Theatres of the Surd: A Study of Mathematical Influences in European Avant-garde Theatre

Salazar-Sutil, Nicolas. 2010. Theatres of the Surd: A Study of Mathematical Influences in European Avant-garde Theatre. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This doctoral dissertation deals with the somewhat neglected relationship between mathematics and theatre. Specifically, the focus of this study is the penetration of modern mathematical thinking into European avant-garde theatre during the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly as regards the revolutionary experiments on scenic space and dramatic logic that occurred at the time. I will argue that modern European theatre underwent a period of crisis, whereby a number of avant-garde practitioners renounced the axioms of traditional theatre, particularly in relationship to the rule of mimesis,
representation, and verbal speech. Theatres of the Surd argues for a penetration of symbolic languages in the wake of a decline of word-based textuality in the theatre, combined with a cultural shift toward more abstract, technologically mediated and autonomous forms of theatrical practice. This work focuses on three seminal theatre practitioners of the late 19th and early 20th century avant-garde; namely, Alfred Jarry, Stanislaw Witkiewicz and Samuel Beckett, and the impact of non-Euclidean geometry and modern mathematical logic in their work. I will claim that the mathematisation of cultural practices in the late modern era marked a crucial watershed that played an important role in the transformation of the axiomatics of theatrical practice, and the emergence of a truly modern, post-Aristotelian and post-representational form of theatrical praxis. Thus, mathematics may be said to function within the ambit of cultural dynamics, insofar as its penetration into culture discourse and practice has helped modernise the way theatre is conceptualised and visualised.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


mathematics, avant-garde, theatre, surd, european

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


4 October 2010

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Feb 2012 15:27

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2022 22:03


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