Gestus, affect and the post-semiotic in contemporary theatre
Source TitleThe International Journal of the Arts in Society
University of Melbourne Author/sVarney, Denise
AffiliationFaculty of Arts, Culture and Communication
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsVarney, D. (2007). Gestus, affect and the post-semiotic in contemporary theatre. The International Journal of the Arts in Society, 1(3), 113-120.
Access StatusOpen Access
© Common Ground, Denise Varney. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the movement of its former member states towards democratic elections and capitalist economies, the Cold War was hastily and abruptly over. Triumphalist liberal and neo-conservative discourses proclaimed the end of communism and exhausted socialist populations welcomed the end of real existing socialism. Both politically and philosophically, the great modernist dualisms of communism and capitalism, East and West, Left and Right, had come to an end. This final act of deconstruction not only had profound effects on politics, culture and the everyday, but it also changed the terms and reference points for the processes of meaning-making, representation, interpretation and reception in the arts. Is there still a place for the arts of engagement in contemporary Europe? This paper proposes that these historic shifts in politics and the everyday find their artistic outlet in the shift from a gestic to an affective model of meaning and representation, or, from the semiotic to the post-semiotic. Whereas the Brechtian gestic model of social signification is based in the class war and the correlation of sign and referent, the affective domain, as theorised by Massumi drawing on Deleuze, is adaptable to a more fluid global realm. There is an associated movement from an emphasis on gesture to image. Gesture is indexic, it points to a relatively fixed social realm, whereas the image is everywhere in ‘the image- and information- based economies of late capitalism.’ Drawing on theatrical examples from Germany, the paper teases out the strengths and weaknesses of affect as a critical framework for new understandings of the arts of engagement.
Keywordsimage-based theatre; Gestus; affect; semiotic and post-semiotic; German theatre; contemporary theatre
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