Under the Influence

Impulse Theater Biennial 2013 shows outstanding works from the German-speaking independent theater scene. Or more precisely: the independent theater scene in the German-speaking world. But what does it mean if we take this task seriously? What are the reasons for this delimitation, what are the consequences? Do the cultural, social, or even just the financial conditions in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria really produce a different kind of art than, for instance, in France or Spain? And further: Who is German? Those who speak German? Those who live in Germany? Those who make their theater in Germany?

What belongs, where the borders lie, where the country starts and where it ends; for two centuries this has been considered “The German Question.” And what began with particularism, then burst into delusions of grandeur and coalesced once again in a different form has now merged into another question: the European one. And once again it is a matter of where the borders lie, where the area begins and where it ends. Of how to keep it cohesive. And of what remains of Germany. What should remain. And what not.

In 2013 Impulse takes off from these reflections in order to reassess our own conditions. The question of cultural identity, geopolitical inclusions and exclusions, the role of language and the social, but also financial, contexts is mostly a larger question: What is the local value of national identities – what value should they have in a Europe, in a world given over to rapid, seemingly uncontrollable developments? And: how are these identities formed, what use do they serve? What utopia and what answers can we ourselves develop? Actively and not just because we are pushed to do so?

German law is still based on biological origin above all; the parents’ passport is what primarily decides the citizenship of the child. Other models, for example in the USA, foreground the place of birth. In both cases, however, it is still clear that the word nation comes from the latin natio and is determined by birth. While post-national thinking was still in vogue a few years ago, the concept of nation – essentially an invention of the 18th and 19th centuries – has come back in full force.

Culture and language often find their boundaries at the official borders, and cultural politics is still also geopolitics, be it through cultural institutes affiliated with foreign ministries, be it through financial support structures, but also through national theaters and museums. For many, it seems that one’s own cultural identity is threatened by the cultural identity of others. Books such as Thilo Sarrazin’s ”Germany Is Abolishing Itself” – at nearly 1.5 million copies the best-selling non-fiction book since the end of the Second World War – testify to the fear that minorities might be able to define us. The possible demise of one’s own culture becomes a politically useful scenario of threat.

Nonetheless, there are ways of passing things down in a culture that go well beyond the relatively short history of national states. These show regional continuities at the level of language, which have identity-forming effects over generations. While on the one hand cultural identity is formed by emigration and immigration, by the most various influences, in examinations of the phylogenetics of language it has been shown that beneath the level of word modification, languages remain related to one another over extremely long periods of time, even though it may not be possible to hear the relation in them any more.

Alongside this runs the current claim of poets and thinkers: Some things can only be said in German, or in English, Turkish, Russian, or even in the dialect of a dead language. Do cultures have particular grammars, does cultural expression have its own meter, carved out of a particular cultural space – a structure that could also be detected in non-language-based artworks, in choreography, photos, paintings, installations, compositions? Do we take the side of threatened languages – or do we dream of a new Esperanto, even if it is only the limited international English that is being used in more and more theatrical works as a rudimentary lingua franca?

When Johann Gottlieb Ficchte held his ”Addresses to the German Nation” at the beginning of the 19th century, it was a challenge to the French occupation. Today the dependencies are more difficult to see through and real political change seems to be forestalled by a pan-European or even global clientelism. Perhaps what we need is not so much a narration of history as an archeology of clientelism in Germany. A meticulous laying bare of the layers of the obligations that stand in the way of a democratic solution, also to the financial problems of our time. In the end, everyone is under influence, or at least under suspicion.

Using the example of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Impulse Theater Biennial 2013 will concretely discuss the influences that come from all sides, marking what will later be perceived as an authentic sense of Heimat. Bonds and obligations, narratives and nations, diaspora and land grabs – what do these concepts mean today? What influences contribute to the typical German (Austrian, Swiss) feeling, or more generally to the feeling of a cultural identity, belongingness, rootedness? Impulse Theater Biennial 2013 is posing the German question once again – and thus the question of one’s own territorial logic of selection. And the festival, which itself is influenced, will show theater, dance, art, and theory under the influence. Over ten days, in four cities, in various languages and aesthetics.