In Defence of Lost Causes: Counter(F)Actual Recasting of Biographies in Polish Contemporary Theatre

Wiktoria Wojtyra 1
  • 1 Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, , Warsaw, Poland


This article considers the impact of counterfactual strategies on the most recent Polish theatrical practices dealing with biographies of “historical” figures. The re-occurrence of these past agents on the stage will be viewed in light of the biographical turn in the humanities as well as from the perspective of Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology. Seemingly, both trends share a need to create an alternative space for the expression of a contemporary self which is marked by disunity and disintegration. Subjects of current semi-biographical projects are those whose voices have once been neglected, marginalised, or oppressed because of their gender, social background, or political views. This account examines the ways in which counterfactual strategies enable us to grasp the polyphonic condition of a modern subject and to see, in traces left by different Other(s), touchstones for social and political change. By taking the play Tu Wersalu nie będzie! (No Versailles over here!) by Rabih Mroué as the core case study of the analysis, I aim to demonstrate how counterfactual strategies animate emancipatory potential ascribed to the arrival of the phantom of controversial Polish politician Andrzej Lepper. His death in unknown circumstances becomes a point of divergence in which Lepper’s existence layers into counterfactual scenarios. Counterfactual strategies enable many approaches to view Lepper’s figure without the ethically dubious act of speaking in his name. By unsettling claims of truth, counterfactual strategies unravel how “facts” about Lepper resurfaced in mass media, thereby constructing his stereotyped and over-generalised image. The play has a form of investigation which, by employment of counterfactualism, reenacts the oppression of a mainstream media discourse against the disturbing Other epitomised by Lepper.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Alkon, Paul. “Alternate History and Postmodern Temporality”. In Time, Literature and the Arts: Essays in Honor of Samuel L. Macey, ed. Th. R. Cleary. Victoria, 1994, 70.

  • Benton, Michael. “Literary Biography: The Cinderella Story of Literary Studies”. In The Journal of Aesthetic Education 39(3). September 2005. 44–57.

  • Benton, Michael. “The Aesthetics of Biography—And What It Teaches”. In The Journal of Aesthetic Education 49 (1), 2015. 1–19.

  • Black, Jeremy. Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015

  • Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory and Nomadic Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

  • Carlson, Marvin. The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

  • Davis, Colin. “Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms”. In French Studies. Volume 59. Issue 3, 1 July 2005, 373–379.

  • Derrida, Jacques. Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, translated by Peggy Kamuf. London: Routledge, 1993.

  • Frąckowiak, Bartosz and Weronika Szczawińska. “Komornicka. Biografia pozorna”. In Transfer! Teksty dla teatru. Antologia, edited by Joanna Krakowska. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2015. 208–231.

  • Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

  • Keil, Marta. Pogarda. Oswajanie Leppera, Bydgoszcz: Teatr Polski, 2016. 4–8.

  • Gallagher, Catherine. Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.

  • Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire called Utopia and other Science Fictions. London and New York: Verso, 2005.

  • Jameson, Fredric. “Marx’s Purloined Letter”. In Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Spectres of Marx, edited by Michael Sprinker. London and New York: Verso, 2008. 26–67.

  • Levitas, Ruth. Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of the Society. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

  • Lorek-Jezińska, Edyta. Hauntology and Intertextuality in Contemporary British Drama by Women Playwrights. Toruń: Nicolaus Copernicus University Press, 2013.

  • Martin, Carol. Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

  • Martin, Carol. “Living Simulations: The Use of Media in Documentary in The UK, Lebanon and Israel”. In Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present, edited by Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson. Basingstoke: Pal-grave Macmillan, 2011. 74–90.

  • Mroué, Rabih. Who’s Afraid of Representation. Beirut 2004.

  • Munslow, Alun. “Biography and Life Writing”. In The Routledge Companion to Historical Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. 46–47.

  • Najsztub, Piotr. “Napalony na władzę mulat”. In Przekrój. Nr 30, 2003. 26–30.

  • Raddatz, Frank M. “Authentische Rezepte für ein unvergessliches Morgen”. In Reality Strikes Back II. Tod der Repräsentation. Die Zukunft der Vorstellungskraft in einer globalisierten Welt, edited by Kathrin Tiede-mann, Frank M. Raddatz. Theater der Zeit. Recherchen 70, 2010. 139–162.

  • Rosenfeld, Gavriel. “Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Function of Alternate History”. In History and Theory. Vol. 41 No. 4, Theme Issue 41: Unconventional History (Dec., 2002). 90–103.

  • Sugiera, Małgorzata. “Kontrfaktualność”. In Performatyka. Terytoria, edited by Ewa Bal, Dariusz Kosiński. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, 2017. 101–107.

  • Waldenfels, Bernhard. Topografia obcego. Studia z fenomenologii obcego, translated by Janusz Sidorek. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Oficyna Naukowa, 2002.


Journal + Issues