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Watching War on the Twenty-First Century Stage: Spectacles of Conflict

Clare Finburgh edited by Enoch Brater and Mark Taylor-Batty

DOI: 10.5040/9781472598691

ISBN: 9781472598660

What do we watch when we watch war? Who manages public perceptions of war and how? Watching War on the Twenty-First-Century Stage: Spectacles of Conflict is the first publication to examine how theatre in the UK has staged, debated and challenged the ways in which spectacle is habitually weaponized in times of war. The 'battle for hearts and minds' and the 'war of images' are fields of combat that can be as powerful as armed conflict. And today, spectacle and conflict – the two concepts that frame the book – have joined forces via audio-visual technologies in ways that are more powerful than ever.

Clare Finburgh's original and interdisciplinary interrogation provides a richly provocative account of the structuring role that spectacle plays in warfare, engaging with the works of philosopher Guy Debord, cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, visual studies specialist Marie-José Mondzain, and performance scholar Hans-Thies Lehmann. She offers coherence to a large and expanding field of theatrical war representation by analysing in careful detail a spectrum of works as diverse as expressionist drama, documentary theatre, comedy, musical satire and dance theatre. She demonstrates how features unique to the theatrical art, namely the construction of a fiction in the presence of the audience, can present possibilities for a more informed engagement with how spectacles of war are produced and circulated.

If we watch with more resistance, we may contribute in significant ways to the demilitarization of images. And what if this were the first step towards a literal demilitarization?

‘The range of work that the book proposes to cover, and the range of theoretical frameworks it intends to approach or manoeuvre, are highly appealing for a number of modules and to a range of staff and student interests... Much has been written about the impact of 9/11 and the 'war on terror' on cultural activities, but a book of this nature has not yet emerged amongst the range of literature that considers theatre in those contexts. The closest of this form, as Finburgh points out, is over 20 years old. More contemporary materials look more broadly at performance, but the strength of this book is the focus predominantly in drama, and the appeal across Europe of the writers she proposes to consider.’ – Mark Taylor-Batty, University of Leeds, UK

‘This study will be very useful for courses in modern and contemporary theater, courses on theater and politics, cultural studies, politics and the visual media and the like. So there is considerable appeal in this regard... This is a timely, useful and extremely relevant examination of the central ways in which 'the theater of war' enters the consciousness of a wide popular audience. The emphasis on the role of the visual media here is both pervasive and pointed, and the author displays a full consciousness of both perspectives as she calls them into her account of contemporary British theater. My overall impression is therefore very positive.’ – Enoch Brater, University of Michigan, USA

‘Exploring a gamut of works and issues, from the challenges of realism, to the use of documentary theater produced verbatim from transcripts, to the challenge of not staging “victimhood” while giving voice to victims, this volume fills a gap in the literature. Summing Up: Recommended.’ – CHOICE