Theater and Performance Studies BA Projects

Mingxin Xu

Artistic Project: Before the Lawyer

Artistic Statement
The short video animation, titled “Before the Lawyer,” draws inspirations from Franz Kafka’s parable, “Before the Law,” as well as his novel, The Trial, in which the afore-mentioned parable is embedded. The video is meant to create a viewing experience that recreates for the audience the tedium of bureaucracy of all kinds, be it political, corporate, or academic institutions. In addition, the video exposes the frustration and helplessness of an individual when they confront a complex system that is impossible to navigate. Most importantly, however, the Lawyer figure in the video embodies the gatekeeper in Kafka’s short story, “Before the Law,” who proclaims to be part of the institution, but is in fact just as outside of the Law as the defendant, who re-enacts the man from the country in the same story. The story means to, but fails to, reveal that power has an empty core, because the power of the gatekeeper comes from the ceding of power on the part of the man from the country. In this adaptation of the story, the defendant demonstrates more agency in their words and actions than the man from the country, although despite their proactiveness, they are unable to escape the trap of the system.

This project budded from an idea of examining the performativity of language, based on the work of language philosophers such as J. L. Austin, John Searle, and Jacque Derrida. When researching into the arguments of these theorists, I found an interesting distinction that Austin and Derrida made about the “serious,” or “ordinary,” use of language, as opposed to the “parasitic,” or “theatrical” use of language. Austin argues that, while the ordinary use of language might have the effect that is equivalent to an action, the same effect is void in the parasitic use of language. For example, when a couple in marriage ceremony say, “I do,” they are effectively married to each other. In this case, the action of speaking the words initiates the marriage. In comparison, two actors playing the scene of marriage do not actually get married when they say “I do” on stage.

I happened to be taking a biology class on insects at that time, in which parasitism had many parallels to Austin’s and Derrida’s notion of the parasitic use of language. I decided on making a video that superimposes parasitism in nature and that in language. The project turns out to be a parasitic adaptation of Kafka’s short story and novel into a play. The play was originally thirty minutes long. It was then shortened to sixteen minutes, before it was finalized into this five-minute version. Instead of forcing the audience to sit through half an hour of tedium, I have decided to show the full version of the script in text format, so that interested members of the audience can access it, while the rest can be spared the boredom. I will use the rest of the presentation to answer whatever questions the audience might have about the project.

Artistic Project
Before the Lawyer – full script