Deleuzian Expressionism as an Ontology for Theatre

This paper addresses the problematic ontology of postdramatic theatre. In particular, it looks at examples of “in-yer-face” productions, such as Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and Cleansed, as well as Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker and Far Away. In doing so, it aims to uncover a novel way of positioning the notion of mimesis within the ontological texture of these non-Aristotelian works for the theatre. Herein mimesis becomes a constitutive principle and a generative procedure that guarantees continuity between disparate entities, such as words and worlds, pre-representational regions and representation, infinite indetermination and finitude. It is similar in form and function to Deleuze’s notions of “expression” and “re-expression” within Spinoza’s substance–essence–attribute and attribute–mode–modification triads as described in Expressionism in Philosophy.

Just as expression carries forward a progression from the infinite to the finite whereby the expressible (substance) becomes expressed sense, so does mimesis assume the role of a generative intermediary in the composition of literary worlds in postdramatic theatre. As a relational and transmissive component, Deleuze’s “expression” does not agree with Romanticist treatments of the term as “the internal made external” but captures the very motion of the expression of substance within what Thacker defines as a regime of “a radical Neoplatonism without a centre.” Thus described, expression becomes a topological progression. It precipitates the emergence of literary worlds from a vantage point of univocity, acting as a fluxional immanent substratum that is fundamentally generous, affluent, and flowing forth.

Assuming this vantage point, one begins to notice that postdramatic works for the theatre—albeit nonsensical to the habitual gaze—exhibit a quasi-causal logic governed by the continual interaction of Deleuzian “expression” and “sense.” This becomes especially visible in “in-yer-face” plays with their violence and excesses—almost campy and grotesque in their insistence on the aberrant. Rather than explaining such plays in experiential terms, the present paper assumes the stance that their “nonsensical” infusions expose the work of an event of sense within a play’s ontological texture. Confronted with the consolidation of an event of sense within the motion of expression, plays are at pains to readjust, recompose, and thus incorporate the supernumerary within their textual fabric. In the listed cases, the result is an inimical, injurious immanence.