Tom McCarthy | On Europe
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Tom McCarthy | On Europe


‘One travels by intensity; displacements and spatial figures depend on intensive thresholds of nomadic deterritorialization . . . that simultaneously define complementary, sedentary reterritorializations.’

– Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1980, translated from the French by Brian Massumi

Europe is a construct. Far from being the natural self-expression of some ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, it is (as Deleuze might put it) an assemblage, formed through centuries of cultural contingency, of transposition, disassembly, reconfiguration, upgrade; an invention that’s constructed in longue durée, that is still under construction, specs and settings all negotiable. Like theatre itself, Europe is a contraption, a machine. Or, to use a term close to my writer’s heart, a fiction – one of the richest, most brilliant and most dark, most full of danger and potential that has ever been composed. We reside within the European polis, take part in its project – which, being the project of the polis, is always and ineluctably political – to the extent that we accept this fiction, and accept it as a fiction; not, in a deluded way, as some essential ‘truth’, but rather in the manner of a script, a set of stage directions within which to operate. This process, being contingent and untied to any single tribe, locale or language – indeed, on the contrary, being borne of mass migrations and translations, of inclusions and expropriations – is absolutely unconnected to questions of blood or race. Polis not ethnos: that’s the basic operating code underpinning European democracy. When those instructions are jammed into reverse, the code runs backwards, ethnos placed before and over polis, then that other European mode, or script, or fiction – fascism – grinds and jolts its way into action. Polis or ethnos; democracy or fascism. We – readers, actors, spectators, citizens – are the operators; we get to choose the script, which way to throw the switch.


Europe, right now, is sick – in theatre – and at war, in theatre, with itself. In terms of grid, of system, it’s short-circuiting, suffering power cuts. It needs a meaning-generator, a machine to reanimate its scripts, codes and directions, reframe its dramatic possibilities. The bureaucrats may still be staffing the administrative building, but that’s meaningless without the Dionysian enclave on the lower hillside. The Acropolis needs its theatre back.


This is an excerpt from a speech, entitled ‘Machine for a European Theatre: a Manifesto’, delivered at Berlin’s Literaturhaus on 5 May 2019.

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