The Second Body in Margaret Edson’s Wit


This paper employs the idea of “the second body,” in Eric Santner’s sense in his The Royal Remains, to discuss dynamics of language and body in Margaret Edson’s award-winning play Wit. Building upon Roberto Esposito’s concept of immunity, Santner’s work may be seen as exploring a folding process by which a subject is partially expropriated in order to come up with an artifice that can better serve or protect itself from outside risks. In light of this folding or doubling, theatre may be seen as an effective vehicle to convey forms of redemptive realizations in various attitudes towards life and death. In Wit, actors parallel characters, past parallels the present. Vivian as a professor in the past parallels her present status as a patient. Such ensembles demonstrate “the demonic Doppelganger” that stalks that self-same. Wit challenges a militant view of life by problematizing an ethics that prioritizing language (logos) as an instrumentalized weapon to resist death. The more one is enclosed within its own fortress (i.e. wholesome, knowledge), the more one is likely to be devoured by the Doppelganger invented to protect oneself. Doppelganger as a semi-natural (human, biological), and semi-cultural (inhuman, monstrous) part grown out of the subject is like the tumor that, despite eventually devouring Vivian, enlightens her with values of kindness and warmth. Wit is revealed in the end when Vivian realizes her advisor’s lesson that it is a comma, instead of an exclamation mark, that separates life and death.

Author Information
Joy Shihyi Huang, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan

Paper Information
Conference: IICAH2024
Stream: Arts - Performing Arts Practices: Theater

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon