Isabelle Zirden: After the Postdramatic? Elfriede Jelinek, Kathrin Röggla and the Possibility of Political Subjects


My dissertation is concerned with the aesthetics of political theatre in post Millennium theatre texts by the Austrian authors Kathrin Röggla and Elfriede Jelinek. Both authors conceive theatre as political medium („politisches Medium“, Jelinek) with which they aim to have an effect (Röggla).
My project examines how the authors engage the aesthetic possibilities offered by theatre – or, more precisely, by both dramatic and postdramatic forms – for political ends. Based on an analysis of the authors’ poetological reflections on theatre and the political, my thesis reads their plays as pursuing an underlying conception of political theatre as relational event, in accordance with the understanding of political relationality developed first by Hannah Arendt, and later slightly
criticised and modified by Judith Butler. I show that these philosophers’ thought provides a productive lens for the analysis of Jelinek’s and Röggla’s understandings of the political. Arguing that both authors are drawing upon the postdramatic, but also go beyond postdramatic form variations, I maintain that while both Jelinek’s and Röggla’s plays can partly be placed, on a formal level, within the spectrum of the postdramatic, they also unmistakeably perform a (re)turn to dramatic forms. The text corpus examined comprises three plays of each author: Röggla’s fake reports (2002), draußen tobt die dunkelziffer (2005) and die unvermeidlichen (2011), and Jelinek’s Nach Nora (2013), Wut (2016) and Am Königsweg (2017).
I begin in Chapter 1 by assessing Röggla and Jelinek’s conception of theatre and/as politics through an analysis of their poetological texts and essays, situating their thinking within the intellectualhistorical context of the works of Arendt and Butler. Following this, I move on to the analysis of their writings for the theatre, structuring my work around four central theatrical categories: Space (Chapter 2), Time (Chapter 3), Speech (Chapter 4) and Body (Chapter 5). In the course of my analysis, I show that these categories are not only of central importance for theatrical and dramatic
phenomena – such as text and performance and their interrelation, or the negotiation of dramatic and postdramatic forms but are also key in understanding the conditions of possibility of political visibility and political action. My analysis shows that both authors present a de-politicised society that, due to the loss of political subjectivity and the impossibility of creating relational spaces for common action, is incapable of plural political action. The theatre texts deploy an aesthetic counterstrategy, insofar as the authors’ texts – written and intended for an eventual performance – create a momentary political subjectivity in which relationality and thus the possibility of political action appear.