Chetana Nagavajara

Chetana Nagavajara
Chetana Nagavajara

Emeritus Professor of German at Silpakorn University, Thailand. A scholar of Comparative Literature, trained at Cambridge and Tübingen, he has had extensive experience in teaching, research and university administration. His scholarly works address such areas as Western, Thai and Comparative Literature and Interart Studies. He is a frequent visitor to Berlin, having been associated with the Institute for Comparative Literature of the Free University Berlin and the Centre for Cultural and Literary Research. His latest research includes a study on the renaissance of the discipline of Comparative Literature in Germany during the immediate post-World War II period, and as the outcome of the first phase of his current Berlin fellowship, an essay on “The Ascent to Prehistory: A Thai Case Study”. In recognition of his role as a bridge-builder between East and West, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Tübingen University in 2009.

Research Project

Defense and Illustration of the "Lean Theatre": A Thai Experience

The ‘Lean Theatre’ and the ‘Plump Theatre’ represent opposing forces in contemporary Thai theatre. What might first appear to belong in the domain of the ‘economics of the theatre’—with the Plump Theatre being dominated by lavish imitation of the Western musical, supported by its wealthy ally, the soap opera, and the Lean Theatre being akin to the German ‘Zimmertheater’ —gradually lends itself to serious debates on the potential of the theatre to become an intellectual and moral force of our society.

The Lean Theatre may have much in common with chamber music, which Lord Yehudi Menuhin emphatically described as “the greatest contribution Europe has made to civilization.” Born also of amateur roots on university campuses during the heyday of democratic boom in the 1970s and operating on a shoestring budget, it more than amply compensates for its lack of spectacular effects by way of thought-provoking content and dramatic intensity. It sets out to confront hot social and political issues, sometimes of historic dimensions, such as in the case of the classic of the Lean Theatre, The Revolutionist (1987), by Kamron Gunadilok. Though inspired by progressive Western theatre, especially by Bertolt Brecht, the Lean Theatre has never turned its back on indigenous traditions. Perhaps by being true to itself, it has succeeded in contributing to regional and international movements, something that the Western-oriented Plump Theatre has never achieved. Though initially anti-establishment, the Lean Theatre has in the meantime been adopted by the Establishment as an instrument of ‘educational theatre’. The annual Bangkok Theatre Festival, lasting one month with around one hundred productions performed in cafés, restaurants, pubs, offices, private homes and public parks, remains a testimony to the dictum, “small is beautiful.”

Selected Publications

  • Nagavajara, C., Comparative Literature from a Thai Perspective. Collected Articles 1978-1992, Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press, 1997.
  • Nagavajara, C., Brecht and France, Bern: Peter Lang, 1994.
  • Nagavajara, C., Wechselseitige Erhellung der Kulturen: Aufsätze zur Kultur und Literatur, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999.
  • Nagavajara, C., Criticism as an Intellectual Force in Contemporary Society: Summary Report of a Research Project, Bangkok: Kombang, 2003.
  • Nagavajara, C., Fervently Mediating: Criticism from a Thai Perspective. Collected Articles 1982-2004, Bangkok: Chomanad, 2004.
  • Nagavajara, C., From Work of Art to Critical Arena: Summary Report, Bangkok: Chomanad, 2007.