THE POST-TRAUMATIC THEATRE OF GROTOWSKI AND KANTOR
anthem press, 2012
Romanska’s book unpacks the multiple layers of meaning in two of the most acclaimed theatre productions of the twentieth century, Jerzy Grotowski’s Akropolis and Tadeusz Kantor’s Dead Class. The Post-traumatic Theatre of Grotowski and Kantor reclaims both the Polishness and the Jewishness of Grotowski’s and Kantor’s chefs-d’oeuvres. They are two of the most significant theatre artists of the twentieth century; this book untangles the strands of meaning in their work in a most impressive way, and thus helps us to fully understand their achievement.
– Kathleen Cioffi, from the Foreword
Official selection for the Book Expo of America 2015 – the largest publishing event in North America.
Organized by The Book Institute of Cracow, in cooperation with Aquila Polonica Publishers and the Polish Studies Association, the Special Exhibit highlights the best works in English in the field of Polish Studies published in the last decade. The Post-traumatic Theatre was the only theatre theory book on this very selective list.
Romanska persuasively argues that the two seminal works named in her title have been vastly under-studied and widely misunderstood; through extensive research, she aims to recover their literary, linguistic, historical, and cultural contexts. At the most basic level, the book assails critics (primarily American) for the hubris of thinking they can review, teach, write about, or even begin to comprehend Akropolis and Dead Class without knowing “Polish,” by which Romanska means the language itself, of course, but also Poland’s literature and history, and its profound relationship to the Holocaust. She demonstrates how both productions were deeply political responses to that “taboo subject,” but written under Soviet repression in a “coded language” that Romanska painstakingly works to decode. At its largest level, the book reaches beyond the ostensible objects of its study to boldly indict the entire field of Performance Studies as an inherently flawed mode of inquiry. She seeks to restore meaning to those two productions by retrieving their sources; the larger implication of her study is to challenge contemporary scholars to follow her model by conducting similarly rigorous inquiries into other theatrical work. Those who do know and teach these pieces will undoubtedly find Romanska’s work to be an invaluable resource. Her book will also serve as a provocation to scholars in the fields of theatre and performance, as she throws down the gauntlet, challenging them to reconsider the question of meaning in productions by replacing subjective “responses” with rigorous, contextual analysis.
– Theatre Annual A Journal of Performance Studies, September 2015
Addressing a gap in western scholarship, Magda Romanska expertly and accessibly places these central works [Jerzy Grotowski’sAkropolis and Tadeusz Kantor’s Dead Class] into the cultural and historical context she convincingly argues is essential to their understanding. This text is a valuable resource for those looking to better understand the complex creativity of Grotowski and Kantor within their Polish historical, social, and literary context. [The book] is not only a rich explanation of these dramatists, but also serves as an engaging overview of the Polish literary tradition. Romanska offers a broad introduction to Grotowski and Kantor, as well as the historical and literary tradition of which they are a part. Of particular interest is her concise explanation of their respective theatrical philosophies, as well as the complicated traditions of Jewish mysticism and Romantic messianism that reverberate through the works.
– Pol-Intel.org, August 2014
Richly documented chapters interweave primary sources, critical commentary, and contemporary theory (for example, Adorno, Agamben, Bettelheim, Améry) on each topic. Through its argumentation and design, the book demonstrates a sophisticated dramaturgical strategy for re-historicizing and recontextualizing theatre and performance events [….] The book also introduces English-language students to a significant national literature and encourages them to undertake equally rigorous, culturally specific readings in their fields of interest.
– Theatre Journal, May 2014
Non-Polish-speaking scholars of Grotowski and Kantor will be grateful for Romanska’s work. She opens up areas of these two productions which have been unavailable; trauma and Holocaust survivors will be glad to be made aware of them; and Romanska indicates the direction for further analysis in this area.
– New Theatre Quarterly, November 2013
Romanska’s fundamental objective is to reconstruct and provide the complex historical and cultural context that is necessary for a proper and deep understanding of the works – and thus to illustrate the possibilities and necessity of nuanced interpretations that take into account the text, subtext, and literary references. The task, which the author sets out and performs, starting from such a clearly defined research perspective, is both remarkable and impressive in its momentum and size.
– Performer, June 2013
A brilliant cross-disciplinary comparative analysis that joins a new path in theatre studies, revitalizing the artistic heritage of two great twentieth-century masters: Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski.”
– Antonio Attisani, Department of Humanities, University of Turin, Italy
Among the landmarks of postwar avant-garde theater, two Polish works stand out: Grotowski’s Akropolis and Kantor’s Dead Class. Magda Romanska scrupulously corrects misconceptions about these crucial works, bringing to light linguistic elements ignored by Anglophone critics and an intense engagement with the Holocaust very often overlooked by their Polish counterparts. This is vital and magnificently researched theater scholarship, at once alert to history and to formal experiment. Romanska makes two pieces readers may think they know newly and urgently legible.
– Martin Harries, author of Forgetting Lot’s Wife: On Destructive Spectatorship, University of California, Irvine
In this authoritative study of two masterworks of twentieth-century theater, Magda Romanska does more than offer astute close readings. Prying open the suffocating embrace of universalism in which Grotowski and Kantor have long been held, she restores their literary, historical, national, and aesthetic contexts. Thanks to her, two of the world’s the most influential, important, and celebrated theater artists will no longer also be among the least understood.
– Alisa Solomon, Director, Arts & Culture MA Program, Columbia University
This is a lucidly and even beautifully written book that convincingly argues for a historically and culturally contextualized understanding of Grotowski’s and Kantor’s performances. It should be required reading in any introduction to performance and theater studies course. I am convinced that this will not only be the book on each of the two directors but also and especially the only one that manages to develop a framework allowing a discussion of both men and their performances together. In other words, this will be the book on the subject the author set out to explore and it’s very rare that one can say that about any book!
– Anne Rothe, Deptartment of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Wayne State University
As someone who teaches and researches in the areas of Polish Film & Theatre – and European theatre/theatre practice/translation more broadly – I was riveted by the book. I couldn’t put it down. There is no such extensive comparative study of the work of the two practitioners that offers a sustained and convincing argument for this. The book is ‘leading edge.’ Romanska has the linguistic and critical skills to develop the arguments in question and the political contexts are in general traced at an extremely sophisticated level. This is what lends the writing its dynamism.
– Teresa Murjas, Director of Postgraduate Research, Dept. of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading, U.K.
Every page speaks volumes to the breadth of Romanska’s readings and the number of sources she has used to bring both works into their multiple contexts. From the perspective of its potential use as course material, the in-depth exploration of some of the links that have been missing in Western criticism and scholarship is particularly valuable.
– Tamara Trojanowska, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, University of Toronto, Canada
Magda Romanska answers questions about her latest book, The Post-traumatic Theatre of Grotowski and Kantor.
– The Anthem Press Blog, April 2014
Feature article and interview about The Post-traumatic Theatre of Grotowski and Kantor. In her book, The Jewish Advocate writes, Romanska claims in her new book that not only must both directors’ innovations be understood in the context of Polish history and culture, but also that the Holocaust is at the center of this history.
– The Jewish Advocate, March 2013
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST FROM NEW BOOKS NETWORK
2 June 2015
In her new book, Magda Romanska bridges the disciplinary divides between theater studies and Slavic studies, between the history of Poland in the twentieth century and the history of avant-garde theatre. Romanska asserts that critics and audiences in West, while appreciating the theater productions of Grotowski’s Akropolis and Kantor’s Dead Class, missed the “obscure, difficult, multi-layered, funny-sounding Polish glory, with all of the complex and convoluted contextual and textual details” of these works. She traces the Polish cultural and literary roots and the Jewish history and culture on which Kantor and Grotowsky drew. She also reveals how Polish audiences would have understood words, images and actions in these productions differently than audiences in the United States, France or Germany. In doing so, The Post-Traumatic Theatre of Grotowski and Kantor contributes to a deeper understanding of post-war Poland, its troubled engagement with the Holocaust and treatment of Polish Jewish citizens, and its interaction with the West.