It gives me great pleasure to invite all of you to the upcoming guest lecture “Wasted Lives, Drowned: Plays on the Refugee Crisis and the Bare Life on Stage” which is scheduled for Tuesday, 20th December 2016, at 10:15 a.m. at GW2, B2900. The lecture will be held by Dr Julia Boll.
Marco Martinelli’s haunting play “Rumore di acque” (Noise in the Waters, 2010) is the portrayal of an embittered modern Charon cataloguing those who drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach European shores. Shocking and poignant, the play explores the fate of contemporary refugees at a time when the political, geographical and cultural space commonly called ‘the West’ has turned into a huge gated community. Those ‘ousted’ from the ‘Fortress West’, maybe even rendered stateless by denaturalisation decrees, may become refugees or asylum seekers and so find themselves outside the law. The statelessness of refugees is not always to be accredited to the active stripping-away of rights. Zygmunt Bauman points out that ‘their statelessness is raised to an entirely new level’ at a time of crumbling or failed states with no state authority to speak of and no body of state to which the refugees could be referred. They are thus truly ‘hors du nomos – outside law; not this or that law of this or that country, but law as such’.
Correspondingly, French theatre maker Ariane Mnouchkine’s epic production “Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées)” (2003-2005) for her Théâtre du Soleil depicts refugee odysseys across dangerous waters in the desperate search for a new homeland, which turns out to be a place where the refugee is not regarded as deserving of citizen status. In Mnouchkine’s production, the refugees are imagined from a perspective of respect and recognition, and while we witness their odysseys and their often inconceivable plight, the affecting production also lets us experience a sense of hope.
In this talk, I will draw a line between Bauman’s concept of ‘wasted lives’ and the figure Giorgio Agamben has called the homo sacer, or the bare life. The bare life appears in contemporary plays as a victim of war and conflict or as a person or group of people that have been legally ostracised from or have never been part of the community (such as asylum seekers, refugees, illegal immigrants, etc.). Agamben points out that Western politics is based on the simultaneous exclusion and inclusion of bare life into its legislation. Patterns of the depiction of the bare life can be traced across the whole of the Western sphere, allowing for parallels to be drawn between the present-day Western realm and the ancient polis as to their mutual policies concerning the consolidation of borders, citizenship based on exclusion, and a consensus about the human value of those excluded. By contemplating recent plays on the refugee crisis, we may come to an understanding of the way Western civilization defines itself politically and culturally with respect to those it excludes, and we might find an answer as to why a post-modern society sees fit to let people drown at its borders.
Biographical brief Dr Julia Boll
Julia Boll holds a doctorate in drama from the University of Edinburgh, but did her Magister Degree here at the University of Bremen. She was a director of the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School, a teaching assistant at Edinburgh, and also worked for the Edinburgh Review. In 2013, she joined the University of Konstanz to research the representation of the bare life on stage, a project for which, as PI, she has recently received funding from the German Research Foundation. Since 2012, she has also been a member of the multi-disciplinary research project Fiction Meets Science (Univs. of Bremen and Oldenburg). Julia has spoken and published on the theatrical representation of war and violence, on grief and pornography, theatre and transnationalism, questions of ethics in literature on science, neoliberalism in European playwriting, utopia at the theatre, the performance of knowledge, community and the theatre, and the bare life on stage. Her monograph “The New War Plays” was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013.