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The Oresteiaand the Avant-Garde Three Decades of Discourse John Chioles IT MUST BE a rare occurrence that a culture, such as that of the Greeks, would follow a straight line of transformation from the mythic and the mystical-from ceremony and ritual-toward an ever increasing sense of the real or, in modernist terms, toward realism. No matter what they borrowed from earlier Mediterranean cultures, that which they transform in such a relatively short time remains the bedrock of reason and psychologizing character. Myth and its rituals, whether as religion or as the evolution of political experiments, provide the central logos of this culture. Communication through dialogic story-telling is situated at the center of their polis. Saying this much, it is tempting to leave it unqualified, to say simply that the direction the Greek theatre took reflects in the end the character of their political evolvement. Other cultural developments, parallel to the theatre's movement toward realism, may be seen in the same way: in philosophy, the movement from the various "mystical" positions of the pre-Socratics to the hair-splitting dialectics of the Sophists; in history, from "mythy" Herodotus to the tightly structured, "novelistic" Thucydides; or from dialogic Plato to the "psycho-logic" discursive Aristotle-and, precisely to the point, the movement from dithyrambic ritual and early Aeschylus to the late "psycho-logizing" Euripides. All, in the space of a century, or even less. All, veering toward a greater relation with the real and ever so tentatively away from the "mystical," away from ritualistic religion. Before entering the discourse with productions of the Oresteiatrilogy in the last two or three decades, allow me to continue a bit further the 1 introductory parenthesis I have opened. The necessary component in understanding Aeschylus' work as presented in today's theatre is the avantgarde in performance. From the time of Max Reinhardt's first production of the Oresteiain 1911 to, say, Minos Volanakis's Oedipus,Joseph Chaikin's Antigone or Robert Wilson's Alcestis in the 1980s, the genre of Greek Tragedy for today (apart from the unspeakable pseudo-museum renditions) has been appropriated by the avant-garde in performance. Of course, this rare cultural transformation (from the ritual and timeless to real time enactment) may well count as the demise of the ancient Greek theatre. Credit for writing "the history of the demise" (pace Nietzsche who insists on Socrates and Euripides) should go to Aristotle. Aristotle was in fact the agent linking us (and the many interested centuries between ) to the ancient theatre, the theoretician who unwittingly gave us to understand the "higher order" toward which the art had evolved, thus locating fairly precisely its end without meaning to. By his scientific attempt to "ascribe" wholes and parts, to then "describe" his favorite achievements , and by implication proceed to evaluate and "prescribe" to the art, Aristotle falls into the trap of seeing in the Greek theatre what he wanted to see, what his age (nearly a century after the Greek theatre flourished) wished to address in terms of the theatrical art. That which Aristotle wanted to see comes down to us as: the "inner realism" of that theatre's sense of imitation; that is, the inner sense of character, the inner sense of action in the plot, and the brainstorms which held things together, which he called dianoia. He never seriously addressed the other side, the meaning of performance, the meaning for the performer or the spectator. Only what is inwardly mechanistic, outwardly structured, and self-referentially logical seems to have concerned him. Because Aristotle was not concerned with self, his focus is more on wholes and less on parts; he is more inclined toward the structural principles of artifacts (which he can treat metaphorically as organisms) and less with ethical issues of performance. He clearly wants to tell Plato that poetics is something other than socio-political acts. And so he proceeds to look at the whole of tragedy, then to de-structure it (as Aeschylus does poetically with the trilogy), to examine the parts and piece them together again, and finally to celebrate its wholeness once more by comparing it to the epic and, by implication, to...


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