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The Politics of the Paradigm: a Case Study in Chaos Theory

  • Michael Vanden Heuvel


This article continues NTQ's explorations, commenced in NTQ18 (1989) and NTQ23 (1990), of the interactions between theatrical performance and emerging views of nature coming out of the ‘new sciences’. Here, Michael Vanden Heuvel argues that analogies between quantum science and performance are productive mainly in reference to work which investigates the nature of perception, and which foregrounds the spectator's awareness of the ‘event-ness’ of theatrical performance. Models drawn from the new science of ‘chaotics’, on the other hand, appear more applicable to performances which seek to move beyond phenomenology into the sphere of cultural discourse. He offers as an example of this ‘post-quantum’ theatre the work of the renowned New York collective the Wooster Group, whose performances create a dialogics between order and disorder which acts to map dynamic interactions between hegemony and difference in American culture. Michael Vanden Heuvel is Assistant Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Humanities at Arizona State University. His Performing Drama/Dramatizing Performance: Alternative Theatre and the Dramatic Text was published by the University of Michigan Press in 1991, and he has written articles and reviews for Theatre Journal and Contemporary Literature.



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Notes and References

1. In its most exaggerated form, this has become a matter of some concern for scientists and humanists who believe that the analogies to indeterminacy are stretched well beyond what science has intended. See for instance Gall, Ernest, ‘Nature Faking in the Humanities’, Skeptical Inquirer, XV (Summer 1991), p. 371–5.

2. Graff, Gerald, Literature Against Itself (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 15.

3. Feigenbaum, Michael, quoted in Chaos: the Making of a New Science by Gleick, James (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 185.

4. See especially Hayles, N. Katherine, Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990); and Hayles, N. Katherine, ed., Chaos and Disorder: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

5. See especially George, David E. R., ‘Quantum Theatre – Potential Theatre: a New Paradigm?New Theatre Quarterly, V, No. 18 (1989), p. 171–9; Unruh, Delbert, ‘Scenography, Postmodernism, and Quantum Mechanics: Toward a New Process of Scene Design’, Theatre Design and Technology XXV, No. 3 (1989), p. 56, 63–5; Schmitt, Natalie Crohn, Actors and Onlookers: Theatre and Twentieth-Century Scientific Views of Nature (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990).

6. Lentricchia, Frank, Criticism and Social Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 51.

7. Morin, Edgar, ‘Beyond Determinism: the Dialogue of Order and Disorder’, Sub-stance, XL (1983), p. 25.

8. Performances by the Wooster Group have seldom been inscribed in texts. For my discussion of Nayatt School, I am relying on my memories of the 1986 revival and on Savran's, David plot summary in Breaking the Rules: the Wooster Group (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1986), p. 102–32. I am currently working with representatives of the Group to produce a performance text of the Road to Immortality trilogy (1981–1991), due hopefully by early 1995.

The Politics of the Paradigm: a Case Study in Chaos Theory

  • Michael Vanden Heuvel


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