolf Dresen op. cit., p.222f.
  12. An excellent, methodologically very conscious and detailed work on Jon Fosse’s “Dream in Autumn” is the thesis by Marion Titsch, Das Ungesagte im Gesagten. Dramaturgische Untersuchungen zu Jon Fosses Theatertexten Draum om hausten und Svevn sowie deren Inszenierungen von Luk Perceval und Michael Thalheimer. Diplomarbeit Universität Wien 2009.
  13. „MANN: Nein bist du das“ Jon Fosse, Traum im Herbst und andere Stücke. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2001 p. 91
  14. “MUTTER: Nichts bleibt / alles zieht / wie Wolken / Ein Leben ist ein Wolkenhimmel /bevor es dunkel wird“ p.135
  15. „MANN: Wir reden ja nur / Eigentlich alles Unsinn /was wir sagen /Nur Gerede/ Ja“ p.115
  16. „Sagte nicht jemand hier: Die Wahrheit ist immer konkret? … Es geht mir um das Ganze eines Textes, und die Welt im Text spricht vom Ganzen und ist daher in jedem Teil, in jedem Detail des Textes präsent.“ Programme booklet for “Traum im Herbst” Münchner Kammerspiele. Premiere 29 November 2001. The someone Fosse is referring to is probably Hegel, although the quote was subsequently attributed to Lenin and Brecht. “The true, the spirit, is concrete {…} Only the concrete is the real, which bears the differences.” „Das Wahre, der Geist, ist konkret {…} Nur das Konkrete ist das Wirkliche, welches die Unterschiede trägt.“ Hegel, WA vol. 18 Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie , p.45 u. 53
  17. “Keine Aussage wäre aus *Hamlet* herauszupressen; dessen Wahrheitsgehalt ist darum nicht geringer.“ Ästhetische Theorie, p. 193
  18. That was roughly the meaning of my awkward answer to Ivan Nagel, that I consider truth to be something objective, whereas the critical appraisal of a play depends on the justification of a subjective judgement
  19. „If it’s open to the individual spectator to derive certain implications into one universal proposition or another, then we are no longer talking about a straightforward instance of learning from true propositions (implicitly) expressed in the play; instead we are talking about a kind of interaction between spectator and performance, in which the spectator develops or reflects upon her own view in relation to the play.“ Tom Stern, Philosophy and Theatre. An introduction. London: Routledge, 2014, p.54
  20. “For the dialectic of question and answer which we have exhibited makes the relation of understanding appear as an interrelation of the kind of a conversation. It is true that the text does not speak to us in the same way as a you. We, the understanders, must first make it talk to us. But it has been shown that such an understanding making it speak is not an arbitrary use of its own origin, but is itself related as a question to the answer expected in the text. {…} This is the truth of effect-historical consciousness.” „Denn die Dialektik von Frage und Antwort, die wir aufwiesen, lässt das Verhältnis des Verstehens als ein Wechselverhältnis von der Art eines Gesprächs erscheinen. Zwar redet der Text nicht so zu uns wie ein Du. Wir, die Verstehenden, müssen ihn von uns aus erst zum Reden bringen. Aber es hatte sich gezeigt, dass solche verstehendes Zum-Reden-Bringen kein beliebiger Einsatz aus eigenem Ursprung ist, sondern selber wieder als Frage auf die im Text gewärtigte Antwort bezogen ist. {…} Das ist die Wahrheit des wirkungsgeschichtlichen Bewusstseins.“ Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1960,, p.359
  21. “Aufhebung der {sogenannten} Wirklichkeit zu ihrer Wahrheit“ Gadamer op. cit., p. 108
  22. Gadamer op. cit., p. 465
  23. „jeder über es hinausweisenden Botschaft“
  24. „Flucht in die falsche Einfachheit“ in: “Fjord Idyll. Das Phänomen Jon Fosse” Berliner Zeitung 18.12.2001
  25. „da wo er philosophisch wird, seine Schwachstellen nicht verbergen“ in: “Leben vor dem Tod. München mit Traum im Herbst” Neue Zürcher Zeitung 1.12.2001
  26. “die saure Gurke für die schwächste Spielvorlage der Saison“ Marietta Piekenbrock, “Heilige Hedda! In München eilt Luk Perceval durch den ‘Traum im Herbst'” Frankfurter Rundschau 1.12.2001
  27. “Verfall, Verlust und Niedergang. Elegisch: Wulf Twiehaus versetzt an der Schaubühne mit Jan Fosse’s Trauerspiel ‘Traum im Herbst’ sein Publikum in einen anhaltenden Zitterzustand”, die tageszeitung 1. 2.2001!1145941/
  28. „bemerkenswert gelungen, aus dem diffusen Gespinst ein Maximum an atmosphärischen  ein Maximum an atmosphärischen Reizen und psychologischen Spannungen herauszuholen“ Der Tagesspiegel 17.10.2201
  29. “Das Wunder einer Stunde. Luk Perceval illuminiert Jon Fosses ‘Traum im Herbst’ an den  Münchner Kammerspielen” Der Tagesspiegel 1.12.2001 cf. Wolfgang Behrend’s wonderful Nachtkritik column “Wunderbar wegkürzen!”
  30. “Mehr November war selten auf einer Bühne. Trauerarbeit in den Münchner Kammerspielen: ‘Traum im Herbst’ von Jon Fosse, inszeniert von Luk Perceval”, Tages-Anzeiger 1.12.2002
  31. „Leben heißt Vorbereitung auf den Tod, Lieben Einübung in den Abschied.“die Tageszeitung 1.2.2001
  32. „Zwei Dinge, Tod und Liebe, holen einen von den Beinen.“ Christopher Schmidt, “Ist ein Cutter, der heißt Tod. Lachender Moribund: luk Perceval inszeniert Jon Fosses ‘Traum im Herbst’ an den  Münchner Kammerspielen”, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1.12.2001
  33. After twenty years, it is touching to read  these sentences about death by the two great theatre critics Dirk Pilz ✝︎2018 and Christopher Schmidt ✝︎2017 who died so too soon, one vacillates between shuddering and indignation at death or at life.

Truth in Theatre – Part 1 Art

The primal scene

It was in 2002, in the mirror tent of the Berlin Theatertreffen, where the audience discussions following the performances took place at the time:

“This juror has no idea what truth is”1

the universally revered Ivan Nagel exclaimed from the auditorium. It was the evening after the performance of Luk Perceval’s production of Jon Fosse’s then new play “Dream in Autumn.” The Munich Kammerspiele were guests at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele with Dagmar Manzel and Stephan Bissmeier. And it had been my turn to present the reasons for the jury’s selection of this production2.

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate in a famous trial, and then rendered the most momentous miscarriage of justice in Western history. That bumbling juror on the podium was indeed somehow barking up the wrong tree, but he wasn’t quite as clueless as he seemed, even then. The tumult in the mirror tent and Franz Wille’s eloquent defense of my position prevented Ivan Nagel from explaining further what exactly he understood by truth. So what could Ivan Nagel have meant by truth in the theatre?

The concept of truth

Truth on the Theatre  is different from ordinary truth. The concept of truth, when used by theatre people, has a completely different meaning than in science. With the theories of truth in contemporary philosophy – semantic or representative concept of truth, evidential, consensual, or coherence theory of truth3 – it has nothing to do. In any case, modern philosophy of science gets along largely without the concept of truth.4 The concept of truth in theatre (and theatre theory) comes more from the Plato-Hegel-Heidegger-Adorno-Badiou line of tradition than from the Aristotle-Thomas Aquinas-Kant-Wittgenstein line.

There is no treatise on truth in Nagel’s writings; only once does he mention Alfred Kerr’s enthusiastic exclamation in the face of a guest performance of Stanislavsky’s production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in 1906.

“It is the truth – the truth!” 5

It is obvious to assume that Ivan Nagel, as a student of Adorno, referred to his academic teacher’s concept of truth. But Adorno’s concept of truth must also be placed in the context of Hegel’s and Heidegger’s theories of truth in order to understand what the concept of truth can and cannot mean in its application to theater. This essay is not just a ridiculously vain effort to wipe an old slate clean, but also to shed some light on the current discussion of authenticity and representation in the theatre.

The truth of art

In order to be able to say something about truth in theatre, one must first clarify the concept of truth, then its application to art, and finally one must consider the special conditions of theatre as an art form. The following account is certainly simplified in layman’s terms and does not take into account the widely differing basic assumptions of the various philosophers, and remains on the surface of what is of interest to theatre theory, but is thereby perhaps understandable the general public.

The most common concept of truth is that first formulated by Aristotle:

“To say of something that is that it is not, or of something that is not that it is, is false; whereas to say of something that it is, and of something that is not, that it is not, is true.”6.

This correspondence concept of truth, or this adequation theory of truth, limits the application of the concept of truth to propositional sentences. From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas and Ockham to Kant, there is agreement that truth is propositional truth, correspondence of thought and object. The circularity of this definition is noticed only in the 20th century and leads to various attempts to save (Tarski) or to replace (Habermas) this correspondence theory. Art has nothing to do with this business.

From Plato to Hegel

Plato, on the other hand, had related the concept to a higher reality: the ideas (forms) are true for him because they have a higher form of reality than empirical reality7. It is to this ontological-gnoseological concept of truth that Hegel links8 (following Fichte) when he devalues the correspondence concept of truth to mere “correctness” 9 and truth defined as “agreement of a content with itself.”10. For Hegel, truth is only the spirit that has come to itself, agreement of the absolute spirit with itself. So only the whole is the truth11, not a proposition, but the whole self-developing apprehension of reality.

In this process of the spirit’s coming to itself, art has a decisive role. Through the correspondence of the concept of a work of art with its concrete Dasein, through its combination of complete freedom of the parts and necessity of their correspondence, a work of art (“the beautiful”) has truth.

“For according to its essence, in the beautiful object both its concept, its purpose, and the soul of it, as well as its external determinateness, diversity, and reality, must appear as effected by itself and not by others, in that, as we saw, it has truth only as an intrinsic unity and as correspondence of determinate existence and genuine essence and concept. {…} Both must be present in the beautiful object: the necessity that its particular sides belong together which is set by its concept,  and the appearance of freedom of its particular parts as being produced for themselves and not only for the unity of the whole. {…} Through this freedom and infinity, which the concept of the beautiful bears in itself as well as the beautiful object and its subjective contemplation, the the area of the beautiful is wrested from the relativity of finite relations and elevated into the absolute realm of the idea and its truth.”12

Here, then, art receives a function in a process whose goal is truth, and only because it is part of this process can there be talk of the end of art in Hegel, namely when, in this process of self-development and self-understanding of the absolute spirit, art cedes its role as “front man” to pure reflection, i.e. philosophy.

From Heidegger to Adorno

This emphatic concept of truth, that truth is the whole and cannot be attributed to a single proposition, will – in spite of all Nietzsche’s polemics against the concept of truth13 – be crucial to philosophical aesthetics and art theory in the 20th century . Both Heidegger and Adorno see the task of art in this process of unfolding a truth. The similarities are striking despite all political, and stylistic contrasts, despite all different basic assumptions – if one reduces them to the aspect of the relation of art to truth – and ignores what the two great thinkers each understand by truth14.

The work of art relates the individuals, the recipients of art, to something super-individual. The reception of a work of art is not only an individual experience, not only a process of excitation in the consciousness of the recipients, but the mediation of a connection to something supra-individual, which both Heidegger and Adorno call “truth.”


“…does not degrade the work into the role of an catalyst of excitement. The preservation of the work does not isolate people to their experiences, but engages them into affiliation of the truth happening in the work….” 15


“The truth of the work of art, however, cannot be imagined in any other way than that in the subjectively imagined An sich something trans-subjective becomes legible. Its mediation is the work.” 16

For Heidegger as for Adorno, truth is nothing static, nothing existing. For both, art is a becoming, a happening, and truth then a Gewordenes, something that has happened:


“Art is the establishing of truth setting itself up in the form (Gestalt).{…} So art is the creating preservation of truth in the work. Then art is a becoming and happening of truth.” 17


“Art is interpretable only by its law of motion, not by invariants. It determines itself in relation to what it is not. {..} Axiomatic for a reoriented aesthetics is the insight, developed by the late Nietzsche against traditional philosophy, that what has evolved can also be true. The traditional view demolished by him would have to be turned upside down: Truth only exists  as something that has evolved (Gewordenes).” 18

Both Heidegger and Adorno emphasize the ambiguity, the paradox of art’s relation to truth:


“To the essence of truth as the unconcealed belongs this denial in the manner of the twofold concealment.”
“The essence of truth is in itself the primordial dispute, in which that open middle is contended for, into which being enters and from which it withdraws into itself.” 19


“Art is true insofar as that which speaks from it and it itself is ambivalent, unreconciled, but this truth is granted to it when it synthesizes the split and thereby determines it only in its irreconcilability. Paradoxically, it has to testify to the unreconciled and at the same time tend to reconcile it; this is possible only to its non-discursive language.” 20

Because truth is not simply present in art, it depends on the right way of dealing with works of art in order to unfold truth. Heidegger calls this unfolding of the truth of the work of art “preservation”; for Adorno it is “philosophical reflection” and “critique.”


“To follow this dislocation means: to transform the habitual references to the world and to the earth and henceforth to hold back all familiar doing and valuation, knowing and looking, in order to dwell in the truth happening in the work. […] To let the work be a work, we call the preservation of the work.” 21 Das Werk ein Werk sein lassen, nennen wir die Bewahrung des Werkes.“ Heidegger op. cit., p.53.]
“The very reality of the work, on the other hand, comes into play only where the work is preserved in the truth that occurs through it.” 22


“The truth content of the works of art is the objective resolution of the riddle of each individual work. By demanding the solution, it points to the truth content. This can only be gained through philosophical reflection. … No statement could be squeezed out of Hamlet; its truth content is therefore no less.” “Grasping the truth content postulates criticism. Nothing is apprehended whose truth or untruth is not apprehended, and that is the critical business.” 23

Here, from the point of view of theater criticism, in search of the instruction manual for dealing with the artworks of theater, lies the crucial difference: according to Heidegger, the artwork is to be “preserved” in its reception; according to Adorno, it is to be critically reflected upon.
In Adorno’s “Early Introduction” to his Ästhetische Theorie, there is a passage that perhaps captures what Ivan Nagel would have wanted to reproach the uninformed juror back then in 2002, had he been allowed to finish:

“Works of art are understood only where their experience reaches the alternative of true and untrue or, as its preliminary stage, that of right and wrong. Criticism is not external to aesthetic experience, but immanent to it. Understanding a work of art as a complexion of truth brings it into relation with its untruth, for there is none that does not participate in the untruth apart from it, that of the world age. Aesthetics, which does not move in the perspective of truth, slackens before its task; most often it is culinary. Because the moment of truth is essential to works of art, they participate in cognition and thus the legitimate relation to them (participates in cognition).” 24

Badiou’s scheme

Alain Badiou has attempted to organize theories about the relationship between art and truth into three schemes:

  1. The didactic schema (Plato): art cannot produce truth. It is only the deceptive appearance of truth. Truth exists only outside art. Therefore art must be regulated.
  2. the romantic scheme: truth exists only in art (and in philosophy, but art truth is the completion of philosophical truth by embodiment).
  3. the classical scheme (Aristotle): there is no truth in art, but that is not bad. It has other tasks.

Against this Badiou puts his own theory of truth25. There is no such thing as truth, only truths. Truth, for Badiou, is not a property of a judgment, but a process in reality through which something new emerges. There are four different truth processes: Science, Politics, Love (!) and Art. The truths of art are immanent to it, found only in it, and they are singular, existing nowhere else26. For Badiou, however, it is not the artworks themselves that are the truths, but:

“A work of art represents an inquiry into the truth that is actualized in the work of art as its locus, or whose finite fragment it is.” 27

For Badiou, artistic truth is also not the individual work, but an “artistic configuration” that goes back to a triggering event, an upheaval. By configuration, Badiou means something like an artistic paradigm, an epoch, or a dominant style. He cites as examples of modernism: “serialism, romantic prose, the age of poets, a break with pictorial representation.” 28

For Badiou, Heidegger’s theory of art clearly belongs to the Romantic schema. This should also be true for Adorno’s theory, if one wants to follow Badiou’s somewhat crude scheme. After all, for Adorno, philosophical reflection is only an aid to disentangling the truth content of the work of art.

Interim result 1

Preliminary result thus: Ivan Nagel had a Romantic-Adornite conception of truth and now wanted to demand of the critic that he justify the selection of the production as one of the most “remarkable” of the vintage with its “truth.”

  1. In the following annotations you will find English translations of the German original, which are my own, followed by the original quotation in German.
  2. Franz Wille called it a scene of “Homeric power” and took it as the occasion for his season essay in the yearbook of “Theater heute”: Franz Wille, „Im Auge des blinden Flecks. Über das Theater der Repräsentationen und seine Matrix, über Schwierigkeiten mit der Wahrheit von Nietzsche bis Nagel und manche andere Perspektive.“ Theater heute Jahrbuch 2003, pp. 102-113
  3. For a clear, brief account of modern theories of truth, see Thomas Grundmann, Philosophische Wahrheitstheorien. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2018. Grundmann considers the clarification of the concept of truth to be an urgent political task. A more detailed, older account is L. Bruno Puntel, Wahrheitstheorien in der neueren Philosophie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1983. The main basic texts can be found in Gunnar Skirbekk (ed.), Wahrheitstheorien. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1977.
  4. Karl Popper does hold to the “idea of absolute truth,” but only as a limiting concept to refer to our infinite fallibility: “The idea of absolute truth is necessary so that we live incessantly in the consciousness of our fallibility.” Karl Popper, „Interview mit l’Express“ 1982, dt. in: Aufklärung und Kritik 2/1994, pp. 38ff
  5. „Manchmal, {…} sagt man sich: nun ja, die einzelnen sind Darsteller, bescheidene Einzelwerte … aber das Ganze gefaßt, glaubt man, wie der Diable boiteux in abgedeckte Häuser zu blicken … Es ist die Wahrheit – die Wahrheit.“  English: “Sometimes, {…} one says to oneself: well, the individuals are performers, modest individual values … but the whole taken together, one thinks one is looking, like the Diable boiteux, into covered houses … It is the truth – the truth.” Alfred Kerr, “Ich sage, was zu sagen ist” Theaterkritiken 1893-1919 (Werke Bd. VII.1) ed. Günther Rühle. Frankfurt/M: S. Fischer 1998, p.267
  6. „τὸ μὲν γὰρ λέγειν τὸ ὄν μὴ εἶναι ἢ τὸ μὴ ὂν εἶναι ψεῦδος, τὸ δὲ τὸ ὂν εἶναι καὶ τὸ μὴ ὂν μὴ εἶναι ἀληθές” „Von etwas, was ist, zu sagen, dass es nicht ist oder von etwas, was nicht ist, dass es ist, ist falsch; hingegen ist wahr, von etwas zu sagen, dass es ist und von etwas, das nicht ist, zu sagen, dass es nicht ist.“ Metaphysics IV,7 1011b
  7. Jan Szaif proves that even the late Plato formulated this correspondence concept of truth in his Sophistes: Jan Szaif, „Die Geschichte des Wahrheitsbegriffs in der klassischen Antike“ in: Markus Enders & Jan Szaif (Hg.), Die Geschichte des philosophischen Begriffs der Wahrheit. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2006, p.16f
  8. “Hegel’s doctrine of truth thus appears at first glance as a dynamized variant of Christian Platonism.” „Hegels Lehre von der Wahrheit erscheint somit auf den ersten Blick als dynamisierte Variante des christlichen Platonismus.“  Herbert Schnädelbach, Antrittsvorlesung 26. Mai 1993.
  9. “Correctness and truth are very often regarded as synonymous in common life, and accordingly the truth of a content is often spoken of where mere correctness is concerned. Correctness only refers to the formal agreement of our conception with its content, whatever else this content may be. Truth, on the other hand, consists in the agreement of the object with itself, i.e., with its concept.” “Richtigkeit und Wahrheit werden im gemeinen Leben sehr häufig als gleichbedeutend betrachtet, und demgemäß wird oft von der Wahrheit eines Inhalts gesprochen, wo es sich um bloße Richtigkeit handelt. Diese betrifft überhaupt nur die formelle Übereinstimmung unserer Vorstellung mit ihrem Inhalt, wie dieser Inhalt auch sonst beschaffen sein mag. Dahingegen besteht die Wahrheit in der Übereinstimmung des Gegenstandes mit sich selbst, d.h. mit seinem Begriff.” G.W.F. Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970 (WA Bd.8), S. 323, §172 Zusatz
  10. “In the philosophical sense, on the other hand, truth, expressed abstractly in general, means agreement of a content with itself. {…} Untrue then means as much as bad, in itself inappropriate. {…} the bad and untrue in general consists in the contradiction that takes place between the determination or the concept and the existence of an object.” „Im philosophischen Sinn dagegen heißt Wahrheit, überhaupt abstrakt ausgedrückt, Übereinstimmung eines Inhalts mit sich selbst. {…} Unwahr heißt dann soviel als schlecht, in sich selbst unangemessen. {…} das Schlechte und Unwahre überhaupt besteht in dem Widerspruch, der zwischen der Bestimmung oder dem Begriff und der Existenz eines Gegenstandes stattfindet.“ G.W.F. Hegel, WA Bd.8, S. 86 §24 Zusatz 2 . Rainer Schäfer sets out the reasons for this change in the definition of truth. They lie in the idealistic basic conception of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. Cf. Rainer Schäfer, „Das holistisch-systemische Wahrheitskonzept im deutschen Idealismus (Fichte-Hegel)” In: Enders & Szaif (eds.) op. cit. S. 251
  11. “The true is the whole…. But the whole is only the being completing itself through its development.” „Das Wahre ist das Ganze.. Das Ganze aber ist nur das durch seine Entwicklung sich vollendende Wesen.“ G.W.F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, Einleitung. (WA Bd. 3) Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970, p. 24
  12. “Denn dem Wesen nach muss in dem schönen Objekt sowohl der Begriff, der Zweck und die Seele desselben wie seine äußere Bestimmtheit, Mannigfaltigkeit und Realität überhaupt aus sich selbst und nicht durch andere bewirkt erscheinen, indem es, wie wir sahen, nur als immanente Einheit und Übereinstimmung des bestimmten Daseins und echten Wesens und Begriffs Wahrheit hat. {…} Beides muss im schönen Objekte vorhanden sein: die durch den Begriff gesetzte Notwendigkeit im Zusammengehören der besonderen Seiten und der Schein ihrer Freiheit als für sich und nicht nur für die Einheit hervorgegangener Teile. {…} Durch diese Freiheit und Unendlichkeit, welche der Begriff des Schönen wie die schöne Objektivität und deren subjektive Betrachtung in sich trägt, ist das Gebiet des Schönen der Relativität endlicher Verhältnisse entrissen und in das absolute Reich der Idee und ihrer Wahrheit emporgetragen.“ G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik I. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970 (WA Bd. 13), p.156f
  13. The hackneyed quotation may not be missing here: “So what is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations, which, poetically and rhetorically enhanced, have been transmitted, adorned, and which, after long use, seem to a people fixed, canonical, and binding: the truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are any, metaphors which have become worn out and sensually powerless.” „Was ist also Wahrheit? Ein bewegliches Heer von Metaphern, Metonymien, Anthropomorphismen, kurz eine Summe von menschlichen Relationen, die, poetisch und rhetorisch gesteigert, übertragen, geschmückt wurden und die nach langem Gebrauch einem Volke fest, kanonisch und verbindlich dünken: die Wahrheiten sind Illusionen, von denen man vergessen hat, dass sie welche sind, Metaphern, die abgenutzt und sinnlich kraftlos geworden sind.“ Friedrich Nietzsche, „Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außenmoralischen Sinne“,
  14. Heidegger deals extensively and repeatedly with the concept of truth, e.g. in “Being and Time” §44: “The statement is true, means: it discovers the being in itself {…} Wahrsein (truth) of the statement must be understood as entdeckend-sein (discovering).” „Die Aussage ist wahr, bedeutet: sie entdeckt das Seiende an ihm selbst {…} Wahrsein (Wahrheit) der Aussage muss verstanden werden als entdeckend-sein.“ Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 15th ed. 1979, p.218. Here Heidegger tries to ground the traditional correspondence-theoretical concept of truth existentially ontologically in the structure of human existence: “Truth in the original sense is the the state of being discovered of human existence, to which the discovering of the inner-worldly being belongs.” “Wahrheit im ursprünglichen Sinne ist die Erschlossenheit des Daseins, zu der die Entdecktheit des innenweltlichen Seienden gehört.“op. cit. S.223.
    Adorno refuses to define truth for good reasons. Even in his lecture “Philosophical Terminology” (1962/63) the term “truth” does not appear as a terminus of philosophy to be explained, but it is nevertheless constantly used. After all, there is a definition of philosophy: “This is how I would define {…} philosophy: as the movement of the mind whose own intention is truth, without imagining to have this truth as an already finished thing in one of its own propositions or in any shape of immediacy.” „So würde ich {…} Philosophie definieren: als die Bewegung des Geistes, deren eigene Intention Wahrheit ist, ohne dass sie wähnte, nun in einem ihrer eigenen Sätze oder in irgendeiner Gestalt der Unmittelbarkeit dieses Wahrheit als ein bereits Fertiges zu haben.“ Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophische Terminologie I und II, Hg.v. Henri Lonitz. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016, p.114. And a concise determination of the relationship between art and philosophy: “If in art the truth or the objective or the absolute becomes entirely expression, then conversely in philosophy expression, at least according to its tendency, becomes truth.” P. 113. Adorno, of course, is not uncritical of Hegel: “Spirit, which is supposed to be totality, is a nonsense.” Geist, der Totalität sein soll, ist ein Nonsens.“ (Adorno, Negative Dialetik. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 6, Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1984, p.199.) Adorno’s dialectic is the negative one, therefore, for him, “The whole is the untrue.” „Das Ganze ist das Unwahre.“ Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1980 (= Bibliothek Suhrkamp 236) Nr. 29, S. 57 The whole is the “spell, the negative” ( p.161): “The calamity lies in the conditions which condemn people to impotence and apathy and yet could be changed by them.” „Das Unheil liegt in den Verhältnissen, welche die Menschen zur Ohnmacht und Apathie verdammen und doch von ihnen zu ändern wären.“ (p.191). Against this only “determinate negation” (bestimmte Negation) helps
  15. „…setzt das Werk nicht herab in die Rolle eines Erlebniserregers. Die Bewahrung des Werkes vereinzelt die Menschen nicht auf ihre Erlebnisse, sondern rückt sie ein in die Zugehörigkeit zu der im Werk geschehenden Wahrheit….“ Martin Heidegger, „Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes“ in: Holzwege. Frankfurt/M: Klostermann, 6th ed. 1980, p.54
  16.  „Die Wahrheit des Kunstwerks aber kann nicht anders vorgestellt werden, als dass in dem subjektiv imaginierten An sich ein Transsubjektives lesbar wird. Dessen Vermittlung ist das Werk.“ Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie. (=Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 7). Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1970, p. 421
  17. „Kunst ist das Feststellen der sich einrichtenden Wahrheit in die Gestalt.{…} Also ist die Kunst: die schaffende Bewahrung der Wahrheit im Werk. Dann ist die Kunst ein Werden und Geschehen der Wahrheit.“ Heidegger op. cit. p. 57.
  18. „Deutbar ist Kunst nur an ihrem Bewegungsgesetz, nicht durch Invarianten. Sie bestimmt sich im Verhältnis zu dem, was sie nicht ist. {…} Axiomatisch ist für eine umorientierte Ästhetik die vom späten Nietzsche gegen die traditionelle Philosophie entwickelte Erkenntnis, dass auch das Gewordene wahr sein kann. Die traditionelle, von ihm demolierte Ansicht wäre auf den Kopf zu stellen: Wahrheit ist einzig als Gewordenes.“ Adorno op. cit. p. 12.
  19. „Zum Wesen der Wahrheit als der Unverborgenheit gehört dieses Verweigern in der Weise des zwiefachen Verbergens.“
    „Das Wesen der Wahrheit ist in sich selbst der Urstreit, in dem jene offenen Mitte erstritten wird, in die das Seiende hereinstellt und aus der es sich in sich selbst zurückzieht.“ Heidegger op. cit., p.40f
  20. „Wahr ist Kunst, soweit das aus ihr Redende und sie selber zwiespältig, unversöhnt ist, aber diese Wahrheit wird ihr zuteil, wenn sie das Gespaltene synthetisiert und dadurch erst in seiner Unversöhnlichkeit bestimmt. Paradox hat sie das Unversöhnte zu bezeugen und gleichwohl tendenziell zu versöhnen; möglich ist das nur ihrer nicht-diskursiven Sprache.“  Adorno op. cit. p. 251.
  21. „Dieser Verrückung folgen heißt: die gewohnten Bezüge zur Welt und zur Erde verwandeln und fortan mit allem geläufigen Tun und Schätzen, Kennen und Blicken ansichhalten, um in der im Werk geschehenden Wahrheit zu verweilen. […
  22. „Die eigenste Wirklichkeit des Werkes kommt dagegen nur da zum Tragen, wo das Werk in der durch es selbst geschehenden Wahrheit bewahrt wird.“ Heidegger op. cit., p.55
  23. „Der Wahrheitsgehalt der Kunstwerke ist die objektive Auflösung des Rätsels eines jeden einzelnen. Indem es die Lösung verlangt, verweist es auf den Wahrheitsgehalt. Der ist allein durch philosophische Reflexion zu gewinnen. … Keine Aussage wäre aus *Hamlet* herauszupressen; dessen Wahrheitsgehalt ist darum nicht geringer.“ „Den Wahrheitsgehalt begreifen postuliert Kritik. Nichts ist begriffen, dessen Wahrheit oder Unwahrheit nicht begriffen wäre, und das ist das kritische Geschäft.“ Adorno op. cit., p. 193f.
  24. „Verstanden werden Kunstwerke erst, wo ihre Erfahrung die Alternative von wahr und unwahr erreicht oder, als deren Vorstufe, die von richtig und falsch. Kritik tritt nicht äußerlich zur ästhetischen Erfahrung hinzu, sondern ist ihr immanent. Ein Kunstwerk als Komplexion von Wahrheit begreifen, bringt es in Relation zu seiner Unwahrheit, denn keines ist, das nicht teilhätte an dem Unwahren außer ihm, dem des Weltalters. Ästhetik, die nicht in der Perspektive der Wahrheit sich bewegt, erschlafft vor ihrer Aufgabe; meist ist sie kulinarisch. Weil Kunstwerken das Moment von Wahrheit wesentlich ist, partizipieren sie an Erkenntnis und damit das legitime Verhältnis zu ihnen.“ Adorno op. cit. p. 515f.
  25. See also Badiou’s lecture “Event and Truth” at the symposium “Event in Artistic and Political Practices” (26-28 March 2013) in Amsterdam; (part 1; parts 2-4 also on YouTube
  26. “What makes art unique among truth processes is that the subject of truth in it is taken from the sensuous.” “Was die Kunst unter den Wahrheitsprozessen einmalig macht, ist, dass das Subjekt der Wahrheit bei ihr dem Sinnlichen entnommen wird.” Alain Badiou, Dritter Entwurf eines Manifestes für den Affirmationismus. hg. und um ein Gespräch mit Alain Badiou erweitert von Frank Ruda und Jan Völker. a.d. Frz.v. Ronald Vouillié. Berlin: Merve, 2007, S. 26
  27. „Ein Kunstwerk stellt eine Untersuchung über die Wahrheit dar, die im Kunstwerk als ihr Ort aktualisiert ist oder deren endliches Fragment es ist.“ Alain Badiou, Kleines Handbuch der Inästhetik, Berlin: Turia + Kant, 2+2012 (first French 1998), p.25
  28. Badiou op. cit. p.29

With Hegel in the theatre – Hegel’s anti criticism of Raupach’s comedy “Die Bekehrten”

Hegel was an avid theatre-goer and a connoisseur of dramatic literature. But in his aesthetics, drama is given a prominent position, not theatre. For Hegel, beautiful art is the “sensuous appearance of the idea.”1, but the sensuous appearance of the drama, the theatrical performance, is secondary for him. The drama is the “highest stage of poetry and of art in general.”2, but the art of acting is secondary and all elements of theatrical performance “gesture, action, declamation, music, dance and scenery” 3 are subordinate to speech. For Hegel, drama has the highest position in poetry because, as a dialogical art of words, it unites subjectivity and objectivity, and is thus closest to philosophy. 4. The performance of the drama, on the other hand, is only a necessary accessory5. Out of the staging trappings, movement, music, stage setting, the “poetic word” stands out as the “salient centre … in free domination”6.

Thus Hegel’s theory. This is not to say that Hegel was incapable of appreciating and enjoying a theatrical performance. There exists the curious document of a pages-long slating review by Hegel 7 – not of a theatre performance, but of a theatre criticism, published in 1826 in a journal called “Schnellpost”, edited by Hegel’s friend Moritz Gottlieb Saphir 8]. The subject of the criticised review was the premiere of the comedy “Die Bekehrten” by Ernst Raupach. Raupach is completely forgotten today, but was a much-played, highly decorated, highly paid playwright between 1825 and 18509.

In his comedy “Die Bekehrten”, a pair of lovers quarrel and separate. The lover’s uncle then marries the young woman as a sham to keep her in custody for his nephew and protect her from other suitors, fakes his death, obtains an annulment of his marriage and reunites the two formerly quarrelling lovers. The action of the play, however, begins with the pretend-married uncle, who has supposedly died, disguised as a monk, giving his former wife-in-custody advice and thus the opportunity to tell the back story.

This was too much of an improbable construction for the critic of the “Schnellpost”. The author of the review in “Schnellpost” accused Raupach of having rendered the plot implausible with coincidences that were too extra-essential (“außerwesentlich”) and an overscrewed task of violence (“überschraubte Gewaltsamkeit”). This outraged Hegel, especially since the audience had also reacted lukewarmly. Hegel, however, was enthusiastic. So he wrote a detailed exposition of the necessary role of chance in comedies. This is a salute to the drama, to Raupach’s text.

Berliner Schnellpost Titelseite

But at least in one sentence it becomes clear that Hegel’s fascination with this simple comedy had its reason in the performance.

For Hegel, the playwright has to fulfil the “main task” so that the actors can unfold and assert their capacity10. Hegel, as a connoisseur, brings a number of examples of this from performances he has seen and from actors and actresses whose “ability” he can judge 11.

Hegel first raves about the leading actress of “Alanghu”, another completely unsuccessful drama by Raupach12:

The play had “enabled the actress to unfold all sides of her talent, mind and spirit, and to bring before our souls the attractive painting of fiery, restless, active passion with naive, amiable youthfulness, the liveliest, most determined energy, fused with sensitive, witty gentleness and grace” (trsl. G.P.)13.

Auguste Stich

Hegel then describes how an actress, whom he had already admired as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (it was Auguste Stich), plays the charming embarrassment („reizende Verlegenheit“) of a character called Klothilde in “Die Bekehrten” when she meets her lover Torquato again (Act II, Scene 5).

“Position and arms remain, the eye, which one is otherwise accustomed to see in lively movement, does not dare to look up at first, its muteness interrupts here and there a heaving of the breast that does not become a sigh, it dares a few furtive glances that fear to meet those of Torquato, but it presses upon him when his own eyes turn elsewhere. The poet is to be esteemed fortunate whose conception is executed by an artist who makes it superfluous for the narration of the content expressed by the language to indicate more than the features of the soulful eloquence of her gesture.” 14

Here, then, for Hegel, the silent play of the actress, the “eloquence of gesture”, makes language superfluous. Hegel knows what “appeals” and “attracts” in a theatre performance. It is not the word.

His aesthetic theory could not accommodate this independent function of theatre vis-à-vis drama; he had to acknowledge it in his theatre experience.

  1. „Das Schöne bestimmt sich dadurch als das sinnliche Scheinen der Idee.“ G.W.F.Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Theorie Werkausgabe Bd. 13 Ästhetik I. Frankfurt/ M: Suhrkamp, 1970, p. 151
  2. „Das Drama muss, weil es seinem Inhalte wie seiner Form nach sich zur vollendeten Totalität ausbildet, als die höchste Stufe der Poesie und der Kunst überhaupt angesehen werden.“ Hegel, Bd. 15 Ästhetik III p. 474
  3. Ästhetik III, p. 510
  4. „Denn die Rede allein (ist) das der Exposition des Geistes würdige Element … die dramatische Poesie (ist) diejenige, welche die Objektivität des Epos mit dem subjektiven Prinzip der Lyrik in sich vereinigt.“ Ästhetik III, p. 474
  5. „fordert deshalb (…) die vollständige szenische Aufführung.“ ibid.
  6. „hervorstechender Mittelpunkt … in freier Herrschaft“, Ästhetik III, p. 505
  7. G.W.F. Hegel “Über Die Bekehrten”. in: G.W.F.Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Theorie Werkausgabe, Bd. 11 Berliner Schriften 1818-1831, pp.72-82
  8. in three instalments: Berliner Schnellpost, 18. Jan. 1826 Nr. 8, 21. Jan. 1826, Nr.9, und Beiwagen zur Berliner Schnellpost, 23. Jan. 1826, Nr. 4
  9. cf: Artikel „Raupach, Ernst Benjamin Salomo“ von Max Bendiner in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, ed. by Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 27 (1888), S. 430–445, Wikisource,_Ernst_Benjamin_Salomo&oldid=-
  10. „ihr Vermögen entfalten und geltend machen“, Bd. 11 Berliner Schriften, p. 73
  11. Eduard Devrient, from his own experience as an actor, also appreciates Raupach’s merit in the promotion of the art of acting: „(es ist) ganz bestimmt nachzuweisen, dass er die Talente {der Schauspielerinnen und Schauspieler} nicht nur benutzt und sich ihnen accomodirt, sondern durch seine Aufgaben ihre Entwicklung und Erweiterung entschieden gefördert hat.“ Eduard Devrient, Geschichte der deutschen Schauspielkunst. Neu-Ausgabe in zwei Volumes, Vol. II Berlin: Otto Elsner, 1905 {first 1848-1874} p. 281
  12. Devrient: “Seine dramatische Erzählung ‚Alanghu‘ wirkte nicht.“ p. 190
  13. Das Stück habe „die Schauspielerin in den Stand gesetzt, alle Seiten ihres Talents, Gemüts und Geistes zu entfalten und uns das anziehende Gemälde feuriger, unruhiger, tätiger Leidenschaftlichkeit mit naiver, liebenswürdiger Jugendlichkeit, der lebhaftesten, entschlossensten Energie, mit empfindungsvoller, geistreicher Sanftmut und Anmut verschmolzen, vor die Seele zu bringen“, Bd. 11, p.77
  14. „Stellung und Arme bleiben, das Auge, das man sonst in lebhafter Bewegung zu sehen gewohnt ist, wagt es zuerst nicht aufzusehen, seine Stummheit unterbricht hier und da ein nicht zum Seufzen werdendes Heben der Brust, es wagt einige verstohlene Blicke, die denen Torquatos zu begegnen fürchten, es drängt sich aber auf ihn, wenn die seinigen sich anderwärts hinwenden. Der Dichter ist für glücklich zu achten, dessen Konzeption von einer Künstlerin ausgeführt wird, die es für die Erzählung des Inhalts, der durch die Sprache ausgedrückt ist, überflüssig macht, mehr als die Züge der seelenvollen Beredsamkeit ihrer Gebärde anzugeben.“ Bd. 11. p. 79

Attention – Experiences with online theatre premieres

Theatre streaming in the Corona pandemic results in an increase of the number of spectators, e.g. 10,000 instead of 600 for a live stream of “Zauberberg” at Deutsches Theater Berlin on 20/11/2020, 1. But what kind and what degree of attention do theatre performances get thereby?

The social trappings of presence theatre also work as an engine that increases attention. To watch two or even three hours silently, staring in one direction, with minimal shifts of gaze and attention, takes preparation. It takes collectivity. The mutual insinuation of expectation in the foyer brings our attention engine to operating temperature. You don’t do this alone.

Attention as a means of payment

By streaming performances, theatres enter the large attention market of the internet, where attention is billed as a means of payment 2. The scarcity of the commodity of users’ attention leads to competition for this scarce commodity. But it is not the commodity, the content of the media providers, that is devalued, but the means of payment, attention 3. It is faked, diluted, divided, dispersed. What can one do while streaming a video of a theatre performance: eat, drink beer, sleep, do gymnastics, make phone calls, write messages, browse through other applications, let the streaming image run along as a small picture.

Attention as a gift

A visit to the theatre is a collective gift of attention. You don’t get attention in return. It is not an exchange of equals and by no means always an exchange of equivalents. The thrill of thought and sense that a theatre performance produces in the audience is a gift in return, but of a different kind. This also true for streamed performances, but there, we give less. Somehow the gift of attention is tied to the physical presence of a human being. On the internet we are customers, we only give as much as we receive. In an auditorium, we are donors, we waste our attention. (At least temporarily, after that comes the theatre sleep for which the theatre critic Henning Rischbieter was famous).

The compulsion to sit for hours in narrow rows next to smelly neighbours, cramped behind towering ballerina knots or broad curly heads and confined to minimal movements, an imprisonment which so many young people cannot endure, results in a minimal gain in freedom: you can focus your attention as you like, left corner of the stage or right, this actor or that actress, that handsome back in row 5 or that enigmatic detail of the set. In a streamed performance, my gaze is directed. My body is freer, but my attention is constrained to a screen, directed by camera work, cuts and image editing.

Distributed attention

A theatre performance actually requires from the audience what is called distributed attention 4: it is best to have everything in view, to perceive everything: movement, light, language, music, speech. Concentrating exclusively on a screen, on the other hand, requires a “deepened concentration”, which in the 19th century was understood to be the root of mental illness, paranoia. We naturally resist this. We are trained in divided attention. We also apply this to the screen, cultivating and enhancing the ability to scattered perception of simultaneous events, which the city dweller has become accustomed to 5. But the intensity and duration of attention decreases. So it is only logical when Pınar Karabulut breaks up her online production of Marlowe/Palmetshofer’s “Edward II” for Schauspiel Köln into a six-part series. 20 to 30 minutes in front of the screen is enough 6. The collective, bodily presence of audience and actors, on the other hand, enables an increase in the duration and intensity of attention that cannot be achieved in other reception settings.

It is therefore wrong to ascribe an old-fashioned, deepened attention to theatre and a modern, disjointed attention to the streamed internet event. The theatre of physical co-presence encounters the same people with the same habits of perception as the video on screen. But physical co-presence and collectivity produce an increase in attention that cannot be achieved any other way. Bodies we pay attention to, pixels we pay nothing to. Bodies get our attention for free because we assume that they too can pay attention to us. We do this even if, as in the theatre of the fourth wall, the agreement is that they do not give us attention back but pay us back in another currency, the currency of mental-sensual stimulation.


According to Michael Tomasello, shared intentionality, the ability to adopt another’s perspective on something third, is a crucial prerequisite for the evolution of the human species compared to primates 7. This we-intentionality, the shared attention to the stage, this basic human disposition, is the reason for the pleasure of the collective theatre experience. Sitting next to others in a shared space and looking at the same thing with the same intention is an archetypal situation of humanity. This cannot be replaced by the freedom of movement in front of the home screen.

  1. cf. Sophie Diesselhorst, “Gekommen um zu bleiben”. in: Theater heute 5/2021 p. 27
  2. “The reduction of attention to a currency produces a kind of soul blindness.” (trsl. G.P.) Georg Franck, „Warum der Begründer der ‚Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit` immer noch goldrichtig liegt“. Interview with Klaus Janke, Horizont 24.10.2017.
  3. cf. Georg Franck, Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit. München: Hanser, 1998
  4. Petra Löffler, Verteilte Aufmerksamkeit. Eine Mediengeschichte der Zerstreuung. Zurich-Berlin: Diaphanes, 2014, e.g. pp 92-93
  5.  “Zerstreuung als notwendige Aufmerksamkeitstechnik” beim “Navigieren durch die moderne Signalwelt” Löffler, p. 332
  6. cf. G.P. “Im Irrgarten der Referenzen”, in: Theater heute 5/2021, pp. 54-56
  7. “Human cooperative communication is more complex than ape intentional communication because its underlying social-cognitive infrastructure comprises not only skills for understanding individual intentionality but also skills and motivations for shared intentionality.” Michael Tomasello, Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2008, p.321

Theatre and political theology – The two bodies of the king

Review of the introduction to Peter W. Marx, Macht | Spiele. Politisches Theater seit 1919. Alexander Verlag Berlin 2020, 223 p.


With his new book “Macht | Spiele. Politisches Theater seit 1919.” Peter W. Marx shows how the various figures of thought (“Denkfiguren”) have developed, with which the changing relations between political power (“Macht”) and theatre (“Spiele”) since the end of the First World War have been considered, viewed and examined in German theatre performances. The relationship between theatre and power is reciprocal: power presents itself in public politics as on a theatre stage, and theatre presents power (and its self-staging) in fiction on the stage. Marx calls the “tension between the staging of power and politics and the theatrical-fictional reflections” 1 the basic axis („Grundachse“) of his presentation. Concentrating his study on these figures of thought and on a selection of exemplary productions is the great advantage of this book over other books on the history of theatre. 2. This concentrated way of presentation confirms Peter W. Marx’s understanding of theatre history as social history. And since it goes beyond the factual retelling of the past to depicting intellectual and political trends, it stimulates discussion.

In his “Introduction”, Marx presents the theoretical starting point for his investigations. Some comments:

The two bodies of the king

In order to understand the “forms of political communication” at the beginning of the 20th century, Marx relies on Ernst H. Kantorowicz’s historical analysis of the theory of the two bodies of the king 3. Marx finds in Kantorowicz the description of a “practice of the sensual doubling of the ruler body”. Kantorowicz actually shows this practice with many examples of pictures of rulers, coins, paintings, grave slabs, funeral processions 4. But the basis for these images is the argumentation of medieval legal experts, which Kantorowicz traces in many details. This theory, which played a role especially among the lawyers of Elizabethan England, is about the legal safeguarding of the continuity of the state. The imaginary doubling of the ruler’s body was a necessary stage in the development of awareness of what a state is, that an immortal state exists, and not just a mortal ruler.

The metaphor of the body for the abstract structure of the state, which consists of different institutions, legal concepts and people, has been used since the Romans 5. Kantorowicz shows how Christian theology made it possible to transfer this idea to the monarchs of Europe. Kantorowicz also shows that the continuation of this medieval theory in the Renaissance was limited primarily to England and emphasizes that this theory played no role in Germany. 6 The English historian Quentin Skinner regrets that Kantorowicz did not continue his investigations beyond the beginning of the 17th century, because then he would have he found the replacement of the theory of the two bodies with other justifications of statehood 7 But Marx transfers the theory of the two bodies of the ruler to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Accoding to Marx, he was concerned with the “generation of a virtual body politic“, with the ” media doubling of the imperial body ”8 . Marx therefore is interested in the visual representation of the ruler in the media. The “body politic” in the sense of the English theory of the state is, however, the entire state system, not just the visual presentation of a ruler by the media. Kantorowicz’s haunting picture of the two bodies is not suitable for analyzing the modern mechanisms of the representation of power. The medieval two-body-teaching cannot be equated with the modern distinction between the real bodies of the persons in government and their representation in the media. 9.

At the time of Wilhelm II, Germany was a rapidly developing nation with diverse, strong political currents, a highly developed bureaucratic apparatus, the modernity of which was only covered by the glittering feudal surface – a deeply hypocritical state structure 10, but not a medieval empire and not an absolutist monarchy. The theory that the state is a legal entity that “stands in and not above the law”, that is, a constitutional state in which the people are the last source of law and the monarch only an organ of this corporate body (“juristische Person”) had long been developed by Otto Gierke in German jurisprudence, but was not used in political reality. 11.

Marx illustrates his view with the well-known cover picture of a magazine published in 1919, which shows President Ebert and Interior Minister Noske in swimming trunks, and sums up “The nudity of the natural body disqualifies the new body politic.” 12 Marx comments on how the image of the bodies of the representatives of the state is used by their opponents in the public debate through the media. But the term body politic in the theory of the two bodies of the king was a legal metaphor for the “immortal” state as a whole.

From body to state and back again

Peter W. Marx refers to Hans Belting’s reception of the theory of the two bodies of the king presented by Kantorowicz. 13 Belting rightly shows that every human body is itself an image even before it is reproduced in an image 14. Belting’s summary of Kantorowicz’s chapter on “Effigies” also shows the terminological confusion. An “Effigies ” was a doll that wore the insignia of power in place of the dead ruler at the funeral of the king and was carried in addition to the coffin at the funeral procession. This practice was used first in England with Edward II, then in the 16th and 17th centuries it was common in France. Belting writes that there were “two bodies which were separated in an official person, first the natural body that was mortal, and then the official body which was transferred from one living bearer to the next and thereby attained immortality”  15. Kantorowicz explained in detail which different terms were in use for what Belting calls “official body”: “corpus mysticum”, “universitas”, “corona”, “body politic”. The term dignitas is used in connection with the effigies. 16 It is the “dignity of the office” (i.e. dignitas, “Amtswürde”) of the deceased king, which is transferred to the doll, the effigies, as Belting writes two sentences later. Kantorowicz himself resorts to the metaphor of “body politic” when he then writes “The two bodies united in the living body were visibly separated after his (the king’s) death.” 17 The increasingly diverse political community with its institutions was still tied to the person of the ruler. The abstract of the state had to be made visible in a human body, so “body” became the anthropomorphic term for this abstract community structure. Belting uses many historical and current examples to show the crisis of the body image and its reflection in art. The theory of the two bodies of the king, however, belongs to a long past phase in the history of the development of the concept of the state. The modern state is no longer embodied in one person. It only has representatives, elected people, whose body images in visual communication are subject to the general mechanisms of the image market.
In his chapter on female power figures in the theater (“Die Provokation des  Female Body Politic”) 18, Marx applies the term “body politic” to the external appearance of a person in power: it is about the hairstyles of Chancellors Schröder and Merkel. It is obvious that the representation of the body of politicians in the media of a democratic society plays a role in public debate. It is also obvious and regrettable that the depiction of the body of female politicians (and their self-portrayal) is exposed to the mechanisms of a patriarchal tradition. But politicians are not kings and politicians are not queens.

The career of a medieval theological concept, which was developed in the Renaissance by lawyers to distinguish between the ruler and the state, on the theatre is astonishing 19. The efforts of the lawyers to form clean legal terms from indistinct metaphors are traced back to their pictorial origin. This is an example of the crooked ways in which social communication has become visualized today.

Who answers Carl Schmitt?

Peter W. Marx contrasts Max Weber and Carl Schmitt as the two representatives of the political understanding of the state of the Weimar Republic. 20 Peter Marx also finds this contrast in the Bonn Republic and cites the well-known Böckenförde dictum that the state is based on conditions that he cannot guarantee 21. Böckenförde really did the trick of giving a liberal interpretation of Carl Schmitt’s theory of the political and his state theory and translating it into a liberal decision-making practice as a judge of the German supreme court (Richter am Bundesverfassungsgericht). 22 The famous Böckenförde dictum was primarily intended as an appeal to Christians to regard the preservation of freedom by the state as their own task 23. Böckenförde was also an social democratic politician (SPD). He was the rare case of a liberal Catholic constitutional judge who was also prepared to oppose the hierarchy of the Catholic church.


But Böckenförde’s dictum is less an “answer to Carl Schmitt” 24 as it is a continuation of Carl Schmitt under the conditions of the Bonn Republic. Böckenförde saw himself as a disciple of Schmitt. Of course, he only referred to Schmitt’s work in the early Weimar Republic, not to his Nazi tracts in the early years of the Third Reich. With Böckenförde, Schmitt’s brusque rejection of any kind of pluralism turns into the cautious reference to “relative homogeneity” as a prerequisite for the state 25. As an answer to Carl Schmitt, one can better understand Chantal Mouffe’s theory, which agrees with Schmitt in recognizing the need for homogeneity in a democracy (which she then calls “commonality” to distinguish herself from Schmitt). But for her, this homogeneity is the result of a process in a field of conflicting forces. 26. This theory is also often used to justify an agonistic concept of current political theatre, which tries to intensify hidden social conflicts 27.

  1. „Spannung zwischen den Inszenierungen von Macht und Politik und den theatral-fiktiven Reflexionen“ Marx, p.8
  2. cf. Siegfried Melchinger, Geschichte des politischen Theaters. Velber: Friedrich Verlag, 1971 or Manfred Brauneck, Die Deutschen und ihr Theater. Kleine Geschichte der „moralischen Anstalt“ oder ist das Theater überfordert? Bielefeld. transcript Verlag, 2018
  3. Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Die zwei Körper des Königs. Eine Studie zur politischen Theologie des Mittelalters. Munich: dtv, 1990. first engl. Princeton 1957
  4. see. the chapter “Le Roy est mort” at Kantorowicz pp. 405-432, which describes the funeral rites of the French kings
  5. Livius reports on the fable of Menenius Agrippa: “tempore quo in homine non ut nunc omnia in unum consentiant, sed singulis membris suum cuique consilium, suus sermo fuerit, indignatas reliquas partes sua cura, suo labore ac ministerio ventri omnia quaeri, ventrem in medio quietum nihil aliud quam datis voluptatibus frui; conspirasse inde ne manus ad os cibum ferrent, nec os acciperet date, nec dentes quae acciperent conficerent. Hac ira, dum ventrem fame domare vellent, ipsa una membra totumque corpus ad extremam tabem venisse. Inde apparuisse ventris quoque haud bless ministry esse, nec magis ali quam alere eum, reddentem in omnes corporis partes hunc quo vivimus vigemusque, divisum pariter in venas maturum confecto cibo sanguinem. Comparando hinc quam intestina corporis seditio similis eats irae plebis in patres, flexisse mentes hominum. ”Livius, Ab urbe condita 2, 32. A. Koschorke, S. Lüdemann, T. Frank, E. Matala de Mazza, Der fiktive Staat. Konstruktionen des politischen Körpers in der Geschichte Europas. Frankfurt / M: Fischer, 2007. trace this development of political metaphor in detail.
  6. „Doch scheint es, dass der Begriff der ‚zwei Körper’ des Königs nicht von der frühen Entwicklung und der dauernden Triebkraft des Parlaments im englischen Verfassungsdenken und seiner Praxis zu trennen ist.“ and „Ein deutscher Fürst hatte sich in einem abstrakten Staat einzurichten. Jedenfalls fehlte die Theorie der ‚zwei Körper’ des Königs in all ihrer Kompliziertheit und manchmal skurrilen Konsequenz auf dem europäischen Kontinent so gut wie völlig.“ Kantorowicz p.440. Kantorowicz only refers to 20th century Germany in a single footnote. It is about the oath formula “pro rege et patria“, which combines feudal (rege) and state (patria) duties. Kantorowicz writes: „Die Formel pro rege et patria (Für König und Vaterland), die sich in der preußischen Armee bis in die jüngste Vergangenheit erhalten hat, brachte 1918 sich widersprechende Pflichten mit sich, als die Offiziere sich erst nach der Flucht Wilhelms II. nach Holland frei fühlten, der res publica zu dienen, nachdem ihre ‚feudalen‘ Treueide obsolet geworden waren. Eine ähnliche Situation entstand 1945, als der persönliche Eid sie der patria verpflichtete.“ p. 267, note 204
  7. „Kantorowicz trieb seine Erforschung der englischen Quellen nicht weiter als bis zu den letzten Jahrzehnten des ausgehenden 16. Jahrhundert. Angesichts seines im Vorwort angekündigten umfassenden Vorhabens, zu einem Verständnis der Ursprünge und der Mythologie des modernen säkularen Staates beizutragen, überrascht es allerdings, dass er gerade an diesem Punkt damit aufhörte. Hätte er seine Forschungen englischer Quellen noch über eine Generation weiter vorangetrieben, würde er in den englischsprachigen Diskussionen über das Verhältnis zwischen dem politischen Körper von Königen und dem corpus Politikum ihrer Untertanen auf einen epochemachenden Augenblick gestoßen sein. Er wäre an den Punkt gelangt, an dem man vielerorts damit begann, den Körper, von dem es hieß, dass Könige über ihn herrschen, erstmals als den Körper des Staates zu beschreiben.“ Quentin Skinner, Die drei Körper des Staates. Frankfurt: Wallstein, 2012, p.14. Skinner’s essay is based on his Kantorowicz Lecture from May 2011 at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. And this lecture goes back to Skinner’s British Academy Lecture in 2008
  8. “Erzeugung eines virtuellen body politic” and “mediale Verdopplung des Kaiserlörpers“ Marx p.12
  9. Susanne Lüdemann makes it clear that this technique of governance was already in use at Machiavelli’s time and became important in the 17th century, and shows the differences and similarities between these two two-body-theories: „In gewisser Weise ist auch diese Dichotomie zwischen (zu verbergender) Wirklichkeit und (verbergendem) Schein eine politische Zwei-Körper-Lehre: nur dass an die Stelle des unsterblichen und symbolischen Körpers des Königs sein medialer und imaginärer Leib getreten ist.“ A. Koschorke e.a., p. 156
  10. see Fritz Stern „Geld, Moral und die Stützen der Gesellschaft“, in: Das Scheitern illiberaler Politik. Studien zur politischen Kultur Deutschlands im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Ullstein Propylaea, 1974, first Engl. 1970
  11. Thomas Frank, “Der Staat als juristische Person”, in: Koschorke e.a. Part V, p. 374
  12. „Die Nacktheit des body natural disqualifiziert den neuen body politic.“ Marx, p. 14
  13. Marx, p. 12
  14. “The body itself is an image even before it is reproduced in images. The image is not what it claims to be, namely the reproduction of the body. In truth it is the production of a body image that is already given in the self-portrayal of the body.” (transl. G.P.) Hans Belting, „Das Körperbild als Menschenbild. Eine Repräsentation in der Krise“, in: H.B., Bild-Anthropologie. Paderborn: Fink, 2001, S.89
  15.  (transl. G.P.) „zwei Körper, die man in einer Amtsperson trennte, einmal um den natürlichen Körper, der sterblich war, und dann um den Amtskörper, der von einem lebenden Träger auf den nächsten übertragen wurde und dadurch Unsterblichkeit erlangte“ . Belting, p.96f
  16. Kantorowicz quotes the French lawyer Pierre Grégoire: “Nam ipse non est dignitas: sed agit personam dignitatis.” Kantorowicz S. 417
  17. transl. G.P., „Die im lebenden Körper vereinten zwei Körper wurden nach seinem (des Königs) Ableben sichtbar getrennt.“ Kantorowicz, p.418
  18. Marx, p.119-203
  19. see. e.g. Luise Vogt’s production of Shakespeare’s “König Lear” at Schauspiel Bonn 2019, the-body-of-the-king-and-translates-shakespeare’s-most pessimistic-tragedy-into-a-sequence-stylized-events & catid = 38 & itemid = 40. Another reason for the extensive reception of Kantorowicz’s book in the theatres is probably that he first demonstrated the theory of the two bodies of the king in a drama, Shakespeare’s “Richard II“.
  20. As a sociologist, Max Weber was not at all Carl Schmitt’s adversary, but Hans Kelsen, the expert of constitutional law against whom Schmitt polemicized in his 1922 work “Politische Theologie“. To call Carl Schmitt’s justification of the political “transcendental” does not exactly fit his theory. In any case, Schmitt’s theory of the political has nothing to do with Kant’s concept of transcendentality, which means the conditions of the possibility of knowledge. Rather, one could call it an anthropological theory founded on the opposition of friend and foe.
  21. “Der freiheitliche, säkularisierte Staat lebt von Voraussetzungen, die er selbst nicht garantieren kann.” Böckenförde, p. 112
  22. see: Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, „Der Begriff des Politischen als Schlüssel zum staatsrechtlichen Werk Carl Schmitts“ (first in 1988), in: E.-W.B., Recht, Staat, Freiheit. Studien zur Rechtsphilosophie, Staatstheorie und Verfassungsgeschichte. Frankfurt / M: Suhrkamp, 1991, pp. 344-366.
  23. Böckenförde, loc. cit. p.114
  24. “Antwort auf Carl Schmitt“ Marx p.16
  25. Böckenförde, p.346, 366
  26. Chantal Mouffe, “Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy” (first 1997) in: The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso 2005, p.56
  27. see. Florian Malzacher, Gesellschaftsspiele. Politisches Theater heute. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2020, pp.12-14

Supplement to “On personal identity”. Three references

harari, Runciman & Macfarlane

On personal identity

Analyses of the dwindling ability of people to understand themselves as a unitary, self-consistent person abound. Here are three examples:

Disaggregated personhood

First, David Runciman’s political diagnosis in the dispute with Derek Parfit1:

„Derek Parfit has argued that our attachment to the illusion of a single identity over time is one of the things that stifles our moral and political imaginations.2 We instinctively believe that we have more in common with the person we will be in twenty years’ time than with the person sitting next to us right now. Parfit thinks that is wrong: we are as disconnected from our future selves as if there were physical space between us. I am not the me I will be in future. The two of us are essentially separate people.
If only we could see that, we might start to reconfigure our moral priorities. First, we would be more solicitous of our neighbors and of people further away, given the time we currently spend worrying only about ourselves. Second, we would do more to guard against doing harm to people who don’t yet exist (for example, by squandering natural resources). It it is wrong to hurt the person sitting next to me, it is also wrong to hurt my or your future self. Disaggregated personhood should make us better and more responsible people than we are at present.
So far, there is little sign that information technology is having this effect. Parfit was writing in the mid-1980s, before the digital revolution had got going. His arguments assumed a backdrop of relative political stability: under conditions of calm philosophical reflection we should be able to see the things owe to each other and to our future selves. In other words: first we stabilize, then we take our identities apart, then we put our moral universe back together again. At the moment that process is being played out in reverse: first we take our identities apart, then we destabilize, then we see what if anything is left of the moral universe we built. Our personalities are getting fractured in little ways, piece by piece – health data over here, WhatsApp over there, Twitter chattering away in the background – with our anything to give us a shared perspective on what’s happening. This is not taking place in a philosophy seminar. It is lived human experience, which makes calm reflection almost impossible. For now, technology is fraying us more that it is liberating us.“

These “disaggregated selfs” will be second-rate victims of a technocratic elite. That is one of the dangers that will come after the demise of democracy, according to Runciman.

You are not a story

Yuval Noah Harari provides an even more fundamental criticism of the idea of a unified subject who can tell his or her own story to himself or herself3:

„In order to understand our selves, a crucial step is to acknowledge that the ‚self‘ is a fictional story that the intricate mechanisms of our mind constantly manufacturing, update and rewrite. There is a story-teller in my mind that explains who I am, where I am coming from, where I am heading to, and what is happening right now. Like the government spin doctors who explain the latest political upheavals, the inner narrator repeatedly gets things wrong but rarely, if ever, admits it. And just as the government builds up a national myth with flags, icons and parades, so my inner propaganda machine builds up a personal myth with prized memories and cherished traumata’s that often bear little resemblance to the truth. (…)

Hence if you really want to understand yourself, you should not identify with your Facebook account or the inner story of the self. Instead, you should observe the actual flow of body and mind. You will see thoughts, emotions and desires appear and disappear without much reason and without any command from you, just as different winds blow from this or that direction and mess up your hair. And just as you are not the winds, so also you are not the jumble of your thoughts, emotions and desires you experience, and you are certainly not the sanitised story you tell about them with hindsight. Your experience all of them, but you don’t control them, you don’t own them, and you are not them. People ask ‚Who am I‘ and expect to be told a story. The first thing you need to know about yourself, is that you are not a story.“

Harari also offers a provisional solution: meditation is the way to assure oneself of the working of one’s own mind, before the algorithms understand us better than we ourselves.

Robert Macfarlane offers a different solution: contact with the untamed nature4. However, this is more a yearning scenario than a practicable socio-psychological recipe:

Disembodiment and dematerialization

„We are, as a species, finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity. We have come to accept a heresy of aloofness, a humanist belief in human difference, and we suppress wherever possible the checks and balances on us – the reminders that the world is greater than us or that we are contained within it. In almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world.
The blinding of the stars is only one aspect of this retreat from the real. In so many ways, there has been a rising away from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialization. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits that it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world – its spaces, textures, sound, smells and habits – as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies that we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination. The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a birds sharp foot on one’s outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt. There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one’s upturned palm.“

Even though these analyses are very different from each other – dissipation by digital media, ignorance of the working of one’s own mind, loss of contact with body and nature – the mode of complaint about a lost stability of self-understanding is common. The presentation of stable fictitious or historical identities responds to this vague sense of loss. The more brutal the social system, the more hardened the identity of the resisters must be. Today, few want to resist, but many want to escape the general uneasiness of identity diffusion. Perhaps this can explain the boom of dramatised resistance novels on the German theatres.

  1. David Runciman, How Democracy Ends. London: Profile Books, 2018. Kindle ed. Pos. 2670
  2. Derek Parfit, *Reasons and Persons* (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), part 3. Conclusion. Annotation by Runciman
  3. Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Part V: „Resilience“, Ch. 20 „Meaning“,„The supermarket a Elsinore“. London: Jonathan Cape, 2018
  4. Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places. London: Granta, 2007, p. 203

Hegel and the Theatre

The editors of the special issue “Drama, Theatre, and Philosophy” of the journal Anglia1 call Hegel’s aesthetics a suitable starting point for their collection of essays. To this they quote Hegel’s formula of drama as the “the highest stage of poetry and of art generally” 2. This formula is occasionally distorted and related to the theatre instead of drama 3. The editors of the special issue of Anglia, of course, quote correctly, and add Hegel’s suggestion that drama, “therefore demands a complete scenic production in order to give real life to the whole work of art.” 4.
However, they do not mention that Hegel demands the subordination of all elements of the scenic performance to the spoken word. Thus he writes about the art of acting:

“In principle, it consists in calling on the aid of gestures, action, declamation, music, dancing, and scenery, but in giving overwhelming preponderance to speech and its poetic expression. ” 5

Of „the art of the theatre more independently of poetry” 6 he has no good opinion. Either the actor makes himself independent of the poet, but only the “insignificant and in fact downright bad productions” 7 of German playwrights give him opportunity for that, or it is opera, „whose visible magnificence (always a sign, it is true, of the already growing decadence of genuine art) there corresponds, as the most appropriate subject-matter, what is utterly devoid of any intel­ligible connection“,8 or it is ballet, where „we threaten to see more and more disappearing from modern ballet what alone could lift it into the free realm of art. 9.
If one wanted to take Hegel as a starting point for a discussion of the relationship between philosophy and the theatre, one would also have to accept Hegel’s definition of the purpose of art:

“All art aims at the identity, produced by the spirit, in which eternal things, God, and absolute truth are revealed in real appearance and shape to our contemplation, to our hearts and minds.”10.

Theatre as a form of art is the revelation of truth to our hearts and minds for our contemplation, – that would be a Hegelian definition of the theatre. 11

  1. David Kornhaber / Martin Middeke, “Drama, Theatre, and Philosophy: An Introduction”. in: Anglia. Journal of English Philology. Journal of English Philology. Special Issue Drama, Theatre, and Philosophy. Vol.136 (2018), 1, pp.1-10
  2. G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art. Volume II. Translated by T.M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, p. 1158; all quotations from Hegel refer to this edition. available on the internet
  3. Acting school Athanor (Passau): “The theatre {sic!}, because it forms its contents as well as its form to the most perfect totality, must be regarded as the highest level of poetry and art in general.“ (transl. G.P.)
  4. p. 1158
  5. p. 1185f
  6. p. 1190
  7. p. 1190
  8. p. 1191
  9. p. 1192
  10. p. 1236
  11. see also my comment “With Hegel in the theatre”öffnet in neuem Tab)

Who owns the theatre? How C.P. von Maldeghem once was offered to become artistic director of Schauspiel Cologne and resigned

Suddenly everything is over again. On February 1, Carl Philip von Maldeghem announced by press release that he would not take up the directorship of the Schauspiel Köln, for which he had been chosen by the city administration 1. What remains is the discrediting of the city administration of Cologne, in particular of its head of cultural affairs, Susanne Laugwitz-Aulbach, who had still defended the election of Maldeghem on 31. 1. with the argument that he stood “for a free and innovative concept of culture”. 2. Maldeghem summarizes the way his plans were criticized in Cologne as follows: “A ‘theatre of participation’, which caters ‘without aesthetic and artistic scissors in mind to the widest possible audience’ does not seem to have been wanted in Cologne.” 3. The following commentary was essentially written before Maldeghem’s withdrawal.

The decision to establish Carl Philip von Maldeghem, previously artistic director of the Landestheater Salzburg, as future artistic director of Schauspiel Köln from the season 2021/22 on is not as surprising as most commentators think. It joins a series of decisions by the city administration to appoint directors from smaller theatres to Cologne, like Klaus Pierwoß (1985-1990 who came from Tübingen) and Marc Günther (2001-2006 who came from Bolzano). Pierwoß had an outstanding team of dramaturgs (including Joachim Lux, later to become head of Thalia Theater Hamburg), he managed to keep the audience stable, but he achieved little national attention. The employment of Frank Castorf for his first production in the West was an achievement only in retrospect. Although Marc Günther could come up with a bunch of interesting young directors, they all delivered their worst work in Cologne and disappeared again. And in directing his own productions, Günther failed catastrophically.

Probably the interest of the city administration, which after all was advised by the well-experienced Rolf Bolwin (former director of Deutscher Bühnenverein, the association of all German theatres), was less directed to the director than to the solid organizer and administrator Maldeghem. The examples of his predecessors in Cologne show that a non-directing theatre manager must be able to promote a creative and cooperative atmosphere in his house and to achieve this, he must pursue artistic goals himself. As a director, Maldeghem seems above all to have experience in entertainment theatre (Schauspielbühnen in Stuttgart, musical productions in Salzburg). This will be of little use to him in Cologne, where Schauspiel Köln has a more demanding audience.

Maybe Maldeghem would be in better hands in Bonn, where the city is trying to shrink its theatre so that they can – after the model of Salzburg – finance a sumptuous Beethoven festival. From Mozart to Beethoven, that would at least be a chronologically obvious development.

OB Reker’s justification of the election Maldeghem

What is amazing about the choice of Maldeghem above all is the reasoning of the city administration. Mayoress Reker justified her decision for Maldeghem by saying that “the theatre does not belong to politics, and certainly not to the city leaders, but to the people of Cologne.” 4. What kind of criterion for choosing a director is that? Does that mean there are directors who think theatre is owned by politicians? Or rather, are there directors who think the theatre is theirs? What idea of politics is this? What kind of understanding of local self-government? How could politics own something? Or how could a local institution belong to the city’s top politicians? Is not the Mayoress elected by the people of Cologne to act for them?

Negating the populist criticism of representative democracy only promotes its affirmation. The pattern of thinking that politicians own the state is also confirmed in its negation because no other pattern is offered. No one dares to say that the city’s theatre serves the good of all the citizens of the city, even if not everyone goes there. The “belonging”, the concept of property, is completely wrong for determining the relationship between citizen and state. One needs the concepts of representation and delegation of power to characterize this relationship.

A citizens’ stage for Cologne

One of Maldeghem’s few statements about his future plans for Schauspiel Köln is that he wants to set up a citizens’ stage. With such a stage Cologne would only catch up with a development which has evolved in many theatres since Volker Lösch’s staging of Hauptmann’s “Die Weber” in Dresden in 2001. Wilfried Schulz has also established such a citizens’ stage in the neighbouring city of Düsseldorf. Understandably, the theatres want to create audience loyalty with such an opportunity for everyone to play a role in professional theatre, because the Stadttheater is in a crisis of legitimacy and suffers from loss of viewership (which is masked only by overproduction, the increase of projects of the “Fifth Division”) [2nd see. Thomas Schmidt, Theater, Krise und Reform. Eine Kritik des deutschen Theatersystems. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2017, p. 40], but this format also fits in with the social development which leads to populism in politics.

In a society in which the theatre competes with a variety of entertainment and educational media, each of which develops its own marketing strategies, the theatre must also do marketing. Of course, the Stadtheater can use the appeal of playing a role on a professional stage (but then it should also go beyond a therapy for vitalizing pensioners). The fact that there is always an oversupply of actors in the theatre in the face of a lack of viewers is probably due to the deep anthropological roots of the need to play a role before others. Acting was never an understaffed profession. But the justification of these citizens’ stage projects often goes beyond satisfying this need, which originally was catered to by the many amateur theatre groups, and disparages the spectator. In the presentation of the citizens’ stage of Volkstheater Rostock e.g., it states: “The aim is to regard the citizens of a city not only as spectators, but to include them as co-designers and discussion partners at eye level in the artistic work.” The “not only” obviously carries a derogatory meaning, because the “co-designer” of the Bürgerbühne will be honoured as a partner at “eye level”. The spectator does not really look the actor in the eye. The spectator squints,  as is insinuated by this formulation, from a frog’s perspective to the stage as a submissive subject.

The emancipated  spectators of Cologne

The justification of such concepts of participatory theatre often refers to Jacques Rancière’s essay “The Emancipated Spectator,” because emancipation of the spectator is described there as “the blurring of the boundary between those who act and those who watch” 5. It is overlooked that Rancière does not mean that the audience should become actors. He describes three tendencies of contemporary theatre: 1. the total work of art, 2. the hybridization of the means of art, both lead to “stupidity”. Rancière advocates 3. : the spectator as an “active interpreter”. He wants to equate the theatre stage with “telling a story, reading a book or looking at a picture”. “It takes viewers to play the role of active performers who work out their own translation to appropriate the ‘story’ and make it their own story.” 6. This is perhaps a justification of the theatre of Laurent Chétouane, but not of a civil stage 7.

During the artistic directories of Karin Beier and Stefan Bachmann, the audience of Schauspiel Köln had many opportunities to emancipate themselves in this sense. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

  1. see Nachtkritik, the commentary by Dorothea Marcus, Kölner Stadt Anzeiger, Press Release Salzburg
  2. Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 1.2.2019
  3. KStA 1.2. 2019
  4. quoted by Andreas Rossmann, in: FAZ, 25.1.2019, p.9; Andreas Wilink quotes Reker with the even flatter version “The theatre belongs to the people”. see
  5. Jacques Rancière, Der emanzipierte Zuschauer. Wien: Passagen, 2nd edition 2015, p. 30
  6. p.33
  7. Even Juliane Rebentisch’s statement that Rancière does not want to rehabilitate the “aesthetic fiction” or the “traditional box set” does not change the fact that Rancière’s theory cannot be used as a justification for the concept of the citizens’ stage. Rebentisch believes that aesthetic experience can emerge above all “where participation becomes reflexively thematic through artistic intervention.” (Juliane Rebentisch, Theorien der Gegenwartskunst, Hamburg: Junius, 2013, p. 89) Rebentisch refers to performative practices in which the audience observes the performance while at the same time being part and medium of the performance. But that is not the case with the usual concepts of the Bürgerbühne. Citizens’ stages cannot be justified aesthetically, but only socially, either as therapeutic social work or as a marketing measure of audience building.

An exploratory drilling into the history of theatre – Peter W. Marx on „Hamlet“ in Germany

Peter W. Marx, Hamlets Reise nach Deutschland

Peter W. Marx, Hamlets Reise nach Deutschland. Eine Kulturgeschichte. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2018, 435 S. ISBN 978-3-89581-490-7, 35,- €

Theatre as a transient art has a special relationship with memory. Theatre is not only the art form of the absolute present, of the simultaneity of performance and reception, it is also the art form of memory. Without memory no critical discourse of the theatre, without discourse no art. 1. Even the casual chat after a visit to the theatre (“How did you like it?”) requires memory. And theatre criticism is also memory aid. German theatre studies, on the other hand, try rather to run ahead of current theatre practice than to chase the theatre of the past. Theatrical history seems to be something for pensioners. It is all the more astonishing that Peter W. Marx, a professor of theatre studies in Cologne, has come up with a large-scale, readable study of theatrical history: the history of German-language “Hamlet” productions 2.

German nostrification of Hamlet

At the latest since the German translation of Shakespeare by the Romantics August Wilhelm Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, Germany claims a special relationship to Shakespeare. That he was British is dismissed as an unfortunate coincidence. That he is an author of world fame, does not interest. Shakespeare is ours! In the 19th century, fantasies about Shakespeare’s “Germanic nature” are already in vogue 3. Even in the nationalist turmoil of the First World War, Germans hold fast to the “Nostrification“ of Shakespeare. 4. And Hamlet is the decisive figure because he represents a “call for self-identification” 5. “Hamlet” is a „play of yearning“ for the Germans 6.

Peter W. Marx undertakes an exploratory drilling into German history. With “Hamlet”, which has been present on the German stages since the travelling actor groups of the early 17th century, you can drive a core into the sediments of German mentalities. What does the soil sample show?

One sees how, in the early eighteenth century, the question of the hereafter, the metaphysical “remnant of need” [“Bedürfnisrest“] of the Enlightenment, was fixed on the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. A few decades later, this question will be answered quite differently: It is no longer about the ghost itself, but about the human being, the authenticity of the actor’s physical reaction to the ghost, the relationship between the inside and the outside of man. In the 19th century, the image of a heroically desperate Hamlet or the yearning for a princely hero prevails. Freiligrath’s mocking bêtise “Germany is Hamlet” suddenly is understood as praise of German heroism, and Hamlet becomes a figure representing the nation’s yearning for a young leader. After the contrasting politicization of the figure in the Weimar Republic (Jessner) and Nazi-Reich (Gründgens), Hamlet becomes the icon of timeless art (still Gründgens), and then come the postheroic Hamlets (Zadek, Heyme), settling the accounts with the generation of their Nazi-fathers. This process leads to Steemann’s Hamlet (Hannover 2001) 7, in which this 68-generation, who were keen on taking revenge on their fathers, are fathers in power themselves and their offspring do not stand any chance to oppose because of their parents’ overarching benevolent understanding. Up to the „To be or not to be“ reciting Youtubers, as examples of the games of the information society, which no longer need spectators, only participants.

Contextualization of „Hamlet“ productions

Marx always places the individual productions in a framework, politically and culturally. Time and again, historical figures flit through the picture: Lichtenberg, Goethe, Nietzsche, Wilhelm II, Göbbels. Again and again, scenes of historic events are briefly set up: the French revolution, World War I, the fall of the Berlin Wall – and torn down again in the next chapter. So the background appears, at least sketchily, to which the productions refer. Marx also casts sideways glances at the changing popularity of other Shakespeare plays: he explains why “Coriolanus” instead of “Hamlet” becomes interesting for the early GDR and “King Lear” for the late Bonn Republic.

Even on productions well-known in the history of theatre, such as Leopold Jessner’s Berlin “Hamlet” production of 1926 8 Marx can shed new light by placing them in a wide social and intellectual context. Fritz Kortner’s blonde wig, which was mocked at in a theatre review as an „idiot’s roof” 9 caused such indignation in 1926 because it fitted into the scheme of the deceiving Jew. Marx quotes Oskar Panizza, Friedrich Nietzsche and Arnold Zweig in support of his view and refers to the insults of the Polish-Jewish Hamlet-actor Bogumil Dawison. The assimilated Jew was the worst Jew for the anti-Semites of the Weimar Republic because he was seen as a liar.

Derivations of the Hamlet cult

Not only the highlights are mentioned, but also almost forgotten versions like Felicitas von Vestvali’s female Hamlet (1913), a strangely modernized film version “The Rest is Silence” from 1959 or Heyme / Vostell’s Media-„Hamlet” in Cologne (1977). Epiphenomena of the Hamlet cult are also included, such as Gerhart Hauptmann’s annotated text edition (1928), published together with Edward Gordon Craig, Harald Schmidt’s talk show “Hamlet” (2001) or Katie Mitchell’s performance “Ophelia’s Room” (2015). While the purely text-oriented productions of the last decades (Grüber Berlin 1982 10, Steckel Bochum, 1995 11, Gosch Düsseldorf 2001 12, Bachmann Cologne 2016 13) are passed over.

Marx also opens up new sources, such as Heyme’s notes to his “Hamlet” in Cologne. Already 40 years ago, Heyme noted: “that historically fixed art or theatre work can only be experienced as filtered through the media. Everything else is a lie. Whereby this truth is, in consequence, a deadly and fatalistic one – completely un-utopian, and our yearning can of course only be aimed at […], THEATER AGAINST the media which are clinging to us and of which we consist in part.“ 14 There is nothing to add to that today.


The difficulty of every historiographical enterprise lies in the contradiction between the individuality of the productions, which one has to do justice to, and the great zigzag line, for which one undertakes all the historical mining work. Marx is guided by Hans Blumenberg’s concept of “reshuffling” [„Umbesetzung“]. He wants to show how “different statements“ can be understood „as answers to identical questions” 15. Marx thinks that “Hamlet” can be understood as a “metaphor“, in the sense of Blumenberg. That provides a field for the “trial and error process” 16 and offers answers to an underlying question. For Marx, this question which provides continuity is that of the collective identity of Germans. “Hamlet” productions are not themselves the answers, but metaphors that provide the material for testing and discarding answers to this question.

Hamlet as a collective figure of thought

This embedding of the “Hamlet” productions into the “collective figures of thought“ of their time settles the claim of writing not only a history of theatre that mentions productions for the sake of completeness but a cultural history 17. Gründgens’ post-war productions are discussed against the background of Hannah Arendt’s criticism of the claim of a collective guilt of Germans and Mitscherlich’s analysis of post-war Germany as a fatherless society. Heiner Müller’s “Hamlet” of 1990 is placed in the context of the situation of the intellectual in the GDR and its dissolution.

Peter W. Marx’s narrative model is contextualist, his narrative attitude largely ironic, but in the end, it becomes a story of decay with a warning. The culmination of every analysis of cultural history is their final look at the present. In 2018 Peter W. Marx finds hidden references to the imagery and intellectual tradition of „Hamlet” in such diverse figures as Frank-Walter Steinmeier18, Christian Lindner19, Marc Jongen 20, Simon Strauss21 and Philipp Ruch22: he interprets these references as an “awareness of crisis in a society that is saturated in a wrong way“ 23 as a dangerous self-empowerment to overcome the existing conditions in an “intoxicated desire to act” 24

No knowledge can be gained without memory anyway. If theatre represents a supra-individual consciousness and the history of the theatre a collective memory, then the history of theatre can make us see things that we could not see before, not only in the theatre but in society as a whole.

This review is the extended version of a text that appeared in the December 2018 issue of “Theater heute”.

  1. Marvin Carlson has set this out in a detailed study. „We are able to ‚read’ new works – whether they be plays, paintings, musical compositions, or, for that matter, new signifying structures that make no claim to artistic expression at all – only because we recognize within them elements that have been recycled from other structures of experience that we have experienced earlier. {…} The primary tools for audiences confronted with new paintings, pieces of music, books, or pieces of theatre are previous examples of these various arts they have experienced.“ Marvin Carlson, The Haunted Stage. The Theatre as Memory Machine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001, pp.4, 5.
  2. Peter W. Marx has already made an encyclopaedic contribution to „Hamlet“-research with the publication of the „Hamlet Handbook“, which goes far beyond the reception in Germany. Some material from the manual has also been included in the monograph. Peter W.Marx, Hamlet Handbuch. Stoffe, Aneignungen, Deutungen. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2014
  3. „urgermanische Natur“, Koberstein 1865, quoted by Marx S. 108
  4. Wilhelm Hortmann, Shakespeare und das deutsche Theater im XX. Jahrhundert. Mit einem Kapitel über Shakespeare auf den Bühnen der DDR von Mark Hamburger. Berlin: Henschel, 2001, p.19
  5. „Aufforderung zur Selbst-Identifikation“ Marx, p. 9
  6. „Sehnsuchtsstück“, Marx, p. 10
  7. see. my short critique in: Berliner Festspiele (ed.), Theatertreffen -Journal 2002, p.29
  8. See Hortmann a.a.O., p.75f; Günther Rühle (Hg.), Theater für die Republik 1917-1933 im Spiegel der Kritik. Frankfurt/M: S.Fischer 1967 p.763-773; Hugo Fetting (Hg.), Von der freien Bühne zum politischen Theater. Drama und Theater im Spiegel der Kritik 1917-1933. Bd. 2. Leipzig: Reclam, 1987 p. 314-332; Günther Rühle, Theater in Deutschland 1887-1945. Seine Ereignisse – seine Menschen. Frankfurt/M: S. Fischer, 2007 p. 503-505
  9. „Idiotendach“, Alfred Polgar cit. at Marx p.130
  10. see Hortmann, op. cit., pp. 321-325
  11. see my review in Theater heute 8 / 1995, pp. 22-25
  12. see my review in Theater heute 7/2001, p.28-30
  13. see my review in Theater heute 11 / 2016, pp. 20-23
  14. „dass historisch-fixierte Kunst bzw. Theaterarbeit schlechthin nurmehr durch Medien gefiltert erfahren werden kann. Alles andere ist Lüge. Wobei diese Wahrheit in Konsequenz eine tödliche und fatalistische – gänzlich unutopische ist, und die Sehnsucht natürlich nur darauf abzielen darf {…}, THEATER GEGEN die uns umklammernden und z.T. ausmachenden Medien zu erfahren.“ quoted by Marx, p.291f
  15. Blumenberg cit. at Marx p.14. See also: „Umbesetzung meint ebenden Prozess der Ersetzung einer epochal nicht länger befriedigenden Antwort durch eine neue. Die Frage fungiert dabei als konstantes, Zeitabschnitte oder Epochen übergreifendes Moment, das die Tiefenstruktur der Umbesetzungsvorgänge bildet. {…} Das ‚Verfahren‘ nimmt seinen Ausgang von einer als Antwort verstandenen Theorieformation, deren zugrunde liegende Frage in regressiver Analyse zu ermitteln ist.“ Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink, „Umbesetzung“, in: Robert Buch & Daniel Weiden (Hg.), Blumenberg lesen. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2014, p.359
  16. „Prozess des Erprobens und Verwerfens“, Marx p.16
  17. Marx also explicitly refers to Fischer-Lichte, who warns against a “purely chronologically proceeding factography” and postulates “In jedem Fall lässt sich Theatergeschichte nur mit einer problemorientierten Vorgehensweise betreiben.“ Erika Fischer-Lichte, Kurze Geschichte des deutschen Theaters. Tübingen: Francke, 1993, p.8f
  18. President of the Federal Public of Germany
  19. chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the German liberal party
  20. right wing intellectual, member of the German parliament for the Alliance for Germany (AfD)
  21. theatre critic for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
  22. founder of the activist group Centre for Political Beauty (Zentrum für politische Schönheit)
  23. „Krisenbewusstsein einer falsch saturierten Gesellschaft“
  24. „rauschhafte Tatensehnsucht“, Marx pp.377, 380f