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Odd, Anonymous Needs: The Audience in a Dramatized Society Herbert Blau (This Is the second and final Installment of this essay, which is continued from PAJ 26127) if we don't make the most of our history, that's because we've made it into a spectacle In which by displacement or screening so much of it is lost. That may be the psychic equivalent, or model, of our Strategic Defense Capability . "It is advantageous," said Brecht, commenting on the scene before Dumb Kattrin's beating the drum, "to avoid the direct or 'immediate impression ' of the apparently singular [non-recurrent] terrible event, in order to reach a deeper strata of fear, where frequent, ever-recurring misfortune has forced mankind into ceremonialization of his defense mechanisms, which of course can never save him from actual fear itself.We must break, In performance , through this ceremonialization of defense." It is a defense which-as Brecht saw in conceiving the opposing ceremoniousness of Alienation-divests us of history or misses its point, like Star Wars, both the movie and the President's policy, which In their respective optimism and obstinacy tap and sap the very fiber of the deeper strata of fear. An audience without a history is not an audience. There Is a sense in which history is audience, and the audience history. That's the spinning logic of Krapp's tape, as it is the taped testament of the defense-"Where does It come from, this rancid, dead taste in my mouth? From man? From the beast? From myself? It Is the taste of the century"-as the stage empties at the end of Sartre's The Condemned of Altona, relegating the question of taste once again to the audience: "What do you say?" That plays through the last illusion of a possible response upon one recurrent version of the au- dience, as guilty creatures sitting at a play. If they're unable to say anything, that may be attributed to the exhaustiveness of Sartre exhausting in the play, but there is still the enormity of history with its unspeakably rancid taste. If history remains a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken, perhaps it's because in the unbalancing wheel of modernity, rocked to hallucination by contingency, we've managed to neutralize history. Such a possibility could only arise in complex societies by virtue of their complexity. The irony is that it takes a complex society, in which the relevance of history is its contingency, to annul or neutralize the past. The wider the temporal horizon of a society, the more history comes in. The more consciousness of history there is, the more liable it is to be forgotten. Or in the effort to rectify history, erased, as in the Soviet encyclopedia or Mr. Nixon's tape. The very obsession with what happened, making it memorable whether it happened or not, may accumulate so many variable versions of the past that they virtually cancel each other. Or, held in unnegotiable balance, breed Indifference to history which, when all is said and done, is made to disappear. To the degree it has become a burden, it may seem better buried as a past or, as in the narrativity of psychoanalysis, converted from a past into a transference-but left then, as In most of our theatre, with the analysis Incomplete . No wonder, then, hermeneutics has returned to the theoretical scene, along with a sense that what is being Interpreted is not the play by the Interpreter but the interpreter by the play. That the audience itself was becoming the subject of interpretation was true before Handke made it explicit, and it became a principal enterprise beyond revisionist productions of drama In Conceptual and Performance Art. "Premise," writes Dan Graham in the "text" of Performance/Audience Mirror (1977): "A performer faces a seated audience. Behind the performer, covering the back wall (parallel to the frontal view of the seated audience), is a mirror reflecting the audience." Graham, like Walter Benjamin, is obsessed with the momentariness of historical selfhood, the elusiveness of its perceptual instant, and there is In his architectural and performance structures a kind of strategic narcissism, like an...


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pp. 34-42
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