chapter  44
10 Pages

Limits of analysis, limits of theory and Pavis’s questionnaire: Patrice Pavis


A frequent argument employed to put one on one’s guard against the difficulty of interpreting theater performance consists of stressing the impossibility of knowing whether a particular element of the acting or of the decor is (or is not) the sign of an intention expressed by the director. As soon as one adopts the point of view of an analysis of a performance, one chooses the perspective of its reception (and not of its production). Indeed it is always up to the spectators to make up their minds on this in terms of the overall performance. Not everything in the performance is reducible to a sign; there remain authentic moments, unforeseeable and unrepeatable events. How can one know whether the whiskey drunk by an actor is actually whiskey after all, or whether the plaster cast covers a leg that is really broken? Therefore, if everything can be a sign, and if nothing is absolutely certain, is it still useful to secure the services of semiology? Broadly speaking, this is Lyotard’s argument:

For the sign, Peirce used to say, is something which stands for something to somebody. To Hide, to Show: that is theatricality. The modernity of our fin de siècle consists of this: there is nothing to be replaced, no lieu-tenancy [lieu-tenance: “place-taking”/“taking-place”] is legitimate, or else all of them are; replacement, and therefore meaning, is itself only a substitute for displacement.1