“In my opinion…it didn’t work”, said my friend who watched the performance with me.
“The question is, why didn’t it work?”, I replied to her.
“Because Woyzeck’s topic is not femicide”.
“The play is inspired by a true femicide story!”, I insisted.
“Yes, but Büchner’s point is the system. Femicide is not the main topic of the play”, she continued. (She wrote her bachelor’s thesis on Büchner’s work)
“Femicide was never the main topic in any play before the 70’s”, I argued, “because it was never the main topic in any society until then”.
In “Window into Chaos”, Cornelius Castoriadis demonstrates against Aristotle’s “mimetic theory” in Poetics that art does not mirror society, but instead, transforms society. He writes that art is the only tool we have to shape chaos. “Art for Castoriadis affects a transformation on the level of imagination that redirects us to ask anew the fundamental questions of human being and doing”, as Andrew Cooper claims.
What role does the dead female body play in the fortification of patriarchy on the theater stage? How do we stage femicide?
My experience in Deutsches Theater was evidence that it can be misleading to have expectations from the past. Woyzeck is a play written in 1836. According to the theater programme, the performance brought femicide on stage with the intention to interrupt rather than reproduce similar social patterns. However, what is the conversation that it opens? What are the questions related to Castoriadis’ “humans doing” that have arisen? Is the dramaturgical text of the plays in the Western canon capable or flexible enough to express the current social vibes regarding the grievability of dead female bodies?
The headline of Jorinde Minna Markert’s article in Nachtkritik magazine about the performance of Woyzeck Interrupted was “Don’t make femicide sexy again”. Markert presents an analysis of the fetishisation of the female corpse in a few literary examples; for Edgar Allen Poe, e.g. “the death of a beautiful woman is without doubt the most poetic subject in the world”; or the “beautiful woman” as the total embodiment of passive innocence as it is presented in the bourgeois tragedy. Going through very interesting art-related references of how the aestheticization of misogynistic violence is sweetened to the point of retching, by perfuming unsexy structural conditions with great emotions, the article arrives at the point that Woyzeck Interrupted is a significant starting point to break this “tradition”, hoping that Emilia – Stalking interrupted, Kabale and toxic masculinity and Miss Julie happy on Lake Como – still hates men, will follow.
I absolutely agree with Markert that it is an important initiative of Deutsches Theatre to stage Woyzeck based on a new interpretation of Marie’s vision, and it is urgent to work on the rest of the plays related to this topic in the canon from this perspective. My argument is that it is not just urgent but vital for our social communication and growth to keep creating new dramaturgy with the Maries, Emilias, Louises and Miss Julies of today’s social mindset. Büchner’s lines for Marie are not enough for her to be really seen as a female character without first seeing the dominant male.
The social consciousness of Büchner’s times resonated with completely different values regarding gender equality than today. There is no actual entryway to integrate femicide in the plays in the Western canon in the way that they are written. We need to re-write the play or invent scenes in order to focus on the value of femininity instead of the psychological struggle of the male hero; or on the grief of the female dead body instead of the sympathy for the scary male suppressed by the system. How do we create storytelling that includes and integrates relatively newborn definitions such as femicide?
Approaching femicide as it appears in the past decade in the sociological research of Shalva Weil, in the writings of the activist Silvia Federici as well as in philosophical thinking for the accountability and grievability of the female body by Judith Butler, I am interested to monitor the transformation of social consciousness as a result of the statement that femicide is a gender-based crime and not a tragic poetic action of love drama. I am routing around the global socio-cultural changes of recent years, concerning the feminist perspective and the visibility of the female individual. My main goal is to suggest dramaturgical openings for the female character who does not feel safe in our contemporary society and to demonstrate the role of the dead female body in the patriarchal context. The literary research concludes with the manifesto Verbrennt Eure Angst by the LASTESIS performance collective. LASTESIS embraces the taboo emotion of anger—when it comes to women— as a potential entrance point, and in connection with a critical observation of the current systemic structures, presents a dramaturgy of collective and public action with the feminine body as a protagonist that becomes viral.
The current words aspire to open a conversation from the feminist perspective of the dramaturgy of the dead female body on stage, using the term femicide as the beacon that demands new comprehension and empathic possibilities. I approach femicide as a sociological phenomenon that was named only a few years ago, and therefore the plays of the Western canon need advanced dramaturgy to deliver this topic. Taking Woyzeck Interrupted and Katie’s Mitchell Ophelia’s Room as examples, I analyze the dysfunctional structure of the original plays when it comes to the female characters, pointing out the deep-rooted gender inequality and the incapability of their male writers to imagine differently at that time. I chose these two examples for the reason that Woyzeck is a play inspired by a true femicide story and the performance in Deutsches Theater was the initial motive to start this research; and Ophelia’s Room is one of the most recent works of a female director who reads the indisputable masterpiece of Hamlet from a feminine perspective, commenting on the dramaturgical gaps in Ophelia’s character and offering more space to the female voice of the play. Ophelia’s dead body has been portrayed in art as no other in modern history with the male gaze suggesting the poetic vibes and the eternal beauty of her death as if it was not a dead body of a frustrated girl. Exactly as the soldiers admire the beauty of the dead Marie at the end of Woyzeck – as if these two girls have never been grieved.
I suggest the recent feminist manifesto by LASTESIS performance collective —not to compare the artistic significance between them, Büchner and Shakespeare— but to examine the dramaturgical dynamic that LASTESIS’ performances create in order to open more space for the female as a 100% equal human being.
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