Exemplary Selves in History
Scholar and critic Roger Shattuck puts in historical perspective the quest for identity that follows from the breakup of an old order. In The Innocent Eye, he explores some of the developments that followed from the shifts, occurring in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, away from the belief that birth determined a person's station in life. Asking one sweeping question raised by the revolution in attitude--"How then were citizens to find their place in the world? their role in life?"--he offers a tentative answer: "Citizens of the modern world have sought not so much a station as a self, a personal identity or individuality, a self which also gradually displaced the earlier term, soul."1
In this context, for members of majority and minority cultures alike, the old world is the world in which one's place in the community establishes one's identity and the new world is the world in which one creates an identity, or self. The context is not very different from that of the preceding chapter in which the old world is the community held together by tradition and shared values and the new world is the problematical Pittsburgh of August Wilson's Two Trains Running, with people milling about the street on the lookout for opportunity.
Following the passage that I quoted, Shattuck goes on to suggest four directions the search for self-discovery has taken in the past two centuries. For citizens of the modern theatre, the two most interesting are the third and fourth, undertaking to create a self from subjective processes and in the histrionic sensibility. They offer more possibilities for the theatre than the other two, making money and pursuing amorous adventures, because the third enacts an experimental, non-naturalistic drama and the fourth requires an audience to validate the creation.