CFP: [Theatre] Kitsch and Theatre (Paris, June 5-6, 2009)

full name / name of organization: 
Isabelle Barbéris and Marie Pecorari
contact email:

Kitsch and Theatre Seminar

INHA (Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art), Paris, France
June 5-6, 2009

A modern and postmodern phenomenon theorized by, among others, Clement Greenberg, Th. W.
Adorno, Hermann Broch, Susan Sontag and Milan Kundera, kitsch has for a century pervaded
simultaneously the representations around us and our perception of them. The definition of
kitsch lies in the interplay between object and subject, which pertains as much of the analysis of
sign production as of a phenomenology of reading and the gaze, which tends to multiply the
degrees of reception.
An idiosyncratic phenomenon referring to the impossible « objectivity of the object », kitsch is a
dominant sensibility, a manifestation of the relativisation of values and of the latter's

Taking into account the scope of the phenomenon, this seminar will attempt to narrow down the
topics at stake in the field of the performing arts. We shall insist upon the dimensions and
interrogations specific to the field, and in particular the questions of the theatricality of the
kitsch object, the problems posed by its reception (which can be deemed essentially divided),
and acting, when it comes to « playing around with signs ».

Kitsch, by definition, operates by masking : be it an attempt to pass for what it is not (according
to one of its presumed etymologies, the term refers to masquerading new furniture to give it the
patina of antiques) or be it the valorisation of the accessory, of refuse at the expense of the
essential (another possible etymology : verkitschen, to sell at rock-bottom prices, or to pick up
abandoned goods), the kitsch strategy enjoys an analogical relation to theatre. The role-playing
thanks to which kitsch communicates with its spectators occurs along specific, codified
modalities, which we will attempt to unveil. Because the kitsch deception is itself a convention,
and as such often perceived as immediately artificial, it is highly prone to unmasking.
We shall focus especially upon:

- The manifestations and strategies of kitsch on stage : scenography, sets, costumes,
dramaturgy, directing, acting…
- The reception and reactions it fosters - in other words, the dialectic of an art which, in various
degrees, is both offensive and consensus-seeking.
- Camp, the practice of « inverted commas » (Susan Sontag), of the second-degree ; how does
kitsch, an inherently theatrical phenomenon, manifest itself on stage ? We will pay particular
attention to its modalities of occurrence: reinforcement, displacement, the proliferation of
theatrical signs…

These are mere suggestions and by no means exclusive.

Faculty, researchers and graduate students are encouraged to submit a proposal in French or
English, in the context of post-war European and North American theatre studies. Presentations
should be held to twenty-five minutes.

The deadline for submission is January 12, 2009.
Proposals (approximately 200 words) should be sent to the following address :

Seminar organisers : Isabelle Barbéris and Marie Pecorari

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