Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 9. Nr. Juni 2001 Editorial

Tableau and Affect in Cecilie Løveid's Theatre of the Body

Wenche Larsen (Oslo)


The Norwegian playwright Cecilie Løveid (b.1951) comes from the neighbourhood of Bergen, but now lives in Copenhagen. She has written in all genres from the 1960s, but since the 1980's she has focused on drama. She has created drama of all kinds, from joint avant garde projects to television drama and plays for the main scenes, and her dramas have been staged in the most various ways and contexts in several countries.

I would like to speak of the special image of a configuration, which I call 'woman larger than life' in Løveid's drama, and the ways in which this is related to the tableau as transformation. To this purpose, I will expand Knut Ove Arntzen's understanding of Løveid's drama as Neo Expressionistic Theatre of Images(1) through an explication of the functions of affect, in part by way of the Danish theoretician Bent Fausing's concept(2) and by way of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's perceptual concept of the body.(3)

The artist in a performance called Soul and Project, Bergen Art Association 1981. Artistically transgressing the special image of 'The Woman Larger than Life'? Photo: B.Thunæs.


As an artistic visual device, the tableau is extraordinarily meaningful. The term 'tableau vivant' signifies alive and moving images attached to a feeling of vitality - which means that they are affective.

Tableaux are most commonly understood as "literary representations inspired by composition techniques in painting, particularly composition techniques of historical paintings depicting important national events, focusing on what is unique in the situation. The elements of the motif are composed in a scenic arrangement in a stylised set up. The characters are grouped in particular relation to each other, expressing a certain atmosphere or attitude, often aiming at elevated gravity.

In drama, tableaux most often occur as opening or closing scenes. The movements of the characters may be "frozen" in a fixed position, often with a symbolic base, or the characters may freeze, "holding poses with high pathos."(4)

As Løveid's dramas do not deal with "national" historical motifs, but with the existential motif of love, depicted as stories of betrayal, loss and death on behalf of women and children, the motifs of her tableaux differ from the traditional tableaux of historical paintings. But in the sense of depicting a "stylised" set up showing "the characters' relation to each other" in a certain "atmosphere" or "attitude" "aiming at elevated gravity" and "pathos", expressing a 'symbolic base' focusing on "what is important in the situation", Løveid's use of the medium is according to the tradition.(5)

The new use of tableaux in Western theatre was a trend developed in the 1980s, inspired by Heiner Müller's textual images or 'landscapes' and Robert Wilson's and Richard Foreman's visual dramaturgy, exploring the visual effects of frontality linked to trends in post modern visual arts. Knut Ove Artnzen sees the works of Cecilie Løveid as a cross between neo expressionism and tableau theatre.(6)

I will explore Løveid's use of tableaux through a detour into Bent Fausing's concepts of affect and 'Moving Images'. According to the psychoanalytic theories of Cristopher Bollas, the aesthetic object is an 'object of transformation',(7) and Fausing's contribution is to link this aesthetic object to the reality of the body through his concept of 'moving images' charged with emotional, bodily affect with the power to "open the secrets of the image" (Fausing 1999: p. 326) and "move" the spectator (op.cit., p.13).


Susanne K. Langer, another influence to Fausing's work, states that the image should be seen basically as a symbol and not as a copy of what it represents.(8) She defines a symbol as an attempt to "transform a perception into an image" (Langer, pp. 89 and 313).

Fausing combines symbolic and allegorical readings of images: a symbolic reading (out) of the layers of images and an allegorical reading into the 'holes' of signification, seeing also the non-representable as a meaningful, necessary and nourishing element of the image.(9)

The image cannot, according to Fausing, be understood in separation from the human vision linked to a human, affective body. In fact, the entire body is activated in the vision, and representation is thus not only an object, but also feeling, both visual repetition and physical transference, copying and substantial relating, simple imprint and many kinds of visualisations, associations, 'images between' and process (Fausing 1999, p. 292-293).

Fausing is not interested in the symbol as veil or power, but rather as a disclosing expansion of meaning. To him, symbols also participate in the Real and in pure, a-symbolical affect reality, as also these are transmitted visually and physically (p. 202) and nothing appears unmediated (Fausing 1999, p. 316).

Fausing also draws on Hanna Segal's creativity theory, linking creativity to re creation and the aesthetic gaze. In the aesthetic gaze there is a conscious and unconscious 'resurrection' going on, where the spectator identifies with the creator, who through his creation reworks and maybe recognises his 'depressed fantasies' and anxieties. The spectator thereby re experiences prior depressive feelings of anxiety, and through identification with the image, she will experience a fulfilled mourning, re establishing her inner objects and inner world (Fausing 1999: p. 98).(10) What is re-created is the spectator's/creator's special image, which is seated in the body, working as a matrix for the personality, sorting out all the images taken in by the body (op.cit. p.97).

We perceive according to basic physical proportions, rhythms and surfaces (Fausing 1999, p. 97), and experiences where the bodily affect is particularly high, are particularly well-suited for symbolisation. These are experiences related to greater, existential topics such as to live and give birth, death and the dead, (Susanne K. Langer in Fausing 1999: p. 36). These are exactly the motifs of Cecilie Løveid's plays and tableaux. Not only may her plays be seen as 'passion plays' in the sense that they are concerned with love related to loss and death and resurrection, but also in the sense of expressing affection, particularly through the tableaux staged as a 'special image' of the body, related to the emotional-symbolic core of the play.

Artist Inghild Karlsen representing 'The Woman Larger than Life' in Løveid's art performance Birth is music at Høvikodden Art Centre in Oslo 1983, shortly before Løveid's breakthrough as a playwright. The installation was later used as a tableau in the play Balansedame (Lady Balance, Løveid 1984). Photo: Hans Jørgen Brun.

What I see as the 'special image' of Løveid's plays is linked to representations of 'the woman larger than life', which finds its most typical representation in images showing a woman in a small or uncomfortable room, an image which I associate with the existential situation of the character as spiritually, socially and sexually restricted. In the play Rhindøtrene (The Rhine Daughters, 1996), we see the visionary abbess Hildegaard von Bingen in such a situation: crawling on the floor of her "Vision Box", not at all a grandiose space, but a narrow, uncomfortable cell, more suitable for animals than for saints or carnal women. And there are many configurations in Løveid's works.

Marie Louise Tank as Hildegard von Bingen in Rhindøtrene, Black Box theatre Oslo, 1996.
Photo: Marit-Anna Evanger.

If this image of the restricted woman constitutes the traumatic side of Løveid's 'special image', then the transgression and transformation of this room into an 'Eternal Labyrinth of Love' expanding space and time by implementing the aesthetic object as an object of transformation (Bollas), may be said to be the aim, to prove that the aesthetic object has carried out its task of transformation and re creation. In Rhindøtrene, Hildegard von Bingen is thus seen changing her dwelling from the narrow Vision Box to an open, idealised 'Jerusalem Labyrinth'.

In the play Barock Friise (Barock Friis, 1993) the transformed image is likewise represented through the figure of a labyrinth mentioned in the subtitle: "Love is a Larger Labyrinth". But we may also find other kinds of representations of the transformation of the 'special image', like physical resurrections, which we also find in the extravagant Barock Friise. Here we witness not only one, but three resurrections! First the woman's, then that of her stillborn child, and finally at the end, the woman survives the dramatic action resurrected once more as a forever indulgent child!(11) In the play Balansedame (Lady balance, 1984), the woman's stillborn child is likewise resurrected as a wild bird.


I will further expand upon my understanding of the 'special image' and its relationship to affect through Bent Fausing's Bevægende billeder (Moving Images, 1999) based on Merleau-Ponty and Bergson.

According to Merleau-Ponty affect is an "exterior articulation through the body of an internal movement" (Fausing 1999: p. 292), and according to Henry Bergson it is "a series of micro-movements on a stable surface of nerves, extending the body through expansion or inner, condensed expression".(12) When expansion is hindered, the movement/affect is transformed to expression (p. 306).

I perceive this dynamic as being operative in the 'special image' of Løveid's plays, where the limiting existential situation seems to build up to expressive tableaux which transform the frustrating situation to make room for an outlet/expansion on another, trans-realistic level of meaning, transgressing action, time and space. The tableaux charged with affect trigger the play to work in this way as an aesthetic, transforming object. According to Daniel Stern, the affective condition works in this way as a decisive structuring factor for experience and memory and for representation of crucial events (Fausing 1999: p. 278).

According to Fausing there exists no image without (referential) object and affect. Image, movement, phenomenon, personality and affect are all connected in the 'special image' composed of the totality of images chosen by the body, perceived "in depth", home of affect and the beginning of action (op.cit. p.29). Fausing describes the aesthetic experience as biologically and psychologically united, as body and soul are united in perception (p. 96-97).

Affect is both biological, psychological, social, cultural and historical (op.cit. p. 299). It flows, ever in movement and connected to the vital processes of life, such as breathing, hunger, excretion, falling asleep and awakening, and flickering of feelings and thoughts (p. 284). It articulates particularly through the skin of the face, but also through the muscles, the bones and the inner organs, the blood circulation, the respiration and the tone of the voice.

Images are created in the physical intersection between inside and outside (p. 28). The body, in its double physical being, may create 'holes' in the structure of signification through its capacity for intensity and expansion, or in other words, through its capacity for affect. These 'holes' are not empty according to Fausing.(13) The 'hole' is a visionary point where "the image opens up and invites us in" to an excess of new images where "everything is possible" (Fausing 1999: p. 91and 202). Through its expanding capacity affect neglects the common circle of action and reaction, thereby exchanging linear time with a generous opening also called passion (pp. 282 and 326), and we shall finally see what this amorous, affectionate transformation of a traumatic scene may look like in Løveid's play, Østerrike (Austria) from 1998.


In Østerrike, we are acquainted with philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein during his residence in the mountains by the Norwegian fjords not far from Bergen in 1931.(14) Instead of taking place in Austria, as one might presume from the title, the drama is set here, in a small, isolated cabin named Austria, where Ludwig has sought refuge from the large, threatening house of Europe.

In this play the transformation takes place through what Ludwig calls "a beautiful scene at the theatre" which may improve the condition of the soul (Løveid 1998: p. 22 and 94). The transformation of the traumatic situation is not represented through 'the special image' of transgressing and expanding the character's space, but the transformation may still be seen as an attempt to make space for what is socially not accepted: Ludwig's homoerotic relationship to his dead friend, David, a relationship tragically involved in a traumatic scene from his childhood, in which his mother beats his just deceased father, screaming: "You have ruined my life!"

The transformation of this traumatic scene, then, appears in "A beautiful scene" (p. 94-95), which is the last scene of the play, where the dead friend approaches Ludwig. Their hands clasp, David helps Ludwig put on an old Victorian dress, called 'the Agnes costume'. He climbs the piano, and lies down "like Christ in Hans Holbein's painting The dead Christ in the tomb". Ludwig mounts the corpse, kissing it as in the ecstasy of love. He screams, hammers on the corpse and throws himself to the floor, shouting: "You have ruined my life!"

In this way, through the two last scenes of the play, we witness a visual re creation of Ludwig's trauma, showing how all of his love relationships are interwoven in a confused pattern with a mixed exchange of roles, where the traumatic scene of the (hitting and shouting) mother, the (dead) father and (watching and listening) child/dog (Ludwig and his dog, which he kills) are shown to constitute a matrix-base for his relation to his lovers: Agnes, who comes to marry him, and his dead friend David: a destructive dyad of love and hatred - even in death - between mother and father, and the silent witness, the child Ludwig, who takes on all the parts of the Scene.

In the last scene Ludwig and the dead lover are re-enacting this Scene in a traumatic final tableau, which gestalts the deeply affective-symbolic truth of the Scene and changes it into "a beautiful scene at the theatre". The traumatic scene doesn't change the reality of the action, but, in allowing the Scene to take place as an existent truth in an empathetic-affective, symbolic mode, the play transgresses the internalised social impulse, re-basing and resituating the de-based love relationships: Ludwig's carnal love for David, his complicated gender constitution and his ambivalent feelings for his first and later love objects. Ludwig's relationship to himself, to his parents and to David are re-dignified through this coming to new/other life as a transforming tableau lifting the relationships into the magic realm of human myth radiant with tragic beauty.

© Wenche Larsen (Oslo)

TRANSINST        table of contents: No.9



(1) Arntzen 1991 and 1998.

(2) Fausing 1999.

(3) Merleau-Ponty 1994 [1945].

(4) Litteraturvitenskapelig leksikon, Kunnskapsforlaget, Oslo 1997. My transl.

(5) Løveid's use of tableaux links her drama not only to an important trend in contemporary Western theatre, but also to old theatre forms like the Mono drama and the Melo drama. Like Peter Brooks states in The Melodramatic Imagination, tableaux were used in Melo drama as a "resolution of meaning, and a visual summary of the emotional situation" at the end of acts and scenes, or as a "recourse at moments of climax and crisis". (Brooks 1976: p. 61-62.) In Løveid's tableaux, there is often only one person visible: 'The woman larger than life'. Instead of depicting the relationship between "a group of characters", like in traditional tableaux, the tableau expresses a symbolic image of the existential situation of the woman, or her relationship to the world.

(6) Arntzen 1991: p. 375. Arntzen mentions the exploration of the actor in space as expression of inner reality as the main characteristic of neo expressionistic theatre in Europe from the 1960s-70s. (Op.cit., p. 374.)

(7) "Forvandlingens objekt", Fausing 1999: p. 286.

(8) Langer, Susanne K: Menneske og symbol, ritualets og kunstens symboler, Kbh. 1969, [1942], Fausing 1999: p. 79.

(9) Fausing also calls it "the sudden openings of present and non-present significations", the unexpected break throughs named eg allegory, touché (Lacan), abject (Kristeva), punctum (Barthes) or intuition (Fausing 1999: p. 61-62), and he links all of these concepts to Freud's 'navle', the navle of Freud's dream theory: a field "without words which concentrates and expands meaning, time, and space" (p. 60-61) much in the same way that Løveid's tableaux are working.

(10) Hanna Segal thinks, that katharsis is working in this way, and this seems to be an intriguing parallel to the way in which affect works in Løveid's tableaux.

(11) The play ends with the woman as a child (Zille the child, one of the three characters representing the woman) sitting alone on stage, licking a lump of sugar bread with honey (Løveid 193: p. 98).

(12) Bergson: Stof og hukommelse, en Afhandling om forholdet mellem legeme og ånd, Kbh. 1996 [1986], ref. Fausing 1999: p. 28.

(13) Fausing 1999: p. 286, referring to Lacan's concept 'trouma'. Fausing opposes Lacan's "theory of lack" on this point.

(14) The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein actually stayed in Skjolden in Sognefjorden in western Norway in 1931. Here he worked on his Philosophische Untersuchungen and also wrote a diary, which Cecilie Løveid has used as base for Ludwig's monolog in her play. See Åmås 1998.


Arntzen, Knut Ove:
1991 "Nyekspresjonisme og tablåteater." In Arntzen m.fl: Teater og film leksikon, Kunnskapsforlaget, Oslo 1991 pp. 374-375.
1998 "Cecilie Løveid og ny dramaturgi. Et vendepunkt i ny norsk dramatikk og teater, eksemplifisert ved Balansedame på Den Nationale Scene i 1986". In Morken Andersen, Merete (red.): Livsritualer. En bok om Cecilie Løveids dramatikk, Gyldendal, Oslo 1998 pp. 56-66.

Brooks, Peter:
1976 The Melodramatic Imagination, Yale univ. press. 1976.

Fausing, Bent:
1999 Bevægende billeder, om affekt og billeder, Tiderne skifter, Kbh 1999.

Foster, Hal:
1996 The Return of the Real, the Mit Press, 1996.

Larsen, Wenche:
1998 a "En vakker scene på teater. Cecilie Løveid's play Østerrike". In Norsk Shakespeare-tidsskrift nr. 2, 1. årg, Oslo 1998 p. 65-69.
1998 b "Hun taler til fisken i oss alle". In Benedicte Eyde (red): Klangen av knust språk,Cecilie Løveids prosa og lyrikk, Cappelen 1998 p. 25-54.
1998 c "To fornyere av nordisk dramatikk. Cecilie Løveids og Katarina Frostensons kroppslige, poetiske drama". In Bøygen nr. 2/98 p. 2-11, University of Oslo.
1998 d "Stemmens drama og kroppens labyrint. Om kvinnelig subjektivitet i Katarina Frostensons og Cecilie Løveids dramatikk". Paper at the IASS international conference for Scandinavian Studies in Torshavn 1998, publ. In Malan Marnersdóttir: Nordisk litteratur og mentalitet, Torshavn 2000 pp.318-327.
1999 "Spaces of time. Time and tableau in Cecilie Løveid's theatre of the body". Paper at the SASS Annual Meeting for Scandinavian Studies, Seattle May 1999.
2000 "The Never Endings of Cecilie Løveid's Theatre of the Body". Paper at the IASS international conference for Scandinavian Studies, Norwich 7th-13th August 2000.
2001 "Austria. Location of a Traumatic Scene." To be published in Scandinavian-Canadian Studies/Etudes scandinaves au Canada vol. 13 2000-2001.

Leirvåg, Siren:
1996 "Det poetiske språket og scenen". In Morgenbladet, Oslo 01.03.96.
1997 "Den performative teksten". In 3t nr. 2 1997 p. 29-33, Bergen 1997.

Løveid, Cecilie:
1984 Balansedame, play,Gyldendal, Oslo 1984.
1993 Barock Friise, play, Gyldendal, Oslo 1993.
1996 Rhindøtrene, play, Gyldendal, Oslo 1996.
1998 Østerrike, play, Gyldendal, Oslo 1998.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice:
1994 Kroppens fenomenologi, Pax, Oslo 1994. [From Merleau-Ponty: Phenomenologie de la Perception, 1945.]

Seltzer, Mark:
1997 "Wound culture". In October 80 p. 3-37, Spring 1997.

Strindberg, August:
1986 Ett drömspel, Natur och Kultur, Stockholm 1986 [1902].

Wittgenstein, Ludwig:
1998 Den ukjente dagboken, Spartacus, Oslo 1998. [1930-32 and 36-37].


Tingene, tingene, one act, publ.inVinduet 2/76, Gyl.Oslo 1976.
Mannen som ville ha alt, Radio play, NRK Radioteatret, Bergen 1977.
Hvide lam og Lille Tigerinde, Radio play, NRK opplysningsavd, Bergen 1980.
Du, bli her! Radio play, NRK Radioteateret Trondheim1980, publ. in Måkespisere, Gyl.1983.
Kan du elske? TV Drama, NRK Fjernsynsteatret Oslo1982. Transl. and broadcasted in several countries.
Måkespisere, hørespill,NRK Radioteateret Bergen1982, Prix Italia 1983, publ. in Måkespisere, Gyl.1983.Transl. and broadcasted also in RadioFrance and Sweedish Radio. Engl. transl. in Garton, Janet and Sehmsdorf, Henning: New Norwegian plays, Norwik Press 1989.
Sug, performance by Smugteatret and Alle tiders Duster at Bryggens Museum, Bergen1983.
Vinteren revner, play, Den Nationale Scene in Bergen and Det Norske Teatret in Oslo 1983, publ. in Måkespisere,Gyl.1983. Transl. and played also by Theater in der Drachengasse in Wien, Spegelteatern in Stockholm and Scena Theatre in Washington D.C.
Balansedame play and short story, performance at Høvikodden art center 1983 by Cecilie Løveid, Inghild Karlsen and Bjørn Ianke. Staged as play at Teater Aurora, Stkh. (Fritt fall) and Den Nationale Scene, Bergen, 1986 and at the Wiener Festwochen, 1992 (Ro-ko-ko). As radio play: Westdeutsche Rundfunk 1988 and NRK Radioteateret, Oslo 1988 (Fødsel er musikk), Süddeutsche Rundfunk, Saarländische and Radio France. Publ. Gyl. Oslo 1984.
Dusj, 1 opera for 2, operalibretto, staged by Cecilie Løveid, Synne Skouen, Marianne Heske and Hilde Andersen at the Bergen festival 1984. As TV drama by Jannicke M. Falch (1 videopera for 2), NRK Fjernsynet, Musikkavd. Oslo 1984.
Lydia, radio play, NRK Radioteatret Oslo 1984, Sveriges Radio 1985, Süddeutsche Rundfunk 1984 and Westdeutsche Rundfunk.
Madame Butterfly on the Beach, one act , Vika-teatret, Oslo1985, publ. Norsk dramatikkfestival-85, Solum 1985.
Vift. En barnesang, Radio play, NRK Radioteatret Oslo 1985, Prix Futura, Süddeutsche Rundfunk 1985, publ. Solum 1985.
Titanic - skipet som ikke kunne synke, performance, co production with Lisbeth Hiide, Lars Steinar Sørbø and actors from Den Nationale Scene, staged at Den Nationale Scene, Bergen 1985.
SeteSange, performance, co production with Tone Avenstroup, Øyvind Berg, Hans Petter Dahl, Geir Gulliksen, Ragnar Hovland, Hotel Proforma/Kirsten Delholm and artists from Hordaland Kunstnersentrum, the Bergen festival 1986.
Fornuftige dyr, play, Den Nationale Scene, Bergen 1986. As TV play: Fjernsynsterateret, NRK Oslo 1986. As Radio play: Sveriges Radio. Publ.Gyl.1986.
Dobbel Nytelse, skuespill, Oslo Nye Teater, Centralteateret, Oslo1990. Publ. Gyl.1988. Engl. transl: Garton, Janet: Contemporary Norwegian Women's Writing, Norvik Press 1995.
Badehuset, grand performance, co production with Verdensteateret, on site at "Cuba", open square at Grünerløkka, Oslo1989. Publ. Gyl. 1990.
Da-Ba-Da, one act dance performance, co production with Un-Magritt Nordseth, Scenehuset, Oslo1990.
Tiden mellom tidene eller Paradisprosjektet, play, co production with Lillith theater and Carl Jørgen Kiøning, BlackBoxTeater, Oslo1990. Publ. Gyl.1991. Transl. and staged by ETA-Theater, München.
Barock Friise eller Kærrligheten er en større labyrint, play, co production with Lillith theater and Scirocco dance company, Schøtstuen, the Bergen festival 1991 and Scenehuset, Oslo1992. Publ. Gyl. 1993.
Konsekvens, dance performance, co production with Un-Magrit Nordset, Seilduksfabrikken, Oslo1993.
Maria Q, play, Nationaltheatret, Oslo1994. Transl. and staged by California State University, Hayward 1997. As radio play: Sveriges Radio1995. Publ. Gyl.1994.
Rhindøtrene, play, co production with Lillith theater, Den Nationale Scene, Bergen and Black BoxTeater, Oslo 1996. Publ.Gyl.1996. French transl: M.E.E.T 1997.
Reise med båt uten båt, libretto for soprano and double bass, co production with Bjørn Ianke and Siri Torjesen. Publ. on Ianke, Bjørn: The Contemporary Solo Doublebass II, CD, Simax Classics Oslo 1998, performed at the Sigrid Undset festival, Lillehammer and the Bergen festival in 1998.
Sappfokjolen, Radio play, NRK, Oslo 1998.
Østerrike, play, Nationaltheatret Oslo 1998. Publ. Gyl. Oslo 1998.
Den riktige vind, children's play, Hordaland teater, the Bergen festival 1999.
Hjerter Dame, libretto to opera, premiere at Ringve Museum, Trondheim 6th May 2000.


Seagull eaters (1983), Måkespisere, transl. by Henning K. Sehmsdorf, in Garton and Sehmsdorf: New Norwegian Plays, Norvik Press, UK 1989.
From Double Delight, Dobbel nytelse, transl. by Janet Garton in Contemporary Norwegian Women's Writing, Norvik Press, UK 1995.
Vinteren revner is translated for Scena Theatre, Washington D.C. and Maria Q for California State University by Bill Mishler, who has also translated Barock Friise and Rhindøtrene.

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