Spectral Characters: Genre and Materiality on the Modern Stage (University of Michigan Press, 2019) – Dr Sarah Balkin, Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies
Theatre’s materiality and reliance on human actors has traditionally put it at odds with modernist principles of aesthetic autonomy and depersonalisation. Spectral Characters argues that modern dramatists in fact emphasised the extent to which humans are fictional, made and changed by costumes, settings, props, and spoken dialogue. Examining work by Ibsen, Wilde, Strindberg, Genet, Kopit, and Beckett, the book takes up the apparent deadness of characters whose selves are made of other people, whose thoughts become exteriorised communication technologies, and whose bodies merge with walls and furniture. The ghostly, vampiric, and telepathic qualities of these characters, Sarah Balkin argues, mark a new relationship between the material and the imaginary in modern theatre. By considering characters whose bodies respond to language, whose attempts to realise their individuality collapse into inanimacy, and who sometimes don’t appear at all, the book posits a new genealogy of modernist drama that emphasises its continuities with nineteenth-century melodrama and realism.