History and Nation in German Theater after 1989
Considers how performance, plays, and history affect the collective memory of a society and national identity, on and off stage
Since the moment after the fall of the Berlin Wall, important German theater artists have created plays and productions about unification. Some have challenged how German history is written, while others opposed the very act of storytelling. Performing Unification examines how directors, playwrights, and theater groups including Heiner Müller, Frank Castorf, and Rimini Protokoll have represented and misrepresented the past, confronting their nation’s history and collective identity. Matt Cornish surveys German-language history plays from the Baroque period through the documentary theater movement of the 1960s to show how German identity has always been contested, then turns to performances of unification after 1989. Cornish argues that theater, in its structures and its live gestures, on pages, stages, and streets, helps us to understand the past and its effect on us, our relationships with others in our communities, and our futures. Engaging with theater theory from Aristotle through Bertolt Brecht and Hans-Thies Lehmann’s “postdramatic” theater, and with theories of history from Hegel to Walter Benjamin and Hayden White, Performing Unification demonstrates that historiography and dramaturgy are intertwined.
“Skillfully examines the neo-documentary style of groups like Rimini Protokoll and the ‘hybridized’ post-migrant theater.... . . . Highly recommended.”
“A significant contribution to German studies, where theater tends to get short shrift; and to theater studies, where scholars have been both intrigued and baffled by German directors’ irreverent approach to classical texts and nationalist myth-making.”
—German Studies Review
“A stimulating and accessible way into an otherwise dense and difficult topic . . . useful not just for researchers with an interest in theatre’s relationship to history and memory but also for those looking for perspectives on aesthetic developments in German theatre in the last thirty years.”
“This important study not only sheds significant new light on the modern German stage, but has implications for the relationship between theatre and contemporary society around the world.”
—Marvin Carlson, CUNY Graduate Center
Matt Cornish is Assistant Professor of Theater History at Ohio University.
Praise / Awards
"Cornish skillfully examines the neo-documentary style of groups like Rimini Protokoll and the “hybridized” post-migrant theater. More than 60 pages of notes, bibliography, and index lend the book authority...Highly recommended."
"Cornish offers exemplary readings of important, recent productions. The book makes a significant contribution to German studies, where theater tends to get short shrift; and to theater studies, where scholars have been both intrigued and baffled by German directors’ irreverent approach to classical texts and nationalist myth-making.”
--German Studies Review
"Performing Unification is written clearly, is attentive to its reader...and avoids obscuring its findings in jargon. It provides a stimulating and accessible way into an otherwise dense and difficult topic and will reward the reader wishing to extend Cornish’s findings. This study will be useful not just for researchers with an interest in theatre’s relationship to history and memory but also for those looking for perspectives on aesthetic developments in German theatre in the last thirty years."
"Matt Cornish has written a very good investigation into history and nation on the German stage after 1989 ... He arrives at some fascinating conclusions."
--The German Quarterly
"Required reading for anyone seeking to engage with either the specifics of theatre’s responses to German unification or, more generally, with how theatre confronts monumental upheaval."
"Matt Cornish's essential volume now makes this field more accessible to Anglophone scholars and allows for a thorough understanding of both textual and performative responses to the milestone historical turn of 1989 and after, in a manner that is rewarding and enlightening even to those familiar with the subject."
"Performing Unification refreshingly explores theater’s resourceful and diverse capacities to imagine, shape, counter and remediate political history."
"This monograph presents an authoritative account of recent German theatre that will serve as a key reference point for scholars and students working
in the field. While many of the individual plays and productions will be familiar to experts from other accounts, Cornish has integrated his discussion into a
broad, ambitious analysis, interpreting theatre in the light of developments in historiography, curation, and memory culture. The narrative that he crafts is compelling, and it deserves a broad readership."
Winner: American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
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