Theatricality as Medium

Theatricality as Medium

Theatricality as Medium

Theatricality as Medium

Synopsis

Ever since Aristotle's Poetics, both the theory and the practice of theater have been governed by the assumption that it is a form of representation dominated by what Aristotle calls the "mythos," or the "plot." This conception of theater has subordinated characteristics related to the theatrical medium, such as the process and place of staging, to the demands of a unified narrative. This readable, thought-provoking, and multidisciplinary study explores theatrical writings that question this aesthetical-generic conception and seek instead to work with the medium of theatricality itself. Beginning with Plato, Samuel Weber tracks the uneasy relationships among theater, ethics, and philosophy through Aristotle, the major Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Freud, Benjamin, Artaud, and many others who develop alternatives to dominant narrative-aesthetic assumptions about the theatrical medium. His readings also interrogate the relation of theatricality to the introduction of electronic media. The result is to show that, far from breaking with the characteristics of live staged performance, the new media intensify ambivalences about place and identity already at work in theater since the Greeks. Praise for Samuel Weber: "What kind of questioning is primarily after something other than an answer that can be measured... in cognitive terms? Those interested in the links between modern philosophy nd media culture will be impressed by the unusual intellectual clarity and depth with which Weber formulates the... questions that constiture the true challenge to cultural studies today.... one of our most important cultural critics and thinkers" - MLN

Excerpt

This book has had a long period of gestation and a hybrid history. It goes back, first, to a fascination with texts, “fictional” or not, in which the reader is called upon to play an active part. This summons is surely coextensive with all reading in the strong sense. But certain texts render the awareness of this possibility more accessible than others. From Sterne to Kafka, Kierkegaard to Derrida, Freud to Lacan, a transformative involvement of the reader is required in order for the text “itself” to function—just as an “audience” is required for a representation to be “theatrical.” The second source was less academic and developed from the experience of working as a dramaturge in German productions of theater and opera during the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike the director, stage designer, or actors, the dramaturge, like the academic, is primarily concerned with texts. Whereas the academic tends to be guided by a notion of a longlasting, if not eternal truth, however, the goal of a theatrical production is far more ephemeral, more localized, and more singular. If, as the O.E.D. speculates, the word truth derives from the Old English word for truce, this etymological filiation remains palpable today in the process of theatrical staging: its result resembles a temporary truce between warring factions rather than a peace treaty of long duration. It can therefore differ from performance to performance and in any case rarely outlives them.

This experience contrasts with certain aspects of “scholarly” life, where belief in a durable truth often functions as the tenet of a secular faith. In providing an alternative perspective to this faith, “theatricality” offers another perspective from which to approach the relation of institutions, interpretation, and media investigated in my previous work. For theatricality—which is not the same as theater, although also not separable from it—spans the gap dividing “old” and “new” media . . .

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