chapter  49
5 Pages

The humanist theatre/The catastrophic theatre and The cult of accessibility and the theatre of obscurity: Howard Barker


The first of these is by no means limited to theatre, or even to art itself. We hear about the need for “access” to museums, “access” to spaces, “access” to the countryside, to education, to information, even to knowledge itself. There is nothing, apparently, to which “access” cannot be applied. This liberal-sounding criterion conceals a profound suspicion of the imagination behind a fashionable hatred of privilege. All things that are not accessible must be privileged, the theory runs, all spaces that are hidden are ipso facto the preserves of an elite, and all ideas or works of art that fail to communicate themselves are – obscure. In this sham democracy, it is not only the entire stock of the culture that must be thrown open, or vilified, there is an obligation laid on the living artist to make himself “understood.” Thus with regard to my own work, the play which receives the approval of the critical regime is first and foremost the “accessible” one, whose narrative is simple, whose characters are rapidly absorbed, identified and classified as “good” or “bad,” and whose momentum can be contained within the “issue,” in this case the “issue” of artistic freedom and State patronage. This constricting and oppressive critical straitjacket, with its hatred for abstraction, threatens writers, musicians, museum administrators and doubtless, in future, philosophers, too.