What follows is my abstract for the paper I will present with the “Crossing Borders–Theatre and Cultural Encounters” conference at the University of Helsinki on May 7, 2015:
To Belong Without Belonging: Musical Woyzeck and the Question of Global Genre
How do non-western theatre artists challenge the western cultural hegemony of globalized genres such as the Broadway-style musical? As Jean-Luc Nancy has written, the border between aesthetics and politics is a space where each term is transformed into its other (The Sense of the World, xxvi). But what happens when a minority presence in a global economy functions as the border itself, as the space where aesthetics and politics relativize one another? In order to participate in the global economy of musical theatre production, one South Korean director and producer, Yun Ho Jin, addresses both domestic and international audiences through musicals like The Last Empress and Hero that attempt to universalize specifically Korean narratives. But perhaps responding to criticisms that the nationalistic undercurrents of his previous works contributed to a lack of appeal outside Korea, his latest offering, Musical Woyzeck, reverses this pattern by attempting to universalize the story of Büchner’s modernist drama by referencing specifically Korean concerns. According to his director’s notes, Yun desires “to make a musical out of a more universal story in order to penetrate the world market in earnest”.
Yun’s adaptation is a complex synthesis of the musical theatre tradition with its emphasis on choral performance in contradistinction to the central figure of Woyzeck himself, who stands painfully apart from the community within which he is thoroughly entrenched. Woyzeck, when read as representative of the South Korean nation, himself becomes the mark of “genre”, the space where both belonging and participation transform one into the other, both structuring and cancelling processes of categorization. Derrida writes, “The re-mark of belonging does not belong. It belongs without belonging….” (“The Law of Genre” 65). The mark of recognition within a global genre comes with the high cost of participation without belonging. Yun’s Muscial Woyzeck is a direct challenge to the western cultural hegemony within the global economy of musical theatre, which is also a challenge to a prevailing “sense of the world” which fails to recognize that the margin not only stands at but is a border itself.