Saturday, 3 June 2017

Cheap Essays: The Trouble With Acausal Theatre

This is the first in a series of bulletpoints masquerading as academic discourse, because I want a fucking answer but other people actually get paid to do this work. If anything's muddy, let me know. WARNING: There will be Zizek.

Causality is a hallmark of serious plays in the Shavian tradition. Time, in these plays, works by cause-and-effect: because X does Y, Z happens.

This reenforcement of mores of bogus causality through culture teaches us to conceive of the world not as a set of fungible social relations – which it is – but as a locked-in system, one in which we are set on a route without power to change it.

What contemporary theatre, with its particular focus on acausality in time implies, is that the world is not like this: that the locus of power cannot be found, that there is no-one at fault for any action, that the world is a mess of causes to which we are subject and powerless.

Think of Neilson’s Realism, debbie tucker green’s stoning mary, Eldridge’s Incomplete and Random Acts of Kindness, Crimp’s… well, Crimp: the world happens to characters, it would be an absurd affront – a lie in the gravest terms – to impose narratives of causality on a world so absent of reason.

Beeecause, the argument continues, that’s the world. The world is a wash of complex causes and incomprehensible connections: hyperlinks stretching in flexible bands, each one more elastically blameless than the last.

Right. That all sounds good.

However, and here’s my question: absenting causality and reason from the world of the play turns every play, because we are enculturated to do so, into a search for causality itself as an idea.

The frustration at the heart of a text, where before it might have been directed at bankers, or hypocrites, or liars, or murderers, or thieves, or any number of “villains” is now directed at the very idea of causality, at its lack.

And this in turn leaves the audience observing acausality with a reinforcement of the idea a) that blame is not clearcut and b) that the world is in desperate need not of less control and authority but of more, from whatever its source. Because, to answer b), if this is what the world looks like with an absent hand on the rudder, I’d like my hand a whole lot more present, thank you very much (cf Trump) and to answer a) well, thank god we don’t have to go after any of the people deserving blame because everyone is equally blameless, so let’s not try to protest tyrants or hypocrites or bankers, because we're all fucked (cf Trump ad absurdum).

Perhaps my problem stems from a slavish belief that their are moral goods: e.g. economic inequality, and those who prosper from economic inequality, are bad. And that should be stated. There are people who are the cause of other people’s suffering. Basically, causality is not the problem, capitalism is.

And my concern is that this acausal theatre – so deeply attempting to reflect (and I can only imagine deconstruct*) the messiness of the politics of our age – is actually, in Zizekian terms [*wanker alert*], an inherent transgression, which reinforces, by demonstrating the limits of our neoliberal, capitalist culture, those limits themselves.

So, to conclude: it's not that this theatre is aesthetically bad or boring or pretentious or any of the other things my mum would level at it – it's that its form is another covert form of ideological submission given in the form of protest.

Right. Now, please pick holes and prove me wrong.

*This may be the stumbling block and this theatre may be attempting nothing of the sort, in which case my question would be, why the fuck doesn’t it just tell a story from A to B, then?

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