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The poetics of ambivalence

Keywords: poetics, ambivalence, game, performativity, Theatre NO99

The article investigates the double nature of arts and the related poetics of ambivalence. Similarly to other forms of play, arts are simultaneously operating at two levels: at the symbolic level of play and the non-symbolic level of reality. The intentional strategy of playing at these levels simultaneously causes ambivalence of meanings and affects and has a strong transgressive potential.

The article is divided into three parts. First, different approaches (Barthes, Alter, Burns, Epner) to the double nature of arts are introduced. In the second part, the term ”ambivalence” and poetics based on the notion are tackled, especially in the framework of reception (Merilai, McConachie, Fischer-Lichte). Finally, three productions from the repertoire of the Theatre NO99 are analysed as examples of the poetics of ambivalence.

When adversative flows of information, expressions or moods cross or intertwine, intentionally or accidentally, ambivalent nodes are created that are supposed to activate different reception and interpretation strategies in the perceiver. When ambivalence is the main poetic means or idea of a work, it represents the poetics of ambivalence. One of the main strategies of the poetics of ambivalence in theatre is playing at the thresholds of different genres and types of theatre or different art forms or at the threshold of art and non-art. The productions of the NO99 offered different experiences of liminality, since they often operated at the threshold of several performative strategies.  

Note that although most of the sources used in the article represent theatre and literary theory, the poetics of ambivalence is also characteristic of other art forms, of games and culture in general and even of existence as understood in existential philosophy.

 

Anneli Saro (b. 1968), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research, Professor of Theatre Research (Ülikooli 16, 51014 Tartu), anneli.saro@ut.ee

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