The Week of the Festival: Literatur & Wein in Krems

Performance and Biopower

/ by Sophie Reyer

An excerpt from Xavier Le Roy's performance Self-unfinished.
Is the representational act an original human need? Where does the urge within us to perform and make theater come from? Religions around the world use the power of the ritual. From birth to death, people are involved in games, in all their variations and forms. In different theoretical works, burial itself is - just think of Sigmund Freud - viewed as a kind of spectacle, in which "the curtain falls" (and the grave is shoveled in). Often, even death itself simply cannot be explained otherwise than with a staged performance. What are the impulses that compel us to attend a play? And above all: How can one "make life come alive," manipulatively intervening in all life processes under the auspices of a play that is critically acted, staged, designed?


Posing this question, especially in times where life is continually being optimized, is inevitable. If one puts one's faith in the philosophical work Michel Foucault, we soon find ourselves in the age of “biopower.” The concept of biopower concerns, by the philosopher's definition, political power that is constricting life in general. According to Foucault, the objective of this power is the creation a normalized society in which an authority (or entity) - which he calls "governmentality" - accepts the processes of life and feels responsible for the development of the individual in the population. This extends from the fields of nutrition, sanitation and health care, and immigration to medicine and the use of psychotropic substances. One other example would be the cyborg.


A cyborg refers to an entity that has a kind of organic base with a complex technological superstructure integrated into it. Virtual awareness, however, is the transmission of being into a digitized form, so that it can exist in informative landscapes and structures. The vision of a post-human society would be that the mind dominates the body, while the organic aspects are completely extinguished. This condition only exists at the moment as utopia - or perhaps we should rather call it dystopia? But this can change.


In 1973, a genetic transmission of DNA was made possible for the first time. Genetic information from different organisms could be combined and reproduced. The border between nature and culture began to crumble and blur at once; they had to be newly defined. This had legal consequences. The question of bioethics presented itself anew: What will or can be research that is funded by the state, and what is forbidden?


In the meantime, trends are increasingly moving in the direction of optimizing life, such as in the ability to create your own child in a test tube, and even analyze it in the womb, to determine if a child has a genetic defect and possibly has to be aborted. In geriatrics, too, decisions are being made over the life and death of a person who himself is unable to express whether this is, in fact, right or not.


A new trend driving this form of dominion over one's own body to the extreme would be so-called "self-tracking" (also called the “quantified self” movement), in which people volunteer to have their own bodily functions meticulously documented and evaluated. Sub-optimal processes in your body’s systems should not only be monitored, but certainly also be improved.


According to Foucault's definition, the objective of biopower is to create a normalized society in which governments take over the processes of life, and feel responsible for the development of individuals in the population. This ranges from the fields of nutrition, sanitation and health care, and immigration to medicine and the use of psychotropic substances.


As noted above, in biopower, the point is to optimize, enhance and regulate life. While, according to Foucault, societies previously sought "to live and let die," this relationship has reversed in the age of biopower. Now we're dealing with "to make live and to let die." Man is the Creator 2.0.

As with all questionable movements, in the meantime there are also exciting movements in the fields of art, culture and science at the moment against the domination of biopower, that deal with bio-political processes, investigate them and try to disrupt them.


One form of resistance would be biohacking. Media activists are now increasingly promoting inaccurate theories by questioning the language of science itself, looking for a way of expression that stands apart from institutionally-enshrined language. For the exercise of biopower is also distinguished by the fact that expert knowledge usually serves certain agendas. Works by Elfriede Jelinek, the Critical Art Ensemble, and by Henri Chopin can be included here. However, such media activists are not focused on presenting knowledge to the general public, so that is more easily understood. Rather, it should be made possible for lay groups to be able to obtain biotechnological knowledge as public property.


That said, there are also writers whose prose style stands out from the mainstream, in the way their language is used to address conditions prevailing at the moment, breaking with semantic structures and seeking new forms of expression. An example would Hélène Cixous who, with her "écriture feminine," employs a style that is feeling its way through the sound of language itself, rather than executing a comprehensive concept or a traditional form. In the process, the production machinery is not a simple addition; it rather revolves around the exploration of new areas and ways of thinking about language.


A similar approach is also evident in the projects of the "Institute of Applied Autonomy." This experimented with a self-built robot, meant to bring people on the street in touch with avant-garde forms of using language.


"Urban Interventions" deals with the further development of artistic interventions in urban spaces. This type of intervention refers to an interplay of art, architecture, performance, information, installation and activism. The public space is converted into a private experience. The work or activities are frequently anonymous; however, they always address the nature of the cityscape. The road is the material, becomes a canvas and gallery, research institute, a studio and laboratory. Now the audience no longer needs to enter certain areas in which it can "consume" art - much to the contrary - rather, the art comes to the audience.


All these flows (movements) are to be presented and illustrated, and conclude with the written word. The author and scientist, Dr. Mittelstaedt, talks about sustainability. The Philosopher Andreas Weber confronts students with the concept of "Enlivement." Finally, there is a presentation of the theatrical text that emerges therefrom. The visual artist, Thomas Feuerstein, presents his sculptural works dealing with organic materials in a new way. Furthermore, Nadia Setti from the "Centre d'Etudes feminine" is invited for a guest lecture dealing with nature, physicality and writing techniques.

Sophie Reyer

was born 1984 in Vienna. Since 2009 she is member of Graz-based literature magazine "Lichtungen" and head of JugendLiteraturwerkstattGraz for young people aged 14 to 19 at Literaturhaus Graz. From 2011 to 2014 she studied at "Kunsthochschule für Film und Medien" in Cologne.

So far she has published five books of poetry: "geh dichte" (EYE-Verlag 2005), "binnen (miniaturen)" (Leykam 2010). "flug (spuren)" (Edition Keiper 2012), "die gezirpte zeit" (Berger-Verlag 2013) and "skarabäen" (art & science 2014).

She was awarded Literaturförderungspreis der Stadt Graz in 2007, Manuskripte-Förderungspreis 2009, Startstipendium des bmukk 2009 and Literaturstipendium der Stadt Graz in 2013.

Sophie Reyer has published three novels – "vertrocknete vögel" (Leykam), "baby blue eyes" (Ritter) and "Insektizid" (Leykam 2014) – and three books of prose "marias. ein nekrolog" (Ritter, Klagenfurt 2013), "Die Erfahrung" (SuKulTur 2013) and "Holzzeitstag" (Taschenspiel 2014).

She has also written various theatre plays, i.e. "baumleberliebe" (S. Fischer-Verlag 2012) and "Anna und der Wulian" (first performance 2014 at Badische Landesbühne).