Altered Pasts: Mimesis/Diegesis in Counterfactual Stage Worlds


  • Malgorzata Sugiera Jagiellonian University in Krakow



The main goal of the article is to investigate the dialogical relationship between mimesis and diegesis in contemporary counterfactual stage worlds since the mid-1980s. It focuses on an extensive analysis of the ways of subverting the spectators’ understanding of historical facts and their plausible artistic representation. That, in consequence, affects both the participants’ individual experience and its theoretical modelling, which is no longer possible without taking into consideration the corporeality of experience (time, place, and bodies of the audience). To illuminate today’s understanding of the intersection of contemporary theatre and performance with counterfactualism, three case studies have been chosen and analyzed as representative examples of different trends in challenging the ability of theatre to plausibly represent the conditions and ramifications of past periods and actions. The article starts with a close look at two contemporary historical plays: Hélène Cixous’s L’Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge (1985) and Suzan-Lori Parks’ The America Play (1994). The first one asks the important questions about human agency within history and truth claims of history stage representations based on the assumption of causality, insisting on past’s contingency. The second one makes visible and reflects upon the forms through which we engage the past, get access to the specific, material details of historical experience. What follows is an indepth analysis of MS 101 (ArtBoom Festival, Cracow 2015), a site-specific performance by the Polish performer and filmmaker Karol Radziszewski, clearly conceived as an experiment with counterfactual and mockumentary strategies. It premièred in the space where the real and the fictional events took place in order to gain a new vantage point on the past through friction between them, one that is inaccessible through other means. This vantage point is, then, used in a broader context of Bruno Latour’s concept of circulating references to theoretically access the relation of mimesis and diegesis in counterfactual stage worlds, built upon an active experience of the audience, and to formulate new research questions that arise as a result of this approach.

Author Biography

Malgorzata Sugiera, Jagiellonian University in Krakow

Full Professor and Head of the Performativity Studies at the Jagiellonian University






Monographic Section