Staged

Show Trials, Political Theater, and the Aesthetics of Judgment

Minou Arjomand

Columbia University Press

Staged

Pub Date: September 2018

ISBN: 9780231184885

248 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£54.00

Pub Date: September 2018

ISBN: 9780231545730

248 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£54.00

Staged

Show Trials, Political Theater, and the Aesthetics of Judgment

Minou Arjomand

Columbia University Press

Theater requires artifice, justice demands truth. Are these demands as irreconcilable as the pejorative term “show trials” suggests? After the Second World War, canonical directors and playwrights sought to claim a new public role for theater by restaging the era’s great trials as shows. The Nuremberg trials, the Eichmann trial, and the Auschwitz trials were all performed multiple times, first in courts and then in theaters. Does justice require both courtrooms and stages?

In Staged, Minou Arjomand draws on a rich archive of postwar German and American rehearsals and performances to reveal how theater can become a place for forms of storytelling and judgment that are inadmissible in a court of law but indispensable for public life. She unveils the affinities between dramatists like Bertolt Brecht, Erwin Piscator, and Peter Weiss and philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin, showing how they responded to the rise of fascism with a new politics of performance. Linking performance with theories of aesthetics, history, and politics, Arjomand argues that it is not subject matter that makes theater political but rather the act of judging a performance in the company of others. Staged weaves together theater history and political philosophy into a powerful and timely case for the importance of theaters as public institutions.
This is a brilliant work that gives us both a social history and critical theory of postwar theatre. One thinks about the show trial as a terrible miscarriage of justice, but Arjomand gives trial theatre another function: public deliberation and judgment on responsibility and political justice. Whereas much attention has been given to the theatricality of legal trials, Arjomand asks us to value the public function of theatre in enacting debates on justice and establishing a public practice of considered judgment. The history of postwar German theatre offered here engaged in critical theory and aesthetics in a new and engaging argument about aesthetics and politics and the public functions of art in a democracy. Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley
Theatricality is pervasive in courtroom scenes. So is the question about the relationship between ethical judgment and the law. Political theater has always exploited this conjunction. The show trial exemplifies the ambivalence between law and theatricality, while the trial play offers a counterpoint. This is the constellation Minou Arjomand brilliantly explores, focusing on productions of trial plays, films, and TV courtroom series from Brecht and Piscator to Anna Deavere Smith, with Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy as a touchstone of the argument. A major intervention into the aesthetics of political theater. Andreas Huyssen, Columbia University
In crystal-clear prose, Staged examines the unique relation between political thought and theater in German and German-American theater from the 1920s to the 1970s, one born from the historical experience of Nazism, the Holocaust, and their aftermath. I was struck by how much we can learn from this painful period of German and German-American theater and political thought. The book is very timely indeed. Martin Puchner, Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature, Harvard University
A thoughtful and intelligent book on the ways in which political theater, or more precisely courtroom dramas, create a space in which aesthetic, ethical, and political judgments bleed into one another. G. Grieve-Carlson, Lebanon Valley College, Choice
Staged marks an exciting moment for scholarship at the intersection of law and theater... emerge[ing] from the long-established insight that law and performance are mutually constitutive. Rebecca Kastleman, University of Virginia, The English Association
For its ambitious articulation of fundamental questions of aesthetics and politics, and for the study’s under-appreciated subjects, Staged should be read not just by those interested in post-war Germany but by anyone interested in how theatre can benefit judgement and justice. Matt Cornish, Ohio University, Modern Drama
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Show Trials and Political Theater
1. Hannah Arendt: Judging in Dark Times
2. Bertolt Brecht: Poetic Justice
3. Erwin Piscator: Theater After Auschwitz
4. Trials in Nuremberg
Conclusion: Archives, Law, and Theater Today
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Commended, 2019 George Freedley Memorial Award, Theatre Library Association

About the Author

Minou Arjomand is an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.