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

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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.

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