Deconstructing Turning Points. A postscript on the canonization of the avant-garde 1900


  • Willmar Sauter Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University



Historiography, periodization, modernism, avant-garde, development, archive, sources, Postlewait, Derrida


Deconstructing Turning Points is an attempt to understand why and how the period around the turn of the nineteenth century has been described as a “breakthrough of modern theatre”. Texts by Gösta M. Bergman, Christopher Innes and Erika Fischer-Lichte about this period are examined in order to see how these authors construct periodization. Leaning towards Thomas Postlewait’s concept of periods and Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive approach to discourse, the article points out some paradigmatic assumptions in the discussed texts. The three authors are not compared – writing in different languages and for different purposes – but some of the underlying paradigms become visible, namely their relation to historical development and their view of theatre as the work of the director. As an alternative, the article turns to archival possibilities. New concepts of what an archive is and can do, as Derrida sees them, open up for a living and challenging relation to archival sources, not just as evidence of prefabricated hypotheses, but as inspiring traces of the past.

Author Biography

Willmar Sauter, Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University

Willmar Sauter is professor emeritus of Theatre Studies at Stockholm University. He has written about theatre history from the Bronze Age to digital performance. His latest book in this field is The Theatre of Drottningholm – Then and Now (2014, with David Wiles). Based on empirical audience and reception studies (Teaterögon 1986, Shylock 2010, with Yael Feiler) he has developed a holistic concept of theatre, published in The Theatrical Event (2000) and Eventness (2008). He has served the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) as president and Stockholm University as Dean. He is presently participating in various historical projects and working groups.


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How to Cite

Sauter, W. (2018). Deconstructing Turning Points. A postscript on the canonization of the avant-garde 1900. Nordic Theatre Studies, 29(1), 162–180.