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Jewish Spaces in European Theatre

European Performing Arts Forum
Prague 14-16 June 2003



Session IV: The politics of representation and the theatre

Responsibilities of representation: Does it matter if it's
good for the Jews?

Jonathan Metzger, writer/director, Stockholm

With the coming of the second Intifada, Europe has experienced a profound upsurge in expressions of anti-Semitism and pseudo-antisemitism, both on the streets and in the public debate. How does this situation affect the European-Jewish playwright, who writes critically about the Jewish experience?

The playwright often defends herself by claiming that she writes, and leaves it to others to interpret and analyse her writings. Still, some interpretations of a given work can clearly be felt to be 'wrong' according to the author, and hence, even if it is sub-conscious, the author attempts to delimit or lock-down the possible interpretations of her work. Post-structuralism teaches us that the meaning of a given work is always decided by its context of interpretation at any given moment. Thus, basically, anything can be accused of being 'anti-Semitic' or 'bad for the Jews', depending on the circumstances it is presented and the way it is interpreted.

But if the story I have to tell, as a Jewish playwright, is a story which contains criticism of the Jewish religion or way of life, is it my responsibility to reflect upon the possibility that my work can be interpreted in an anti-Jewish context and possibly even function as fuel for anti-Jewish sentiments? How do I, as a Jewish playwright, balance my artistic freedom against the possible negative interpretations my work can be subjected to? Maybe the playwright does not have any responsibility whatsoever towards her audience, but how does she feel when she discovers that her work is on the 'recommended reading'-lists of neo-nazi groups as a 'demasking of the Jews'?

Finally we can ask ourselves if this is a question that is unique to the Jewish playwright or possibly just a specific variant of a more general problem that is relevant to anyone who works in the creative arts, namely the question: 'How will my work be interpreted?' Can I attempt to control it and is it even morally defendable to attempt to do so?

The introduction will be illustrated by a few short scenes from my feature film "Bit by Bit" ("Livet i 8 Bitar", Svensk Filmindustri, 2002).