Reflecting upon European identity, we not only remember our history and look ahead towards future developments, but we also engage in forms of analysis that bring into play normative standards by which actual developments are judged in view of unrealized possibilities. Life is a dream and the world a stage. Thus understood, our memory is internally connected with hope, with the tenacious determination not to reduce history to a series of empirical events, but to judge and evaluate it both emotionally and morally. We do this to enhance the opportunities to experience and to increase the room people have to articulate what is more important for them and to increase the changes that they will be heard and understood by others. Fact is, Western consciousness of and reflection upon theatre making is within the Ancient Greek confines as mimesis or representation. Its utilization is not composed of items of content, but “an experience of the qualities or forms of human consciousness”(1). The personages are characters dramatizing themselves. There self-consciousness is in search of an action, which speaks for itself.
If this precept so understood is explicitly held in mind, the primacy of the person looms so large that the secondary and derivative character of the state as a necessary, but limited, earthly institution, and not more, becomes sharply apparent. The state ceases to be seen as an institution universal and co-extensive with the sum of human relations that is called society. It becomes possible for political theory to break out of the bonds imposed on it by the men of genius who created it, to overcome the limits of the conditions of the Greek consciousness, and to attain the deeper understanding accessible to it on the basis of the Western doctrine of the person.
In other words, the question is not, to reconcile the ancient texts to 21st century demands, but how to “translate” them (not “interpret”) through theatricality. The challenge is: How can directors, engaged in the production of Ancient Greek plays, utilize both historical content and modern social circumstances to better serve the needs of today’s theatre audience?
Since the aesthetic revolution of the 1920th, “the present dictates the past we use and remember”.(2) The past is called forth and “saved” by the needs of “now”. Unlike the Hegelian idealist perspective in which historical reason shapes historical evolution in an ever-perfecting progression, for today’s theatre work, memory is the central category of historical consciousness.
If the past is created through the needs of the present, history cannot be seen as a linear continuity, as a narrative with fixed and casual episodes. It is, after all, the victors who compose the narrative with fixed and casual episodes. Whatever re-readings of the Peloponnesian War or World War II we are offered: always they determine the “functional value” of the past, and compose a “continuum” that regularly excludes the story of the vanquished. In order to overcome this historicist hold on the past to those excluded, I propose a view of history that would imitate memory, stressing the breaks and interruptions of the past and created in the form of discontinuous fragments.
In 1989 we reached neither the end nor the beginning of history. But the democratic awakening of the Middle and Eastern European nations and its unifying force for the continent is the dominant quality and measure. From Estonia to Cyprus, in Wales and Silesia, for the citizens of Bucuresti, Athens and Berlin count the same standards for critique and the normative justification for practical humanizing activities motivated by critical analysis and practical solidarity. It is the individual person and its unique worth that is at the center of most humanist traditions of such different cultural roots. But then again: what is this individual person? How should we envisage its identity, characteristics and capabilities? In view of the need for “self-dramatization”, it is clear that we can no longer meaningfully picture the individual person according to the modern model of the subject as a rational, self-contained, disembodied and autonomous person. It is precisely this humanistic and fallocratic model of the subject that has fallen prey to such a load of convincing critique during the division of Europe. Therefore it is more than ever important to remind theater makers: “We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.”(3)
My central contention would be that any model of the subject as a multiple entity has a chance to enlighten, if it opens itself for the experiences, feelings and thoughts of a great many individuals in post-1989 society. In my opinion and experience, this practical, individualized and embodied humanism of the self-liberated also contains a promise for the self-consciousness.
As long as we use all dialectical tools to grasp the changing reality before our eyes we will gain the critical concept, which enables theatre to serve the needs of its audience: “to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.” (4)
- Susan Sontag: On Style, in: Against Interpretation, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1969, p. 36
- Ibid, p. 37
- Ibid, Against Interpretation, p. 23
- Ibid, p. 23