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Attempts on Her Life EN302: European Theatre. Post-structuralism Whereas the Structuralist understanding of the relationship between signifier and signified.

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Presentation on theme: "Attempts on Her Life EN302: European Theatre. Post-structuralism Whereas the Structuralist understanding of the relationship between signifier and signified."— Presentation transcript:

1 Attempts on Her Life EN302: European Theatre

2 Post-structuralism Whereas the Structuralist understanding of the relationship between signifier and signified is something like this: Whereas the Structuralist understanding of the relationship between signifier and signified is something like this: “COFFEE” Signifier Signified Points to

3 Post-structuralism …the Post-structuralist understanding is more like this: …the Post-structuralist understanding is more like this: “COFFEE” Signifier Other signifiers Points to Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Other signifiers Jacques Derrida called this the “supplementary” nature of language: each sign depends for its existence on its place in a system of other signs; each sign therefore bears traces of all the other signs within that system.

4 Post-structuralism Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1967: Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1967: “From the moment that there is meaning there are nothing but signs. We think only in signs.” “From the moment that there is meaning there are nothing but signs. We think only in signs.” “There is nothing outside the text.” “There is nothing outside the text.” (Of course, Derrida did not write this at all: he wrote “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte.”) (Of course, Derrida did not write this at all: he wrote “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte.”)

5 Readerly and writerly texts Roland Barthes argued that if cultural signs are always ideologically ‘contaminated’, then the most interesting and radical cultural texts are likely to draw attention to their own sign-systems, rather than take them for granted. Roland Barthes argued that if cultural signs are always ideologically ‘contaminated’, then the most interesting and radical cultural texts are likely to draw attention to their own sign-systems, rather than take them for granted. Barthes’s favourite texts are more interested in signifiers than signifieds: Barthes’s favourite texts are more interested in signifiers than signifieds: A ‘readerly’ text is ‘like a cupboard where meanings are shelved, stacked, safeguarded’ (1974: 200-1); A ‘readerly’ text is ‘like a cupboard where meanings are shelved, stacked, safeguarded’ (1974: 200-1); A ‘writerly’ text will encourage its reader to become an active participant in the creation of its meaning – ‘no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text’ (1974: 4). A ‘writerly’ text will encourage its reader to become an active participant in the creation of its meaning – ‘no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text’ (1974: 4).

6 Crimp’s mistrust of narrative “Whatever I say to you,” he tells me, nervously trawling his fingers through his hair, “you will go away and make a shape from it. That shape will be definitive in the way that the relationship between you and I can never be. […] You will undertake a shaping process … in which I as a person will be misrepresented. It’s inevitable.” (O’Mahony 1993) “Whatever I say to you,” he tells me, nervously trawling his fingers through his hair, “you will go away and make a shape from it. That shape will be definitive in the way that the relationship between you and I can never be. […] You will undertake a shaping process … in which I as a person will be misrepresented. It’s inevitable.” (O’Mahony 1993) Crimp described his earlier play The Treatment as being about ‘what art has to do to life to make a shape out of it’ (Clapp 1997). Crimp described his earlier play The Treatment as being about ‘what art has to do to life to make a shape out of it’ (Clapp 1997). ‘Attempts on Her Life’: Suicide? Assassination? Narration? ‘Attempts on Her Life’: Suicide? Assassination? Narration?

7 Narrative in Attempts on Her Life Unseen forces in Attempts on Her Life? Unseen forces in Attempts on Her Life? David Edgar: David Edgar: ‘Crimp’s purpose is not only to question whether we can truly know another human being, but whether we can regard other people as existing at all independent of the models we construct of them. And he does this not by a bald statement, but by playing an elaborate and sophisticated game with the audience’s expectations of how scenes connect within a narrative.’ (1999: 31) ‘Crimp’s purpose is not only to question whether we can truly know another human being, but whether we can regard other people as existing at all independent of the models we construct of them. And he does this not by a bald statement, but by playing an elaborate and sophisticated game with the audience’s expectations of how scenes connect within a narrative.’ (1999: 31)

8 Narrative in Attempts on Her Life Crimp shows narratives in the process of being constructed (often collaboratively): Crimp shows narratives in the process of being constructed (often collaboratively): The second answerphone message shows a fictional narrative being invented (we later hear the full narrative in scenario 3, and perhaps its continuation in scenario 12) The second answerphone message shows a fictional narrative being invented (we later hear the full narrative in scenario 3, and perhaps its continuation in scenario 12) Scenarios 2 and 3 depict what sound like film executives inventing narratives; scenario 6 (‘Mum and Dad’) uses similar language Scenarios 2 and 3 depict what sound like film executives inventing narratives; scenario 6 (‘Mum and Dad’) uses similar language Scenario 15, ‘The Statement’, explores anxieties over legal narratives: ‘Well, don’t you consider it accurate?’ (p. 268) Scenario 15, ‘The Statement’, explores anxieties over legal narratives: ‘Well, don’t you consider it accurate?’ (p. 268)

9 Narrative in Attempts on Her Life Often, the play’s narratives unravel and deconstruct themselves: Often, the play’s narratives unravel and deconstruct themselves: Anne’s lover treats her face like both a ‘precious chalice’ and a ‘rugby football’ (p. 213) Anne’s lover treats her face like both a ‘precious chalice’ and a ‘rugby football’ (p. 213) After an in-depth description of her ashtray, a narrator adds the following information almost as an afterthought: After an in-depth description of her ashtray, a narrator adds the following information almost as an afterthought: ‘…she speaks five languages and with the aid of the new CERN accelerator in Geneva she has discovered a new elementary particle which will bear her name and completely change the way we look at the universe.’ (p. 240) ‘…she speaks five languages and with the aid of the new CERN accelerator in Geneva she has discovered a new elementary particle which will bear her name and completely change the way we look at the universe.’ (p. 240) Scenario 13 narrates Annie as a conduit for an alien invasion. Scenario 13 narrates Annie as a conduit for an alien invasion.

10 Narrative in Attempts on Her Life Scenario 10, ‘Kinda Funny’ is a monologue. Scenario 10, ‘Kinda Funny’ is a monologue. It is the most conventional narrative in the play for this reason, but it deconstructs itself through its internal incongruity: after constructing a narrative of optimistic self-determination (the American dream?) it reveals Annie as a fascist. It is the most conventional narrative in the play for this reason, but it deconstructs itself through its internal incongruity: after constructing a narrative of optimistic self-determination (the American dream?) it reveals Annie as a fascist. Scenario 12, ‘Strangely!’, continues scenario 3. Scenario 12, ‘Strangely!’, continues scenario 3. It is a much more overtly deconstructed narrative, using strategies similar to Churchill. It is a much more overtly deconstructed narrative, using strategies similar to Churchill.

11 Anne’s inconsistency Her name Her name Her age Her age ‘…all the things that Anne can be’ (p. 223) ‘…all the things that Anne can be’ (p. 223) ‘She’s a pornographic movie star / A killer and a brand of car’ (p. 263) ‘She’s a pornographic movie star / A killer and a brand of car’ (p. 263) Scenario 9, ‘The Threat of International Terrorism™’, gives us a refrain: Scenario 9, ‘The Threat of International Terrorism™’, gives us a refrain: ‘Is this really the same little Anne…?’ ‘Is this really the same little Anne…?’ Once again, Anne becomes ludicrously inconsistent (p. 244). Once again, Anne becomes ludicrously inconsistent (p. 244).

12 ‘Tragedy’ in Attempts on Her Life Scenario 2 is titled ‘Tragedy of Love and Ideology’: Scenario 2 is titled ‘Tragedy of Love and Ideology’: The word ‘naturally’ recurs throughout (compare Brecht) The word ‘naturally’ recurs throughout (compare Brecht) The young woman’s lack of control is fetishised by the writers of the imagined screenplay. The young woman’s lack of control is fetishised by the writers of the imagined screenplay. Scenario 3, ‘Faith in Ourselves’, narrates a woman who ‘breaks down and scratches her cheeks like something from an ancient tragedy’ (p. 218): Scenario 3, ‘Faith in Ourselves’, narrates a woman who ‘breaks down and scratches her cheeks like something from an ancient tragedy’ (p. 218): This description is then disputed by another co-narrator, who wants something much less classical (but no less artificial). This description is then disputed by another co-narrator, who wants something much less classical (but no less artificial). ‘So it’s a universal thing obviously.’ (p. 219) ‘So it’s a universal thing obviously.’ (p. 219) According to one speaker, this horrific story ‘strangely restores – I think it does – yes – our faith in ourselves.’ (p. 220) According to one speaker, this horrific story ‘strangely restores – I think it does – yes – our faith in ourselves.’ (p. 220)

13 ‘Tragedy’ in Attempts on Her Life Luckhurst compares scenario 16 (‘Pornó’) with Ibsen, esepcially in relation to Crimp’s use of ‘passionate gypsy violin music’ (p. 274): Luckhurst compares scenario 16 (‘Pornó’) with Ibsen, esepcially in relation to Crimp’s use of ‘passionate gypsy violin music’ (p. 274): ‘The music acts as an ironic counterpoint to the horror that ‘Anne’ must suppress and to her apparent breakdown, the voices of the oppressors uniting to drown her out with a repellently euphoric construction of her as a woman with all-powerful, divinely redemptive qualities…. Crimp may be borrowing from Ibsen’s use of musical irony in Nora’s tarantella scene and Hedda’s wild piano playing moments before her suicide, but whereas Ibsen’s musical notation indicates a space for rebellion and sexual liberation, (though occupied in desperation and strictly regulated) ‘Anne’ is not permitted even a brief transgressive moment. Unlike Nora and Hedda ‘Anne’ is not allowed agency.’ (2003: 59) ‘The music acts as an ironic counterpoint to the horror that ‘Anne’ must suppress and to her apparent breakdown, the voices of the oppressors uniting to drown her out with a repellently euphoric construction of her as a woman with all-powerful, divinely redemptive qualities…. Crimp may be borrowing from Ibsen’s use of musical irony in Nora’s tarantella scene and Hedda’s wild piano playing moments before her suicide, but whereas Ibsen’s musical notation indicates a space for rebellion and sexual liberation, (though occupied in desperation and strictly regulated) ‘Anne’ is not permitted even a brief transgressive moment. Unlike Nora and Hedda ‘Anne’ is not allowed agency.’ (2003: 59)

14 Meta-critique? What is the play’s attitude towards ‘truth’? What is the play’s attitude towards ‘truth’? Scenario 11, ‘Untitled (100 Words)’, is often misinterpreted as Crimp’s explanation of how to read his play: Scenario 11, ‘Untitled (100 Words)’, is often misinterpreted as Crimp’s explanation of how to read his play: ‘With respect to you I think she’d find the whole concept of ‘making a point’ ludicrously outmoded. If any point is being made at all it’s surely the point that the point that’s being made is not the point and never has in fact been the point. It’s surely the point that the search for a point is pointless and that the whole point of the exercise – i.e. these attempts on her own life – points to that.’ (p ) ‘With respect to you I think she’d find the whole concept of ‘making a point’ ludicrously outmoded. If any point is being made at all it’s surely the point that the point that’s being made is not the point and never has in fact been the point. It’s surely the point that the search for a point is pointless and that the whole point of the exercise – i.e. these attempts on her own life – points to that.’ (p )

15 Meta-critique? The scenario is, surely, a parody: The scenario is, surely, a parody: The words used to describe the ‘landmark work’ are empty clichés: ‘It’s moving. It’s timely. It’s distressing. It’s funny. It’s sick. It’s sexy. It’s deeply serious. It’s entertaining. It’s illuminating. It’s dark. It’s highly personal and at the same time raises vital questions about the world we’re living in.’ (p. 250) The words used to describe the ‘landmark work’ are empty clichés: ‘It’s moving. It’s timely. It’s distressing. It’s funny. It’s sick. It’s sexy. It’s deeply serious. It’s entertaining. It’s illuminating. It’s dark. It’s highly personal and at the same time raises vital questions about the world we’re living in.’ (p. 250) When one of the critics asserts that ‘what we see here is the work of a girl who quite clearly should’ve been admitted not to an art school but to a psychiatric unit’ (p ), Crimp is alluding fairly directly to Charles Spencer’s review of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love: ‘It’s not a theatre critic that’s required here, it’s a psychiatrist.’ (Daily Telegraph, 21 May 1996). When one of the critics asserts that ‘what we see here is the work of a girl who quite clearly should’ve been admitted not to an art school but to a psychiatric unit’ (p ), Crimp is alluding fairly directly to Charles Spencer’s review of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love: ‘It’s not a theatre critic that’s required here, it’s a psychiatrist.’ (Daily Telegraph, 21 May 1996).

16 Meta-critique? Are we meant to agree on the critic’s definition of our own context? Are we meant to agree on the critic’s definition of our own context? ‘… the context of a post-radical, of a post-human world where the gestures of radicalism take on new meaning in a society where the radical gesture is simply one more form of entertainment i.e. one more product – in this case an artwork – to be consumed.’ (p. 256) ‘… the context of a post-radical, of a post-human world where the gestures of radicalism take on new meaning in a society where the radical gesture is simply one more form of entertainment i.e. one more product – in this case an artwork – to be consumed.’ (p. 256) Paul Taylor seemed to think so, asking: ‘Is it, for all its extraordinary flights of eloquent writing, a play that is just cleverly knowing and darkly comic about its own ingenious futility?’ (Independent, 14 March 1997) Paul Taylor seemed to think so, asking: ‘Is it, for all its extraordinary flights of eloquent writing, a play that is just cleverly knowing and darkly comic about its own ingenious futility?’ (Independent, 14 March 1997) Compare Beckett? Compare Beckett?

17 Meta-critique? Crimp, argues Heiner Zimmermann, is ‘aware of the fact that he is part of the culture he satirises’: Crimp, argues Heiner Zimmermann, is ‘aware of the fact that he is part of the culture he satirises’: ‘His critique does not arrogate a stance of moral superiority or superior insight. … In short, it exposes the perversion of current discourses while openly admitting that it has no alternatives to offer.’ (2003: 84) ‘His critique does not arrogate a stance of moral superiority or superior insight. … In short, it exposes the perversion of current discourses while openly admitting that it has no alternatives to offer.’ (2003: 84) Crimp has indeed described himself as ‘anti- ideological’ (Clapp 1997). Crimp has indeed described himself as ‘anti- ideological’ (Clapp 1997).

18 Meta-critique? Crimp’s prose piece ‘Four Unwelcome Thoughts’ suggests something a little more complex: Crimp’s prose piece ‘Four Unwelcome Thoughts’ suggests something a little more complex: ‘The writer… begins to make a mental list of what is now impossible: the painted portrait (obviously), the well-made play (hilarious), the radical (oh really?) gesture, political engagement (ha ha ha!). The more examples of impossibility and failure he comes up with, the happier he is.’ (2005: x) ‘The writer… begins to make a mental list of what is now impossible: the painted portrait (obviously), the well-made play (hilarious), the radical (oh really?) gesture, political engagement (ha ha ha!). The more examples of impossibility and failure he comes up with, the happier he is.’ (2005: x)

19 References Barthes, R. (1974) S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller, New York: Hill & Wang. Barthes, R. (1974) S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller, New York: Hill & Wang. Baudrillard, Jean (1992) ‘Simulations’, trans. Paul Beitchman, in Patricia Waugh, Postmodernism, London: Edward Arnold. Baudrillard, Jean (1992) ‘Simulations’, trans. Paul Beitchman, in Patricia Waugh, Postmodernism, London: Edward Arnold. Clapp, Susannah (1997) ‘No plot, no characters, no rules: Martin Crimp takes the play apart’, New Statesman, 21 March. Clapp, Susannah (1997) ‘No plot, no characters, no rules: Martin Crimp takes the play apart’, New Statesman, 21 March. Crimp, Martin (2005) Plays 2, London: Faber & Faber. Crimp, Martin (2005) Plays 2, London: Faber & Faber. Edgar, David (1999) State of Play: Playwrights on Playwriting, London: Faber & Faber. Edgar, David (1999) State of Play: Playwrights on Playwriting, London: Faber & Faber. Lehmann, Hans-Thies (2006) Postdramatic Theatre, Abingdon: Routledge. Lehmann, Hans-Thies (2006) Postdramatic Theatre, Abingdon: Routledge. Luckhurst, Mary (2003) ‘Political Point-Scoring: Martin Crimp’s Attempts on her Life’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 13:1, Luckhurst, Mary (2003) ‘Political Point-Scoring: Martin Crimp’s Attempts on her Life’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 13:1, O’Mahony, John (1993) ‘Writers’ Crimp’, Guardian, 20 April. O’Mahony, John (1993) ‘Writers’ Crimp’, Guardian, 20 April. Sierz, Aleks (2006) The Theatre of Martin Crimp, London: A & C Black. Sierz, Aleks (2006) The Theatre of Martin Crimp, London: A & C Black. Zimmermann, Heiner (2003) ‘Images of Woman in Martin Crimp’s Attempts On Her Life’, European Journal of English Studies, 7:1, Zimmermann, Heiner (2003) ‘Images of Woman in Martin Crimp’s Attempts On Her Life’, European Journal of English Studies, 7:1,


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