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The Epic Theater of Thomas Piketty/ Epski teater Thomasa Pikettyja

Not long ago, it would have been unimaginable that one of the fastest selling out “performances” in a national theatre would be a lecture by an economist; that around a thousand people would buy tickets in a single day and then eagerly await a man who, in an English softened by a French accent, was going to speak of political economy instead of love, show prosaic graphs instead of artistic video projections and attempt to offer insight instead of catharsis.

The sold-out April performance of Thomas Piketty, author of economics bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in Zagreb’s HNK, Croatia’s National Theatre, was for that reason one of the most brilliant examples of (spontaneous?) epic theatre ever to be witnessed.

In the twenties of the twentieth century, a time of increasing economic and political crisis in the Weimar Republic, Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht attempted to come up with a concept of theatre that would transcend the established scenes of individual tragic (heroic) stories and instead of the personal offer the collective: revolution, war, social injustice, political economy. Spectators were not to immerse themselves in the conflicts they watched unfold, but were to try and understand them and then, enriched with new knowledge, behave differently in their everyday lives. Political/epic theatre, one of the most influential theatrical concepts of the 20th century, was to attempt to change the individual and, through the individual, the world. Its essential element is of course the distancing effect: all illusions must be shattered on the stage, to enable viewers to maintain a critical distance (reason instead of emotions!). This is aided by an empty stage, the absence of props and through inadequate costumes. Piscator interrupts his performances with fragments from documentary films. All of this was experienced by the audience on the second Thursday in April in Zagreb’s HNK. True, this was not an artistic project, but still: Piketty’s lecture was placed on the theatre stage, which by itself leads to reflections on the role of theatre today and the theatre as a public space, meant for public deliberation. Why did the economist Piketty sell out seats faster than most leading artistic performances would have? What does the audience want? Could it be that in times of crisis, it years for something stripped of creative clutter, for clear messages? Has life become so complicated that it seems pointless to get lost even further in the complexity of art? Is it possible that people come to the theatre only out of a yearning for clear answers to questions that nobody else seems to really answer? Who owes whom in the European debt crisis? Will all our austerity help save the state and Europe itself? In what way(s) can public debts be written off? Is the solution really the sale of all state assets? What are the differences between us – are we really all equal, do we all have equal access to education and do we all face equally open doors to lives of equal quality?

The theatre stage became the space where it was possible to find such answers. At the same time, it wasn’t only the theatre that gave its space to economics but the opposite happened as well – political economy was ready to take over the theatre. This is exactly one of the many things Thomas Piketty strives for in his book. First, economists should be aware that their science is but a sub-discipline of social science and that to understand economics, they must understand history, sociology, anthropology and political science as well. And second, scientists, intellectuals and citizens in general must participate in public debate and take a position, whether the question is the welfare state, the tax system, or public debt. Everyone must, and this is one of the key points of the conclusion of Piketty’s book, be political in their own way. The same conviction can be found in the reflections of Bertolt Brecht, who declared that being apolitical is a political position in itself: to be apolitical in art means only to serve the ruling parties.

Yet far more dangerous than being apolitical is avoiding questions about money. “It seems to me,” writes Piketty, “that all social scientists, all journalists and commentators, all activists in the unions and in politics of every stripe, and especially all citizens should take a serious interest in money, its measurement, the facts surrounding it, and its history. Those who have a lot of it never fail to defend their interests. Refusing to deal with numbers rarely serves the interests of the least well-off.”

During his lecture, Piketty mentioned Balzac several times and amongst other things emphasised that the French novelist managed, in a few sentences, to convey the essence of that which economists write entire chapters about. In his book, too, he mentions Balzac’s protagonists and their precisely elucidated financial affairs, from Father Goriot to César Birotteau, and refers to the discussions on real estate and inheritance that are found in the novels of Jane Austen. “Until World War I, money had meaning,” writes Piketty, “and novelists did not fail to exploit it, explore it, and turn it into a literary subject.”

How many artists today are familiar enough with political economy to be able to clarify to people, in a language accessible to all, in an easy and approachable manner, that which nobody else can explain to them? Isn’t bringing complex relations such as those found in economics closer to people an art in itself, and therefore deserving of its place on the theatre stage and in public space?

And if the audience, composed of spectators of the most diverse social groups and classes, left the theatre changed, armed with new knowledge and ready to take it out into the world, then that Thursday in HNK, we came as close to epic theatre as it gets.

*Thomas Piketty appeared on the 9th April 2015 in Zagreb’s HNK as part of the Philosophical Theatre, led by Srećko Horvat.

***

Še nedavno bi si bilo težko zamisliti, da bo ena od najhitreje razprodanih ”predstav” nekega osrednjega državnega gledališča predavanje ekonomista; da bo približno tisoč ljudi v enem dnevu kupilo karte, nato pa nestrpno pričakovalo nastop človeka, ki bo v angleščini, zmehčani s francoskim naglasom, namesto o ljubezni govoril o politični ekonomiji, namesto umetniških videoprojekcij predvajal suhoparne grafe ter namesto katarze skušal ponuditi uvid. Razprodani aprilski nastop Thomasa Pikettyja, avtorja ekonomskega bestsellerja Kapital v XXI. stoletju, v zagrebškem HNK je zato eden najsijajnejših primerov (spontanega?) epskega gledališča, ki smo mu kdajkoli lahko bili priča.

Erwin Piscator in Bertolt Brecht sta v dvajsetih letih dvajsetega stoletja, torej v času naraščajoče ekonomske in politične krize weimarske republike, skušala domisliti koncept gledališča, ki bi presegal ustaljene prizore posameznih tragičnih (junaških) zgodb in bi namesto osebnega ponudil kolektivno: revolucijo, vojno, družbeno nepravičnost, politično ekonomijo. Gledalci naj se ob spremljanju konfliktov ne bi vživljali, temveč bi jih skušali razumeti, ter bi se nato, obogateni z novim znanjem, tudi v vsakdanjem življenju obnašali drugače. Politični/epski teater, eden najvplivnejših gledaliških konceptov 20. stoletja, naj bi skušal spremeniti posameznika in s posameznikom svet. Bistveni element je seveda potujitev: na odru mora priti do razbitja vseh iluzij, da gledalci lahko vzdržujejo kritično distanco (razum namesto čustev!). Pri tem pomagajo izpraznjen oder, odsotnost rekvizitov ter pomanjkljivi kostumi. Piscator predstave prekinja z izseki dokumentarnih filmov. Vse to smo na drugi aprilski četrtek doživeli tudi gledalci v zagrebškem HNK. Resda ni šlo za umetniški projekt, pa vendar: Pikettyjevo predavanje je bilo postavljeno na gledališki oder, kar že samo po sebi napeljuje na premislek o vlogi gledališča danes ter o gledališču kot javnem prostoru, namenjenemu javnemu razmisleku. Zakaj je ekonomist Piketty sedeže gledališča razprodal hitreje, kot bi to uspelo večini vrhunskih umetniških predstav? Kaj hoče občinstvo? Je mogoče, da v času krize hrepeni po nečem, kar bi bilo očiščeno umetniške navlake, po jasnih sporočilih? Je življenje postalo tako zapleteno, da se zdi nesmiselno izgubljati še v zapletenosti umetnosti, je mogoče, da ljudje pridejo v gledališče le zato, ker si želijo jasnih odgovorov na vprašanja, na katera sicer nihče zares ne odgovori? Kdo je v evropski dolžniški krizi v resnici komu dolžan? Ali bo naše zategovanje pasu pomagalo rešiti državo, celo Evropo? Ali smo za vse nastale dolgove krivi mi, ali zapravljamo preveč denarja, kako močno naša življenja obremenjujejo Evropo? Na kakšen način je mogoč odpis državnih dolgov? Je rešitev res v prodaji celotnega državnega premoženja? Kakšne so razlike med nami, smo res enaki, lahko vsi študiramo in imamo prosto pot do enako kakovostnih življenj?

Gledališki oder je postal prostor, na katerem je bilo mogoče najti odgovore. A hkrati ni le gledališče ponudilo prostora ekonomiji, zgodilo se je tudi obratno – politična ekonomija je bila pripravljena zavzeti prostor v gledališču. Prav za to se Thomas Piketty med drugim zavzema tudi v svoji knjigi. Prvič, ekonomisti se morajo zavedati, da je njihova znanost le poddisciplina družbenih ved, da morajo, če želijo razumeti ekonomijo, razumeti tudi zgodovino, sociologijo, antropologijo in politologijo. Ter drugič: znanstveniki, intelektualci ter državljani na splošno morajo sodelovati v javnih debatah in zavzeti stališče, pa naj gre za vprašanje socialne države, davčnega sistema ali javnega dolga. Vsakdo mora biti, in to je ena temeljnih poant zaključka Pikettyjeve knjige, političen na svoj način. Enako prepričanje je mogoče razbrati tudi iz razmislekov Bertolta Brechta, ki celo nepolitičnost razglaša za politično pozicijo: da je v umetnosti nekdo nepolitičen, pomeni le, da služi vladajočim strankam.

A še bolj nevarno od nepolitičnosti je izogibanje vprašanjem o denarju. ”Zdi se mi,” piše Piketty, ”da bi se vsi družboslovci, novinarji, komentatorji, sindikalisti, politiki vseh strani ter pred vsem vsi državljani morali resno zanimati za denar, njegovo mero, dejstva, ki ga obkrožajo, in njegovo zgodovino. Tistim, ki ga imajo veliko, nikoli ne spodleti obramba lastnih interesov. Zavračati ukvarjanje s številkami le redko služi interesom tistih, ki so slabše preskrbljeni.”

Med predavanjem je Piketty nekajkrat omenil Balzaca, med drugim je poudaril tudi, da je francoskemu romanopiscu v nekaj stavkih večkrat uspelo povedati bistvo tistega, o čemer ekonomisti pišejo cela poglavja. Tudi v svoji knjigi omenja Balzacove junake ter njihove natančno raztolmačene denarne posle, od očeta Goriota do Césarja Birotteauja, nanaša pa se tudi na nepremičninske in zapuščinske razprave, ki jih je mogoče zaslediti v romanih Jane Austen. ”Do prve svetovne vojne je imel denar pomen,” piše Piketty, ”in romanopiscem ga je uspelo izčrpavati, raziskovati ter ga spremeniti v literarni subjekt.”

Koliko današnjih umetnikov je dovolj seznanjenih s politično ekonomijo, da bi ljudem v njim razumljivem jeziku, na lahek in dostopen način, lahko pojasnili tisto, česar jim ne more razložiti nihče drug? Mar ni ljudem približati tako zapletenih odnosov, kot so ekonomski, že samo po sebi na nek način umetnost, ki si zasluži svoje mesto na gledališkem odru, na javnem prostoru?

In če je občinstvo, ki so ga sestavljali gledalci najrazličnejših družbenih skupin in slojev, gledališče zapustilo drugačno, oboroženo z novim znanjem, ki ga bo poneslo v svet, smo tistega četrtka v HNK prišli kot se le da blizu epskemu gledališču.
*Thomas Piketty je 9. 4. 2015 v zagrebškem HNK nastopil v okviru Filozofskega teatra, ki ga vodi Srećko Horvat.

Manca G. Renko

Manca G. Renko (1988), ist eine slowenischen Historikerin, sie hat sich auf die europäische und russische Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhundert spezialisiert. Renko ist Chefredakteurin des Literaturjournals AirBeletrina und schreibt für diverse andere Publikationen Artikel, Rezensionen, Essays und gelegentlich Übersetzungen.

Manca G. Renko (1988), Slovenian historian (19th and 20th century European and Russian history) and the editor-in-chief of the AirBeletrina literary journal, published by Beletrina Academic Press. She also writes articles, reviews and essays for various publications and occasionally works as a translator.

Manca G. Renko (1988), ist eine slowenischen Historikerin, sie hat sich auf die europäische und russische Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhundert spezialisiert. Renko ist Chefredakteurin des Literaturjournals AirBeletrina und schreibt für diverse andere Publikationen Artikel, Rezensionen, Essays und gelegentlich Übersetzungen.

Manca G. Renko (1988), Slovenian historian (19th and 20th century European and Russian history) and the editor-in-chief of the AirBeletrina literary journal, published by Beletrina Academic Press. She also writes articles, reviews and essays for various publications and occasionally works as a translator.

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