Skip to main content Accessibility help

From Theatre to Theatricality—How to Construct Reality

  • Erika Fischer-Lichte (a1)


At the end of the nineteenth century, the dominance of language, so typical of Western culture since the Renaissance, was increasingly challenged. As early as 1876, Nietzsche wrote on Richard Wagner in Thoughts Out of Season:

He was the first to recognize an evil which is as widespread as civilization itself among men; language is everywhere diseased, and the burden of this terrible disease weighs heavily upon the whole of man's development. Inasmuch as language has retreated ever more and more from its true province— the expression of strong feelings, which it was once able to convey in all their simplicity—and has always had to strain after the practically impossible achievement of communicating the reverse of feeling, that is to say, thought, its strength has become so exhausted by this excessive confusion of its duties during the comparatively short period of modern civilization, that it is no longer able to perform even that function which justifies its existence, to wit, the assisting of those who suffer in communicating with each other concerning the sorrows of existence. Man can no longer make this misery known unto others by means of language; hence he cannot really express himself any longer. And under these conditions, which are only vaguely felt at present, language has gradually become a force in itself which with spectral arms coerces and drives humanity where it least wants to go.

The disease of language which Nietzsche here diagnoses, can be described as a degeneration of language from the state of being a polyfunctional, ambiguous, flexible semiotic system that allows people to express their feelings, constitute their selves and communicate with each other, into a restrictive technical language.



Hide All


1 Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Ludovici, Anthony M. (Edinburgh and London: T.N. Foulis, 1910), Vol. V. pp. 132–3.

2 Von Hofmannsthal, Hugo, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, translated by Mary, Hottinger and , Tania and James, Stern (New York: 1952), pp. 133–5.

3 Freksa, Friedrich, Hinter der Rampe-Theaterglossen. 2nd. ed. (Munich/Leipzig, 1913), p. 114.

4 Ibid.

5 Fuchs, Georg, ‘Der Tanz’ (Stuttgart: Flugblätter für künstlerische Kultur, 6, 1906), p. 13.

6 Ibid. p. 6.

7 Alfred Lequeux, ‘Le Théâtre au Japon’, Revue d'art dramatique, April/June 1888, p. 2.

8 Ibid. p. 3.

9 Fischer, Adolf, ‘Japans Bühnenkunst und ihre Entwicklung’, Westermanns, Illustrierte deutsche Monatshefte, No. 45, Vol. 89, 1900–1, p. 502.

10 Both articles by Lequeux and Fischer were widely read. Lequeux's article, first published in 1888 in an issue of the Revue d'art dramatique, appeared in book form one year later. In 1890 it was reprinted in three languages with numerous pictures added, in Le Japon artistique, a high-circulation journal, edited by the art collector Samuel Bing. Meyerhold read this article and, in 1909, he explicitly refers to it, inserting whole passages from Fischer in his writings on Japanese theatre.

11 Fuchs, Georg, Die Schaubühne der Zukunft (Berlin & Leipzig, 1905), p. 38.

12 Fischer-Lichte, Erika, Kurze Geschichte des deutschen Theaters (Tübingen: Franke Verlag, Universitäts Taschenbücher 1667, 1993), p. 263 ff.

13 Fischer, Adolf, Japans Bühnenkunst, p. 502.

14 Oskar, Bie, ‘Sumurun’, Die neue Runschaue, No. XXI, Vol. 6, June 1910.

15 New York, 4 February 1912. The Theatre Museum, Vienna, has a number of reviews in its collection from the New York Sumurun. Unfortunately, most of them are not identified, some show either the name of the journal, or of the critic, or give the date. Thus they are listed in the bibliography and quoted in this truncated form.

16 The New York Review, January 1912.

17 Gollomb, Joseph, ‘Sumurun’. Unidentified review from the archives of the Theater Museum, Cologne.

18 There is no doubt that light and colour can be attributed to a particular cultural code. (See Fischer-Lichte, 1992: 110 ff.) But since this is not obligatory and since several different codes may exist simultaneously, the outcome of the process of meaning generating is not predictable: subjectivity prevails.

19 4 February 1912, unidentified New York journal, from the archives of the Theater Museum, Vienna.

20 ‘Why Lot's Wife Could not Have Sat out Sumurun’. Unidentified New York review from the archives of the Theater Museum, Cologne.

21 ‘Sumurun’, Erie Dispatch, 28 January 1912.

22 Gollomb, Joseph, ‘Sumurun’, op. cit.

23 Ernst, Mach, ‘Notes on the Antimetaphysical’, Die Analyse der Empfindungen und das Verhältnis des Physischen zum Psychischen, 9th ed. (Jena: Gustav Fischer 1922), p. 8 ff.

24 In the conclusion and argumentation I have drawn on my own theory of meaning (Fischer-Lichte, Erika, Bedeutung. Probleme einer semiotischen Hermeneutik und Ästhetik. Munich: Beck, 1979 and The Semiotics of Theatre. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1992) as well as on the theory of Radical Constructivism (see Wolfgang, Krohn and Günther, Küppers, eds., Emergenz: Die Entstehung von Ordnung, Organisation und Bedeutung. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1992; Maturana, Humberto and Varela, Fancisco, Der Baum der Erkenntnis. Die biologischen Wurzeln des menschlichen Erkennens. 2nd. ed.Bern/Munich/Vienna: Scherz Verlag 1984; Schmidt, Siegfried, Der Diskurs des Radikalen Konstiuktivismus. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988 and ed., Gedächtnis. Probleme und Perspektiven der interdisziplinären Gedächtnisforschung. 1991; Varela, Francisco J., Kognitionswissenschaft—Kognitionstechnik. Eine Skizze aktueller Perspektiven. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1988; Paul, Watzlawick, ed., Die erfundene Wirklichkeit. Wie wissen wir, was wir zu wissen glauben? Beiträge zum Konstruktivismus, Munich & Zurich: R. Piper & Co., 1981).

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

From Theatre to Theatricality—How to Construct Reality

  • Erika Fischer-Lichte (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.