What mankind needs most is a destiny, and politics becomes poetic when it opens up new potentialities, especially for those whose destiny was denied. But what will satisfy our need for a private, inner, and secret destiny? Poetics become political when they act on desire, transform it, give it form, and make it legitimate, enviable, and possible.
That’s what Culture should be, not a great, nostalgic museum of memory, but the place where possibilities can arise. Spectators should be feeling new and prophetic forces growing within themselves as they applaud a performance. Ideally, we should leave the theatre thinking that tomorrow will be different, that it will be the first day of the second part of our life, because our desire has been transformed, because our need for a more dignified, more just, and more open life has been confirmed.
The truth of a spectacular work of art appears the day after, or the day after that; it can decline and disappear, but it can also grow, create a desire for a larger existence, accompany us during our entire life, support us during our struggles, and bolster new dreams. Thus it all begins with a performance, and we belong to this beginning of everything much more than we belong to our anxieties.
It has often been said, and rightly so, that the Festival is a utopia. One would need to add that it is a utopia that becomes real every year through its experience. Since its inception, it has been a utopia which invites other utopias, artistic of course but also intellectual, political, and social. This utopia isn’t limited to the construction, for a month, of a magic city all dedicated to art and thought, but is also the reunion of those who remember the future and believe in it. And when ideologies can no longer do so, there remains this mad madness of art and poetry, which persists in spite of all discouraging exactitudes.
Nothing can be said for certain about the future, but we can hope. “What reason do we have to hope?” is a question I think is always present in a work of art. As imperfect and anxious as it can be, art should still be a form of Hope. Otherwise it becomes no more than decoration for our defeat.
This yearly gathering in Avignon makes us want to fight and teaches us to remember that a life cannot confine itself to a narcissistic present or a bitter past. In Avignon, everyone is allowed to be young, because what matters isn’t biology but the ability to desire what’s coming, the unknown, the unexpected, the unhoped for.
This community of spirit gathering in Avignon doesn’t distinguish between spectators and artists, it is the opportunity for all to take part in the utopia. And it is the Republic, guaranteeing the space and time of a free encounter between intellectual and spiritual forces expressing themselves in and through the shows. This collective experience plays a part in our feeling of belonging to society and to History.
To be a festivalgoer means to believe in the new, not as a commercial product or a disposable object, but as a shared and free value. To believe that something new can arise and that we are playing a part in it, that’s the utopia we offer each other, artists and technicians, spectators and commentators of this great theatre, with its infinite possibilities.
Something in society, in politics, in the whispering of time, makes us think that Tomorrow is predetermined. But the madness of artists, the paradoxical enthusiasm of crowds, and the joyous catharsis of theatre invite us to believe Tomorrow hasn’t been written yet. And since the youngest generation now faces the greatest danger the Earth has ever known, we must show them that in spite of all doubt and discouragement, the page remains blank, and the shape of the future is that of a shared desire, but one which begins within the inner life of each and every one of us.
- Olivier Py