LIEBESTOD


An interpretation of Biljana Srbljanovics Pad / The Fall.



: What is the aim of desire? The aim of desire is to die: fulfilled in that other, desired one.

: What is the aim of work? Work shall liberate mankind from work.

: What is the aim of theatre? Nobody knows.

: But some of us have a desire to do theatre work.

And the aim is to be liberated from theatre work, too.

To present the world as desire and performance.

Mind the word PRESENT, not to represent.

In a representation of reality, the real desire is not even in play.

What is not in play, can never die.

That which never dies is a ghost.

And the European theatre is haunted by this ghost of undead desire.

The ghost may wear different costumes, but it is always the same.

It is the ghost of representation.

It is the spirit of doing the same thing you did the night before.

And as to what is gone, last night is like a hundred years ago.

: A hundred years ago, a man called and asked us: if we could make a kind of performance,

based on Biljana Srbljanovic’s play «The Fall».

: The Milosevic/Markovic family had a great fall.

: We always write our own pieces.

: We cannot laugh the laugh of a stranger. With strange, slick and charming: diplomatic

smiles glued to our faces. We are no warheaded peacekeepers. We cannot act mindless and

obedient, as if we stay in Paradise before the Fall.

 

: «The Fall» was written by Biljana Srbljanovic in 1999. It is a play about the rise and fall of

tyrants. The scene of the play is described as a bunker and a deserted summer residence,

symbols of war and repression. All the characters wear names, but in addition they represent

different social strata or establishment positions. Suncana is the hypermama, or metamother,

of the nation. Zivko, the supreme stepfather of the nation. Jovan is the nation’s one and only

son, and as its unique bastard son he represents the people. Vera is the nation’s sister-in-law,

with a hidden aspect more obscure to me. And at last we have the national chameleons: The

First Intellectual is a sculptor and a poet, and The Second Intellectual is an author and a

philosopher.

: All these second characteristics might appear as ghosts: killed by the character who has to

state their beings. Like Macbeth when he sees the ghost of Banquo, Jovan seems to be

frightened by the people he is said to represent.

: Jovan is the nation’s only son, and his terror might reflect the lifeless and symbolic nature of

everything else that is born through his mother. In the beginning of the play Suncana gives

birth to a house. Later she gives birth to a TV, a barrack, a church and barbed wire. These are

simple symbols of national strength and unity through suppression and violence – apart

from the TV, which is never turned on.

: That spoiled bastard son is searching for his father. Towards the end of the play he is made

to know, that his father is one of the national intellectuals and priests. Then he is shot by his

mother, but rises from the dead, like the people killed by his symbolic function. He rises in

order to join his father and his father’s friend. And in order to exterminate all the others,

using the Auschwitz showers, and to go to Heaven like Hell.

: Whether Jovan is representing the people here, or just a wasted upper-class, lonesome

wonky wobbler, doesn’t become really clear. But what is clear is this: He is going to die too.

Tomorrow, with all the rest of us. All human affairs, all remembrance, all names etc., even the

genders: our own sex and that other, all of that will disappear. This is what he declares,

because at the end there is no other solution. He really must have loved his petty mother, he

cannot bear to live without her. As the people love their tyrants they must die, more or less at

the same time, or in union. That is, die Liebestod. Love-in-death. Death-in-love.

: What is the aim of disappearing? The aim of disappearing is: to stay gone.

 It is the old desire

 to evaginate the State

 by a simple twist of fate

 or barbed wire

 realising you are out of date

: But you cannot disappear if you haven’t been there. If you haven’t even been mentioned. If

you are too absent-minded to declare your presence. Then you’ve got the barbed wire in

your brains.

: Your brains are fantastic. So is your body. Not to mention your smile.

: In Norwegian political rhetorics, the word «people» is almost extinct. Those who are

addicted to dominate by this lingo usually refer to us as «consumers» or – even more often –

as «the audience». No reference is ever made to what play the audience is attending, not

even if it is staged in a theatre of war.

: As you all know, the audience is never responsible for the dramatic actions taking place.

The audience is the unconsciousness of what is going to happen. The only responsibility of

the audience is: to stay unconscious, to keep your mouths shut and to make a full applause at

the end. You are so fantastic. Every audience is unique.

: Accordingly, every theater piece is viewed in a different way, from place to place and all

over the world. A great performance in North Dakota might be a flop in Utah and plain

suicide in Calcutta. What do I know? To me it is an act of aggression to point a gun towards

the audience, to take aim at certain persons and to fire the gun at them in order to – as it is

stated in one of «The Fall’s» stage directions: in order to «create a paralyzing fear among the

audience». I find this scene quite rude, and I have serious doubts about the potential

dramatic, human or social insight derived from this fear.

: The shooting is suggested to bridge the gap between the real and the representation. But

how could solid fear make up for this difference? Human fear is indistinguishable, like the

air we breathe. And when you play the active part, that is; the actor or the actress, even the

word «differ» seems to differ from itself. But if you stay on and play the passive part, that is;

the audience, your tale is told by Silence, Repression and other Unspeakables. With the

result, that your abilities to judge what’s going on are passed over to the box office shrink,

who declares: Our unconsciousness has grown, buddy, and this cancerous growth in our

socio-cultural mind is good for business.

: Now, the business is: Biljana Srbljanovic has generously offered us her play, not to feel

enslaved by a single word of it. That is very kind of her. She couldn’t know much about our

work, and on a superficial level she might easily detect some seemingly ill-defined slapstick

and retrograde avant-gardism – traits which points towards boring prototypical, decadent

and unpolitically correct postmodernism. Which would mean artwork stuck in a desire to

make artworks about artists stuck in their desire never to present themselves through

anything but common concepts which are dominating certain current changes in an artworld

which is stuck in an unreal time like ours. Blah!

: An artworld removed of its fun, guts and wits – with no ability to curse the whole scene.

Leaving its option of free speech to our former smashing Secretary of State, for instance, to

him and to his waste of chameleonomatics. Being a political idiot, I ask for full verbal

expression. And the answer is: Love is in the air. Disguised as Liebestod.

: The Liebestod is a symbol of a love so great, that it has to be expelled from our human

Society. It is the dominant motif of the lyrical drama of the 1890’s. The lyrical drama of the

1890’s is the central and prolific playground of European Modernism. On this playground

expressionist, dadaist, futurist, surrealist, absurd etc. – performances came into being. Which

means, that from the lyrical drama a hundred years ago, and to the present state of our art, it

is an unbroken line of development. For instance, all of Baktruppen’s major productions

ought to be classified as lyrical dramas, or deeply rooted in its conventions. Puzzled, at one

point we realized, that Biljana Srbljanovics «The Fall» may be classified as a late offspring of

the lyrical drama too.

: Why? And how? It couldn’t be true. We had to check our view, and searched through the

critical reception of «The Fall». The various judges of artistic merit felt free to describe the

whole piece as a farce, a burlesque and a jolly far-fetched grotesque. We knew and we know,

that characteristics like these fail to make sense in a farcical, or burlesque, world so

grotesque, that a serious play in no way can match it.

: Nobody mentioned the lyrical drama. We suddenly seemed to be involved, with a muted

Biljana Srbljanovic at our side, in a tale told by Silence, Repression and other Unspeakables.

Why? Is the lyrical drama too openly sentimental, nihilistic self-abusing and kitschy in its

world view to be left to anything but rock, punk, pork, rap, glam and heavy metal? Or is it a

case of too many more or less bastard Isms, which have kicked their elderly ancestor off

stage?

: Situated as it is – where the real thing, in our words, don’t mean a thing – the lyrical drama

is easily swallowed up by its own insignification, which means: by its emotive appeal, by its

reliance on what we cannot talk about. At this level of immaterial musings, (Singing:) if you

give your little finger... to that primeval blackout, it will blacken both your hands, and as

they seem so strange to you – you will cut them off, pretending they are strange.

 

: But, you may well ask, what is all this talk about the lyrical drama? The style of «The Fall»

seems to be a kind of condensed realism, miming the way a tyrant may turn into a parody of

human nature, and consequently the play seems to be a parody. In contrast, the lyrical

dramas of the 1890’s – for instance Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s – are set in a world of pure

fantasy, on a symbolic scene foreign to our human fate, at a non-temporal and paratoxic

waste site, an in-between stage close to virtual reality, crowded with para-historical or

mythological figures. It is a world as close to the human unconsciousness as possible – where

a nightmare is a nightmare and no shrink exists, and in the end nothing is really significant,

because language just isn’t there. How could this correspond to «The Fall»?

: Reason # 1: The historically vague or non-specific setting, which stresses the timelessness of

human bestiality and causes a withdrawal of the action on stage from the common reality of

the audience. This achieved remoteness is in turn bridged by affective, contra-practical stage

directions: One of the stage directions even declares, that this act can never be staged, which

is to say, it will stay in some dark recesses of our minds? In another stage direction, a woman

(Vera) is said to drop down like an empty shopping bag bearing the logo of a fashionable

store. In a third, as you probably have heard: fake gunshots are to be fired right into the

audience and, by sheer emotive force, to bridge the gap between what is real and what is

mere play. Like in all lyrical drama, the audience is not stirred by the plot, the humor or the

moving development of the characters. It is the musical, poetic or – like in this case –

antipoetic elements, which are designed to throw dust in our eyes.

: Reason # 2: The non-mimetic, symbolic nature of the role figures. As a result, and in a more

than ambiguous way, the people on stage are essentially someone other than they are. This

essence of otherness is central to the players, and not to be questioned. By this

representational doubling of the characters they lose their characters, and in a subtle way it is

this removal of their eventually plot-effecting back-bones, which constitutes the back-bone of

the plot. This is the opposite to being in a rhetorical situation, which is a human one, and in

which it is possible to shed light on our reasons for being someone others than we are. The

role figures in the lyrical drama are superhuman, extrahuman or parahuman, and their

situation is one in which they all, by actions as well as rhetorics, point to forces off stage as

the really troubling ones. That is what happens in «The Fall»: It depicts a war in which the

enemy is absent while the soldiers are stuck in a battle with their own bodies. That action is

obviously a symbolic one.

: Reason # 3: In accordance with the contra-rhetorical situation, the players speak a

seemingly retarded language, as if to reassure themselves that they are not acting. They cheer

and comfort each other through a naivistic, echolaliac oral intercourse, that resembles real

talk, but which doesn’t affect what they do, and how. For instance, towards the end of the

play, when the tyrannical regime is breaking down, the mother-hype and metamama of the

nation says, that nothing is really lost. She can give birth to a new people, a nation of fresh

subjects, anytime. Whether this is just a last straw of illusion chewed on by a desperate

tyrant, or whether it is not, is difficult to say but of no real importance, not in a world of

illusion and forced representation.

: We may add: Feelings. Feelings are expressed as if they pop out of some kind of

psychological nature, but in the German translation we read the feelings don’t affect the

language, on a syntactic or prosodic level. The regression of language into its selfreferential

and dichotomic structure, so typically boosted by Modernism, is certainly a part of the play

but never the point. The words are not disturbed by the incestuous nature of language – as if

a hundred years were really GONE. The promiscuous and accidental breedings of new

expressions are suppressed by the tyrant of representation and  meaningfulness. The new

language dies. It dies in an embrace of its old significance, a death which is in concord with

the Liebestod.

: That is, in Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover’s words, «the metaphysical heart» of the lyrical

drama. The protagonists in these plays are doomed by their desire to escape from the human

universe. The humor of the genre always was, of course, that the stage is extremely outdated

in subtle timelessness, from the beginning.

: The people on stage are supposed to be something different from real. This non-reality is

not reflected in the action taking place. These double negations does not affect the way the

players talk.

: But something happens on stage, something fatal. Jovan kills his mother, as well as his step-

father. And accompanied by the intellectuals, he goes to heaven. And he is going to die too.

Tomorrow. The paradox is, that he has to die to stay on. To stay in his myth, to live on as an

unreal character, and this is his real desire: It is aimed at the initial state of non-being: before

language made us all raise up to laugh, cry and ask why? This desire to transgress the

tyrannical limits of being, as the driving force of the more or less characters, is the thematical

link to the lyrical drama of the 1890’s and its «metaphysical heart», mentioned by

Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover. That’s why I’m so puzzled by this play. It seems subjected to real

and recent, tragical events and stuck in ambiguous dream state, at the same time. Like a

mirror reflecting the back of another mirror, which strangely reflects the back of the first.

That’s a new twist on an old theme, in a world of desire and performance.