I am back from the Symposium Japanese Theatre Transcultural: German and Italian Perspectives held in Trier University in collaboration with Università Cà Foscari, Venice 27-29 November 2009. Thanks to a wonderful organisation and to the good-will of a good number of students from the Japanologie department (from Germany, Belgium, Japan, etc) the conference was a success and all participants were satisfied with the fruitful discussions on the theme of the encounter of Japanese theatre with Italy and Germany. Organisers Andreas Regelsberg and Stanca Scholz-Cionca did a great job, indeed.
Germany boasts a huge tradition both in Japanese studies and in theatre studies: it is very much interesting to attend conferences outside the anglo-saxon environment and notice so many differences in style and scholarly approach. Any international student working in the UK knows well how British research tends to be critical-theory oriented, sometimes to the extreme: PhD students are now sorted by ‘who they use’ (be it Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, Bourdieu, etc.) rather then what they write about. It is almost impossible to write a paper without at least one or two references to post-modern philosophers, whose theories are often inappropriately borrowed and abused. Theory for theory’s sake. For people like me, coming from a different academic background, it is hard to cope with what over here sometimes seems as the only possible way of academic enquiry. I have heard similar comments from students from France, Hong Kong, Greece, Germany, Japan, etc. It goes without saying that critical theories offer transversal perspectives necessary for the development of a thesis. However, the oversimplification and labelling of modern philosopher has created a division between ‘primary sources’ on one hand, and ‘academic tools’ on the other. Not to mention the fact that ‘acceptable’ critical perspectives only come from recent and mostly, of course, Western philosophy.
The most interesting aspect of the symposium was the combination of papers by scholars and practitioners – if this is rather common in UK and USA, in Germany and Italy it is still rare. This has been a successful attempt at an attempt at bridging the fictional gap between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ as well as between ‘Japan’ and ‘the West. There is so much to learn from the language of the practitioner, so different from that of the onlooker. Practice is all that theatre is about, after all. We are all looking forward for this to happen again.