1. Nostalgia and Drama
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1 Nostalgia and Drama In the introduction, I discussed the critic's desire to inhabit the position of the masculine subject of antiquity and the persistence of that desire in the critical history of Greek and European drama. Here I want to elaborate on that claim by discussing this form of nostalgia in the context of four historically dominant-if very different-approaches to dramatic production: Plato's critique of dramatic mimesis in the Republic , Aristotle's formal analysis of tragedy in the Poetics, Freud's narrative of sexual object choice and identity formation in his reading of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, and the account of theatrical experience in contemporary drama criticism and performance studies. It is obvious that I will not be presenting a comprehensive survey of approaches to theatrical experience but a highly selective one with some particular aims in mind. Plato and Aristotle must necessarily be included in any account of the social and cultural meaning of drama in ancient Greece. My discussions of the Republic and Poetics are aimed at demonstrating how, in the context of their analyses of dramatic performance, a defining feature of each is the desire to create and preserve an internal and essential core of masculine identity. Then I want to make a more farreaching claim, namely, that this desire is a defining feature of Western drama as a conceptual category. While this proposition must remain provisional, I illustrate its plausibility in the context of Freud's analysis of the Oedipus and in the context of contemporary drama and performance studies, where the desire for an essential masculine identity is manifested, for example, in the concept of identification. The overall aim of this chapter is to show how the preservation of an idealized and normative masculinity is a motivating principle in ancient Greek analyses of dramatic production and persists as a nostalgic effect in the history of drama since the ancient Greeks. Before entering into this larger discussion, however, I want to establish a general outline for what I mean when I talk about drama and the activities and representations it comprehends. The lexicon of formal 12 Nostalgia and Drama 13 theatrical performance in ancient Greece is comprised of terms meaning to do or act (bQaw), to watch (8EaO!lm), and to imitate or impersonate (!lL!leO!lm). From these terms, we derive the principal concepts that describe the European theater: the drama (bQU!la)i the spectator and the theater (8Eatf]~, 8eatQov)i and imitation or impersonation (!ll!l'Y)aL~) as the vehicle of the dramatic performance.1 A common approach to the development of Greek drama is to analyze the semantic ranges and privileges of occurrence of these terms as they constitute an emerging aesthetic vocabulary. I mention this lexicon not to talk about specific or shifting usage, however, but to establish an inventory of activities that, while they come to function within the context of formal theatrical production in fifth-century Athens, also have semantic and ideological value outside that context. It is true that once we uncouple these activities from their dramatic or theatrical moorings, we face a seemingly limitless variety and number of references to human beings acting, watching, and impersonating-especially acting and watching-in the Greek narrative and visual traditions. At the same time, restrictions obviously apply to the sorts of human actions and visual experiences that are available or suitable for representation in any cultural context. In the Greek context, this restrictive criterion is perhaps most obvious with respect to impersonations, as Plato's critique of dramatic mimesis in the Republic illustrates.2 But whether we are talking about seemingly indiscriminate activities like acting and watching or about more readily circumscribed ones like impersonating, each operates in a representational system that enforces cultural norms and hierarchies. The first general proposition I wish to make, then, is that it is possible to identify in Greek culture at large the representation of activities that are analogous to the formal dramatic practices of acting, watching, and impersonating (whether or not they are specified by forms of bQaw, 8Eao!lm, or 1. I am obviously referring not to English cognates but to theatrical concepts ; and these are not the only terms in the Greek dramatic lexicon. For a useful recent discussion of the terms mimesis and drama, see Nagy 1990, 4243 , 388. See also Sorbom 1966. I adopt "impersonation" rather than "imitation " as a translation for the term mimesis wherever it seems appropriate to specify the dramatic sense...

Subject Headings

  • Nostalgia -- Greece.
  • Men -- Greece.
  • Nostalgia in literature.
  • Gender identity -- Greece.
  • Masculinity -- Greece.
  • Men in literature.
  • Greek drama -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- Greece.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Drama -- Psychological aspects.
  • Masculinity in literature.
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