Death and Violence in Contemporary Theatre, Drama, and Novel (Oliver Frljić, Anja Hilling, Simona Semenič, and G. W. Sebald)

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For the purpose of my examination of how literature and art take part in the circulation of significations and representations in the construction of social reality, I concentrate on a specific feature that links and unites the work of four contemporary European authors—the inflation of death and violence, or the “overflow of corpses” in their novels, plays, and performances. My first example will be Bosnian-Croatian theatre director Oliver Frljić, his disturbing, shocking performances in which he uses his own personal, wartime, and political traumas to ask universal questions about the boundaries of artistic and social freedom, individual and collective responsibility, tolerance and stereotypes. As the second and third example I will take plays by two (no longer) dramatic writers, Anja Hilling and Simona Semenič—two outstanding representatives of German and Slovene (no longer) dramatic theatre and drama, exploring in their texts a tension between repetition and representation in which the first mechanism undermines and challenges the second and produces a specific poetic or aesthetic device—an effect of ostranenie or defamiliarisation (Shklovsky). The third example will consist of the novels by Winfried Georg Sebald, in which the German author uses the device of his wanderings between signs, punctuated by black and white photographs, producing a specific emblematic of a mutation of space and time, in which history and geography cross-fertilise, tracing out paths and weaving networks. Besides examining the contestation of subject positions, I concentrate on the dialectics of art and society, where fluid, uncontainable subjects are constantly pushing the contours. Revising the critical consensus that contemporary art primarily engages with the real, the essay describes how theatre and fiction today navigate the complexities of the discourse as well as social realities; how the discussed artists all share the belief that creative expression must also be destruction. Art has to go beyond what we are and what we can identify through understanding. Thus, art negotiates, inflects discursive circulation of stories, idioms, controversies, testimonies, and pieces of (mis)information in the face of global uncertainties.

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