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Reviews309 Frantisek Deak. Symbolist Theater: The Formation of an Avant-Garde. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Pp. 320. $14.95. When Deak's Symbolist Theater first came into my hands I devoured it eagerly. Oscar Brockett had said it was "likely to become the standard work on the subject for some time," and it certainly broke new ground. As greatly as I admired his accomplishment, however, I found myself distracted and disappointed by typographical and editing errors. After carefully noting several dozen misspellings in French and English along with awkward translations and minor inaccuracies, especially in the footnotes, I concluded that from a scholarly standpoint this was an unreliable work that might prove confusing to student researchers , perhaps, particularly if they didn't understand French. While I still think a subsequent edition could benefit from careful proofreading and copy-editing, I believe that the brilliance of Deak's insight outweighs any minor flaws. The Introduction is admirably clear in outlining what the book will cover and in situating it in the history of criticism. Deak discusses the difficulties of accepting the performance as the center of theater research and proposes the concept of semantic gesture as a critical focus. Chapter I provides fresh insights into "Symbolists and the NineteenthCentury Theater," setting up the book's methodology by juxtaposing Baudelaire's theater, the "impossibility of acting," poetry in performance , and Gustave Kahn's manifesto of modernism and symbolism in the theater. This unorthodox approach leads into chapters on Villiers de l'lsle-Adam, Mallarmé, and Wagner that attempt to reconstruct the larger conceptual framework that applies to symbolist poetry and theater. Subsequent chapters delineating the history of the Théâtre d'Art and the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre gain immeasurably from the clarity and focus provided by earlier chapters. Performances are documented, but there is no interminable list of details, names, and dates; the widest range of sources is mined, tested for accuracy, and presented vividly. The last chapter, "The Art of Personality," a prize-winning essay previously published in Performing Arts Journal, seems a quirky ending for the book, and I dismissed it at first as solipsistic. Like so much of the book, however, it repays a closer reading. No rationalistic summingup could convey Deak's views on the relationship of symbolism and modernism, rooted as it is in a deeply humanist scholarly method that has transcended that of the Czech structuralists and Russian formalists who first influenced him. Unlike many of the important works in the field of Symbolist drama, Deak's book is far from dull. It is stimulating to follow his concept of semantic gesture through treatments of Strindberg and Jarry. He seems to know what to omit from his sources as well as what to mention and thus creates an impression of freshness. Avoiding speculation and guesswork, he generates respect in the reader for his ideas on the fusion of painting, poetry, performance, music, and personality with 310Comparative Drama Symbolist texts. His is a nice balance of off-the-wall intuition and common sense; he avoids generalizations and otiose disquisitions about literary terms, so some of his transitions, especially within chapters, seem abrupt and puzzling after a first reading. Further examination, however, increases the reader's respect for Deak's inspiring and seminal ideas. VENNE-RICHARD LONDRÉ University of Missouri-Kansas City ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 309-310
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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