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Thinking Through Tragedy and Comedy A Symposium on Performance Philosophy and the Future of Genre

Hans-Thies Lehmann



As one of the pre-eminent German theatre scholars, Hans-Thies Lehmann’s revisions and innovations of theories of theatre and performance have gained wide acclaim beyond the German-speaking context. His pivotal Postdramatic Theatre (Routledge 2006, German 1999), translated into more than 20 languages, has been instrumental in thinking contemporary theatre and performance practices beyond texts and textuality. Lehmann’s approach champions instead the phenomenology of performance that responds to and is embedded into cultures of mediatisation. His book also established the term of the postdramatic as a concept that has entered the general vocabulary of scholars and artists alike. Lehmann’s expansive interdisciplinary scope conjoins Continental Philosophy, contemporary culture, theatre, film and media theory and allows his work to reach a wide audience.

A student of Peter Szondi’s, Lehmann has engaged with the question of genre and the aesthetics and politics of modern drama more generally, particularly in his insightful writings on Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Müller. Likewise, tragedy has been a topic that he has tackled throughout his prolific scholarly career, distinguishing between the conflict model based within the confines of dramatic plot and the transgressive model, which explores tragedy as a playful exploration of liminality and excess independent of dramatic frames. In his comprehensive new study Tragödie und Dramatisches Theater (Alexander Verlag 2013; forthcoming in the English translation as Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre, with Routledge), Lehmann fuses his arguments about tragedy into a comprehensive aesthetic theory that navigates the full scale of theatre history. Here, he considers drama to be only a passing mode of tragedy and champions the postdramatic expression of tragedy as a testing ground for the borders between praxis and play.

A Professor Emeritus of Theatre Studies at the Goethe University Frankfurt/Main, Lehmann has held numerous Visiting Professorships in Europe as well as the U.S. and was, until recently, President of the International Brecht Society. Together with Andrzej Wirth Lehmann set up the Department of Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen in the 1980s, which boasts graduates that have shaped the theatre scene in Germany (e.g. René Pollesch, Rimini Protokoll) as well as internationally (e.g. Frank Hentschker at the CUNY Graduate Center). In addition to his theoretical writing, Lehmann works as a dramaturge, devising both his own stage projects as well as collaborating with renowned directors from around the globe.