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From Science to Theatre Dramas of Speculative Thought Gautam Dasgupta Artistic practice and scientific inquiry are commonly perceived as distinctly opposed modes of thought. The underlying assumption is that art-specifically theatre in this case-concerns itself with human and social relations , while science purveys the domain of physical reality. Since at least the early nineteenth century, however, such divergences have on occasion been breached.The incursions of newer forms of investigative disciplinesDarwinism , Freudianism, behaviorism, social sciences-have all made their mark on the drama and theatre of recent times. It can be argued, though, that as the above disciplines are not rigidly scientific in approach, their usurpation by the artistic mind has been made that much easier. Their referent is the human mind, not formulations about the nature of reality. Of course, aligning such humanistic disciplines with artistic practice betrays a myopic view of how ideas in various spheres of activity interpenetrate one another. To take just one instance from an earlier century, did not Herbert Spencer, precursor of Darwin and theorist of social evolution , support his claims by acknowledging the physical principles of the conservation of energy? Could we not, then, resurrect this missing scientific link in discussing the dramatic works of Zola, Hauptmann and Strindberg , for example, as instances of a deterministic dramaturgy where aesthetic and structural laws derive from an accepted scientific paradigm? The preferred methodology has been to study their plays as expressive of 237 evolutionary processes that have been "humanized," i.e., for their residual implications in the realm of human activity. What I am proposing instead is a re-working of dramatic and artistic thought as the locus of prevalent scientific ideas of the time. Hopefully, in pursuing this line of inquiry, it may help us understand from the dominant perspective of scientific development through the ages what brought about the emergence of certain styles of drama at given historical periods. We may then, at one stroke, be able to overcome the traditional bias against the unification of science and theatre, a deeply ingrained prejudice that continues unabated not only in the minds of the general public but on the part of artists and scholars alike. The issue here is not so much one of influence but of correspondences that may emerge when the theatre is subjected to a mode of inquiry sustained by discoveries in the sciences. If both science and theatre seek to comprehend the nature of reality in all its varied manifestations, surely they must converge at some point in their individual searches. Such correlations, when and if they can be determined, do not necessarily have to present themselves in the structure and language of the corresponding discipline. Transpositions along metaphorical lines allow all art to subsume ideas prevalent in other fields. Could we not speculate, for instance, that Aristotle 's emphasis on dramatic action as the first principle of dramaturgy may have reflected his own scientific studies on motion? Furthermore, did his placement of tragedy as superior to comedy in the hierarchy of dramatic genres stem from his belief in the idea of Final Causes, as opposed to that of Efficient Causes? From the alternate viewpoint of scientific inquiry, we find subatomic physics borrowing the metaphor of the "quark" from Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and the ongoing debate about determinate and indeterminate workings of physical reality not only replay ancient philosophical concerns but also reflect opposed dramatic strategies that lie imbedded in the plays of, for example, Sophocles and Euripedes, or Corneille and Racine. What concerns me here is not which came first, the chicken or the egg. The goal is far more modest: to outline on a provisional basis modalities of thought that seem to recur in the exercises of the theatrical imagination and of the scientific temper. For the purposes of my remarks here, and as an initial foray into this field of research, I have narrowed the subject of my inquiry to two contemporary artists who best exemplify the advanced theatricality of our time. The choice of Richard Foreman and Robert Wilson is arbitrary insofar as drawing links between theatrical practice and scientific discourse is concerned, although it may be safe to suggest that such correspondences...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 237-246
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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