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Searching the silences for the sounds of a "new poetics" in the female voice.


This research proceeds from the belief that the female voice is silent, or is seemingly absent, in theatre. I refer, in this exploration, specifically to the latter half of the twentieth century when the impact of feminist critical theory might have shifted this view of silence and absence. In terms of the female voice in theatre, I refer to the focus given to the voice by performers, directors and playwrights. The term 'the female voice", is used here to refer to multiple aspects of the voice(s) of women in theatre; in performance, it refers to both the sound of the voice and the structural elements or morphology; and in the writing of performance, the words and structure of the text. The complexity implied by the use of this term will reveal itself through my search for the many facets of the sound of the female voice and its structure. The term is also intentionally used to uncover the uniqueness of the female voice and of that which is specific to women and arguably less defined by logocentric or patriarchal structures. A further distinction is made with the use of the term, in a more symbolic and collective sense, to denote the public and political voice of women.

The act of speaking is relational in the sense that we speak to communicate with another for a particular purpose. The use of the voice implies that there is an ear to listen or hear. Thus, the exploration involves an awareness of "an acoustic sphere", in other words, how the female voice is heard or received (Cavarero, 2005:13). The voices of women have not necessarily been absent or silent, in fact, the struggle to be heard has been constant, but "seemingly absent" because the receiver was not actively present, or possibly, the listener chose not to "hear".

There is a trajectory of feminist theory and practice through the last thirty years of the twentieth century that is revealing in terms of the impact it had on the notion of the female voice in theatre. The theory and practice of feminist theatre practitioners manifested in diverse ways both gathering, and creating momentum. In the 1970s, radical-feminist collectives such as It's All Right to be a Woman Theatre organized women's consciousness raising (or CR) groups whose first initiative was to give women a safe forum to discuss women's issues with other women, thereby restoring their voices and validating their position as women. These initiatives were translated into theatrical performances which were similar to group sessions but nevertheless "produced a new dramaturgical dynamic that matched the feminist sense that the personal is political" (Case 1988: 65). In 1970, Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf was performed giving African-American women a platform to voice their concerns about rape and identity. And in the United Kingdom, Caryl Churchill's ground-breaking Cloud Nine (1979) combined feminist and socialist analysis to create new possibilities for dramatic structure and paradigm shifts through the use of cross-gender, cross-racial and cross-generational casting. Churchill also introduced innovative dialogic structures in her use of overlapping dialogue that was influential in defining new frames for the use of interactive dramatic dialogue. Aston (2003:1) refers to playwright David Edgar's comment that the 1980's in Britain saw an "explosion of women's theatre" and critic Benedict Nightingale alludes to the fact that women's theatre was 'the most positive aspect" of an "otherwise barren decade for new drama" (1988:170). These examples highlight the force of the trajectory of feminist theory and the impression it made on theatre. It maintained its momentum until the 90s when it was interrupted by what Susan Faludi refers to as a "backlash to feminism" (Aston, 2003:2). Alex Sierz referred to British theatre of the 1990s as "in yer face theatre" and a "shock-fest" which was dominated primarily by discontented, angry young men and a "few angry young women" resulting in a lack of female presence (Aston, 2003:5).

Another development that was to have a profound effect on the emergence of the female performer was the pioneering work of performance artists who, by affirming their right to a prominent and subjective stance, literally, took centre stage. Their stance, or representation of themselves as actors (as opposed to actresses), was primarily through the body, the body as text, yet the imprint felt is of a "voice" that was both heard and felt. This development, influenced by feminist thought and practice, gave a unique presence to the voices of women. However, a shift towards postmodern tendencies to deconstruct texts and fragment narrative relegated the word to a less prominent position and therefore the place of the voice had to be reconsidered and its inherent power re-invented. This will be dealt with in more detail later in the paper. It is however ironic, that no sooner had the female performer claimed a position of centrality and subjectivity, that theatre principles were re-organized and thus re-envisioned.

This trajectory correlates with the time that I have been a theatre practitioner in South Africa, and my search or quest for an empathetic vehicle to support this notion of a female voice, as actor, teacher and director, has similarities, or echoes of the sounds and silences of the journeys of other performers.

In Feminism and Theatre (1988) Sue-Ellen Case suggested that feminist critics adopt the term a "new poetics" (with specific reference to Aristotle's Poetics), to describe their attempts to embrace new forms of language and dramatic structure in feminist theatre. "This 'new poetics' would deconstruct the traditional systems of representation and perception of women and posit women in the position of subject" (1988:115). Particularly interesting, is Case's notion of a feminine form or "morphology". She asks if the re-positioning of women as subject would require a different approach to the inherited linear and patriarchal structures used in theatre and a re-construction of language or text to reflect the female voice more accurately. Case was criticized by materialist feminists who argued 'that the notion of a feminine form merely [reified] the traditional gender constructions of masculine and feminine." Nevertheless, Case insists that the term, a "new poetics," is useful as a "dramaturgical device" (Case, 1988: 128). And although the term is now twenty years old, it is still pertinent to my argument in searching for a new poetics for the twenty-first century. Aristotle, in The Poetics, excludes women almost completely from the dramatic experience, since they lacked the qualities of goodness and "intellectual cleverness" necessary for the tragic character. As Case (1988:17) notes:
 [Women's] invisibility provides the empty space which organizes the
 focus on the male subject.... they are subjects of tragic action
 only in so far as they might help to define the male character.

Present yet not present

The struggle of women to find their right to speak in the public domain has been well documented. What I wish to bring into focus, alongside their struggle, is their achievements and their active participation in a history that is rich in the re-telling from a female perspective. The patriarchal account of history omits the female contributions in the fields of literature, art, health practice, philosophy and religion, amongst others. The achievements of women were obscured, ignored or even erased. One example, in which women's participation is restored, is Judy Chicago's art installation, The Dinner Party (1973-9). This is a symbolic and metaphoric representation of the history of women in Western civilization from mythological figures to those, who against enormous odds, were successful in a particular field, but whose work is mostly unknown or unrecognized (Chicago, 2007:21). Chicago created a huge triangular dinner table with vagina-like "place settings" for thirty-nine famous and successful women. Each setting has a wine goblet, place mat and plate that have been crafted by means of embroidery, weaving and ceramics to appropriately characterize the historical figure. It also inscribes the names of 999 less well known women on 'the Heritage Floor". Women such as Hrosvitha von Gandersheim (935-1002), one of the first woman playwrights, "an identity which has taken one thousand years to emerge and which has yet to be placed within a critical historical perspective" yet she is referred to by Brockett as the first author of "school drama" (Case, 2000:32). Others are Trotula (died 1097), a gynaecologist known as magistra mulier sapiens or "wise woman teacher" whose writings were lost or attributed to men, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) whose book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), is a landmark in feminist thinking but who was "vilified as a "hyena in petticoats" (Chicago, 2007:187), Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1996), who collaborated with her husband Jean Arp and was a founder member of the Dada movement--though seldom acknowledged (2007:267). Chicago and a team of women created the art exhibit painstakingly and with incredible attention to detail over the course of several years. It is now permanently housed in the Brooklyn Museum. Although Chicago's work has been criticized by feminists as being "essentialist" and by art critics as somewhat "kitsch" (Butler, 2002:95), it nevertheless stands as a celebration of, and testament to, the women it represents. What is significant, in terms of this argument, is the fact that it re-focuses our attention on the participation of women throughout history and validates their achievements. It makes them and their respective voices "present".

In the same way that Chicago re-presents the unacknowledged female presence, I want to call attention to the seldom explored acoustic sphere that women inhabit in the domestic world. This is the private world of the language of mother and child in the pre-linguistic stages, the sound of the mother's voice that remains imprinted throughout one's life. This is the voice of the story teller, the singer of lullabies, the "death-crooner" who sings to the dead, and the singer of traditional songs (Mills, 2000:17). This voice needs to be excavated or uncovered to explore the potential and power inherent in the vocal range. This is potentially a shared space of vocal investigation belonging to both genders. And yet men have feared the power of the female voice and "women have been punished for releasing their wisdom in sound" throughout the ages (Newham, 1999:155). Odysseus was tied to the mast to resist the seductive lure of the Sirens, both of their voices and of the wisdom they sought to impart, Pericles was so distressed by the wailing of women that he forbad them to attend funerals. English women in the Middle Ages were banned from singing folk songs for fear that they were casting spells. Eve was considered sinful for tempting Adam to eat with her words and "men have perpetuated the belief that loquacity and an outspoken tongue are a woman's vices while silence and verbal restraint are her virtues" (Newham, 1999:155). According to Aristotle, "silence is a woman's glory" (1988: xiii), and in Sophocles's play his hero Ajax declared, "silence gives the proper place to women" (1999: 23). In The Art of Rhetorique Wilson, a sixteenth century writer on rhetoric, articulates the thought that has pervaded the centuries:

What becometh a woman best and first of all: Silence. What seconde: Silence. What third. Silence. What fourth: Silence (Wilson cited in Karpf, 2006:156).

The Thirst for Words

Helene Cixous (1937-) was born in Algeria of a Spanish/ French/ Jewish father and German/Jewish mother. She was thus fluent in French and German, but was exposed to Spanish and Arabic as well (Sellars, 1994: xxvi). She claims she "was raised on the milk of words", explaining how as a child she would only eat if her ears had something to listen to (Cixous, 1991:20). Thus, according to Cixous language is made for the ear 'that from infancy, 'thirsts' for words in which sounds, and not concepts vibrate" (Cavarero, 2005:143). This thirst for words is satisfied by the mother's utterances as she nourishes the infant. She refers to a time of pleasure shared by mother and child that is full of vocal cadences mixed with the sweetness of 'the language of milk" (languelait). With this memory of the maternal impulses Cixous claims she "writes in white ink" (Cixous, 1991:46), that is she writes with flesh, with the body. Cixous's intention is not to create a feminine writing, but to permit in writing what had hitherto been prohibited, the emergence of the female voice. This voice "[draws] on the resources of the unconscious, in tune with the body's needs and pleasures, [thus] feminine writing is rooted in a liberating love". This voice is humorous, but it is also a "celebration of life in the face of death", encompassing the darker aspects of the female psyche. As Cixous puts it: "feminine writing is the art of singing the abyss" (Sellars, 1994:59). These multiple female vocal traits originate from rhythm and song and the world of the imaginary that reside in the maternal body. This language is musical and poetic, as Cixous (1991:21-22) states:
 In the language that I speak, the mother tongue resonates, tongue
 of my mother, less language than music, less syntax than song of

It is this voice that has been silenced by the rigidity of the logocentric tradition of metaphysics, 'the very song that since Plato, metaphysics has tried to oppress" (Cavarero, 2005:142).

The Voice sings from a time before law, before the Symbolic took one's breath away and re-appropriated it into language under its authority of separation (Cixous, 1986:97).

Cixous, referencing Lacan's "symbolic order", (1) claims that when the child is separated from the mother, 'the law of the father" and the structures of language and logic are activated and thus some of the pleasurable aspects of the sonic qualities and playful aspects of language are subverted. It is this playfulness and relationship to the sound of words, 'the thirst for words" that Cixous believes the female writer needs to remember, rediscover and practice (Cavarero, 2005:143). This voice remembers the rhythmic flow and lack of semantic restraint and is thus able to feely associate in a feminine stream of consciousness.

And this language I know, I don't need to enter it, it flows, it is the milk of love, the honey of my unconscious. The language that women speak when there is no one there to correct them. (Cixous, 1991:21)

What is unique is that it is an autobiographical voice that Cixous uses, even when writing philosophical essays and "it is not the traditional genre of autobiography, but rather a sort of self-portrait painted blindly" (Cavarero, 2005:144) that unleashes itself on the ear of the reader.

Cixous's input is profound and pivotal to the exploration of the female voice. Her poetic writing and philosophic observations are significant in my understanding of a "new poetics". It is this free flow of language with its awareness of fluidity and sonic interplay, its ability to create morphology that speaks to the "new poetics". Many feminist practitioners took up Cixous's call to find the equivalent of "l'ecriture feminine" or "writing the body". Sue-Ellen Case brings to our attention the term, "contiguity", an organizational device, which has emerged in feminist writings. Case (1998:129) explains:
 This contiguity exists within the text and at its borders; the
 feminine form seems to be without a sense of formal closure in fact
 it operates as anti-closure ... [and] without closure the sense of
 beginning, middle and end or a central focus it abandons the
 hierarchical, organizing principles of traditional form that served
 to elide women from discourse.

It was however in Cixous's call for women to reclaim their bodies that had been assimilated "by the patriarchal system of desire and representation" (Case 1988:128) that her influence was profoundly felt in theatre and this was illustrated in the work of performance artists in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

Writing the Body

In asserting their subjectivity and by narrating autobiographical experience, these performance artists took up Cixous's call for women to "write the body". What is meant by this is that,

women must pay attention to all the non-verbal, unconscious, instinctual drives and sensations of their bodies--they must accent language with the patterns, reverberations and echoes emerging from these states (Blyth and Sellars, 2004:33).

Thus the body becomes text placing "the female body as subject in direct opposition to its patriarchal text ... [and] positing new and multiple texts grounded in real women's experience and sexuality." Thus the body "speaks both as sign and as an intervention into language" (Forte, 1990: 261). In 1975, in a seminal work by Carolee Schneeman entitled "the Interior Scroll", Schneeman stood "nude in front of a mostly female audience, ritualistic paint on her face and body [and] in dim lighting began extracting a narrow, rope-like 'text' from her vagina, from which she proceeded to 'read'". She gives an account of her meeting with a "structuralist film maker" who had criticized her films for their "personal clutter" and "persistence of feelings" (1990:255). So text and a voice emerge in a way that create frames of reference of woman as subject that had been hitherto unexplored.

Karen Finley, performance artist and social activist, is in a somewhat different category as her performance depended on nudity and self-abuse to shock her audience into awareness of violence and abuse against women. What is interesting about her work is the reliance on text and language and multiple voices to portray her message. When Finley performs she apparently goes into a trance-like state. And although she is notorious for her violent portrayals of physical gesture, it is the language that contains rage and abuse "the shock is in the words [she uses] more than the gestures" (Schechner interviewing Finley, in Martin 1996: 257).

Forte criticizes Finley's use of multiple voices,

the effect of which is to put "Karen Finley" under erasure, deconstructing the problematic of representation and throwing into question the spectator's relationship to desire. (Forte, 1992:257)

Others have considered her confrontational, unorthodox style of performance to be postmodern. What remains irrefutable is her use of vocal delivery and the power of language to communicate meaning and shock her audience into an awareness of their social responsibility. As Kimbrough states:

Rather than falling under erasure as the object of deconstruction, Finley's voice acts to deconstruct patriarchal discourse [and] instead of allowing her voice to fall silent in the face of the myriad and conflicting discourses that serve to encode and enslave the female subject, Finley re-appropriates the notion of voice by its radical permutations into the voice of others, wresting subjectivity from its linguistic confines, placing the voice instead on public view, giving it a public hearing (Kimbrough, 2002:231).

Lehmann, in his account of performance art notes that it is "conspicuous that body-and person-centered Performance is very often a 'woman's domain'" and that it was female performance artists who took the initiative (Lehmann, 2006:139). It was their need to explore notions of subjectivity that spurred them on and their voices were heard, but it is the body that "writes itself", that speaks, that is visible and therefore remembered. In Peggy Phelan's Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (1992), Tania Modleski is cited with reference to her theory regarding "the speaking body" and "the mute body". Modleski argues that feminist critical writing "works toward a time when the traditionally mute body, 'the mother' will be given access to the names--'language and speech'--that men have enjoyed" (Phelan, 1992:150). The reference is useful, inasmuch as, it refers to the speaking body that the performance artists celebrated. Phelan elaborates on this argument by stating that in performance (as opposed to writing), the opposition is between 'the body in pleasure" and the "body in pain" (invoking the title of Scarry's The Body in Pain: the Making and Unmaking of the World), Phelan refers to the movement from the "grammar of words" to the "grammar of the body" as a movement from metaphor to metonymy. Thus the performance artist's body becomes "metonymic of self, of character, of voice and of 'presence'". But because the body is so visible, "the performer actually disappears and represents something else--dance, movement, character sound, 'art'" (Phelan, 1992:150). Thus, although successful in achieving a body that speaks, the performer, or in terms of my argument, "the voice" disappears or is not present.

Towards a "new poetics"

In searching for traces of the female voice within a dramatic text, the plays of Caryl Churchill offer significant models. Her stance, as a socialist and feminist, informs her plays and her "critique of the injustices and inequalities produced by late twentieth century capitalism and patriarchy" provides the content of her earlier plays from the 70's and 80's (Aston, 2003:18). But it is her experimentation in dramatic form and structure that is relevant here. For, she did, in fact, explore a "new poetics". Rejecting the patriarchal form of the Aristotelian convention, her plays offer "fragmentation instead of wholeness, many voices instead of one, demand for social change instead of character development, and continuing contradiction instead of resolution" (Howe Kritzer, 1991:3). Churchill's use of the overlapping text provides the characters a possibility to present opposing viewpoints simultaneously, creating equal representation. Consequently, this enables the audience to resist an empathetic response or judgment of character, viewpoints and situation. It also has a distinctly female quality, a "cluttering" or layering of experience and expression. As Howe Kritzer states:

By using these techniques to set up an interchange in which audiences contribute imaginative energy to the dramatic process, rather than merely receiving the imaginative product of the playwright, the Churchill play creates a potential space for what Teresa De Lauretis has, in her study of feminist cinema, termed, "addressing its spectator as a woman, regardless of the gender of the viewers" (Howe Kritzer, 1991:197).

De Lauretis's quoted observation is interesting as it refers to how a text is "heard" by the audience. Is the audience member able to forgo their own subjective stance and receive the information objectively? This is compounded by Churchill's challenge to our perceptions of race and gender by the use of cross-casting. This conscious manipulation of form has an alienating effect, forcing the audience to engage objectively with their own pre-conceived notions of "patriarchal subjectivity and racial prejudice" (Howe Kritzer, 1991:9).

It is possible that Churchill's collaborative workshop style of working with actors from theatre companies such as Monstrous Regiment and Joint Stock enabled her to find these multiple voices, cadences and rhythms of dialect, class and gender that are inherent in the written text. In her later plays, Churchill worked with choreographer, Ian Spink and company Second Stride on The Skriker (1994) and Hotel (1997), creating a fusion of dance and music and text where she would "choreograph" the text (Aston, 2003:27). Churchill has influenced a younger generation of playwrights and, as Martin Crimp notes, Churchill "has never lost sight of the playfulness of form" whilst maintaining her socio-political stance (quoted in Aston, 2003:19).

The unspeakable voice

Timberlake Wertenbaker, in an interview with The Guardian's Michael Billington in 1999, states:

I don't think women have ever been a welcome voice. You sense a relief that we can shut those women up and get back to what really matters, which is what men are saying ... We talk about women dramatists, but it's significant that "woman" becomes the compound whereas "male" is the noun. (Aston, 2003:149)

Wertenbaker's remarks are relevant to the apparent absence of the female voice in the 90's in the United Kingdom, dominated as it was by the stable of (predominantly) male playwrights, including Marber, Ravenhill and Elton, the new wave of angry young men of the "in yer face" theatre. Aston (2003:3) refers to them as the "boys in trouble" and hints at their reclaiming centre stage and their masculinity, as a "backlash to feminism".

Often included in this group, and given "honorary male" status by theatre critics, is playwright, Sarah Kane. She exploded onto the world stage, amidst much controversy, with Blasted in 1995. Her canon of work characterizes the violence and brutality of the 90's. The decade culminates in her suicide in 1999 and Psychosis 4.48, which documents her depression and subsequent breakdown, was produced posthumously. It was possibly useful for critics to include her in this group of angry young men, in terms of the violence of her imagery, language and content of her plays, but she was neither one of the boys, nor feminist, nor a "woman writer" and refused to be categorized by any socially defined group. Attention is most often given to the shock value of her plays and her despairingly bleak vision of humanity, but it is the unique quality of her voice and her experimentation with structure and form that I would like to consider. David Greig, in his introduction to her plays, observes that "to read her plays, for all their pain, as raw, is to overlook the complex artfulness of their construction" (Kane, 2001: xv). Kane's experimentation with structure in Crave and Psychosis 4.48 define postdramatic landscapes that provide the director and performers with new interpretative possibilities. The four "voices" in Crave inhabit the world of the characters without interacting with one another. The effect of the four voices, when spoken, is "rather like a string quartet in the hypnotic play of different voices and themes." Accumulating line by line with rhythmic repetition and resonances, the voices almost reflect one individual life (Kane, 2001 :xiv). Borrowing Churchill's device of overlapping text, Kane is precise in her author's note to all the plays that her punctuation is used to inform delivery "not to conform to the rules of grammar" (Kane, 2001:2) and it is clear that she heard the sound of the text when writing. However, there are few indications as to how to conceptualize the imaginary, nightmarish worlds of her plays, instead she provides the director and actors with, what Lehmann refers to as "textscapes" containing "language surfaces" to experiment with (Lehmann, 2006:18,148). Character is abandoned completely in Psychosis 4.48 and the language is even more abstracted and fragmented as the landscape of the psychotic mind is revealed. It is ironic that "those trapped in this condition are rendered voiceless" (Kane, 2001:xvii) and yet it is Kane's authorial voice that is empowered here, giving us a rare and poignant insight into suicide. Kane's sardonic wit and cries of despair, at times reminiscent of Artaud, leave an indelible imprint of a voice that speaks "the unspeakable" and demands to be heard (See Saunders 2003:107).

Kane's voice is significant as it explores aspects of a more postdramatic approach to theatre. Aspects of the postdramatic aesthetic present potential markers for the "new poetics" in the twenty-first century. To elaborate on Lehmann's term, "language surfaces," (2006: 18, 148) it would seem that with the tendency to move away from well-delineated character development, the playwright or theatre-maker is compelled to approach language and dialogue in a different way. Moreover, the shift away from character does not necessarily imply that there is a lack of interest in the human being, but, as Lehmann suggests, we possibly need to " [change] our perspective on human subjectivity" and its representation (Lehmann 2006:19). Furthermore, the deconstructed text offers the possibility for a sonic space being created that is similar to a soundscape, hence Lehmann adopts the term "textscape". The aim would be for us not to hear one voice, but a multiplicity, or "dissemination of voices" (Lehmann 2006:148). This would require, Lehmann suggests, the use of "chora-graphy" (borrowing from Kristeva). Thus the space created by the use of "language surfaces" is poetic, "the deconstruction of a discourse oriented towards meaning and the invention of a space that eludes the laws of telos and unity" (Lehmann, 2006:146). If, as Fuchs (1983:176) suggests, we re-arrange Aristotle's elements of music, diction, thought, plot, action and spectacle as we see fit, then the text is no longer a central factor. A choragraphic approach suits the female/feminine voice described earlier in relation to Cixous. However, the lack of subjectivity is, in some senses, problematic, for the tendency for women to rely on the autobiographical/ personal narrative pervades their work.

The postdramatic theatre is clearly well entrenched in the European tradition, but it may be argued that it is potentially more difficult to apply to text-based British theatre. However, in the 1990s the concerns of feminist writers began to move away from foregrounding woman as subject, towards concerns for the future. As Aston (2003:173) states:
 At the threshold of the twenty-first century the stories women tell
 may be dark and uncertain, but the possibility, albeit a fragile
 possibility, of a more hopeful future, one that is less oppressive
 and combative, more progressive and democratic, remains in the
 ability to move "outside" past histories, "fixed" categories of
 gender, race or sexuality. At which point "woman" as playwright
 may, finally, be "subject" to erasure.


In my search for the sound of the female voice, I have uncovered significant pathways created by the performance artists who, although focused on the body as text, leave imprints that cannot be ignored. Playwrights such as Caryl Churchill have established a "new poetics" by re-framing the patriarchal model for dramatic structure that they had inherited. Women playwrights reclaimed their past histories, celebrated their lives as women and explored their own subjectivity, whilst scrutinizing every aspect of their lives objectively. There is evidence that in the postdramatic approach of textscapes and chora-graphy one might find models with which to explore new vocal landscapes. It is particularly this notion of the chora, with its inherent rhythms of language and enjoyment of sound, that is potentially exciting in terms of my own research. Combined with Cixous's suggestion to uncover the multiple voices that reside in the feminine world of the imaginary, it offers possibilities for my creative exploration of the female voice. Whilst women will continue to write about issues particularly relevant to themselves, there is a clear shift towards broadening their vision to encompass the more universal issues. In this they demonstrate the skills necessary to continue defining the multiplicity of voices required for a "new poetics" for the twenty-first century.


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Jacqui Singer

University of Cape Town


(1) Post-Freudian psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan's theory of child development can be understood in three stages: the "Imaginary", the "Real" and the "Symbolic". The "Imaginary" is the pre-linguistic stage of mother and child which is interrupted by the intervention of the father. "[T]he child becomes a subject within the symbolic order, the father is identified with that order which constitutes and governs subjectivity" (Auslander, 2008: 119). It is at this point that language is being formed and Lacan's theory "can be summarized as a rereading of Freud in terms of language." The "law of the father" introduces the Symbolic/language replacing the world of the Imaginary/mother, thus the bond between mother and child is broken "causing an experience of 'lack' or absence, whilst the bond between father and language is seemingly 'unbreakable'" (Blyth and Sellars 2004:21). This "lack" is signified by the phallus, which for Lacan, "[signifies] both women's and men's lack, dependence and subjective vulnerability within the symbolic order" (Auslander 2008:120).
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Author:Singer, Jacqui
Publication:South African Theatre Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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