Rethinking Memory and Personal Experience
German theatre scholar Hans-Thies Lehmann observed that live performance has the ability to ‘uncover depth underneath the terror of the surface’ and to provide ‘[a] moment of hesitation, of faltering, reflective pausing’ (2016). I am interested in delving into the nuances of this excavation, and in cherishing the potential for taking a moment and reflecting on what lies beneath the surface of a translated cultural and dramatic text.
The Transylvanian-Hungarian playwright, dramaturg and theatre maker András Visky (born 1957) has long been fascinated with chance encounters, places and stories that might appear incomplete and fragmented. In my view, Visky’s plays invite a critical re-examination of history and offer a framework for repositioning personal experience and memory in theatrical performance. Adorno famously stated that representing historical trauma by aesthetic means is one of the most complex moral and aesthetic questions of our time, and this idea is actively present in Visky’s extensive body of work to date.
Visky proposes a dramaturgical concept of his own to facilitate the interpretation and participation in his theatrical output: ‘barrack dramaturgy’ is an approach intended to explore the idea of physical and emotional captivity as a state of being, whereby we, as audience members witnessing the performance, are ‘dislocated from our bodies’ for the duration of the experience, and through which we are invited to explore the potential for participatory understanding (2014). In this process, Visky tests the boundaries of theatre as a platform for audience involvement and participation, and teases out to what extent it is possible for the performer on stage to become a witness to historically distant events.
Visky speaks with utmost authority on the topic of history as political unsettledness, and braids the past with the present through processes of theatrical imagination. Though rooted in actual events, Visky’s theatre is not a word-by-word reconstruction of facts or a form of documentary theatre, but a poetic reinterpretation of events and memories. In attempting to translate his work, it is this reconfiguration that a translator has to tackle, first and foremost, in the process of cultural and linguistic transfer. For me, as a translator, there are many joys in unpacking the layers of cultural references found in his play texts.
As a translator, I believe that we need give more creative space to translators, In my experience, translations need to be developed with and for their originals, in full knowledge of the source and receiving cultures, but also with a view to their stage potential. Despite their diverse ways of coming into being, I believe in stage translations that incorporate hypothetical concepts for a future directorial concept that may or may not be altered significantly down the line. Irrespective of when and where a translation of a dramatic text gets produced, I consider it essential that opportunities for ‘witnessing’ and ‘reflective pausing’ are factored into the translation journey. Thinking about such alternatives is a genuinely creative act, and rightly situates the translator as a key collaborator in the performance making process.