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Theatricality as Medium

Samuel Weber

Publication Year: 2004

Ever since Aristotle's Poetics, both the theory and the practice of theater have been governed by the assumption that it is a form of representation dominated by what Aristotle calls the mythos,or the plot.This conception of theater has subordinated characteristics related to the theatrical medium, such as the process and place of staging, to the demands of a unified narrative. This readable, thought-provoking, and multidisciplinary study explores theatrical writings that question this aesthetical-generic conception and seek instead to work with the medium of theatricality itself. Beginning with Plato, Samuel Weber tracks the uneasy relationships among theater, ethics, and philosophy through Aristotle, the major Greek tragedians, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Freud, Benjamin, Artaud, and many others who develop alternatives to dominant narrative-aesthetic assumptions about the theatrical medium. His readings also interrogate the relation of theatricality to the introduction of electronic media. The result is to show that, far from breaking with the characteristics of live staged performance, the new media intensify ambivalences about place and identity already at work in theater since the Greeks. Praise for Samuel Weber: What kind of questioning is primarily after something other than an answer that can be measured . . . in cognitive terms? Those interested in the links between modern philosophy nd media culture will be impressed by the unusual intellectual clarity and depth with which Weber formulates the . . . questions that constiture the true challenge to cultural studies today. . . . one of our most important cultural critics and thinkers-MLN

Published by: Fordham University Press

Theatricality as Medium

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

This book has had a long period of gestation and a hybrid history. It goes back, first, to a fascination with texts, ‘‘fictional’’ or not, in which the reader is called upon to play an active part. This summons is surely coextensive with all reading in the strong sense. But certain texts render the awareness of this possibility more accessible than others. From Sterne to Kafka, Kierkegaard to Derrida, Freud ...

Prior Publicaton

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: Theatricality as Medium

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pp. 1-30

The essays that compose this book seek to respond to two sets of questions. First, how does it come about, and what does it signify, that, in an age increasingly dominated by electronic media, notions and practices that could be called ‘‘theatrical,’’ far from appearing merely obsolete, seem to gain in importance? In other words, given that the medium of theater and the effect of ...

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Chapter 1. Theatrocracy; or, Surviving the Break

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pp. 31-53

The relation between theater and politics has a long and vexed history. Of all the ‘‘arts,’’ theater most directly resembles politics insofar as traditionally it has been understood to involve the assemblage of people in a shared space. But the audience in the theater differs from the members of a political grouping: its existence is limited in time, whereas a polity generally ...

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Chapter 2. Technics, Theatricality, Installation

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pp. 54-96

At the conclusion of his essay questioning—and in quest of—technics, Heidegger suggests that the problems involved point beyond the consecrated disciplinary discourses that have hitherto monopolized the field: Because the goings-on of technics [das Wesende der Technik] are not technical, essential meditation upon technics and decisive confrontation [Auseinandersetzung] can only happen in a realm ...

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Chapter 3. Scene and Screen: Electronic Media and Theatricality

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pp. 97-120

What is the place or role of ‘‘theatricality’’ in an age increasingly dominated by electronic media? What is the place of ‘‘theater’’? Or, since there is more than one kind, of ‘‘theaters’’? What is the relation between such ‘‘theaters,’’ which seem to name something concrete, and ‘‘theatricality,’’ which need not take place in theaters, at least as commonly understood? ...

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Chapter 4. Antigone's 'Nomos'

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pp. 121-140

True to its Protestant heritage, American society has never taken the existence of the ‘‘group’’ for granted. Its emphasis upon the individual as the basic unit of experience, whether religious, social, political, or ethical, has always cast the ‘‘rule of law’’ in an ambiguous light. On the one hand, as Tocqueville already noted, issues and controversies that in Europe would be decided by political instances tend ...

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Chapter 5. The Place of Death: 'Oedipus at Colonus'

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pp. 141-159

As is well known, Sophocles’ Theban Plays were composed neither as a trilogy nor in narrative sequence: Antigone was written first, probably around 442–441 B.C.; Oedipus Tyrannos some twenty years later; and Oedipus at Colonus shortly before Sophocles’ death in 406. Yet despite the divergence of biographical chronology from mythical-narrative coherence, ...

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Chapter 6. Storming the Work: Allegory and Theatricality in Benjamin's 'Origin of the German Mourning Play'

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pp. 160-180

In his study of German baroque theater, Origin of the German Mourning Play, Walter Benjamin emphasizes the ostensibly unbridgeable distance that separates the German Trauerspiel from Greek ‘‘tragedy.’’ The latter, he argues, relying primarily upon the work of Franz Rosenzweig and of his friend Florens Christian Rang, articulates the revolt of the ‘‘self ’’ ...

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Chapter 7. "Ibi et ubique": The Incontinent Plot ('Hamlet')

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pp. 181-199

Walter Benjamin's discussion of the way the German baroque mourning play seeks to ‘‘reanimate’’ theatrically a world whose faith in the narrative of Christian redemption has been badly shaken reminds us of how central the question of life and death have always been to the theatrical medium—and to its repression. That medium has always assumed an equivocal position ...

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Chapter 8. Kierkegaard's Posse

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pp. 200-228

Theater and theory share a common etymology and, as we have seen, a vexed history. At issue is the interpretation of thea, looking, of its site, theatron, of the onlooker or spectator, theoros, and, finally, of the spectacle itself. Ever since Plato and Aristotle, philosophy has sought to reduce the importance of the scenic, medial dimension by comprehending it primarily ...

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Chapter 9. After the End: Adorno

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pp. 229-250

A scene from Repetition, a passage that Adorno considered to be among the most important Kierkegaard ever wrote, can suggest a framework within which to approach Adorno’s own work today. To call it a ‘‘passage’’ is misleading, however, since in a certain sense it leads nowhere, neither from nor to any clearly defined place. And yet it doesn’t simply stand still, either. ...

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Chapter 10. Psychoanalysis and Theatricality

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pp. 251-276

To discuss the significance of theatricality for psychoanalysis, and in particular for the thought of Freud, it is first necessary to distinguish what is commonly understood by theatricality from the quite different conception to which Freud appeals. If a certain notion of theater is crucial to Freud in articulating what distinguishes psychoanalysis from previous modes of thought, ...

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Chapter 11. "The Virtual Reality of Theater": Antonin Artaud

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pp. 277-294

In an age when the relation of violence to the media has become a widespread concern, the words with which Antonin Artaud introduced his notion of a ‘‘theater of cruelty’’ in the fateful year 1933 acquire a particular resonance: The question is to know what we want. If we are prepared for war, plagues, famine, and massacres, we don’t even need to say so, all we have to do is carry on. Carry on behaving like snobs,

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Chapter 12. Double Take: Acting and Writing in Genet's "The Strange Word 'Urb'"

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pp. 295-312

What has traditionally been called ‘‘theater’’ seems to be in a curious situation today. On the one hand, the emergence of electronically powered techniques of articulation and of transmission appears increasingly to marginalize theater. Insofar as it is considered to be a medium of representation, theater is at an increasing disadvantage with regard to the electronic media. ...

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Chapter 13. "Being . . . and eXistenZ": Some Preliminary Considerations on Theatricality in Film

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pp. 313-325

With the advent first of film, then of video, and finally of electronic media and the revolution in transmission that they have brought about, it might seem inevitable that theater should assume an increasingly marginal role, socially as well as aesthetically. The times when theater was a major means either for forging social and national identity or for disturbing it are long past, ...

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Chapter 14. "War," "Terrorism," and "Spectacle": On Towers and Caves

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pp. 326-335

"War" and ‘‘terrorism’’ have traditionally been associated with one another, but to link them both to ‘‘spectacle’’ constitutes a relatively new phenomenon. To ‘‘link’’ does not, of course, mean to identify: it does not suggest that war, terrorism, and spectacle are the same. But it implies a necessary relationship among them. And that is new, in a very specific way. ...

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Chapter 15. Stages and Plots: Theatricality after September 11, 2001

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pp. 336-364

The following discussion took place by e-mail during September 2001. On September 11, the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed and the Pentagon badly damaged in a series of well-coordinated attacks. The participants in the exchange obviously felt compelled to respond to these events, although it was envisaged beforehand that the purpose of the ...

Appendix: Other Publications by Samuel Weber dealing with Theater

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pp. 365-366

Notes

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pp. 367-400

Index

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pp. 401-408


E-ISBN-13: 9780823247318
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823224159
Print-ISBN-10: 0823224155

Page Count: 414
Publication Year: 2004