There is an object/artefact of circus and a subject/process that makes it. John-Paul Zaccarini’s research considers the subject of the circus-making in order to bring it to the foreground of future discussions about pedagogy, practice and production. Zaccarini stresses that if the shift from Traditional to New Circus brought with it changes in education – the incorporation of theatre and dance – then the emerging Contemporary Circus may need a more refined set of tools to facilitate its creative growth.
Circoanalysis: Circus, Therapy and Psychoanalysis sets out how psychoanalytic theories can be adapted and its key practices adopted to bring about this shift from New to Contemporary Circus in pedagogic practice. The practice tends to the subject that is traditionally mute in the face of the demands of circus, to which it complies becoming an object with minimal agency. Psychoanalytic praxis is adapted to give the subject a voice in order to develop a methodology specific to circus: circoanalysis. Following Freud, the research starts with the analogy of the circus act and the dream, the proposition that both are productions of the unconscious and contain hidden meanings and desires disguised by the formal content. It continues with the analogy of the symptom, which must be repeated for the partial and ambiguous satisfaction of unconscious desire and is at the threshold of the somatic and the psychic.
Through the use of Winnicott’s theory of play, Zaccarini examines how artists explore and work through certain aspects of anxiety provoking psychic content in their work. Anxiety, in its Lacanian formulation, present in both circus and in the consulting room, provides the key to understanding the importance of the Other in the act. Circus, like psychoanalysis, needs its other to recount its story to. Over one hundred research participants, students and professionals, engaged in the practices of questionnaires, focus groups, consultations, interviews and extended periods of circotherapy.
Zaccarini’s dissertation describes the development of a technique of talking through the manifest, formal content of the circus act in order to get to the unconscious desires that create it. The act is then seen as a symbolic compromise formation enveloping a kernel of real jouissance. In a series of case studies – hysteria, obsessive neurosis, masochism, paranoid fantasy and melancholia are seen both as a series of subject positions with regard to circus and its spectator, and as ways of managing an excessive enjoyment. Circus is put into a new context as a healing practice for its practitioners, whether in the form of repetition compulsion that turns bad objects into good ones or as a homeopathic self-immunisation against pain, anxiety and the relation to the Other. Zaccarini’s research casts new light on the problematic the circus has with the theatrical performance tropes of character and narrative which emerge as disavowals of this latent content and relation to the Other. This suggests that a move forward, beyond this Other of the circus, implies a certain form of mourning.