Professor Simon Piasecki delivers Inaugural Professorial LectureThursday 14 May 2015
Professor Simon Piasecki took the audience on a journey through eighteenth century philosophical texts, the Argentine Tango and contemporary television drama during his Inaugural Professorial Lecture.
Welcoming the audience, Professor Piasecki said that he hoped his lecture would also provide a 'cartography' of the department in which he works – the Department of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies.
Professor Piasecki discussed the different arguments put forward by philosophers regarding how humans react to times of crisis. He also examined eighteenth century philosopher and political economist Adam Smith’s use of the term ‘loveliness’ in opposition to Ayn Rand’s work Atlas Shrugged, in which, Professor Piasecki argued, none of the antagonists have virtue.
He then went on to reference Les Miserables, the Theatre of the Oppressed championed by Augusto Boal, and Tagore’s play The Post Office, which in 1942 was performed by a group of Polish Orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto before they were marched off to their murder in Treblinka .Moving on to the film Schindler’s List, Professor Piasecki discussed the concept of binary terror in theatre and how something that looks beautiful can also generate guilt in the audience member.
Professor Piasecki made the case for drama as a place where “iterations of the self and other,” particularly against backdrops of crisis and conflict, can be explored.
He also discussed how the audience is ultimately complicit in any performance it watches, saying that whilst they may be silent, they are still “participating in the testing of moral boundaries,” placing themselves in others’ shoes and also being given space to both empathise and sympathise.
Professor Piasecki then went on to discuss the concept of the journey in theatre, narrative and television. He stated that whilst it is often used to depict a revelation, in the television drama The Walking Dead, the journey is where hopes are dashed and morality comes into question. Professor Piasecki drew particular attention to a scene which can be read as a subversion of The Good Samaritan, and questioned exactly who are the ‘walking dead’ referred to in the title.
Discussing the need for a community of belonging that can be fostered through drama, Professor Piasecki championed drama’s ability to form new shared spaces of community rather than difference.
Professor Piasecki stated that “the most basic function of theatre has to be to question morality.”