Etcetera, march 2012
At the end of the last year, Kaaitheater dedicated their third Spoken World Festival to the spoken word itself, to the formal and inherent strength of the political address in particular. Under the heading of Powers of Speech, artists from around the world explored this subset shaped by politics and linguistics. I selected several performances of the program and tried to pinpoint their position on the present role of speech as a political instrument. To what extent can words still act and contribute to the shaping of the world?
Powerlessnes of power
In Matijević and Chico’s performance, speech is devoid of the power of persuasion, given that their concern was its deconstruction. The performance art duo focused precisely on the “impotence of speech”, on the current inflation of public speaking, including that of political address. Unlike Etchells, who compiled excerpts from famous speeches (T.N.), the texts of Speech! are products of their authors’ imagination. Matijević welcomes us – or rather the imaginary audience she addresses – in the Parliament House Resort (“the most beloved oasis of the survivors of the twentieth century”), a club where one can pay to deliver speeches. This welcome speech serves as the frame narrative for the following ten brief speeches, each of which makes reference to the others. The performance’s complex interweaving structure is sometimes dizzying, but the basic idea is thought-provoking. How to interpret this absurd democratization of speeches? As a revival of the good old academic rhetoric once used to bring up critical and eloquent citizens, only this time in a new, privatized form? Or as the evolution of speech into a harmless pass-time, perfectly suited to current tsunami of messages and twitted opinions? Referring to the clients as to the “survivors of the twentieth century” seems to be an argument in favour of the first reading, but at the same time, defining the club as an “oasis” confirms the latter interpretation. Nowadays, the information flow is levelling all instances of public speaking. Weather this statement is relevant or not, the fact is that nothing, or almost, can be distinguished from the rest.
The question of the present value of political address also entails the question of the value of political discourse today. To what extent can it significantly affect the world as such? In this regard, Speech! does not give much hope. With the degeneration of Parliament into the “Parliament House Resort”, a leisure club for budding orators, Chico and Matijević seem to want to highlight the crisis of confidence that traditional political power, their institutions and representatives face today. On the international stage, many kings are naked! As an increasing number of protesters are taking to the streets, the political class is failing to formulate visionary and unifying answers to the great environmental and socio-economic challenges of our time, bound hand and foot by the neo-liberal doctrine. Having lost the concept of ethos, many politicians’ public credibility is at its lowest.
Extract from: Sprakeloosheid & onmacht. Over Spoken World 2011: Powers of Speech. (Perplexity and powerlessness. On Spoken World 2011: Powers of speech) By Sebastian Hendrickx, published in Etcetera, March 2012.
Translated from the dutch by : Isabelle Grynberg