The New Intellectual: Celebration of the Individual in the Plays of Gao Xingjian

By Todd Coulter.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Gao Xingjian entered the theatrical world in controversy and has subsequently sought out a means of expression that exceeds traditional boundaries of nation and culture. Working in the interstices of Chinese and French traditions, his plays continue to explore representations of the individual. By his own insistence, Gao’s plays are apolitical; they subscribe to no working system of culture or politics. Originally writing in Beijing, his plays like Chezhan caught the eyes of critics who decried Gao’s radical embracement of individual will. After emigrating from China, he landed in Paris and began to write predominately in French and thus created an new genre of theatre. Through a creative blending of traditional Chinese theatre aesthetics, i.e. jingju and huaju, with an Absurdist sensibility, Gao’s French language plays offer a complicated brand of theatre moving beyond expatriate literature and celebrating the primacy of the individual in a transcultural environment. Using post-structural and semiotic paradigms I explore how Gao champions the individual in his French plays. Ultimately, I argue how in spite of his own protestations Gao in fact is a new brand of intellectual. He is not a talking head for any specific exploited class, but an intellectual for the individual.

Keywords: Gao Xingjian, Globalization, Indentity, Individual, Theatre, China, France, Intellectual

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.83-90. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 605.085KB).

Dr. Todd Coulter

Assistant Professor of Theatre, Department of Theatre, College of Arts and Sciences, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri, USA

Todd has degrees from St. Olaf College (B.A.) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (M.A., Ph.D.). Todd worked extensively with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival as everything from Assistant Director/ Dramaturg, Assistant to the Casting Director, and actor. Before graduate school, he studied in France where he performed everything from Shakespeare, Commedia, and Butoh. Todd’s work as an actor has earned him awards for his role as Prior Walter in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America as well as both the Colorado Theatre Guild and Westword’s award for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for his portrayal of Charles Guiteau in Sondheim’s Assassins. In addition to his acting credits, Todd also directed the American premiere of 2000 Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian’s Chezhan (Bus Stop) and continues to work on translating Gao’s work from French to English. Beyond his onstage interests, Todd has presented extensively at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education on topics ranging from directing to the world drag pageantry. His research interests include representations of the individual and the role of the intellectual in contemporary society.

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