Theatre history is no longer conceived as the assembling of archival evidence and the recounting of historical fact, but this shift away from the archive has not for the most part returned to interrogate how tragedy and comedy became the two constitutive genres of theatre, or how they emerged as prescribing categories for a theatrical tradition that established itself as canonical. My first paper for Oecumene, Telling tales, performing justice: the political subject of the Ḥikāya, part of the Citizenship Studies special issue, introduced the genre of ḥikāya (tale in Arabic) and the figure of the ḥakawāti (teller of tales) to destabilise such histories and to experiment with Arabic oral and dramatic traditions as sites of political disputation. The method of experimentation was “play”: in place of the usual “readings” of classic Greek theatre texts the paper experimented with “tellings” of ḥakāya. To play, in this sense, is not to enter into debates or to make analytic arguments using the existing categories of political thought but to stage the embodied, enacted and ephemeral in relation to ways of thinking about politics and political subjectivity. This experimentation with parallel “tellings” aimed to raise questions about the categories of political thought and the articulations of political subjectivities that are recognised, and then to point to other forms of being political that remain in-articulable within current definitions.
I am currently intrigued by figures of folly that emerge in renaissance literature and in Arabic performance traditions. I aim to demonstrate how the fool was colonised as a universal figure and to challenge the ways in which politics is theorised in relation to performance history. In the first instance this is done by considering how the paradox of “wise-folly”, explicit in renaissance writing, became institutionalised in the literary figure of the fool as type. With reference to two oriental fools, Bahlul al-Majnun and Juha, I hope to illustrate how fools were (re)cast in the literature depending on their approximation to western readings of folly and the significance accorded different types of fools. The decolonization of figures of folly, then, can enable different and new interpretations of the political possibilities of folly, interpretations not invented from within enduring renaissance understandings.
I hope to return after to the genre of tragedy and to experiment – or play – with different “tellings” of the festival of ‘Ashura as a political tragedy.
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