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Tragedy Staging the Anthropocene


Admission requirements


philosophy, politics and the heritage of dramatic tragedy in contemporary performance arts**

*we are embedded not only in dramatic historical processes but
also in earth history – on a stage where nature behaves as a
non-human subject and where the inhuman becomes a co-actor and co-
author of our fate….

attic tragedy confronted us with limits of our autonomy, by
focusing on what is perishable, precarious, fragile, or by slowing
things down, by forcing us to question ourselves – “what will
happen to me?”, “what shall I do?” This way it learned humans
to celebrate the planetary forces that make life possible in the
first place. it is up to the future tragedy to give voice to the
precarious interrelation of all living things*



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, chimeras of multiple disasters stalking the third millennium— global warming, pandemics, migration, cyber-terrorism, religious intolerance, failures of neoliberalism, establishment of autocratic regimes, intrusion of techno-media formations in our most intimate thoughts. These crises urge us to question how to stage these global, almost ‘cosmic’ inhuman events? How to aesthetically reflect, artistically negotiate and theatrically present the tragic situation of our coming century? How to frame this crisis in art which is capable to politically affect the public sphere?

This philosophy-course makes a case to rethink the heritage of tragedy in this perspective: as a exemplary practice of politically engaged dramatic theatre of crisis, emerging when ‘time is out of joint’. Tragedy – from Aeschylus to Shakespeare, Racine, Schiller, Wagner, Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht and Beckett – has always recorded collective experiences of great historical transitions. In moments of cultural watershed the tragic stage was a medium for philosophical reflection and political theorizing – engendering new aesthetic norms, innovative artistic techniques and forms of theatrical expression.

Tragic experiences were also sublimated in 20th century art-theatre – which deconstructed the bourgeois theatre of illusions and liberated the spectacle from chains of literary drama. The stage was opened to the ‘ideologizing’ of public events as well as to a ‘re-theatricalization’ of the empty space of political power plays. Theatricalization ignited many modernist artistic revolutions: in literature, in painting, music, film, visual arts and architecture. Avant-gardist theatre sharpened our sensibility for everyday terror by transforming stages in a techno-space for conjuring up dramatic figurations of “non-human”-actors – but it also explored transgression of boundaries, and rediscovered healing and communal reconciliation in collective gatherings and ritual practices. All elements of attic tragedies.

Politics, Philosophy and Art are offspring of tragedy. The course relocates this heritage by paying tribute to ideas from Wagner to Brecht, Meyerhold, Artaud, Sartre, Mnouchkine, Beckett, Sellars, Lehmann….demonstrating how aesthetic insights not only inspired political theatre but also provoked critical philosophical responses from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, Derrida, Scruton, Lyotard, Ranciere and Badiou. This anticipates a futural »Anthropocene theatre« that could arguably stand as our century’s equiv¬alent to classical, renaissance and modern tragedy – in scope and affect.

Therefore one should not only re-read tragedy’s history in the planetary age, but also turn the tragic gaze to the unborn – staging not only cultural conflicts among human actors, but also geo-political situations where nature behaves as a earth-historical, non-human actor. Will tomorrows stage invite spectators to reconsider their manifold position: as agents of a techno-sphere; as participants in a fragile earth-bound Critical Zone where life is possible, and as precarious victims of cultural tribulations of 21st century identity? Can tragic theatre regenerate itself in the Anthropocene as forum, assuming the role of an engaged body of citizens that will eventually have to pronounce its kri¬sis, not only liberating ourselves form haunting spectres of the past, but also contributing to an ethics and politics of the unborn and nonhuman inhabitants of the earth?

Course Objectives

  • a philosophy of tragedy – conceptualizing its figurations in tragic conflicts, excess and transgression; elucidating its ground in existential «tragic ambiguity», its focus on human suffering, ritual healing and tragic wisdom; its relation to fate and inhuman, cosmic forces; its emergence in specific historical moments of crisis and disruptive transformation; its metaphysical quest in orientating hope for a futural world as hospitable place for human freedom and cultivation….

  • historical examples demonstrating the massive importance of tragedy for western theatre; analysis of its aesthetic- artistic characteristics, its role in staging the public sphere and relevance as politically engaged performance art – with reference to fragments from Aischylos, Shakespeare, Schiller, Wagner, Beckett, Kane

  • some conceptual tools to frame modern 20th century tragedy as an autonomous theatrical artform, and to trace the effects of this theatricalization of art in modern and contemporary political ideas, discourses and performances

  • mental energy and inspiration from video-fragments recording ground-breaking theatre-events by Brecht, Artaud or Beckett; from Wagner to Stockhausen, but also from Peter Brook, Arianne Mnouchkine, Peter Sellars, Lars van Trier

  • the ability to comprehend texts of philosophers, theatre makers and performers on tragedy, and to find inspiration in fragments from Hegel, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Sartre, Adorno, Habermas, Vernant, Latour, Ranciere, Badiou, Snyder

  • insights into aesthetic-romanticist philosophy of the tragic and into tragedy’s ethico-practical philosophy – its tragic wisdom of giving voice to what is suffering in us, learning to live with questions that moves slowly in us

  • philosophical understanding of the Antropocene as formative event of our century, manifesting itself in continuous crises of the human scale and in our awareness of an intrusion of the inhuman under the aegis of catastrophy


  • All lectures will take place on Thursday in Lipsius building: Thursday 19.00-21.00 hr
    The maximum number of participants is …. as the number of registered participants exceeds this number, the formation of second group is taken into consideration.

  • Brightspace will be used. Students can register for the Brightspace site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Mode of Instruction


Course load

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

Assessment method

  • 50% final essay – about 3000 words

  • 40% weekly seminar assignments

  • 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

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

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

  • Judith Butler: Antigone’s Claim

  • Fischer-Lichte: *History of European Drama and Theatre *

  • Greenblatt, Stephen: Will and the World

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

  • Kaufmann: *Tragedy and Philosophy *

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

  • Rancière, Jacques. Politics of Aesthetics, The emancipated Spectator

  • Szondi, Peter: Essay on the Tragic, Theory of modern Drama

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