Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Puff Diderot on talent... part one

Irony alert: French philosopher Diderot begins his discussion of The Paradox of the Actor with a discussion about how hard it is to be a critic. Apart from a Jesuit education, I don't have much in common with the atheist editor and author of The Encyclopedia, but I recognise the angst of this conversation. 

The First.
I should find it much easier to say nothing than to veil what I really think.

The Second. Of course.

The First.
I shall be uncompromising.

The Second.
That is just what my friend would like you to be.

The First.
Well then, as I must speak — his work, crabbed, obscure, complicated, bombastic as it is in style, is yet full of commonplace. A great dramatic artist will not  be a bit the better, a poor actor not a bit the less inefficient, for reading it. 

Okay, so he is talking about a book about acting, so Puff Diddy is playing a meta-game on the reader... he is slighting another book on the topic he is about to consider. Love the way he acts all coy, before piling in like Hulk Hogan.

Where next, Dids?

It is Nature who bestows personal gifts — -appearance, voice, judgment, taste. It is the study of the great models, the knowledge of the human heart, the habit of society, earnest work, experience, close acquaintance with the boards, which perfect Nature's gifts. The actor who is merely a mimic can count upon being always tolerable: his playing will call neither for praise nor for blame.

The Second. 
Or else for nothing but blame.

The First. 
Granted. The actor who goes by Nature alone is often detestable, sometimes excellent. But in whatever line, beware of a level mediocrity. 

Allowing for the translation (I just spent ages changing f to s - it's an old, copyright free number off the Archive), I think Diderot is stating his own commonplace: nature and nurture combine to make a great performer, and if an actor just relies on their gifts, they'll be a bit crap. 

It's the argument that makes Conservatoires important. It's also pretty obvious. I'm sure there is a Gustave Dore comic that says the same thing in the back of Raw, volume 2, issue 3

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