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THE SOCIAL PERFORMER Bruce Barber When Brecht wrote the above in 1936, he was championing a "new" kind of theatre that was realistic, sensual, critical, and above all didactic. Without the apoliticism and detached irony of a Duchamp, he wished to put theatre "once again at the service of the mind." Like Duchamp, Brecht abhorred the natural-the status quo; unlike Duchamp, who was by calling an iconoclast, Brecht was primarily interested in providing his audience with critical works that dealt with the problems of the past as these had evolved into the present-brought to the people as criticism , for criticism. The abnegation implicit in a Duchamp statement such as "there is no answer because there is no problem" would, for the German playwright , have been tantamount to travesty -perhaps even a curious kind of Pontius Pilate self-absolution. For Brecht, problems once recognized, demand answers , and answers invariably necessitate change. But what does all of this have to do with performance? I have written elsewhere that "performance " in its general sense is as "endemic to post-modern art as it is to a post-modern culture." (Parachute, Dec., 1979). However , "performance art" as it appears in The stage began to be instructive . Oil, inflation, war, social struggles , the family, religion, wheat, the meat market, all became subjects for theatrical representation. Choruses enlightened the spectator about facts unknown to him. Films showed a montage of events from all over the world. Projections added statistical material . And as the 'background' came to the front of the stage, so peoples activity was subjected to criticism. Right and wrong courses of action were shown. People were shown who knew what they were doing, and others who did not. The theatre became an affair for philosophers, but only for such philosophers as wished not just to explain the world but also to change it. So we had philosophy , and we had instruction. And where was the amusement in all that? Were they sending us back to school, teaching us to read and write. Were we supposed to pass exams, work for diplomas? Bertolt Brecht magazines like this one is a "specialized" mode of art production and demands special attention, though its importance or value as a social phenomenon may only be determined by referring to socio-cultural problems. My aim here is to offer a socially relevant criticism that might promote a socially engaged "performance" either with or without the art. It seems to me that most recent art performances still adhere to an aesthetic, or more precisely an ideology, that has been characterized as l'art pour 1'art since the late nineteenth century. As such, they reveal certain tendencies in artists ' productions and their social relationships . I want to focus on one of these tendencies, which I have characterized as "imaging," for it seems that the emphasis given to Image and Format, or if we are looking for more appropriate synonyms, "style" and "package," has led to a curious kind of disengagement from real social and cultural issues. Furthermore, seventies performance has surfaced to a kind of historical impasse, one that could be loosely categorized as an era without a vectorpost -modernism. The time is now ripe for an investigation of strategies which might create performances that are engaged in the broadest sense of the term, that is, both pleasurable and instructive. In 1967 the literary critic Frank Kermode wrote "the sense of an ending . . . is... endemic to what we call modernism." Now, it seems, that ending has arrived and we have entered the "post-modern" era -an era that does not at this stage really know what it is "post" to, yet which comfortably accepts the provisional title until something better comes along. "Post" denotes the past and apparently "cleansing" or "denial" is enough. Accepting this description, we can become thoroughly modern since for the post-modern individual , fear of the future is passe, a legacy of Existentialism and the "modernist " angst that accompanied it. Without fear-with a laissez-faire degree of optimism - we are free to live in the present. The idea that we have no future is implicit in the term post-modern. Now ourfutureis contained in...


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