Marco Paolini’s Theatre of Trauma: Vajont

Andrea Bini


This paper analyzes the work of actor/writer Marco Paolini, and his acclaimed monologue Il racconto del Vajont in particular. In the wake of Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s teatro civile, Paolini’s monolo­gues contributed to the birth of the so-called teatro di narrazione in the 1990s, which can also be defined as “theatre of trauma”, that is, a the­atre that recovers the memory of tragic events from the past. In recent times, trauma has become a central theme of Western narrative, poli­tics, and other forms of representation in the public sphere. Following the thought of philosophers such as Jean-François Lyotard and Slavoj Zižek, the article reads Paolini’s Il racconto del Vajont as a significant example of what writer Kyo Maclear calls “witness art.” Characterized by a crisis of the traditional models of representation in mainstream culture, witness art is conceived by Maclear in opposition to the tradi­tional divisions between art, knowledge, and the political instances of public discourse. Among Paolini’s many performances of Vaiont, the one performed at the same time and place where the tragedy took place 34 years before, and broadcasted live on RAI 2 in 1997, stands out for its uniqueness. That night, Paolini evoked the reenactment of a trau­matic experience by its witnesses, and, on a wider scale, by the audien­ce watching television at home. An almost forgotten tragedy became a media event, and for the first time trauma witnessing as such—and not as a means for a specific political claim—became part of the public discourse in the elaboration of post-1989 Italy.

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