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There is something fundamentally transformative about the idea of antagonism. Consider the case of environmentalist Lios Gibbs, from housewife to founder of the Love Canal Homeowners Association and, subsequently, of the Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes. Responding to ‘crisis and challenge’, Murray Levine observes with regard to Gibbs’s transformation, that it was Gibbs’s responsibility in her role as a mother who cares for her children that brought her to embody and enact multiple discourses, including the discourse of environmental activist—and she ‘transcended herself’. Indeed, as Gibbs confesses: ‘If I imagined a year earlier that I would be chasing Congressman LaFalce with signs, … giving press interviews, doing radio programmes and chasing a congressman, a governor, and the President with signs saying I supported him or that he was doing something wrong … well, I wouldn’t have, that’s all. … Radicals and students carry signs, not average housewives.’ And yet, constructions of identity, what essentially Gibbs describes, are precisely part of the radical processes and practices of antagonism. This is because, on the one hand, antagonism as a discursive mode of politics designates the opening up of reality (e.g. motherhood, environmental and climate change) as a site of social struggle by which antagonisms (e.g. housewife, property owner, environmentalist) emerge as limits within the social. But, on the other hand, the terms ‘antagonism’ and ‘antagonistic’, especially in their relation to theatre and performance as ‘political’, describe a practice of negation that not only points to differences and limits in the hegemonic discourse (e.g. to care for her children, to have a home and the rights and responsibilities these positions entail), but uses differences and limits as practices of antagonism in order to subvert and disarticulate the hegemonic discourse and its practices (e.g. the discourse of environmental justice). In this respect, theatre and performance become particularly good places for undoing an image or situation of the dominant discourse in society simply by, we might say, presenting it, whether on the stage of the public space or the stage of the theatre, in order to ‘replace’ it, which in itself is an antagonistic act—the act of ‘negating’ something in the present reality in order to expose it, subvert it and, ultimately, transform it. In this sense, then, all antagonisms, broadly speaking, might be seen as theatrical performances. They offer ways of negation that ‘perform’ resistance by which it becomes possible to discover not only new meanings in multiple, pre-existing and operating discourses, but to also transform and transmute them from within, precisely by staging them and, therefore, exposing their existing differences, limits and contradictions.
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