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Performance Arts ― Public Sphere ― Post-Political?


Admission requirements

There are no admission requirements for this elective course.


Performance Arts ― Public Sphere ― Post-Political? - (feb-jun 2022)
Political philosophy of modernist music-theatre

Performing arts make delimitation of times and spaces, of visible and invisible, speech and noise: … they involve an Aesthetics which simultaneously determines the place and stakes of Politics: … Politics revolves around what is seen, what can be said about it, who has ability to see and talent to speak.

Our current global situation reveals a crisis beyond human scale and imagination. Passing the threshold towards the anthropocene makes us catch glimpses of politics in future life-worlds, with consequences that urges us to question once again how public spheres can now be affected by performing arts. By theatre provoking our aesthetic reflection and respons-ability on vital political causes? Or by actively including people in creating imaginary communities? Or through interruption of well-ordered policies of perception, contextual interventions that stimulate civic imagination, wake-up calls that disclose new horizons?

From Aischylos to Shakespeare, Molière, Schiller, Ibsen and Checkhov…. dramatic theatre was always a medium for political reflection and theorizing. This course focuses on 20th century art-theatre, which started as a modernist alternative for the bourgeois theatre of illusions and liberated the stage from chains of literary drama. It gave rise to a 're-theatricalisation' of the 'empty space' (Peter Brook), igniting many artistic innovations in literature, in painting, music, film, visual arts and architecture. But does this "post-dramatic" turn also imply performances are to become "post-political"?

Effects of this radical change on theatre's political self-understanding are traced in two streams. That of Avant-gardists sub-political experiments, transforming the stage in a techno-space to conjure figurations of "transhuman"-actors and developing a practice of minimalistic carving out of words, movements and gestures, resulting in post-dramatic theatricality, offering aesthetic anticipation of a future of liberated sensibility. And another stream, exploring theatre as transgression of boundaries in collective gatherings, by making an innovative use of masks and ritual practices, opening up the stage as an intercultural space for a refoundation of communality, offering collective healing, reconciliation and new perspectives for historical orientation.

The aesthetics we follow will conceive these artistic events as a political distribution of the sensible. Paying tribute to insights from Wagner to Brecht, Meyerhold, Artaud, Sartre, Mnouchkine, Beckett, Sellars, Lehmann…. we will reflect how their aesthetic insights not only inspired contemporary political theatre but also provoked critical philosophical responses from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, Derrida, Lyotard, Ranciere and Badiou.

Finally this political philosophy course reveals the relevance of a contemporary philosophy of history that invites us to look beyond innovative artistic techniques and theatrical spectacles. We recognize in the newest again the oldest of theatre forms – their political influence reflected in 'civic imagination', criticism of prevailing orders of perception, the artistic healing of wounds, the symbolic presentation of our capacity for change, training resilience by projecting utopias into cultural resources.

Course objectives

At the end of the course the student:

  • will learn to think through music-theatre about aesthetics in the public sphere and its effects in contemporary political ideas, discourses and performances;

  • is able reflect with some historical background and to situate his/her activities as a teacher and professional performance-artist within a diversity of sectors of contemporary culture;

  • has received mental energy from video-fragments recording ground-breaking theatre-events by Brecht, Artaud or Beckett; from Wagner to Stockhausen, but also from Peter Brook, Arianne Mnouchkine, and Peter Sellars ― and gained inspirational thoughts from Nietzsche, Sartre, Benjamin, Adorno, Habermas, Lyotard, Ranciere and Badiou;

  • is able to comprehend some crucial texts of philosophers, writers, composers, theatre makers and performers;

  • has a developed a historical sensibility for interdisciplinary and intermediary in contemporary art.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

Assessment method

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours. Course Level is 300.

  • Seminar: 12 seminars of 2,5 hours = 30 hours

  • Literature reading & practical work: 55 hours

  • Self study: 5 hours

  • Assignments & final essay: 50 hours

  • 40% weekly seminar assignments

  • 50% final essay

  • 10% active participation in class

Reading list

Here is a small list of (non-compulsory) literature, as reading suggestions for those students who want to prepare themselves on the main topics of the course.

  • Aesthetics and Politics Debates between Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Gyorgy Lukacs. London: NLB, 1977

  • Adorno, Theodor. In search of Wagner, Trying to understand Endgame, Aesthetic Theory

  • Benjamin, Walter. Über Brecht, Origin of German Mourning Play

  • Fischer-Lichte: History of European Drama and Theatre

  • Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

  • Lehmann: Post-Dramatic Theatre, Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre

  • Rancière, Jacques. Politics of Aesthetics

  • Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics, Rhapsody for the Theatre

Some additional articles will be distributed during the course: they will include works and theories on genre’s, artistic techniques and cultural perspectives of theatre-makers (Brecht, Meyerhold…..) excerpts from novels of writers (Baudelaire, Hesse, Mann, Eliot ….), interviews with (Brook, Mnouchkine, Sellars) and from a selection of text-fragments by philosophers (Nietzsche on Wagner; Gramsci on Verdi) and modern thinkers as Adorno, Benjamin, Habermas, Ranciere, Badiou, Zizek, Scruton


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Drs. T. Dommisse Dhr. ir. R.T.W.L. Schneemann


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