The Theatricality of Grief (2019)

The Theatricality of Grief: Suspending movement, mourning and meaning with Roland Barthes

Practice-as-research article for the Performance Research special issue ‘On Theatricality’. Vol 24: Issue 4 (2017).

A link to the article can be found here.


Roland Barthes’s influential book on photography Camera Lucida has been discussed by Michael Fried as an exercise in ‘antitheatrical critical thought’, for its celebration of the accidental, non-intentional, detail and the naïve non-performance of the photographed subject (see Fried 2008). However, in Barthes’s comparison between photography and theatre in the book he evokes Samuel Weber’s definition of theatricality as an interruption of the Aristotelean movement toward a ‘meaningful goal’ (Weber 2004: 46). Barthes explores the photograph’s ‘foreclosure of the Tragic’ that ‘excludes all purification, all catharsis’, writing that nothing in the photograph ‘can transform my grief into mourning’ (Barthes 1993: 90). In these remarks Barthes sets up a distinction between the self-affirming cultural practice of mourning and the more painful, ongoing affective realm of grief.

In 2017 I staged After Camera Lucida, a practice-as-research performance at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow that responded to the concepts, methods and form of Barthes’s book through my own personal experience of losing my mother when I was 14. This article critically reflects on After Camera Lucida,contextualising the performance through Barthes’s ideas, Weber’s concept of theatricality and recent scholarly work between theatre studies, visual studies and film. The article explores the ways that After Camera Lucida practised the suspension of mourning and catharsis as a particularly theatrical a/effect and how the slowing down of movement and time in the work explored a radical theatricality circulating between bodies, spaces and images.

The article is punctuated by photographic documentation of the performance from Glasgow-based artist Julia-Kristina Bauer.