Thursday Lecture Series

Universal History, Posthistory, and Globality in Robert Wilson’s the CIVIL warS

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Billed as an “international opera,” the CIVIL warS was a massive collaborative project organized by avant-garde director Robert Wilson involving dozens of theater artists, composers, and writers from three continents. Following its development in segments in Tokyo, Cologne, Rome, Marseilles, Rotterdam, and Seattle, the 12-hour spectacle, intended to encompass the totality of human history, was to be assembled as a whole at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But this grand production never happened: Wilson could not raise the requisite $2-3 million and the Olympic Committee canceled the performance. This talk picks up the fragments that remain of the CIVIL warS fiasco—a trail of paper, video footage, and audio recordings spread across the world—and argues that despite, or even because, of its failure, the work might help us grasp elusive relationships between aesthetics, economics, and historiography in the early 1980s.