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  • Editorial Comment
  • David Z. Saltz

Some scholarship makes its primary contribution by introducing readers to significant new facts and ideas. Another type of scholarship distinguishes itself by drawing unexpected connections and revealing new patterns within well-established fields of knowledge. The six superb essays in this general issue of Theatre Journal are, by and large, of the latter type.

The first four essays revise our understanding of modernist theatre—sometimes in radical and even unsettling ways. The issue begins with Matthew Buckley's revisionist account of melodrama's genesis and legacy. While the conventional view holds melodrama to be the antithesis of modern drama, a laughably hackneyed, formulaic, and outdated relic, Buckley situates melodrama at the core of both modern drama and, more deeply, the modernist sensibility. The key connection the essay establishes is between the origin of melodrama and the trauma produced by the French Revolution, which reverberated throughout Europe and the United States. According to Buckley, the conventions of melodrama are most credible "to those whose experiences of violence and dislocation were most intensive and sustained." As the type of trauma that gave rise to melodrama persisted and grew increasingly acute throughout the twentieth century, Buckley argues that there has been a relentless but "gradual intensification and consolidation of melodrama's hold, of its increasingly deep and pervasive penetration of mass consciousness"—a process that continues, albeit unacknowledged and repressed, right up to the present day. Melodrama, in Buckley's view, has reinforced "deep-seated patterns of affective response"; in other words, it has shaped our very patterns of thought. To paraphrase Walt Kelly, we have met melodrama and it is us.

Kimberly Jannarone's essay is similarly ambitious in its challenge to conventional wisdom and far-reaching in its implications. Her essay focuses on Antonin Artaud, long hailed as the prophet of modernity, embraced by the avant-garde movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and inextricably associated with aesthetic and political radicalism. Jannarone draws on crowd theory to argue that Artaud's emphasis on creating an intense and unified emotional response that overwhelms critical faculties links his ideas directly to fascism: she situates Artaud's work squarely within the historical context of the contemporaneous fascist movements in Italy and Germany. Moreover, she strives to demonstrate that Artaud's approach to theatre is entirely consistent with the fascist theatre that flourished during the 1920s and 1930s in Italy and Germany. This argument challenges our most fundamental assumptions about Artaud and his place within modern theatre and politics; those whom Jannarone persuades to travel even partway down the path of her argument will never think of Artaud in the same way again.

The nineteenth-century movement and performance pedagogue François Delsarte is typically viewed as exemplifying a conventional, formulaic approach to performance that twentieth-century practitioners of all stripes thoroughly repudiated. Much as Buckley does with melodrama, Carrie Preston, in her contribution to this issue, "Posing Modernism: Delsartism in Modern Dance and Silent Film," locates Delsarte at the heart of modernism, revealing his influence on modern dance through Isadora Duncan and Ted Shawn and on cinema through D. W. Griffith and Lev Kuleshov.

In contrast with the first three essays, which are international in scope, Mark Phelan's "'Authentic Reproductions': Staging the 'Wild West' in Modern Irish Drama" focuses on a single country: Ireland. Within that context, however, the argument is similarly revisionist. Phelan establishes a link between two plays that bookend the twentieth century: Gerald MacNamara's The Mist That Does Be on the Bog, a largely forgotten work written in 1909 at the dawn of the modern Irish theatre movement, and Marie Jones's Stones in His Pockets, a highly popular though critically neglected work written in 1990 at the height of postmodernism. The tissue that connects these two works is their common critique of the cultural politics of nationalism, and in particular of the myth of "authentic" Irishness. Phelan's essay, [End Page 7] by unearthing a submerged narrative that spans the twentieth century, adds a new dimension to our understanding of modern Irish theatre.

Over the past few decades, a great deal of useful scholarship has been devoted to demystifying classical Japanese theatre traditions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 7-8
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-15
Open Access
No
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