The poetics of the non-verbal : code and performance in Jean Genet's theatre
This is an extensive study of the non-verbal in Genet's dramaturgy. Non-verbal forms constitute the plural, fragmented sum of theatrical possibility. Rhythms, movements, colours and shapes highlight the ritualised form of words and actions on and off stage. In Part One I define my understanding of Genet's theory of representation, and show how this theory informs his use of the non-verbal. On the one hand the discursive limits of Genet's reality forefront closure. On the other, within this closure an absence of transcendental meaning enables signs to be reconfigured and accorded a plurality of signification. A wealth of non-verbal scenic elements is codified and made to signify. But an antagonism between the triumphant liberation from inherent meaning and the inevitable falsity of representation underlies all Genet's theatre. Genet's reconfiguration involves transubstantiation, not substitution. It adds a supplementary layer of falsity to the sign. The co-presence of multiple layers of artifice effects a duality of belief and disbelief in the spectator, redefining the notion of theatricality. Non-verbal forms are of existential as well as theatrical import. Falsity is omnipresent. Genet thus destabilises and redramatises security, possession and identity. Part Two develops and illustrates the notion of the non-verbal elaborated in Part One through a predominantly stylistic study. I illustrate how performance on Genet's stage is a surface made of ritualised gestures and words, devoid of substance. Through constant polyphonic shifting characterisation is fragmented and unity of voice is denied. Central acoustic matrices are expanded forming homogenous blocks of repeated words, phonemes, stresses and prosodies. These blocks are juxtaposed with other rhythms creating chains of antagonistic structures that fracture traditional diegesis. Actors' gestures, tone, pitch, tempo and costume display a hybrid heterogeneity of styles which abolishes the monolithism of identity. The horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines constituting the set create a lattice network that fills a hypothetical vide with Genet's panoramic definition of reality. All these material signifiers resist metaphorical globalisation into themes or characters. They subsequently afford an opacity that fractures action into immediate acoustic and visual effects, and underscores form as surface detached from the oppressiveness of substance. And yet the absence of substance merely underscores the falsity of Genet's success. My concluding comments state that material, non-verbal artifice is freed from essentialist signification. It is therefore mobile, not static. The plural and liberated nature of the non-verbal enables Genet's singularity to be expressed, and in turn allows for the singularity of the spectator.