The Origin of Theater and the Birth of Ghosts

Table of Contents

At the conclusion of the three-day seminar in Toga, Hiroki Azuma, the convener of the seminar, held a symposium with Masachi Osawa and Atsushi Sasaki. Consistent with the seminar’s theme of “Representing the Ghostly Body,” the three discussed representations of ghosts in theater and film and their social significance. The symposium began with short presentations by the three participants, followed by a discussion between the presenters and a question and answer session.
Sasaki argued that methods of representing ghosts differ depending on the medium and cited the example of Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who uses visual effects to depict ghosts. He also discussed the theater of Tadashi Suzuki, in which live actors play the part of nonexistent ghosts using the unique method of sliding feet or suriashi.
Osawa argued that the origins of theater and dance can be traced to the advent of upright bipedalism and the routine use of fire, which made humans conscious of darkness. He also introduced Jacques Derrida’s interest in the issue of the temporality of salvation, along with Derrida’s insistence on the importance of retaining the idea of salvation as something “yet to arrive.” Theater and dance are means of making that which is yet to arrive appear before the eye.
Azuma referenced Derrida’s 1993 work Specters of Marx in observing that Derrida explored the idea of ghosts from the perspectives of technology, politics, and time. He then argued that disconnects in time are crucial to the appearance of ghosts, and that one cannot sense the ghostly in a society in which connections take place in real time through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Furthermore, he argued that the kata that appears in theater and the arts enables the insertion of the past into the temporality of real time.
During the discussion period, the presenters used Freud’s idea of the uncanny as a point of departure in exploring the uncanniness of ghosts and robots. According to Freud, people experience an uncanny feeling when they confront something that is at the same time both far different from oneself and somehow familiar. Apichatpong’s films precisely depict this familiarity of ghosts.
At the end of the question and answer portion of the event, a participant suggested that sound is ghostly in its ability to move through matter. Sasaki replied that sounds are essentially vibrations and are thus actual rather than ghostly. To this comment, Azuma responded that “sound and tactile sensibility have been a hidden theme throughout the seminar, beginning with the performance of Tadashi Suzuki and the presentation of Kazuki Umezawa on the first day.” The three-day seminar concluded with the acknowledgment of the need to further explore the relation between ghosts and sound.