Letting Tattered Clothing Sing: Tadeusz Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson
In 1968 in Nuremberg Kantor staged An Anatomy Lesson According to Rembrandt. However, this ‘anatomy’ was not of a cadaver but a dissection of the subject’s clothing—an anatomy of the hidden—of the contents of pockets, the lining and stuffing of fabric. Kantor’s artistic investigation in scientific form referred, via Rembrandt’s 1632 painting, to the idea of the seventeenth-century anatomy theatre: a scientific investigation in theatrical form. Each enacts a quest for knowledge: in art-event, painting or lecture-demonstration. The implicit object of each investigation is the living human subject: a ‘you’ or a ‘me’. Each enquiry can be placed in a historical ontological context—post-Heideggerian, post-Cartesian and post-Aristotelian—in which the self is understood as located in a particular world-view informing an individual’s sense of belonging or anxiety. My discussion examines Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson in relation to these conceptions of the self by tracing his aesthetic of ‘the reality of the lowest rank’ and how it arose out of his personal experience of the Nazi occupation. Viewed from this perspective, Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson can be seen as an ironic enactment of the catastrophic reversal of the hopes inherent in the project of enlightenment. The Nazi application of scientific reason led to some of the worst horrors in history. Implicit in the irony of Kantor’s Lesson is a definition of this horror—the reduction of the human subject to non-human object—the awful realisation of the hidden imperative in the scientific rationalism of Cartesian dualism. In staging this reduction Kantor can be seen to be operating within a Heideggerian conception of the self as the place of negativity, ‘held out over the nothing’, a liminal but precious presence. In the anatomy of clothing and marginal objects, this reconfiguration of Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson prefigures recent post-Heideggerian discourse around the concept of ‘bare life’.
Citation : Leach, M. (2015) Letting Tattered Clothing Sing: Tadeusz Kantor’s Anatomy Lesson. In: Kobialka, M. & Zarzecka, N. (eds.), Tadeusz Kantor’s Memory: Other pasts, other futures, London and Wrocław: Polish Theatre Perspectives: pp. 23–40.
Research Group : Dance Research
Research Institute : Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies
Peer Reviewed : Yes
- School of Arts