The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism

By Elinor Fuchs | Go to book overview

4
Signaling through the Signs

Thus one can read above the portals of modernity such
inscriptions as … “Here only what is written is understood.”

—Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life1

I reswallowed an alphabet.

—Richard Foreman, The Mind King2

MY TITLE BORROWS of course from the great mystic-theorist of the theater, Antonin Artaud, who wrote that artists must be “like victims burnt at the stake, signalling through the flames.”3 Near death, the victim is never more intensely alive. Her entire Being is compressed into this moment only. And in this moment she sends her message. She has no leisure for mere speech, she is past speech, or perhaps pre-speech. She relies on the urgent, mute signal, on the total signifying power of her pain-vivified body. And we, who seize upon this signal, likewise have only this single moment in which to grasp it, for it cannot be repeated. The artist-victim’s absolute presence is almost unbearably intensified by proximity to its other, the absolute absence of death. Compacted in Artaud’s unforgettable image is the entire aspiration to presence in the theater, and by extension proposed in it also, under cover of an end to dualism, yet another “solution” to the long struggle in Western metaphysics between body and mind, action and reflection.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, a new generation of theater artists—Jerzy Grotowski in Poland, Peter Brook in England and Paris, Julian Beck and Judith Malina wandering Europe, Joseph Chaikin, André Gregory and Richard Schechner in the United States (the early Meredith Monk might be included as a transitional figure)—created theaters and theater pieces that took on this vision as instructions for actors. The Living Theatre and its Paradise Now! Schechner’s Dionysus in ’69, Grotowski and his “actor-saint,” and Chaikin’s Open Theatre in different ways sought Artaud’s “culture without space or time,” the zero-degree revelation of an Artaudian presence.4 Chaikin’s 1972 book, The Presence of the Actor, uses the very term in its title. For him, too, the

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The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Drama and Performance Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Modern after Modernism 19
  • 1- The Rise and Fall of the Character Named Character 21
  • 2- Pattern over Character the Modern Mysterium 36
  • 3- Counter-Stagings Ibsen against the Grain 52
  • Part II- Theater after Modernism 67
  • 4- Signaling through the Signs 69
  • 5- Another Version of Pastoral 92
  • 6- When Bad Girls Play Good Theaters 108
  • 7- Theater as Shopping 128
  • 8- Postmodernism and the Scene of Theater 144
  • Reviews and Articles 1979-1993 Reports from an Emerging Culture 159
  • Notes 199
  • Index 218
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