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Suggestions about the Social Origins of Semiotic Practice in the Theater, with the Example of Alphonse Daudet's Arlesienne MICHAEL HAYS It should by now be obvious how much semiotics can contribute to our understanding of the structure and function of the theater. We have theoretical models which describe the relationship between the author's text and the signifying systems of the performance; the interplay between the text, the director's interpretation and the performance, and the system of signification which operates between the stage and the house. Generally these models are no longer based on the early and faulty assumption that language is the primary modeling system for the theatrical event; but it seems to me that they are all nonetheless incomplete to the degree that they assume a simple, straight-line transfer of information from the sender/encoder to the receiver/decoder. According to these models, the authors' "message(s)" (represented by his text) or the director's "meaning" (as found in the performance sequences which incorporate his interpretation) is transmitted directly to the reader or spectator, who receives this transmission and decodes it using the same terms and with an intention which reflects that ofthe originator. The problem with this manner of describing semiosis in the theater is that it locates not only the process of encoding meaning but also the ability to create meaning solely in the practice of the author/director. This idea is, of course, strongly entrenched in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century myth of the artist. In the modem theater we usually accept without question the notion that the director is the necessary organizer or producer of meaning in the performance. But a model built on the principle ofthe director's mediation, or even one which assumes that the author provides the meaning in a dramatic work, is an inadequate basis for the construction of a general theory of semiotic practice in the theater. This is immediately evident when we realize that such a general theory would also have to account for performances which take place despite the absence of a director or a written text. In the history of the theater one or both have often been missing, but there is no indication that the audiences in question had any problem determining the significance of the performances they watched. MICHAEL HAYS Ifone simply assigns the process of creating codes and encoding "meaning" to the author or director, there is no way to account for the transmission and reception ofthis meaning, since such a position contradicts a basic postulate of semiotic theory: both sender and receiver must possess knowledge of the "lexical system" for coding/decoding activity to be completed. In other words, both sender and receiver must have some knowledge of the code before the message is sent if it is to be understood. Ifthe sender (in this case, let us say the director) creates the code as part of his contribution to the aesthetic enterprise, the receiver/spectator should not understand or receive any message, since he or she has no access to the formative principles on which the transmission is based. We must, therefore, assume that artistic communication takes place inside a prestructured system which circumscribes the possible contributions of sender and receiver and which requires that the receiver produce whatever meaning a communication event is to have. Some critics, notably Jauss, have already attempted an analysis of the audience's role as generator of meaning. I The problem with much ofthis work in reception aesthetics is, however, that it continues to rely on the text as a means of evaluating the nature of the audience and the range of its responses. The result is again a reversal of what actually happens during the performance of a play: it is not the text that generates the audience, but rather the audience that assigns meaning to the text and to the event as a whole as it decodes the signifying units with which it is confronted. I think Patrice Pavis has made a significant advance in this area by proposing the tripartite model of coding/ decoding which he develops in his recent essay on Marivaux's drama. His theory clearly recognizes...


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pp. 367-378
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