The water, the stones

Hans-Thies Lehmann and Helene Varopoulou on the way to Ingøy

Dan Miahltianu

In the Renaissance theatre moves into the houses. This is obviously a turning point and a deep cesura in the history of theatre. And some may claim, that the loss of the direct, visible connection to its natural environment was a major misfortune which happened to the art of theatre. However, at the Globe and some other places theatre continues to be played in the open air which gives a possibility for weather conditions to become or remain part of the theatre experience

Theaterwissenschaftler, 22. Sept. 1944 - 16. Juli 2022


The following reflections and readings are a result of two invitations to experience the Nordic landscape. At both occasions, it was Professor Knut Ove Arntzen, our good friend since decades and estimated colleague, who invited Helene Varopoulou and myself to travel experiences in Norway, both impressive and each in its way unique. One led us to the theatre festival in Stamsund on the Lofoten islands in 2011. The other had the goal to witness the Lulleli-festivity on the small island of Ingoy. This event took place in order to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first lighthouse of Fruholmen fyr which happens to be the most northern light house in the world. This second travel led us, together with Helena Waldmann and Arnd Wesemann from Tromsø to Havøysund with its small museum and from there to Ingøy. Helene Varopoulou and myself continued from here to Kirkenes close to the Russian border, from where we returned to Berlin. Most of the time we were accompanied by the Romanian visual artist Dan Miahltianu.

Hans-Thies Lehmann and Helene Varopoulou (right) with Knut-Ove Arntzen and Helena Waldmann

Dan Miahltianu

It was for me a kind of belated personal discovery of the Nordic landscape which is notable for being essentially made from water and rocky stone – and of course the very special effect of the midsummer night. The plan was born to develop some ideas about the specific Nordic landscape by putting them in the context of a theoretical, historical and poetic ’working-through’ of the peculiar relation which landscape has entertained for centuries with the theatre. However, what the reader finds is no more than traces of the process of getting ready for this work. I brought together concrete poetic works which display a strong interest in the elements mentioned – stone and water – with some historical and theoretical aspects of the subject. Helene Varopoulou has begun the task of theorization our travel experience in a partly explicit, partly implicit manner in the context of her description of the festivity itself and the landscape theatre of the ’sunset’ of the midsummer night sun.

So, the task remains for the most part to be done. It will be centered on the notions of performance and of landscape experienced as theatre or performance. Especially the reality of being a travelling spectator offered new aspects of thinking about the future of theatrical performance. (In recent times we observe that art as well as theatre practice are discovering the enormous range of possibilities that the presence of performers and even the presence of the visitors in a landscape environment is able to offer for new and intense theatrical experiences.) And, last but not least, the idea is to focus in the future on the Nordic landscape with all its dubitable ideological connotations as well as its undeniable power over the imagination, building on the reflections we started on a certain mirror effect between the Nordic and the Mediterranean archipelagos.

In the production planning office in Hammerfest

Norsk Landskapsteater

There is of course a much wider context than the purely aesthetic one for the development which saw landscape making a brilliant career as a first class topic of theoretical consideration and an object of artistic creativity in the past two decades or so. The notion of landscape connects immediately to contemporary ecological problems of climate change, survival of species, preservation of global natural balance, exhaustion of energy reserves and the like. The devastated landscapes of Tschernobyl and Fukushima remind us of the very real danger inherent in man’s hybris to transform all nature according to his wishes without being capable to oversee, let alone to control the consequences. What happens now is that even the beauty of landscapes can become a political issue. There are new professions like garden- and landscape-architects. Landscape does no longer mean simply in the traditional sense a painterly rendering of an organic totality of nature, or simply what you can see from a certain point of view. Instead it became the frame for urban concepts, solutions for problems of cities, as it became the victim of drastic changes in industrial activities which often prove dangerous (fracking), and so forth. Landscape as the unity, continuity, and coherence of natural and human factors and activities has become literally a matter of survival for the human species. More and more Heiner Müller’s formula which at first glance may seem overdramatizing about “the wisdom of the fairy tales, that only at the prize of catastrophe the history of mankind could be separated from the history of the animals (plants, stones, machines)” has assumed an all too realistic meaning. Landscapes are not simple innocent objects of contemplation, as we may imagine when we start to contemplate the question of landscape. They are, on the contrary, highly charged with signification, they carry manifold meanings, they offer themselves to all kinds of reading. They can be and have been considered – above all in painterly tradition – as sublime, heroic, idyllic, beautiful, arcadic, romantic and so forth. On the other hand, landscape as an object of attention and reflection did for centuries not exist at all. It is no earler than in the time of the Renaissance that we observe the development of a sensibility for the natural landscape in itself as an object with an aesthetic value and as an object of human interest. Before this turn and often even until the 18th century all literary sources we know of presented landscape in completely stereotyped ways. The beautiful landscape for example (locus amoenus: the lovely, pleasant, delightful place) was a strictly coded topos. Since antiquity, we find this topos throughout the middle ages with invariably the identical elements: a small river, a green flowered meadow, sun, trees, and shadow. Likewise, the heroic or sublime landscape had its rules and indispensable elements. Contemporary research has shown that even the famous narrative of Petrarca about his climbing of the highest mountain in the Provence, “windy” Mont Ventoux in 1336 – a description which was taken until recent times as the first example of a subjective, spontaneous experience of nature – was in fact by no means a personal experience. Rather it was completely coded from the beginning to the end by literary models. Having arrived at the top, the poet immediately resorts to the ’confessions’ of Augustine and immediately encounters a passage in the book, which warns that enthusiasm for nature distracts man from that which alone counts: the inwardness of the soul.

In order to approach one aspect only, that is: the manifold and intricate, partly obvious partly hidden and secretive relations between landscape and theatre as a site, as an architecture, as a space and as a performance, I propose the following distinctions which would be possible chapters of a full length study of this subject. First you find the conspicuous presence of the surrounding landscape in the setup and structure of theatre buildings – this is the case for example of the ancient Greek theatres. The second aspect is the attempt to create on the modern and postmodern theatre stage an equivalent of the real landscape – be it in a realistic set, for example in the mise-en-scenes de Stanislavsky or be it in an abstract composition of light, space and sound, as in the postdramatic theatre of Robert Wilson. Chapter three would cover the natural landscape as a theatre/performance in itself. You may think here of the short period of the cherry blossom in Japan which each year is greeted by huge crowds as a real performance of nature. The latest development consists of practices which try to realize a radical abolishment of any distinction between the theatrical and the natural space, as well as the disappearance of the clear cut separation between beholder and performer. Now the simple act of walking through the landscape may be thought of and “staged” as a theatre experience in its own right.

Susanne Næss Nielsen


In Greek antiquity, it is obvious that the architectural theatre space proper functions as a part of a wider landscape, it is part of a natural environment. The theatre construction and the surrounding landscape formed a reality which carried deep and rich meaning for all participants of the theatre event. On one side the Polis/city on the other the port of Piraeus, the sky above, the sun and the surrounding space where the Gods dwell and observe the actions of the heroes as well as the spectacle itself. The landscape is intimately connected to the deeper meaning of the plays and is quite often directly mentioned and even addressed by the performers. The grades of the theatron function more or less like the slope of a valley from which the audience has a good view on the performers down there in the orchestra and on the proskenion. The audience forms an essential part of the performance. Whoever has made the experience of sitting in one of the lower ranks of an ancient theatre and, turning around, becomes aware of this enormous rising wall formed by human bodies may have understood with some awe the power of the human presence which the actor was confronted with on the ancient stage.

In the middle ages the theatre is again intimately bound up with its surrounding environment. Here, the building of the church itself, the square in front of the church, the market place, the streets can be thought of as an urban environment: a landscape. This space of an urban architecture is connected to the “processional space” of the religious and the urban community5. The people, the theatre, and the surroundings are united in an urban landscape as a ritual space.

Shakespeare is deeply rooted in the Renaissance and specifically Elizabethan image of the world as a cosmic totality where all levels of reality are interrelated. Each thing refers, mirrors, doubles, parodies the other – relation and similarity are everywhere. The human face and eyes mirror the stars, the natural generation is paralleled by the succession of political dynasties; thunderstorms, meteorites or eclipse of sun or moon relate as exceptional phenomena to exceptionally bloody historical events. Thus, the times of natural and supernatural forces and the time of human history are intimately interwoven. The human being exists in an imaginary landscape where the time of the living, the time of the dead, the time rhythms of nature, societies, dynasties are all bound together. The acts of human beings in Shakespearean drama are therefore not only connected to, but part of a landscape of manifold forces, visible and invisible realities or dimensions of the world. We may say that human acting stands here within the framework of natural history, in a landscape of natural, historical, political dimensions.

The dancers after work

Susanne Næss Nielsen

In the Renaissance theatre moves into the houses. This is obviously a turning point and a deep cesura in the history of theatre. And some may claim, that the loss of the direct, visible connection to its natural environment was a major misfortune which happened to the art of theatre. However, at the Globe and some other places theatre continues to be played in the open air which gives a possibility for weather conditions to become or remain part of the theatre experience. The presence of sky, fog, clouds, rain comes into play. If we agree on the fact that in Elizabethan and particularly in Shakespearean theatre what we call the modern subjectivity is, so to speak, born, then it is probably not by chance that the first articulation of the modern subject happens where the human being is experiencing the changing weather conditions. The modern ego is meteorological, the psychology as well as the dramaturgy of the Elizabethan stage is essentially meteorological. Think only of King Lear’s tempest, Macbeth’ midnight, Hamlet’s dawn, or the sun beaten high noon of Antony and Cleopatra.

In the following centuries, the relation between drama and landscape took a variety of forms. Walter Benjamin posited that the German baroque tragedy presented human actions in history as a kind of natural history („Naturgeschichte“). He named the protestant dramas of the 17th century ’Trauerspiel’ (often translated as “German tragic drama”) – in order to mark the abyss which separates them in his view from classic Greek tragedy. In the Trauerspiel the historical actions of the inhabitants of the court – kings, plotters, counsellors, and so forth – appear as practically undistinguishable from the doings of animals in nature when they struggle for their life against each other. The objectives of power, influence, self-preservation, attack and defence, appear devoid of any moral or ethical considerations. When a traitor plans to forsake his king, who is in trouble, he thus may argue simply ‘You get out of the way of trees which are about to fall.” The moral problem vanishes in the allegorical reference to the natural process. The history of a natural landscape – the fighting and death of animals, but also the ’wars’ of stone, heat, and water against each other – are no different from human conflict, the fall of princes, the death of enemies. For this melancholic picture, baroque theology provided a certain base as it saw mankind after the fall in a morally rotten, completely sinful world.

Dance of Cloudberries – “Painting the Landscape

Susanne Næss Nielsen

This world was represented on the stages of the protestant drama by a hyperbolic wealth of symbols, signs, allegorical devices, signifying again and again futility, vanitas, mortality, finitude, as well as the emblems of worldly sovereignty. Thus, the stage was less a place and scene of human actions but it was transformed into a landscape of signs, a place to be contemplated. The stage was a ’Schauplatz’, that is: a place to behold as allegory of the power of God and the frailty of human life in the state of sin, and as a constant memento mori. The stage thus functions as in much visual art of the time: as an allegorical landscape which is readable as an image of the fallen nature of the world – readable, but often precisely as unreadable, enigmatic. The human actors experience their downfall in the unfolding of an unintelligible divine providence, which points toward the end of the world willed by God. While in Shakespeare there was – in spite of its narrow limitations – a place and a part of human agency in the world, here it is all, if you allow a little simplification, about the will of God. No human act of worth is possible in this world of sin but to display a certain Constantia in the face of the world – and the compensatory pleasure of melancholic meditation diving deep into the abyss of allegorical meanings and riddles. In French classicist drama of Racine and Corneille, on the other hand, we find that the poetic theory of the time did hardly allow for any concrete presence of worldly realities on the stage at all. In the extreme height of abstraction and stylization of the tragédie classique we find a purely human drama in pure dialogue. Time operates here essentially on the model of linearity, even if in this line more an unfolding of dramatic givens is displayed than a linear progression of action. There are only sudden moments where images of landscape appear but they remain exceptions from the rules of classicist poetics. In pure drama like this the interconnection between human beings and their surrounding landscape all but disappears. We can skip the 18th and 19th century which saw a theatre nearly exclusively concentrated on human and humanist drama where everything seems to spring from the inner soul and will of the protagonists. While ancient Greek theatre and in different modes also the theatre of Renaissance and Baroque had placed the human subject in a cosmic landscape of forces and influences, the purely dramatic model reduces the landscape in order to isolate the agency of the human agent. It is interesting to note that this happens in the same time when aesthetics and visual art develop notions of the grotesque, the uncanny and the sublime with special emphasis on the landscape.

It is modernity with the crisis of the dramatic model around 1900 that allows the landscape to make a comeback as new concepts of theatre and new insights into the dubiousness of human agency emerge. Thus, for example Craig, Artaud, the Surrealists, or Gertrude Stein break open in different ways the narrow frame of the purely human/humanist concept of drama. In the crisis of dramatic representation around 1900 the stage develops into an autonomous space. Early and radically Gertrude Stein posited the idea of what she termed ’landscape play’ which should not rest on succession of events, identifiable stage characters and dramatic tension. Instead the play was to be presented to the spectator like a landscape in which he or she may stroll about. Richard Foreman and above all Robert Wilson were inspired by Stein in the 1960s and 70s and brought her radical impulses into their postdramatic theatre. The newly acquired autonomy of staging brought about an increasing number of reflections and practices on the deep relation between stage and landscape. Ellinor Fuchs used the formula of a “new pastoral” for works like those of Robert Wilson.

While on the visual level stages turned to become autonomous spaces to contemplate: landscapes, a parallel movement happened on the textual level. To the extent that the text became in the sense of Artaud a reality beyond and outside of a signifying structure also the text consisting of sounds, rhythm, words and intonation could be considered in the tradition of Gertrude Stein as a textual landscape.

Fryholmen beacon in yellow mist

Norsk landskapsteater


Bertolt Brecht admired – as a poet – the water (Poetically, not factually as testimonies tell us: he was not at all as fond of taking a bath in the sea as the early poems of his youth might suggest). In his early poetry, innumerable examples can be found of watery landscapes. I will focus on an example I had a chance to discuss in detail more than thirty years ago. A poem of 1920 with the title Vom ertrunkenen Mädchen (Ballad About the drowned girl) tells us in a very soft, ’poetical’ tone of a drowned girl, drifting down, as the poem says “from the smaller brooks into the larger rivers”:

Ballad of the Drowned Girl (1919)


Once she had drowned and started her slow descent
Down the streams to where the great rivers broaden
Oh, the open sky chant most magnificent
As if it was acting as her body’s guardian


Wreck and duck weed slowly increased her weight
By clasping her in their slimy grip
Through her limbs, the cold blooded fishes played
Creatures and plant life kept on, thus obstructing her last trip


And the sky that same evening, grew dark as smoke
And its stars through the night, kept the brightness still soaring
But it quickly grew clear when dawn now broke to see that she got one further morning


Once her pallid trunk had rotted beyond repair
It happened quite slowly that she gently slipped from God’s thoughts
First with her face, then her hands, right at the last with her hair
Leaving those corpse-choked rivers just one more corpse

Brecht sketches a landscape of water, plants and algae, a grey sky and an opal moon. Such landscapes of rivers, brooks, streams and waters, bushes and undergrowth turn up again and again in the early poems of Brecht at the time when he started writing theatre plays. Images of natural landscapes run high in Brecht’s first drama Baal which he called the “swan song of landscape”. For his new landscape was to be the city. A little later Brecht discovered the modern city as “jungel”, and in the following plays it is the image of the desert which keeps re-appearing – in Die Ausnahme und der Regel (The Exception and the Rule). and in Der Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny).

The poem Ballade of the Drowned Girl goes on to say how the sky gets dark like smoke in the evening, and in the night, keeps together with the stars the light in balance, but in the morning gets lighter so that also for the drowned dead body there may be morning and evening. This poetic nature imagery seems utterly disconnected from all the political turmoil which Brecht – as everybody in those years in Germany – was experiencing on a daily level – revolution, street fighting, beginning of inflation, general insecurity. But only at first glance. For we may remember that Augsburg where Brecht lived in his youth is the city in Germany with the most canals and small water paths. Literally nowhere in the old city of Augsburg do you ever loose the sound of the murmur and roar of those canals, still today. They follow and parallel the streets, thereby creating a strange unity between the city streets and the water landscape. Strangely enough, these canals carry in Augsburg the name ’brooks’ which is unusual. And there are also two larger rivers in and near to Augsburg, the Lech and the Werrach. Thus, the movement of the dead body from the brooks into the larger rivers carries a hint to the city’s net of streets. If we read it with attention the image of the brooks superposes the natural landscape on the artificial landscape of the city, the canals of the industry. Brecht’s father was a capitalist in the paper industry. Thus, the romantic landscape of the brook, the old theatre motif of Ophelia, the moon, the stars, the animals and plants that associate in very friendly and peaceful ways with the dead girl’s body are revealed as a foreground, behind which is shining through the consciousness of the poet of the reality of the industrial town of Augsburg.

The “Lulleli” Ensemble

Norsk Landskapsteater

And more than that: in a typed script of the poem in the Brecht Archive we find the title Vom erschlagenen MadchenX about the slaughtered girl. It can be shown that the text makes a hidden reference to the murder of Rosa Luxemburg which happened only months earlier in 1919. Rosa Luxemburg was knocked dead and thrown into a canal in Berlin. She was a person whom already the young Brecht revered extremely. It is well known that the author always chose a distancing estrangement when dealing with actual political issues – a fantasmagoric Chicago, China, a Japanese No-Play-Setting, Russia, or the 30-year-war in the17th century. We understand that we must consider his use of natural landscape in the same way as a kind of filter through which he placed his observations of burning realities in society. Years before Brecht developed his revolutionary Marxist view of the integration of the individual in the collective his new and very political vision of a subject in and as ’process’ (to use the formula of Julia Kristeva) is articulated by Brecht in the disguise of a poetic landscape with the traditional Ophelia-Motive. Brecht incidentally took it not only from Shakespeare but from Arthur Rimbaud, one of the first poetic heralds of modernity who wrote the epochal statement “Je est un autre.”

Besides the urban reality and the political background there is a third theme in the poetic structure of this watery landscape. It is a poem about forgetting, because it says in the end that “When her pale body had mouldered, it happened that God very slowly gradually forgot her – first her face, than her hands and only ’at the end’ her hair. You see how this image of the hair is crossing the border from the human body again to the water. What the landscape with the drowned girl in the poem Ballade vom ertrunkenen Mädchen is actually about is not the typical expressionist Ophelia-motif but about a new kind of subjectivity. This new subject is no more an individual identity but in constant dissolution of borders, in transformation and in a process of becoming and disappearing.

How can we interpret the presence of the landscape in Brecht’s writing and draw conclusions not only for the understanding of his concept of the subject but also with regard to his theatre practice? Let us say briefly this: the Brechtian stage was to become a space where gestus and a new style of narration demonstrates that the human individual is in fact a ’dividual’ (Dividuum), constantly falling apart and re-organizing in new ways. It was necessary for the articulation of such an image of the human being to show how it is constantly changing, shifting, and reacting to new streams of the Real. Also, the very Nietzschean motif of the necessity and productivity of forgetting stayed with Brecht. The person may be forgotten. But this is also understood as a liberation. The human being learns in the learning plays to deal better with dying by understanding life as a process of constant becoming within the surrounding of a natural and historical-political landscape into which we will dissolve again. The last line of the poem reads:”Dann ward sie Aas in Flüssen mit vielem Aas” (Then she became Aas (carrion) with much other Aas (carrion)“. She becomes – in the German text – literally again letter A with many other A – that is the first letter of the alphabet: the end is the letter of beginning.

In all this we observe the deep-rooted fascination of Brecht with the element of water – with power of water, the power of flexible adaptation, the changing from one form to another, an element which keeps transforming forever. And this is possible because Brecht thinks of the human subject as essentially waterlike: a mere subjectivity without substance. Its most productive side is precisely its lack of identity. It is as impossible to mark specific frontier lines between the Ego and the others as it is to draw an exact frontier between “parages” bodies of water.

“Landscape Painting”

Gro Benjaminsen

Another aspect besides the fluidity is the marginality of the individual person or hero. We understand it better, if we consider the admiration of Brecht for Breughel. One of his famous paintings shows the death of Icarus but the whole canvas is filled with an enormous landscape where you have to pay much attention to even find the very small figure of the mythical hero. Brecht saw this as a confirmation of his own epic strategy which demonstrates that the individual is only at the margin of events.

The de-dramatizing technique of Brecht places the actors in a space which transforms again the theatre space in a space for patient contemplation. The individual assumes the quality of belonging to a certain setting. Real activity does not so much depend on the decisions of heroes (as it may seem at least to be the case in tragedy) but is a function of the social landscape. This position marks (in ways which would need more detailed elaboration) a post-humanist political stance. All these aspects of a certain kind of landscape, widely dominated by the imagery of the water can be read as formative features of Brecht’s theatre in all its aesthetic, technical, ideological and philosophical aspects. If they were taken into account more than is generally done Brecht’s theatre would less easily fall prey to orthodox trivialisations.

In contradistinction to Brecht, Heiner Müller was fascinated not by water but by the stones, the seeming durability and even eternity of the stones, of rocks, gravel, sand. Again, it is worthwhile to take a glance at the poems of the writer. Already in his early poetry we find the comparison of words with stones, which are scattered about the white page like the stones of ruins over the place (editors’ note: Stones of ruins over the place are like “Bilder”, English, Images, in Heiner Müller’s “Mommsens Block”, (1993))

“He who writes with a chisel has no handwriting. The stones don’t lie” we read in the late poem Mommsen’s block (which is about another very special stone – the ‘writer’s block’.) The stones do not lie because they do not pretend an individuality of an author with his own unmistakable handwriting. Writing like a stone and with stones is writing at the edge of silence. Writing about that deeper reality which cannot be said is possible only for a writing in a radically unpersonal way. Reality was something that in Müller’s imagination is essentially again like for Brecht a landscape, but in a very different spirit indeed. We might say that Müller experienced landscape in a more radically postmodern sense as an argument against any anthropocentric temptation. ‘This”, he remarked, ‘is a specifically American experience. … the American magic word is ‘space’, for example the Great Canyon: there we deal with dimensions of landscapes where as an observer you are no longer in the centre.” And at once he makes the connection to his theatre: ‘The conventional theatre, especially the European theatre, is still oriented by the central perspective. But my texts are no longer written out of a central perspective.”

The choir as part of “Landscape Painting”

Gro Benjaminsen

It is well known that the impression of the huge American landscapes Müller received in 1975/76 was essential for the conception of his most famous text Hamletmachine (The Hamlet Machine, 1977). Once you are made aware of it, it becomes obvious that this text is structured like a landscape not like a dramatic narrative. In Müllers view the European ideology marked by the concept of central perspective vanishes in the 19th century. Goya is important for him because Goya’s position is beyond the model of central perspective.

Historical time is nearby replaced by space. Perhaps the most impressive text of Müller in terms of political history as landscape is Der Auftrag (The Commission) written in 1979, after Hamletmachine. Here we find the formula ’war of the landscapes’. Debuisson who is forsaking the revolution asks himself and the others why we humans do not confine our activity just to contemplating the war of the landscapes. There is also the formula about the “landscape which has no other work but to wait for the disappearance of man”. Nobody can fail to feel reminded of the famous dictum of Foucault at the end of Les mots et les choses about the impending disappearance of man who would “vanish like a face in the sand at the seashore”. Bildbeschreibung (Description of a Picture, 1980) is by Müller himself characterized as “a landscape beyond death”. Like in some paintings of Magritte his landscape is static, repetitive, and like stone. As if the gaze of the Meduse had fallen on it.


Gro Benjaminsen

The post-anthropocentric stage has become a wide spread reality. Theatre often transforms the stage into a landcape of text and of visual elements. You may think of many a theatre of installation, for example Heiner Goebbels; of spectators who find themselves placed in landscape environments, theatre as landscape-related durational practice and so forth. The human subject appears in order to be shown as an assemblage of fragments or as a meeting point of influences and energies which constitute beyond all egotistic illusions his/her true being. It would be tempting to read here the landscapes in some of Müller’s late poems and prose poems like Dreamwood and Dreamtext, which take up landscapes from Inferno and Purgatorio (in Dante’s Divina Commedia) in order to describe a transformation of time into space.

What is important is the new accent which the image of the landscapes of stones assumes – and this accent is essential for Müller’s stage poetics. It is not about the presence and continuity of change, like in Brecht. It is – strange enough for a revolutionary mindset – about persistance, and it is – still more strange for a materialist mindset – about nothing less than about resurrection. The landscape of stones is a central metaphor for Müller’s idea of what he called on several occasions the utopia of a ’theatre of resurrection’. Reality as we experience it equals in this view death, provisional eternity of death. But it is loaded with a factor of possible – caesura, if we can agree to call it by its Höderlinian or Ben- jaminian name. In the social reality, we detect a landscape where the moment of radical discontinuity is hidden. This discontinuity is the image of the hidden potential for radical change. The landscape of the subterranean movements, where a hidden energy is ready to explode.

As you see, I insist on the fact that the image of the landscape of stones is not as easy to read as it may seem at first glance. We may have thought that Brechtian landscape of water is full of hope for change, and that Müller’s stones simply indicate a dark pessimism. But this is not true. Certainly, for Brecht hope was in the everflowing change of water: think of the song in Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg

Bertolt Brecht, Schweyk in the Second World War, 1943:

“The stones on the Moldau’s bottom go shifting
In Prague three emperors molder away
The top won’t stay top, for the bottom is lifting
The night has twelve hours and is followed by day”.

Shortly before the final

Gro Benjaminsen

But there are also moments where Brecht speaks of the danger of the post-individual subject to dissolve completely and warns against it. And at times he could compare his own cold way of speaking with a stone who is not moved by the negligible personal problems of his listener. And after all, the day/night image can also be read as a kind of resurrection. At the end of The Mother it is the phrase “And ’never’ becomes even today” which constitutes a figure of radical discontinuity quoting the discontinuity of all discontinuities – the scene and the promise of resurrection of Christ. (”Even today you will be with me in paradise.”)

In Müller’s darker vision there is also a utopian potential. But it has wandered into the phantasmagoria of the seemingly indomitable landscapes like Siberia, the deserts, the American West. Here, he felt, is a border, a limit for the human and that is: the capitalist industrial expansion. Here, something inhuman resists all human effort to conquer all space, transforming it into the time of circulation of goods, money, value. He remembers the delta of the Mississippi where industrial constructions are decaying and eaten up by the swamps and sees here a sign of hope. In Müller the landscape of stones and jungle and desert offers a poetic image for nothing short of the paradox of a provisional eternity – a landscape of waiting, we might say a poet who was called once the Beckett of German Democratic Republic. Even if the stones indicate a landscape beyond change there is still in this landscape an underground rumbling to be noticed, pointing to a discontinuous even messianic interruption or revolution. Müllers version of Benjamin’s angel of history describes how this angel is completely buried by stones – until the moment, the text says, that his wings newly moving under these stones indicate again his new flight.

The Unfortunate Angel 2 (1958)

Inbetween city and city
After the wall of the abyss
Wind on shoulders of strangers
Hand on the lonely meat
I can still hear the angel
But he has no face anymore
Your’s that I will never more have

The final

Susanne Næss Nielsen

Landcapes of stone, landscapes of water – both poetic and theatrical dispositions speak of the condition of a post-humanist reality. Both with different accents, place the human being as identity in question; Müller could say: “In every landscape the I is collective.” And both indicate the necessity of a theatre which is beyond the model of anthropocentric ideology. This is to be learned. And it is to be developed – in unforeseeable postdramatic configurations.

Lehmann, Hans-Thies, Das Postdramatische Theater, Frankfurt am Main: Verlag der Autoren, 1999

Curtius, Ernst Robert, Europäische Literatur und lateinische Mittelalter, Bern und München: Francke Verlag, 1963

Petrarca, Franscesco, Petrarcas Besteigung des Mont Ventoux, The Familiaris IV, I. Roma: Eddizone dell’Ateno. 2006.

Wiles, David. Eine kurze Geschichte des westlichen Aufführungsraums. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Benjamin, Walter, Ed. Karl Maria Guth. Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. Berlin: Hoffenberg Sonderausgabe, 2016

Fuchs, Ellinor. „Play as Landscape: Another Version of Pastoral Theater“, Duke University Press, Lehmann, Hans-Thies, Helmut Lethen (Hrsg.). „Bertolt Brechts Hauspostille: Text und kollektives Lesen“, Brecht lesen, Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag. 1978.

Brecht, Bertolt, Gedichte 1, 1918-1929, 2. Auflage. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1965

Brecht, Bertolt, David Bowie (trans.), The Ballad of the Drowned Girl, girl-lyrics-david-bowie (Zugriff am 19.07.2022)

Rimbaud, Arthur. Lettre du Voyant, 15. mai 1871, (Zugriff am 19.07.2022).

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