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A theatre of capitalism : René Pollesch and the drama of entrerprise discourse
By Timon Beyes

Dr. Timon Beyes ,University of St.Gallen Curriculum Development Switzerland e-mail timon.beyes@unisg.ch  

“Damn Deleuze”, an actor shouts laughingly, having lost his line again, unable to keep up
with the bewildering cut-ups and samplings of recent social theory and fragments of
entrepreneurial “lingo” that make up the plays of German writer René Pollesch. (cf. Pollesch
2002, 2003) Pollesch, who writes and directs his plays mostly at the “Prater”, side stage of
Berlin’s “Volksbühne”, has created a theatrical approach some critics have dubbed
“discourse theatre”. It is a theatre of capitalism. More specifically, it can be read as a theatre
of entrepreneurship.

Instead of focussing on individual subjects as entrepreneurs – being the dominant approach
in entrepreneurship research (Holmquist 2003) – Pollesch’s plays dig into the discourse of
managerial entrepreneurialism apparently being so hegemonic these days. Borrowing Yeats’
famous line – How can we know the dancer from the dance? – it is not the dancers of
entrepreneurship that are of interest, it is the dance of entrepreneurship (Gartner 1988). With
Pollesch, this dance is dancing what used to be called individual subjects: Regardless of the
topic his actors grapple with, they cannot avoid falling into managerial/entrepreneurial
semantics, throwing fragments of “business-speak” at each other, ever so often, questioning
their lives through excerpts from recent social theory, but in the end unable to escape the
seemingly all-encompassing entrepreneurial discourse. This discourse lays down the rules
and regulations for what to say, for what role to enact. It provides us/the actors with “regular”
practices. It produces reality. (Hjorth/Johanisson/Steyaert 2003, cf. Foucault 1971, Bublitz
2003)

Drawing on poststructuralist theories, Pollesch mostly de-individualizes his texts. There are
no characters being developed on stage, it is just texts: assemblies of popular management
and entrepreneurship literature and “postmodern” theory. What seems to be missing is any
Brecht-like lesson and subsequent code of practice pressed upon the audience. The actors
throw themselves against the walls of the discourses constructing them as entrepreneurs of
themselves, so to speak, without ever finding a way out.

Accepting the deleuzian notion that science and poetry are knowledge in equal measure
(Deleuze 1987) and that every literary text appears as part of orders of knowledge if it
reproduces, confirms, corrects or moves the borders between visible and invisible, sayable
and unutterable (Vogl 2002), my paper will sketch different readings of Pollesch’s plays:
- Theatre of capitalism: The writer/director’s texts can be read as resigned, apocalyptic
tales paying tribute to the belief that in the realm of capital, every kind of opposition
emanates from the very powers it supposedly revolts against (Sloterdijk 2003),
echoing the classic Marxist admiration for capitalism’s ingenuity. The notion of
companies taking over artistic and counter-cultural modes of production and work in
order to further enhance their productivity is a recurrent theme running through
Pollesch’s writings: the revolution as a company offer. (cf. Pollesch 2003)
- Theatre of entrepreneurship: In entrepreneurship texts, the dominating enterprise
discourse comes equipped with a particular vocabulary: a managerial one. (Hjorth
2003) Taken for cautionary tales, one could read Pollesch’s plays as critical
interventions that address the one-sidedness of the notion of entrepreneurship as
used by scholars and practitioners alike and that call for an opening towards
alternative approaches leaving the centralizing economism behind - stories of social,
cultural, voluntary, political, civic, ecological entrepreneurialism. (Steyaert/Katz 2004)
- Entrepreneurial theatre: Attempting an other, critical entrepreneurial writing can be
tentatively applied to Pollesch’s theatre itself, hence observing it as an examplary
tale.

Departing from Pollesch’s brand of theatre and using it as a case study at the same time, I
will interweave these readings with the purpose of exploring a possible opening in
entrepreneurship research, adopting a broader approach to entrepreneurialism as a
generalized concept for introducing innovative thinking, rearranging the established and
producing the new. (Steyaert/Katz 2004) Analytically, I will propose a spatial perspective,
relying upon the writings of Lefebvre (1991), Soja (1996, 2000), de Certau (1984) as well as
Foucault’s principles of heterotopology (1991).

Underlying the paper will be the assumption that it takes sites and spaces for
entrepreneurship to happen and that sites and spaces may be constituted through
entrepreneurial activities. “What spaces have we privileged in the study of entrepreneurship
and what other spaces could we consider?”, Steyaert and Katz (2004) ask, looking for other
places than Silicon Valley to study entrepreneurial activity. And, it might be reformulated
here, what kind of spaces have been observed in the study of managerial
entrepreneurialism, and what other spaces could be observed? As I will try to show by
interconnecting Pollesch’s theatre, entrepreneurship studies and socio-spatial theories,
there might be much more to the everyday dramas of entrepreneurship - and hence: the
everyday dramas of capitalism - than commerce and economic drive.

References

H. Bublitz, Diskurs (Bielefeld, transcript, 2003)
M. de Certau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,
1984)
G. Deleuze, Foucault (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1987).
M. Foucault, Die Ordnung der Dinge (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1971).
M. Foucault, "Andere Räume," in Aisthesis: Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer
anderen Ästhetik, K. Barck, P. Gente, H. Paris, S. Richter, ed. (Leipzig: Reclam, 1991).
W. B. Gartner, ""Who is an entrepreneur?" is the wrong question," American Journal of Small
Business, Spring 1988, pp. 11-31.
D. Hjorth, Rewriting Entrepreneurship - for a new perspective on organisational creativity
(Liber/Abstrakt/Copenhagen Business School Press, 2003).
D. Hjorth, B. Johannisson and C. Steyaert, "Entrepreneurship as Discourse and Life Style," in
The northern lights - organization theory in Scandinavia, B. Czarniawska and G. Sevón, ed.
(Trelleborg: Berlings Skogs, 2003).
C. Holmquist, “Is the medium really the message? Moving perspective from the
entrepreneurial actor to the entrepreneurial action, in in New movements in
entrepreneurship, C. Steyaert, D. Hjorth, ed. (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2003)
H. Lefebvre, The production of space (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991).
R. Pollesch, "Stadt als Beute“/"Insourcing des Zuhause. Menschen in Scheiss-Hotels," in
WOHNFRONT 2001-2002, B. Masuch, ed. (Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2002).
R. Pollesch, world wide web slums (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2003).
P. Sloterdijk, Sphären III: Schäume (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2004).
E. W. Soja, Thirdspace. Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).
E. W. Soja, Postmetropolis: critical studies of cities and regions (Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers, 2000).
C. Steyaert and J. Katz, "Reclaiming the space of entrepreneurship: geographical, discursive
and social dimensions," Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, volume Vol. 16, No. 3
2004, pp. 179-196.
J. Vogl, Kalkül und Leidenschaft: Poetik des ökonomischen Menschen (München: sequenzia,
2002).

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24 Hours Are Not a Day, written and directed by René Pollesch
(April ’07) American premiere at  New York Theatre Workshop. NYTW ,79 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003
Call: 212-460-5475, Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm
E-mail: tickets@nytw.org  Web : http://www.nytw.org/default.asp 

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René Pollesch

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