Towards a Dramaturgy of Forgiveness: The (Im)Possibility of Forgiveness in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Conference: The European Conference on Arts & Humanities (ECAH2022)
Title: Towards a Dramaturgy of Forgiveness: The (Im)Possibility of Forgiveness in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Stream: Arts - Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Seokhun Choi, University of Seoul, South Korea


The French philosopher Jacques Derrida famously claimed that forgiveness is impossible since "forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable". How would the Derridean aporia of forgiveness apply to Judas Iscariot, whom Dante imagined to be suffering the worst fate of being chewed in Satan’s mouth at the center of Hell for betraying the Son of God? Given that Judas is arguably one of the most unforgivable people in the history of western civilization, wouldn’t he therefore be most forgivable? This aporia of forgiveness is the premise of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ courtroom drama The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (2005). If Judas has to suffer eternal damnation in Hell due to his unforgivable sin, forgiveness is conditional and that would fly in the face of merciful God. Unconditional forgiveness, on the other hand, would contradict the notion of divine justice and annul forgiveness itself. In this essay, I examine how Guirgis’s play engages the deconstructive challenges and suggests the possibility of not only imagining but also 'performing' and 'feeling' forgiveness in terms of affect theory. The sensual aspect of drama allows the audience to feel something that transcends—or at least is different from—human understanding, thereby making forgiveness possible.

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