Der Zuschauer

A Journal of Essays and Reportage on Drama, History, and Literature

Archive for August 2008

Summer Reading

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For those of you reading the Leon Trotsky telegraphic excerpts from his Literature and Revolution, and, surprised at the humanity and depth therein, you might want to read in parrallel Roman Jakobson’s My Futurist Years, and, despite its title, Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose, a work that addresses dramaturgy brillantly while addressing another topic, much as Sergei Eisenstein does in his Film Form and Film Sense.

What we have been reading on Guam Island and the nude beaches of Martha’s Vineyard include: Geoffrey Hill’s Collected Critical Writings, M.L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth, Colin Thubron’s The Silk Road, Owen Barfield’s History in English Words, Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading, and Steven Roger Fischer’s A History of Writing.

We hope you are doing well.
Klinger, Grabbe, Degot, Shadewell, and Mrs. Inchbald

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August 28, 2008 at 11:08 am

Do Fish Have Souls?

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We give you the following from G.W.F. Hegel:

“…When James Bruce, on his journey to Abyssinia, showed paintings of fish to a Turk, the man was amazed at first, but soon enough made answer: ‘If the fish shall rise up against you on the last day, and say, “You have created for me a body, but no living soul,” how will you defend yourself against such an accusation?'”

From his Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics

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August 26, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Max Klinger on Der Zuschauer

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Dear Comrades, We have found it necessary to make some editorial changes in the journal. Ekaterina Degot┬áhas been forced out in what she calls a putsch. Christian Grabbe is in a padded cell, sort of an “alternative detention.” We hope to see him better and returned to editorial eminence. Lastly we welcome Thomas Shadewell to our working editorial board. All our best to you, Dear Readers.

Klinger, (Grabbe, Here), Shadewell, and Mrs. Inchbald.

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August 22, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Henry James on the Scenic Art

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Life is not always about the Sign and the Signified; sometimes it’s about having a sunburn and dried salt water on your epidermis. “To offer a few reflections on current theatrical matters in a department devoted to the fine arts may seem to indicate a rather startling measure of audacity, and we confess that if under this title we preposed to take a general view of the field, we should be open to the charge of making, as the French idom says, an arrow of any wood. The drama at large in America, just now, is certainly neither artistic nor fine; but this is a reason for caring with some tenderness for what it maybe in particular cases. And indeed we are by no means sure that its usual vulgarity is not in itself a signal occasion for criticism; if tawdry plays, and acting to match, were things that began and ended with themselves, we could certainly very well afford to let them alone; for one of the least comfortable signs of the times, to our sense, is the extension, the reasonance, as it were, given by voluminous criticism to poor performances. But a thousand theatres full of people contemplating every night in the year spectacles artistically, at least, more or less percinious, suggests a number of accessory ideas.
The impertinence of these reflections depends very much of course upon ones measure of the strict importance to people in general of the artistic quality of their diversions. When a play is barbarous both in form and and in rendering, so that it can do no one any good, often, however, one is sturck with the high–the aggressively high–moral tone of dramas replete with aesthetic depravity; and we are thinking just now of pieces in which sentiment is maintained at a reasonable level, but machinery, using the term broadly, comes out with especial strength. Does it really much matter, one sometimes wonders, whether such machinery is made to produce vulgar effects or charming ones? Is there any tangible relation between the working consciousness and the play-consciousness of people in general? American audiences are not demonstrative, and it has often seemed to us that, for good or evil, impressions at the theatre are not penetrating. People go thither to be amused, and tactically assume that amusement is one thing and workaday life another, and the world exhibited in plays is a purely fictive and artificial world, with a logic quite distinct from that of the dusky world of umbrellas and street cars, into which they hustle back when the play is over.”

Henry James, from The Scenic Art

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August 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Hegel on the Sensuous Art for Mind

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“The work of art then, of course, presents itself to sensuous apprehension. It is addressed to sensuous feeling, outer or inner, to sensuous perception and imagination, just as is the nature which surrounds us without, or our own sensititive nature within. Even a speech, for instance, may be addressed to sensuous imaginatiion and feeling. Notwithstanding, the work of art is not only for the sensuous apprehension as sensuous object, but its position is of such a kind that as sensuous it is at the same time essentially addressed to the mind, that the mind is meant to be affected by it, and to find some sort of satisfaction in it.”

“…The interest of art distinguishes itself from the practical interest of desire by the fact that it permits its object to subsist freely and in independence, while desire utilizes it in its own service by its destruction. On the other hand, artistic contemplation differs from theoretical consideration by the scientific intelligence, in cherishing interest for the object as an individual existence, and not setting to work to transmute it into its universal thought and notion.”

GWF Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics.

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August 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Upon the Times

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“…And from the papyrus scrolls to the yelling radio the truth was throttled by demagogy.”
Peter Weiss, The Aesthetics of Resistance

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August 14, 2008 at 12:26 pm

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What Is Meant By Tradition

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“Some seventy years ago, a traveller in the Australian bush, riding up at nightfall to a solitary cabin in the district between the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, would have found the owner sitting alone at a rough and frugal dinner, in complete evening dress. He wore evening dress for the sake of its associations, because he and his people had done so at home. It was to him part of a tradition of thought and conduct and social atmosphere which he valued and which he himself felt to be in danger of losing. He wore it with emphasis and deliberately, though it was, in his present circumstances, a habit both unusual and inconvenient.
For somewhat similar reasons he ordered regularly from London a large chest of books, the most recent books that were there considered most interesting and important. He did this because at home his people had usually had the most interesting recent books, as they came out. That also was part of the tradition, though, of course, he also valued the books themselves.
These two observances of tradition, no doubt, excited notice and comment from the man’s neighbours. This was because they stood out as unusual; they were not of a piece with the ordinary texture of life in that neighbourhood. But the man was at same time doing innumberable others thing for exactly the same reason, except that he did them unconsciously and without effort; and all the people about him, without exception, were doing the same. He wore clothes, except for a few changes due to climate or circumstances, formed on the model of the clothes he had worn at home. He had his hair cut the same way; he used a spoinge and a toothbrush and a saucer bath, as a matter of course and without ever reflecting what extremely curious instruments they all were. He spoke English, and spoke it with an aristocratic and slightly Irish accent. He practiced a religion which to many of his neighbors seemd highly erroneous; he had distinguished and somewhat ceremonius manners. And there were other practices beyond number which he followed not because he had thought them out or had found them specially convenient, but because they formed parts of his whole inherited tradition and no compelling reason for throwing them off. He was conscious of the traditons only when it conflicted with daily convenience or with the new customs among which he found himself. Otherwise the whole of his normal life was shaped and determined by the ways in which his family, neighbors, and ancestors had lived, long before, on the other side of the world.
Meanwhile his average neighbors in the bush probably thought of him as very “conservative” or dependant on convention, because of his English books and his evening dress, whereas in the countless ordinary actions of life, they were fully as dependant on tradition as he. Indeed, they were more so; because, for one thing, he was a thoughtful man, a leader and a pioneer, who often consciously devised new methods to meet new conditions, and also because, in many of the cases where he followed tradition, he chose carefully the traditions he wished to follow. The mass of them acted without any thought or selection at all, and followed the manners of speech and thought and behavior which happened to be prevalent at that date between the Murray and Murrumbidgee. Tradition really held sway over all of them.
But there was a difference in the attitude of different people toward the tradition. All were bound by it. But to most men, at any rated to those of the lower type, it was an unconscious bondage. They spoke and ate and smoked and spat in the ways to which their fathers had been accustomed, because it had never ocurred to them to do otherwise. They made and laughed at the same jokes, because it is notoriously difficult to make, or see new ones. They mostly resented innovations, at any rate when they involved effort. But they had no deep basis of conviction to prevent them from following the line of least resistance.
To the man in evening dress, on the other hand, the tradition represented an ideal. The tradition expected him to be an educated man and a gentleman, to keep his word, to control his desires and passions, and part and parcel of the same attitude, to sit down as clean at his meals in the remote bush as he would in his father’s house. And all kinds of small things which were associated with that ideal were dear to him for its sake, as a man may love some indifferent sound or smell because it is associated with his home or childhood. The tradition represented a memory which he loved and was proud of, and to which he intended to be true. No doubt he idealized it, and thought of it as something finer than it had really been.
Of course there is always the possibility, or rather the certainty, in ordinary civilized life, that in some points the tradition maybe, not too high, but too low for a man’s critical conscience. He will then consciously rebel against it because he wants to raise the standard, and reform things. But, so far as I know, that question did not often occur in the society of which I am speaking. The question there was between trying and not trying to live up to a standard which was difficult to maintain, among people who had mostly lost or never possessed the sense of it. To a visitor from another planet or another civilization, the difference between my hero and his neighbors would have been very small. They were all living according to the habits and ways of thought wich they had derived from their ancestors on the other side of the world. But the average feeling was: “One need not be so particular here as at home, thank goodness!” His feeling was: “I was once a better man than this, and living among better men. I must not fall below the old standard.”
The parrallel may help us to understand the effect of the classical tradition in English poetry.”

The above extract comes from Gilbert Murray’s Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard, published in 1927 as The Classical Tradition in Poetry. A reissue in paperback was published by Vintage Press in 1957

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August 14, 2008 at 12:10 pm