Monday, November 26, 2007

Baraka & Theatre of Cruelty

Baraka's work is often said to extend concepts from the French playwright and theorist, Antonin Artaud, specifically the concept of cruelty:

Theatre of Cruelty is a concept in Antonin Artaud's book Theatre and its Double. “Without an element of cruelty at the root of every spectacle, the theater is not possible. In our present state of degeneration it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter our minds” (Artaud, Theatre and its Double). By cruelty, he meant not sadism or causing pain, but rather a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality which, he said, lies like a shroud over our perceptions. To put it another way, it's not cruelty in the sense of being violent, but the cruelty it takes for the actor to completely strip away their masks and the cruelty of showing an audience a truth that they don't want to see. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language halfway-between thought and gesture. Antonin Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all expression is physical expression in space.

You might notice above some concepts central to our discussion of the primitive/modern: "our present state of degeneration," the merging of the material/spiritual, also the "shattering of false reality" that literature can often abet.

In Dutchman, pay special attention to signs of these concerns--specifically, the notion of a language that is between thought and gesture--a new kind of realism that is designed to shock audiences in a primal, Neitzschean way.

Of course, others have stated: "the Theatre of Cruelty has often been called an impossible theatre--vital for the purity of inspiration which it generated, but hopelessly vague and metaphorical in its concrete detail." Is there a vagueness in detail or "message" in Dutchman, or does Baraka update his work to make it politically relevant?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Incest, Family, Politics (A Review)

We covered a lot in class today, touching on the text as a kind of allegory for the politicization of the primitive. That is, Cather is interested in how the nation conceives of itself as a "family" (which can reproduce only through incest) versus the assimilation of foreigners (like Louis) and other corrupting influences of modernity. Do you agree with this reading or want to expand upon it? How does it help illuminate the relationship between Godfrey and Tom? In that light, consider the inexplicable malaise that sets upon the professor: where does it come from and what is interesting about his dramatic episode near the end of the book?

Finally, what kind of political commentary might be implicit in the description of the peoples of Cliff City? In the description of the city as a place of "design"?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Professor's House

Cather clearly is interested in dialectics throughout this work, in ways subtle and not so subtle. For example, what is the world of modernity---the new house, wealth, aviation technology---played off against?? Is the primitive figured forth in the text; if so, how and what are its values?

A close reader might also discover an incredible interest in colors throughout the text: Ch. 1 tells us about St. Peter's view, "From the window he could see, far away, just on the horizon, a long, blue, hazy smear--Lake Michigan, the inland sea of his childhood." There are many such--aesthetic?--appreciations throughout the text, and many such dwellings upon "observation": it's worth asking what role they have in the text.... Are they part of a larger dialectic?

Monday, November 5, 2007

In Our Time & The Multiplicity of Experience

One thing you'll no doubt notice about Hemingway's short story collection is its apparent randomness: war-time prefaces, often violent, seem to introduce disjunctive narratives concerning Nick Adams and a domestic, somewhat placid homefront experience. As we discussed avant-garde aesthetics relating to the "multiplicity of perspectives," consider how the collection embodies this, but also introduces an assortment of experiences peculiar to modernity. How, if at all, do these experiences speak to one another--from the often absurd violence of war to the pre & post-war experiences of Nick and other characters. How, for example, does the style of war pieces such as "On the Quai at Smyrna" differ from that of "Indian Camp"? What themes/images do the two pieces share? What emotions do they provoke in the narrator and reader?