(Dis)embodying Woyzeck in Osaka in the case of Taihen

This paper was given at the Performance Studies international 20 (PSi 20) Conference in Tohoku, Northern Japan. The conference ran from August 28 to September 1 2015 at the Aomori Museum of Art.


In her essay titled “Foucault and the Paradox of Bodily Inscriptions,” Judith Butler asks ‘what is it that circumscribes this site [Foucault] called “the body”?’ For her, Foucault’s emphasis on the body as a culturally constructed site, ‘where regimes of discourse and power inscribe themselves,’ blinds the writer from his own admission of ‘a materiality to the body prior to its signification and form.’ This ‘uncritically accepted’ distinction between a ‘pre’ and ‘post’ inscription body ‘ends up undermining the central point that his argument concerning the constructed status of bodies was supposed to prove.’

In this paper, I extend Butler’s questioning of the body to the context of performance and the relationship between performer, community and tradition. I develop an analysis of these terms through a 2013 production of Woyzeck by the Osaka based Performance Troupe Taihen. In the group’s own words, ‘Taihen is an innovative physical theatre company of physically disabled people, founded in 1983.’ Taihen’s production of Woyzeck was performed without text in their downtown Osaka venue, Metamorphosis-Hall. How and by whom is tradition inscribed in the body in performance? How are the performers’ bodies constructed on stage? To what extent does, Woyzeck as a canonical western play, with its own genealogy, inscribe itself in the bodies of the performers and the community of spectators?

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