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390Comparative Drama Max Harris. Theater and Incarnation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2005. Pp. ? + 155. $18.00. Max Harris first published TheaterandIncarnation, ofwhich this is the second edition, in 1990. The book is a tour de force of erudition, as the author ranges across intellectual traditions, drawing on a number of theologians and critical theorists to serve his turn, while his comprehensive knowledge of European drama allows him to propose some startling comparisons between individual plays. This is also, however, a highly personal project involving an exploration of how theater scholarship and Christian faith can be mutually illuminating. The agenda is clear and unequivocally stated from the beginning. Harris finds it impossible to write about Christian drama from a disinterested perspective because of his own religious conviction: "My seeing of things is permeated— obscured or illuminated, depending on your viewpoint—bymyencounter with Jesus Christ as I find him in the pages of Scripture" (vii). The book's chapters are then united by the common thread of analogy articulated by its title. The very first chapter,"Text and Performance,"juggles a number of ideas, lookingby turns at Scripture astheater,theater quatheater,and theater ofScripture , using the Cornish Ordinalia as the chosen example of a biblical drama. The central analogy is established: various transformations are effected when "words are staged" (1), engaging the audience's five senses, and this supplies an intelligible interpretation of what is meant by "the word made flesh" (1), the Incarnation. When we get down to looking at a real play, however, the question ofits artifice is sidestepped, as the virtues of"quike bookis" are used to explain the manner of God's self-revelation (7). The problem, if we decide it is a problem , becomes more focused as issues of historical reality, text as witness, and imaginative reconstruction are short-circuited through an appeal to the "lens of faith" (8). In chapter 2,"Time and Space," the author establishes the point that while narrative art exists in time, and plastic art in space, theater, and more particularly opera, exists in a free-ranging relationship with both, as well as strategically implicating its audience in ways not conventionally available in other forms. He uses this as a jumping-off point from which to argue that the limitations and ambiguities of scriptural exegesis can be mitigated by the application of a "theatrical imagination sensitive to the dimensions ofsimultaneous action" (25) as well as nuances ofdelivery, suggested by the text. Again there are some slips in the logic ofthe argument. For example the comparison between theater and Gospel cannot really work, as the first is a confected interpretation ofthe written word, while the latter is a narrative report of real events. Nonetheless, the suggestion that a theatrical imagination can aid the exegete continues to hold. Reviews391 It also gains in subtlety. The nature of this exercise of the theatrical imagination , we are told, which can achieve results similar to those of the methods of religious contemplatives, is to foreground a general agenda, much in the manner ofMarxist practitioners, rather than to aim at the fully realized particularity of a Stanislavskian approach (26-28). We really have to wait for the third chapter, however, for Harris to reveal his true colors as a sophisticated theaterscholarand practitioner.Indeed this chapter merits a bookmark,quite apart from its place in the overarching trajectory ofthe work as a whole, for it provides an elegant synopsis of a comprehensive range of types and understandings oftheatrical representation, all illustrated through the analysis of productions of Racine's Phèdre. The link to theological argument is here achieved through the conclusion that a "word that cannot otherwise be fully expressed becomes in the theater recognisable flesh (and color and sound and movement) shedding light, it is hoped, on the world off stage" (49). This is in turn linked to the argument of the author's favored theologian, Karl Barth, that"revelation engenders the scripture which attests it" (50). According to this understanding, the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, rendered the invisible visible by materially imitating its audience,but in perfect form. The connecting tissue of the increasingly sophisticated analogy here is figuralism, and the author sides...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 390-393
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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