Theoretical Puppets: Salvador Dalí, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Other Thinkers Come Back to Life as Hand-Operated Puppets

As chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion has demon­strat­ed since the begin­ning of the medi­um, some­times the best way to make an unfa­mil­iar con­cept under­stand­able is to artic­u­late it through the mouth — and the body — of a pup­pet. Most all of us alive today had some expe­ri­ence with that back when we were still get­ting our ABCs and 123s down. Yet even in adult­hood, we con­tin­ue to find our­selves con­front­ed with ideas we may find dif­fi­cult to grasp, espe­cial­ly in the domain of phi­los­o­phy, with no expla­na­tion offer­ing-pup­pets to be found — or at least there weren’t, not before the launch of The­o­ret­i­cal Pup­pets on Youtube.

Each month, The­o­ret­i­cal Pup­pets brings on a notable thinker or two, the cur­rent line­up of whom includes the likes of Wal­ter Ben­jamin, Han­nah Arendt, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Fou­cault, all of them recon­struct­ed out of cloth and wire.

These pup­pets are rec­og­niz­able as the indi­vid­u­als who inspired them, and also rec­og­niz­able as homages to the pup­pet aes­thet­ic pop­u­lar­ized by a cer­tain long-run­ning pro­gram on Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion — a form of broad­cast­ing, inci­den­tal­ly, that Ben­jamin nev­er knew. He did, how­ev­er, have seri­ous thoughts about radio, the mass media of his day, some of which he — or rather, his pup­pet — artic­u­lates in the video just above.

Oth­er episodes of The­o­ret­i­cal Pup­pets include Fou­cault on dis­course, Deleuze on Pow­er, Arendt on natal­i­ty (and smok­ing), and even the late Bruno Latour on actor-net­work the­o­ry. Among the chan­nel’s most-viewed videos are meet­ings of the minds both his­tor­i­cal and fic­tion­al: between Deleuze and Fou­cault, (a re-cre­ation of a 1963 radio inter­view), between Fou­cault and Ben­jamin, between Sig­mund Freud and Sal­vador Dalí (which includes a dis­cus­sion of the lat­ter’s depic­tion of the for­mer’s head as a “snail-like struc­ture”). To vary­ing extents, these dia­logues are root­ed in the words these fig­ures wrote and spoke in their life­times; like most pup­pet-based pro­duc­tions, they also take place in the realm of fan­ta­sy. There’s humor in the incon­gruity, to be sure, but then, it must have demand­ed no small amount of imag­i­na­tion to pro­duce such endur­ing bod­ies of the­o­ry in the first place.

Relat­ed con­tent:

When Sal­vador Dali Met Sig­mund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Sur­re­al­ism (1938)

Pup­pets of Dos­to­evsky, Dick­ens & Poe Star in 1950s Frank Capra Edu­ca­tion­al Film

The The­o­ry of Wal­ter Ben­jamin, Lud­wig Wittgen­stein & Sig­mund Freud Sung by Ken­neth Gold­smith

The Hand Pup­pets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son

Albert Ein­stein Hold­ing an Albert Ein­stein Pup­pet (Cir­ca 1931)

A Young Jim Hen­son Teach­es You How to Make Pup­pets with Socks, Ten­nis Balls & Oth­er House­hold Goods (1969)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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