Turn of an Era

Editorial: Performative Arts and the Turn of an Era

By Nicole Haitzinger, Julia Ostwald

In 2007 at the latest, the term crisis has gained global and cumulative significance: at first with the financial crisis, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, the climate crisis, and eventually the pandemic Covid-19 crisis since 2020, the word has become a paradigm for describing the present. Etymologically, the word stems from ancient Greek and means ‘judgement’ or ‘decision’.


“Derived from ‘krino’, parting, selecting, deciding, gauging: medially to compete, match, fight, ‘crisis’ aimed at a final, irrevocable decision. The term implied acute alternatives no longer allowing for revision: success or failure, right or wrong, life or death, and lastly redemption or damnation.”[1]


Reinhart Koselleck interprets the term in four contexts of antique thought: fight of powers (Persian wars), in medicine (Hippocratic school), in politics (safeguarding of the law) and in theology (divine judgement). Remarkably, antique theatre as an institution of crisis par excellence is not named here. But on stage especially, critical situations are dramatically fathomed and aestheticised exponentially as a recurring constant of (humanised) existence, the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides are situated at the crossroads of power struggle, injury, law, and belief.


No crisis, no theatre?

In Greek thinking, the crisis is bound to the body, be it in battle or in sickness, in the execution of jurisdiction, or in the Last Judgement: injury and death are possible and threatening consequences when alternatives fail. It is not by chance that in conceptual history the corpus metaphoric from medical discourse is transferred to states, until eventually the term becomes so independent that at the beginning of the 18th century its reference to illness is only apostrophised as a metaphor. As opposed to the current tendency of inflationary use of the word and in the face of the manifold perceived crisis of Europe, philosophy - among others Giorgio Agamben – accentuates the original body-related meaning of the word and the necessary decision regarding existential issues connected with it.[2] According to Agamben, the crisis is paradoxically put into its own service, the service of the crisis itself, without making decisions for wounded Europe in danger of death. The crisis meets Europe, which as a body has been spelled out in a double sense. It is the eponymous mythological figure of the continent and the landscape, the body of Europa that according to the myth became ‘another cape’[3] after being forcibly abducted from Phoenicia by Zeus in the shape of a bull; both are brought to mind by contemporary philosophy and theatre.[4] In his epochal short text The Other Cape Derrida, impregnated by the political upheavals of the year 1989, points out that the ideational realisation and reflection of the cultural identity of Europe has to be conceived as a capital discourse in more than one sense, inseparably intertwined with crisis and a “decision kept in abeyance”.[5]


Turned times

The symptoms of the crisis have reached a high degree of intensity – so high that they are construed to be irreversible: this is what the right-wing nationalist political alliance builds its moribund anti-European discourse on. But what does history teach us? What do philosophy, political theory, and theatre, too, vehemently remind us of? Doubtless Europe is in a crisis: but in the true meaning of the word this means that firstly, everything in this critical situation is in abeyance, everything is possible[6]; and secondly, which is where our project comes in, that decisions are necessary.


In the context of the current war in Ukraine and the world-wide repercussions connected with it, the term ‘turn of an era’ has often come up, indicating a shift in the metaphor of crisis. Contrary to crisis, the turn of an era in its etymological sense of “turning (oneself) over, returning, changing”, of “winding” and “swivelling”[7] indicates a moment in history when concepts of a teleologically progressing time are abruptly suspended. Rather, the tumbling of time implicates conflicting moving directions which for instance create a temporarily disorientated space between times, or the collective experience of a simultaneity of different times, a recurrence of history. In the course of the ‘Wende’ (the short German term for the fall of the Berlin Wall) in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, Derrida in Marx’ Gespenster uses Hamlet’s words “the time is out of joint” in order to point out the fundamental non-simultaneity of the present, which in moments of time – and with it the world – coming apart at the seams become especially perceptible. Derrida characterises time off kilter as being haunted by the spectres of the past, the future, and the present,[8] which due to their plural directions create disorientation, yet as for Hamlet imply decisions and change in the near future:

“Flight path without cape and without insurance, necessarily. Flight path of a precipitancy in whose direction the question we are asked here under or in the name of justice trembles, vibrates, on which it simultaneously orientates and disorientates.”[9]

This indicates a change of paradigm from the omnipresent discourse of the recent past's crisis to that of the turn of an era: abstract talk about the crisis, keeping itself suspended in indecision and addressing the multiple schisms of Europe metaphorically, in the face of the daily growing concrete ruins of the war forces decisions in the sense of a turnaround. The turn as an end of the crisis as a metaphor implies movement, and not least puts the (threatened) turning body, the body that turns towards or away, back in focus.


Current scenes: stages and ruins

Historically, regions of present-day Ukraine – especially Galicia – are closely intertwined with the Habsburg Monarchy.[10] Besides vicissitudinous political entanglements, both are also connected by an intensive artistical exchange which ended at the latest with the erection of the Iron Curtain. Before the backdrop of these historical references and the current turn of the era which puts Ukraine at the centre of world affairs, Vienna appears to be charged with a spezific ethical responsibility. We understand asking about the performative arts in Europe in ‘times of turning’ as a kind of solidarity based on our common history that yet was rich in differences. Therefore, it was very important for us to work together with the Ukrainian theatre-maker and young scientist Ielizaveta Oliinyk as ‘writer in residence’ who from June 2022 until January 2023 made a documentary gesture of assembling texts and images for us. The fragments gathered together by her blend personal observations and experiences in everyday life with bigger initiatives in art and civil society.

At the same time, we wanted to give access to voices from Russia like that of Oleg Soulimenko, who has been familiar and important to the Corpus collective for years, or that of Anastassia Patlay, author and director of the Muscovite teatr.doc, who lives in exile. All the texts published here share the basis of the experience of a changeful, unstable recent history (Ukrainian and Balkan Wars) and historically fluctuating border politics in Europe.


At first apparently fortuitous yet significant for the project was the fact that even the initial step of making contact with potential authors and communication via e-mail lost their implicitness. Blocked and lost messages that reached their adressees late or never seemed to make the trenches of time and re-drawn borderlines visible even in digital space and at the same time to stress the necessity of finding alternative ways of exchange. Writing in literally martial times – be it actually near the front (Ielizaveta Oliinyk, Vasyl Cherepanyn), be it in exile (Anastasia Patlay, Oleg Soulimenko), in the (not too far) distance and confronted with the smaller and larger geopolitical effects (Petja Mladenova, Helmut Ploebst), or as a warning reminding us of the robbed future in the context of the Yugoslav disintegration wars of the 1990ies (Dada Vujasinovic) – brings forth text types that the intellectual (art) discourse has become less familiar with: anger, rage, sadness, bewilderment, helplessnes partly influence the performative acts of writing of our authors; authors from different contexts and cultures, who meet here in a time when Europe has become a theatre of war once more.


Vienna, February 2023

Nicole Haitzinger and Julia Ostwald



  1. ^ Koselleck, Reinhart: “Einige Fragen an die Begriffsgeschichte von ‘Krise’”, in: Koselleck, Reinhart: Begriffsgeschichten. Studien zu Semantik und Pragmatik der politischen und sozialen Sprache. Frankfurt am Main 2006. P. 203–217, here: 203–204.
  2. ^ Cf. Agamben, Giorgio: “Europa muss kollabieren.” Online under: https://www.zeit.de/2015/35/giorgio-agamben-philosoph-europa-oekonomie-kapitalismus-ausstieg [last accessed 2022-12-06]. 
  3. ^ Cf. Derrida, Jacques: “Das andere Kap (1991).” In: Delschen, Karl Heinrich; Gieraths, Jochem: Europa – Krise und Selbstverständigung. Berlin 2009. P. 225–252. Derrida unearths the meanings of cape with numerous implications: cape as title, as head, as goal, pinnacle, point, in relation with aviation and navigation (captain, heading for, piloting), see p. 229.
  4. ^ Cf. Haitzinger, Nicole; Lange, Stella (eds.): Europe’s Staging – Staging Europe. Themenheft. In: Forum Modernes Theater 31(2). Tübingen 2020.
  5. ^ Derrida, “Das andere Kap”, p. 235. 
  6. ^ [6] “In any case, it is true that the question remains open whether this mixtum compositum of national singularities and supranational unity Europe continues to represent, will develop as such.” Balibar, Étienne: Europa. Krise und Ende? Münster 2016, p. 229.
  7. ^ Pfeifer, Wolfgang (Hg.): Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen, München 1999, P. 1555–1556. 
  8. ^ Derrida, Jacques: Marx’ Gespenster. Der Staat der Schuld, die Trauerarbeit und die neue Internationale, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 12–13. “Being just: beyond our living present in general - and beyond its simple, negative flip side. Spooky moment, a moment that no longer belongs to time, if by time one understands the nexus of modalised presents (past present, current present:‘now’, future present).”
  9. ^ Derrida, Marx’ Gespenster, p. 46.
  10. ^ See among others Haid, Elisabeth; Weismann, Stephanie; Wöller, Burkhard (eds.): Galizien. Peripherie der Moderne – Moderne der Peripherie?, Marburg 2013.