The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

Synopsis

Most philosophy makes little mention of the theater except to denounce it as a place of illusion and moral decay. The theater has tended to respond in kind by steering away from philosophy, driven by the notion that theater consists of actions, not ideas. The Drama of Ideas argues that despite this mutual evasion, the histories of philosophy and theater have in fact been crucially intertwined. Appointing Plato as a hinge figure, Puchner traces this alternative tradition as well as recounting the long-standing philosophical register in drama and philosophy's more recent theatrical shift. Moving from a consideration of Plato as a dramatist to those Renaissance playwrights who drew on Plato's chief character, Socrates, Puchner articulates an alternative history of the theater which places philosophy front and center. He believes that modern drama should be understood as Platonic, rather than anti-Aristotelian, as it is often labeled. When Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, August Strindberg, Luigi Pirandello, Georg Kaiser and Bertolt Brecht are contextualized in light of this alternative perspective, they emerge as major contributors to a drama of ideas. Philosophy underwent a corresponding theatrical shift in the modern era, most importantly through the work of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus. More recently, Kenneth Burke and Gilles Deleuze have used a theatrical models perspective through which to write the history of philosophy, while contemporary descendantsof Plato's dramatic imagination include Iris Murdoch, Martha Nussbaum and Alain Badiou.

Excerpt

When I went through some old papers recently, I came across a theater review I had written for the college newspaper in 1991. The show in question had been conceived by two assistant professors of philosophy and revolved around various philosophical characters. My review applauds the attempt to combine philosophy and theater, and ends with a somewhat snarky complaint about the conspicuous absence in the audience of the “ladies and gentlemen philosophy professors,” and more generally the lack of contact between philosophy and theater. At the time I was majoring in philosophy, but I also spent a lot of time doing theater. Our black box theater happened to be located directly below one of the largest lecture halls on campus, in the space left by the ascending auditorium, an arrangement that echoed Plato’s parable of the cave with its shadow theater below and philosophy above. Attending philosophy lectures upstairs by day and doing theater in the black box downstairs by night seemed unrelated activities—except that for me they weren’t. Ever since then, I have been trying to figure out what the relation between those two activities, between those two spaces, might be.

In my previous books, this question has played an important but ultimately secondary role. In Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama and other publications connected to it, I articulated why the dramatic experiments of modernism could not be described in Aristotelian terms and instead turned to Plato’s notion of diegesis to capture modernism’s conflicted relation to the stage. In Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes, I touched on the relation between theater and philosophy in another way, by trying to explain the move from theory to action as it occurs in the genre of the manifesto. But it is only now that I have come to realize that the relation between theater and philosophy is what I have been trying to write about all along—that I have been driven by the sense, first articulated in my theater review, that theater and philosophy are intimately, if contentiously, related. I do not know whether this book will . . .

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