Examining Interventionist Theatre in a Multi-Axial World of Transience
An Essay in Refusal
Intervention', a highly charged term, is not unproblematic and readily intelligible. Consider the semantic field – the three 'meanings' that Oxford English Dictionary (OED) offers to the term. Firstly, intervention is the action of intervening, 'stepping in', or interfering in any affair, so as to affect its course or issue. After 9/11 (better cited as 7/11), the problem with this aspect of 'intervention' should not be too difficult to comprehend if only because the United Nations, George Bush, Osama bin Laden and the thousands of demonstrators in London and other parts of the world protesting against the US-British military action in Iraq were all engaged in acts of intervention.
Secondly, the term is used in the context of an intermediate agency or the fact of coming in as an intermediary, the perils of which are shown in the following 'folk' tale from Bangladesh. A monkey intervenes in the dispute of two crows fighting over a piece of cookie. Assuring them of complete neutrality, the monkey obtains a pair of scales and breaks the cookie into two halves. The scale tilts slightly to the right and – gender is another issue, but let us consider it in the masculine – he nibbles just a little of the piece on the right pan. Thus he continues, working diligently and nibbling alternately from the left and then the right, to make it absolutely sure that he is fair. Finally, he exhausts himself with nothing but crumbs left on the scales.
Going back to OED, the third 'meaning' of intervention is the fact of coming or being situated between in space, time, or order, such as the Trade Winds being frequently impeded by the intervention of islands. I am sure none of us would even dream of acting as impeding 'islands' – both because John Donne's famous injunction that 'No man [and, one hopes, woman as well] is an island' and because Percy B. Shelly's 'trumpet of a prophecy', although he was referring to the West and not the Trade.
These problematic denotatative values of 'intervention' arise because the term is unsettled by 'representation'. Borrowing from Green (but not quite along the grain of his argument), it is necessary to take into cognizance that, what 'intervention' means 'in particular circumstances and at particular historical junctures is precisely a matter of how it is made to mean, and by whom' (1992: 3, cited in Thorpe 1998). Once this is recognized, we may further probe into the notion by raising ethical questions. As Rahnema (1997: 395) asks:
Who are we – who am I – to intervene in other people's lives when we know so little about any life, including my own? Even in the case where we intervene because we think we love and care for others, how is it possible to say in advance that our intervention will not eventually produce a result opposite to that expected?
These questions and problems, indelibly inscribed on 'intervention', mark it out as a consummate site of political struggle.
Having said that, one could very well ask, as the Buddha did, faced with a snake-bitten victim, does one brood over the oft-cited question 'to do or not to do' or does one engage in intervention as an act of love and compassion such as that of the Good Samaritan? Action, in such cases, 'borders on sacred territory' (Rahnema 1997: 395). Laying aside the problematic interventions raised by 9/11, 7/11 and the monkey cited above, it is precisely the indeterminate bordering territory of the sacred, the treacherous terrain misconceived as the idyllic ground of the 'progressive' brand of interventionist theatre, that I wish to probe further.
The genealogy of the 'progressive' brand of interventionist theatre is easily traceable back to the Communist Manifesto, where Marx and Engels launched an attack on the bourgeois education system in the following words:
Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention, direct or indirect, of society, by means of schools, etc? The Communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class (Marx 1977: 234-235).
Further, borrowing from the '11th Thesis on Feuerbach', where Marx argues that '[t]he philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it' (Marx 1977: 158), Bertolt Brecht asserts that '[t]he theatre became an affair for philosophers, but only for those philosophers as wished not just to explain the world, but also to change it' (1964: 72). Walter Benjamin insists more explicitly that the mission of the artist 'is not to report but to struggle; not to play the spectator but to intervene actively. He (sic) defines this mission in the account he gives of his (sic) own activity' (Benjamin, 1978: 223). In this line of argument, it has been assumed that the intervening agent will employ strategies to 'interrupt the passive consumption of the dominant ideologies and contest the hegemony of the state' (Barber 2004).
Following this tradition of Marxist rhetoric but mobilizing the binary of 'oppressor-oppressed' instead of class struggle, Paulo Freire (1996) embarked on 'conscientization' by attempting to break the 'culture of silence', and Augusto Boal (1979) began to urge his 'spect-actors' to rehearse the 'revolution'. Theatres-for-development, as well as many other forms of interventionist theatre operate from this epistemological ground – a part of the 'indeterminate bordering territory of the sacred' mentioned earlier. In the following part of this essay, I will test the validity of this ground by placing the notion of 'intervention' under erasure and examine it with four notional tools: transience, social drama, multi-axial locationality and resistance of the subalterns (ie, 'the bottom layer of society, not necessarily put together by capital logic alone'; Spivak 2000: 324).
Buddhism recognises transience (anitya) – or change with the passage of time (or time as a unit of change) – as one common characteristic of everything, that everything (involves) change (sarvan anityam). Hence, the 'real' is not 'being', but 'becoming'; it is not static, but sequential and dynamic. This basic tenet locates Buddhism diametrically in opposition to the atma-doctrine propounded by the Upanisadic-Braahmanical tradition of South Asian philosophy. The latter 'conceive(s) reality on the pattern of an inner core or soul (atman), immutable and identical amidst an outer region of impermanence and change, to which it is unrelated or but loosely related' (Murti 1998: 10). For its part, Buddhism denies atman and shows that 'there is no inner and immutable core of things; everything is in flux' (ibid.).
As the Prasangika Madhyamika (the Middle Way Consequence School) of Buddhism posits, phenomena exist in three fundamental ways, dependent upon (1) causes and conditions, (2) the relationship of the whole with its constituent parts, and (3) mental construction, attribution, or designation. 'Therefore, contrary to our untutored beliefs, the ultimate nature of phenomena is its dependency and relatedness, not isolated existence and independence' (Mansfield 1998). If phenomena did exist independently, 'objects would be immutable, since in their essence they [would be] independent of other phenomena and so uninfluenced by any interactions' and 'would also be unable to influence other phenomena, since they [would be] complete and self-contained' (ibid). This, as human experience shows, is false. Objects and subjects are capable of functioning precisely because objects and subjects lack independent existence.
If it is acceptable that 'phenomena are fundamentally a shifting set of dependency relations', then it follows that 'impermanence and change are built into them at the most fundamental level'. More importantly, the defining relations, co-dependencies and their continuously shifting connections with each other make it immanent that 'all objects and subjects are impermanent, ceaselessly evolving, maturing, and decaying'. Hence, 'transformation and change are built into the core of all entities, both subjective and objective' (Mansfield 1998). As Jorge Luis Borges (1970: 269) says, '[t]ime is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire'. The image of the river is picked up excellently by Heraclitus to explain his doctrine of flux: 'No one can step twice into the same river, nor touch mortal substance twice in the same condition' (fragment 41, cited in Schechner 2002: 22). Hence, without conscious volition, one is always-already a part of a fluid system, of flux.
This is not to deny the possibility of conscious intervention, but it is important to realize that the intervening subject, who believes himself or herself to be acting against a particular relation of power, is actually acting against a shifting set of dependency relations that are part of the condition of flux. Even if the subject succeeds in overcoming all oppositions and 'instituting' the 'change' s/he desires, it too will be brushed aside by the dynamics of flux. Hence, the 'change' too will change.
Victor Turner, in his book titled From Ritual to Theatre, shows that each social 'system' contains within itself hierarchical 'orders' (ie, clans, families, religious or political parties, cults, castes, craft-based groups etc), arranged with their followings. Each of these 'orders' or groups, in the effort to further its own interest, faces opposition from those groups that find their interest hindered by the advancement of the former. These conflicts may be seen as the outcome of a clash of interest between 'indetermination' (ie, the wish, the possibility, that which 'could be' or 'should be') and 'modes of determination' (ie, the normative structure that attempts to bind the society, or parts thereof into a harmonious whole). Consequently, there ensue situations of conflict. Turner identifies these modes of conflict and their resolution as 'social dramas'.
Turner shows that conflict in social drama occurs in a universal processual course of action, which goes through four stages. The first of these is the 'breach', where discontent is brought out in the open; a 'precipitating action' causes the breach to escalate into the second stage of 'crisis' – a situation of great importance that threatens the unity of the whole society or part thereof. Once a crisis manifests itself, 'redressive action' immediately sets in to quell the crisis, attempting to make amends and reinstate harmony. This usually takes the shape of juridical means (ie, court of law, peace talks, informal personal advice, formal meetings, political or social reformative measures, etc.). Even if the measures of redress succeed and reconciliation is arrived at, the 'structure' of social unit in question, or the whole society, will have changed because of new accommodations, causing a qualitative change in the 'normative structure'. 'Reintegration' is the term Turner uses for the phase of reconciliation. But if redressive action fails, that is, if the antagonists fail to reconcile and heal the breach, then a permanent 'schism' is caused, bringing about radical change.
Turner's 'social drama', arising out of societal 'agonistic' situations, shows that the 'normative structure' is not so much a monolithic 'status quo' but more a process that is constantly being made and remade. In fact, it reinforces the argument advanced by the Middle Way Consequence School of Buddhism that one is always already a part of a fluid system of flux. More importantly, it is necessary not to overlook that the fourth phase of 'social drama', ie, the phase of 'redressive action', is a mechanism of reflexivity that assesses situations of crisis and human agents involved therein. Its function is to deal with crisis, make sense out of disharmony and chaos, by reflecting over the crisis. In effect, the juridical, religious or other processes set in motion to quell mounting crisis increase what Turner calls (after Barbara Myerhoff) 'plural reflexivity', that is, 'the ways in which a group tries to scrutinize, portray, understand and then act on itself' (Turner 1982: 75). It is a time of intensified reflection and problematisation that signals reconstruction as well as critique, and all form of performance play an important role in this phase. Turner argues:
By means of such genres as theatre, including puppetry and shadow theatre, dance drama, and professional story-telling, performances are presented which probe a community's weaknesses, call its leaders to account, desacralize its most cherished values and beliefs, portray its characteristic conflicts and suggest remedies for them, and generally take stock of its current situation in the known world (1982: 11).
In this argument, theatre is posited as a hypertrophy of jural and religious processes because it contains in it certain characteristics of both law-in-action and religious action. In dealing with deep-seated questions that haunt us, theatre investigates, judges and even retributes; it also extols, performs miracles and sets 'frames of references'. Thereby, theatre attains an all-important social function: it validates and scrutinises human existence in a state of flux.
If Turner's argument is deemed acceptable, then it will, hopefully, not require a huge amount of wisdom to see that the phase of 'redressive action' functions as an inbuilt interventionist mechanism. That is, 'intervention' is always already a part of societal mechanism whether or not I 'will' it. Hence, all forms of theatre are characteristically interventionary.
The arguments placed above take us back to the question of subject position and the problematic interventions of the monkey, George Bush Incorporated and the West Wind, but let us relocate ourselves in the treacherous terrain misconceived as the idyllic ground of a particular brand of 'progressive' interventionist theatre, ie, Theatre for Development (henceforth cited as TfD). As Prentki and Selman (2000: 8) and Erven (1992: 13) agree, Paulo Freire's discourse on 'education as practice of freedom' has indeed been one of the primary premises on which almost all 'edifices' of TfD have been built. In his well-known and widely circulated book of seminal influence, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire embarks on a process whereby the oppressed may turn themselves into subjects.
What does 'oppression', along with categories derived from it – 'oppressor', and 'oppressed' – signify in Freirean discourse? In a tribute paid to Freire after his death, his close associates observe:
[Freire] stressed that racism, sexism or class exploitation are the most salient forms of dominance and oppression, but he also recognized that oppression exists on the grounds of religious beliefs, political affiliation, national origin, age, size, and physical and intellectual handicaps (Gadotti and Alberto 2002).
Hence, it would imply that 'gender', 'class' and 'race' are Freire's primary conceptual categories. However, when one revisits Freire in the Pedagogy, one is painfully struck by its gender insensitivity. In a few passages of the Pedagogy, there is an unmistakable Marxist overtone when he alludes to the oppressors as the 'dominant class' (1996: 40) and the 'dominant elites', and the oppressed as the 'people'. He says, 'the latter constitutes their [dominant elites'] antithesis, their very reason for existence' (1996: 112). Other qualifying phrases used for the oppressed are 'rejects of life', and the 'wretched of the earth' (1996: 114).
As the examination of Freire's texts shows, 'oppression' in Freirean discourse is replete with ambivalence and indeterminacy (because it does not focus on a specific category such as gender, class, race, sexual orientation or cultural difference), and pervasiveness (because it appears to include all possible categories). In his own words in the Pedagogy, '[f]unctionally, oppression is domesticating' (1996: 33). 'What characterises the oppressed is their subordination to the consciousness of the master…' (Freire 1996: 31). He cites Hegel to explain the characteristics of 'two opposed forms or modes of consciousness. The one is independent whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is dependent whose essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter, the Bondsman' (Hegel 1910: 182).
The problem with Freire's binary strategy, which is central to his argument, is that it tends to become an explanatory system endowed with a spurious completeness. In their disjoined territories, the binaries see no liminal space in between. Examining the binary oppressor-oppressed in a colonial context, it becomes immediately apparent that the model of an imperial 'centre' oppressing a colonial 'margin' is a myth. 'As a geographical myth the centre/margin binarism leads by logical extension to such absurdities as the idea that all people in colonies are marginalised while nobody in the imperial centre can be marginalised; …' (Ashcroft et al: 1995: 213).
The problem with binaries, as Avtar Brah (1996: 184) observes, is that they can all too readily be assumed to represent ahistorical, universal constructs. This may help to conceal the workings of historically specific socio-economic, political and cultural circumstances that mark the terrain on which a given binary comes to assume its particular significance. That is, what are actually the effects of institutions, discourses and practices may come to be represented as immutable, trans-historical divisions.
It is necessary take into cognizance that the identity of the oppressor and the oppressed are far from fixed and given. 'It is constituted within the crucible of materiality of everyday life; in the everyday stories we tell ourselves individually and collectively' (Brah 1996: 183). In a neo-colonial globalised world, 'oppression' does not operate along static lines of demarcation between oppositional binaries of the oppressor and the oppressed. In the middle ground between the G8 countries and the poverty-stricken countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, exist countries like India, which manifest their distinct traits as oppressors. Within Bangladesh, the oppressed can be identified as the landless peasants, and their oppressors as the rising mercantile bourgeoisie. However, other oppressor-oppressed relationships can be identified among the landless peasants: Muslims and Hindus (where oppression operation along religious bias); low-caste Hindus such as the Chasa Dhopa and relatively upper caste Hindus such as the Kaibarta (where oppression operates along socio-religious hierarchy); males and females (where oppression is prevalent across religious and class demarcations), etc. Further, the 'imagined community' of the Bengalis as a nation constructed on linguistic homogeneity has been challenged by armed resistance of the Chakma people of the south-eastern region. In the same way, the G8 nations also create webs of oppression in terms of ethnicity, class and gender. What is important is that the web is 'de-centred', and in it, 'oppression' emerges as a process of shifting relations rather than a structure – much less a pyramidal one. The supreme oppressor does not reside in the White House, the Kremlin or the Tora Bora Mountains – as the fall of the latter two have clearly demonstrated, and we wait (need I say 'with relish?') the fall of the first.
Rephrasing Sara Suleri, who speaks of colonial cultural studies, the case for TfD could be posited as follows:
If [TfD] is to avoid a binarism that could cause it to atrophy in its own apprehension of difference, it needs to locate an idiom for alterity that can circumnavigate the more monolithic interpretations of [oppression] that tend to dominate [Freirean] discourse. […] Rather than examine a binary rigidity between [the oppressor and the oppressed] – which is an inherently Eurocentric strategy – [TfD] would be better served if it sought to break down the fixity of the dividing line between domination and subordination …' (1995: 112).
It is necessary to reject the mono-axial 'oppressor-oppressed' binary if only because, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1990: 120) observes, 'every socio-political, psycho-sexual phenomenon is organized by, woven by many, many strands that are discontinuous, that come from way off, that carry their histories within them, and that are not within our control.' Instead, it is indispensable to mobilize the notion of 'multi-axial locationality' (Brah 1996: 205) that takes into account simultaneous situatedness of multiple categories such as class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, language and age, and the manner in which 'these signifiers slide into one another in the articulation of power' (Brah 1996: 185).
In Freirean discourse, power is equated with institutions and systems that control and regulate human life, both in its social as well as personal spheres of activities. Thus, in the Pedagogy, he speaks of the oppressed and the revolutionary leaders 'reach[ing] power', 'tak[ing] power' (1996: 116-118), 'com[ing] to power' (1996: 108, 118), 'us[ing] of power' (1996: 118) after a revolutionary action, and of the oppressor 'relinquish[ing] their power to dominate' if he and she were to act dialogically (1996: 107). By implication, the oppressed in his/her discourse take control and achieve power through unity, cooperation and organisation. However, the nature and complexity of power can perhaps be better understood if it is conceived as 'the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization'; secondly, 'as the process which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them'; thirdly, 'as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another'; and lastly, 'as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies' (Foucault 1984: 92-93).
There can be no question about oppression as a historical fact that operates and impinges upon all spheres of existence with multifarious tentacles. Living in a 'third world' situation, constant reminders of the tentacles are blatant at every moment of one's existence. However, it would be naïve to see its operation in terms of clearly-demarcated binary oppositions, rather than 'a multiplicity of force relations', forming a chain or disjunctions, in 'ceaseless struggles and confrontations'. The horrific fact about this decentred web is that each of us is entangled in it. And a question stares directly in our eyes: can there be an oppressor who at the same time does not bear a trace of an oppressed, or an oppressed who does not bear the trace of an oppressor?
Subaltern Silence and Resistance
Another source of immense influence for TfD has been Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed (1979), as it is seen in the process followed by PETA, Teater Arena (see Erven, 1992), ABU Workshops in Nigeria (see Etherton, 1982), popular theatre process followed by the University of Dar-es-Salaam (see Mlama, 1991), the Theatre of Marotholi in Lesotho (see Mda, 1993), popular theatre programme of the Theatre Centre for Social Development in Bangladesh (see Bokul 2001), and numerous other examples. Central to Boal's methodology is his notion of 'spect-actors' (Boal 1992: xxx), ie, 'the activated spectator' (Schutzman and Cohen-Cruz 1994: 238). He argues that Brecht concentrates on the spectator's thought, whereas he moves a step ahead in insisting that reflection cannot be separated from action. This prompts Boal to make a crucial move: to maintain that the role of the spectators is not to be 'passive beings in the theatrical phenomena', but 'subjects, [..] actors, transformers of the dramatic action' (Boal 1979: 122). In his own words, the theatre of the oppressed
focuses on the action itself: the spectator delegates no power to the character (or the actor) either to act or think in his place; on the contrary, he himself assumes the protagonic role, changes the dramatic action, tries out solutions, discusses plans for change – in short, trains himself for real action (Boal 1979: 122).
When the 'liberated' spect-actors in a forum theatre 'launch into action' (Boal 1979: 122), they reduce operation of power along a static line between oppositional binaries of the oppressor and the oppressed. As argued earlier, power operates as 'a multiplicity of force relations'. Unless the participants bring with them all facets and tentacles of oppression that operate in a living situation, forum theatre sessions will inevitably be reduced to being a harshly inadequate tool for rehearsal of 'revolution' that Boal urges us to engage in.
A careful reading of When People Play People by Mda (1993) clearly demonstrates manipulative characteristics of forum theatre. In the case of Alcoholism Play (1993: 156-163), a community generated (or comgen) performance produced entirely by participating villagers and with minimal intervention from external catalysts, there was very little conscientization. A similar result (ie, very little conscientization) was obtained from Kopano ke Malta (1993: 98-115), a play produced entirely by external catalysts and with minimal participation of the community. Optimal conscientization was obtained in The Trade Union Play (1993: 143-156), a forum theatre piece that made use of 'optimal intervention' of the catalysts, ie, 'the best compromise between the opposing tendencies of participation [as in the case of Alcoholism Play] and intervention [as in the case of Kopano ke Malta]' (1993: 173). This precisely is the point. For forum theatre to work effectively, the manipulation (or 'intervention', if you prefer) of the 'joker'/facilitator/catalyst is more important than that of the participants/spectators/spect-actors. As Mda (1993: 173) observes, 'catalysts must have a higher level of social consciousness than the villagers. Without this higher level of social consciousness – and of critical awareness – they cannot play their interventionist role effectively, and the villagers will remain unconscientized through the theatre.' What is important is that the 'higher level of social consciousness' is assumed to be a 'progressive' brand of ideological bias – a vague umbrella-term that may cover any mix of strands from liberation theology to firebrand Marxism, but certainly not Islamist militancy. Of course, you can negate this argument if you belong to the North by simply asserting that the communities of the privileged regions that you work in are not as 'ignorant' as the poor villagers of the South!
When Boal insists that the role of the spect-actors is not as 'passive beings' but as 'subjects', he assumes that by taking part in a dramatic action, a 'passive being' is transformed into a 'subject'. It is here that he, and we with him, slip into what O'Hanlon (2000: 106), following Baudrillard, describes as 'the obsessive demand of our political culture: from making the subaltern's voice heard, but construing it in the image of our own'. Subaltern silence is unbearable for us. For Baudrillard (1983: 28-29), 'its silence is equal to the silence of the beasts. […] This silence is unbearable. It is the unknown of the political equation, the unknown which annuls every political equation. Everybody questions it, but never as silence, always to make it speak'. It is impossible for us to acknowledge that subaltern silence does not necessarily imply Freirean 'culture of silence', and that that 'passivity' does not necessarily imply absence of resistance because, as Hobsbawm (1973: 13) argues, 'the normal strategy of the traditional peasantry is passivity.' If one dares, one may even go further and ask with Baudrillard (1983: 29-30), 'who can say which is winning today: the simulation power performs on the masses, or the inverse simulation held out by the masses for power to be swallowed up in'?
Trapped in the obsessive demand to make the subalterns speak, interventionist theatre is obsessed with full-blooded 'masculine' action. As O'Hanlon (2000: 111) pertinently observes, '[i]t is one of the deepest misconstructions of the autonomous subject-agent that its own masculine practice possesses a monopoly […] upon the heroic: that efforts of sacrifice are to be found nowhere but in what it holds to be the real sites of political struggle.' This misconstruction, and the love and compassion of the Good Samaritan, compels the interventionist theatre activists as autonomous subject-agents to overlook that the subalterns are always already engaged in intervention in the form of 'resistance of a different kind: dispersed in the fields we do not conventionally associate with the political; residing … sometimes in what looks like cultural difference' (O'Hanlon 2000: 111). These 'resistances of a different kind', including 'the disguised, low-profile, undeclared resistance that constitutes the domain of infrapolitics'' (Scott 1990: 198), range from poaching, squatting, desertion to evasion and foot-dragging. One may even move further along this line by drawing attention to Homi Bhabha's (1994) notion of 'mimicry' as a double-edged weapon of both the oppressor and the oppressed, since the 'mimic man is a contradictory figure who simultaneously reinforces colonial authority and disturbs it' (Sharpe 1995: 99).
Instead of 'making the subaltern's voice heard, but construing it in the image of our own', let us begin by respectfully acknowledging that '[t]o be a subaltern is not to be powerless' (Hobsbawm 1973: 13), and that 'the masses no longer need [us] to gain knowledge: they know perfectly well, without illusion; they know far better than [us] and they are certainly capable of expressing themselves' (Foucault 1977: 207).
Epilogue: 'What is to be done?'
A few years back, when discussing some of the problems that I raised today, David Kerr (who worked extensively and admirably in TfD in Malawi and Zambia) cautioned me that I was throwing away the baby with the bath water. But I take heart in Foucault's fervent appeal that '[u]nder no circumstances should one pay attention to those who tell one: 'Don't criticize, since you're not capable of carrying out a reform.' Critiques don't have to be the premise of a deduction that concludes, 'this, then, is what needs to be done' (2002: 236). Hence, Vladimir Illich Lenin's arguments in his oft-quoted pamphlet, What is to be done? sounds quaint today, even a bit of a political harangue. But because there is no way of getting away from the question – because there can be no question of getting away from the question – let us begin by moving beyond Theatre for Development (with its pitiable baggage of latrine plays and sanitation plays etc.) and other brands of interventionist theatre (with its falsely-exhilarating games of revolutions and rainbows). Let us stop our megalomaniac breast-beatings – in effect, pitiably futile claims – that we are changing the status quo and that our theatre is efficacious enough to institute change. Let us boldly acknowledge that without conscious volition, we are inevitably a part of a system of flux; that intervention is an ongoing mechanism that human society operates without waiting for us to intervene as Good Samaritans. Let us be humble enough to concede that the subalterns are always already engaged in intervention in the form of 'resistance of a different kind'. Let us, 'by a long work of comings and goings, of exchanges, reflections, trials, different analyses' (Foucault 2002: 236), devise ways and means to sap, subvert and de-link power that operates multi-axially, profoundly and subtly by penetrating an entire social network of which we as intellectuals are all agents, and which blocks, prohibits, and invalidates subaltern discourses and knowledges (Foucault 1977: 207-208).
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Syed Jamil Ahmed is a proactive theatre personality and scholar, and professor at the Department of Theatre, University of Dhaka. He is the author of In Praise of Niranjan: Islam, Theatre and Bangladesh, Reading Against the Orientalist Grain: Performance and Politics, and a number of vernacular publications on theatre and performances of the region. He is also member of the editorial board of Depart.