Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Why Diderot Matters...

Diederot was one of the Big Shots in the century before France had that bunch of revolutions starting in 1789. You know, the ones that inspired America to kick off the yoke of the UK, have been a template for leftists and ended up with an imperialist expansion across Europe. Using Owen Jones' description of right wing intellectuals in the 1970s (in a period when banging on about neo-liberalism was a minority interest, unlike today), Diderot was an 'outlyer', a thinker who presaged later developments.

Far from being concerned with hermetic analysis of theatre, Diderot's two periods of dramaturgical study were part of a dynamic debate. His Entretiens could be a response to Rosseau's worries about the morality of theatre (he repeated Plato's warnings, more or less, but with less ironic ambiguity), while his Advice to Actors is a comprehensive attempt to set up foundations for the training for performers (a professionalisation of the job, which could be seen as a prototype of 'professional development, as per contemporary buzzwords). 

Diderot's vision of theatre is not disengaged. His manifesto in Entretiens offers an almost naturalistic drama, with the aristocrats booted from their cosy seats on-stage, spectacular scenography replaced by tableaux vivants, dance to be classified and physical theatre (mime) to be integrated into performance. Above all, he made an appeal for a relevant theatre, one that demonstrated bourgeois values.

There are at least three good reasons to bother with Diderot. He apparently influenced Brecht - probably in his insistence on a theatre that was not interested in characters but situations. He provides a logic behind the status of the artist in society (that still exists today) and relates creativity to the burgeoning influence of bourgeois (and capitalist) culture. He also sits at an interesting point for art historians - between classicism and its enthusiasm for tradition and stability, and romanticism and the whole 'genius, entrepreneur, artist' blather. 

So, having been persuaded... some heavy-duty yap about Diderot will be coming soon. Sorry.

No comments :

Post a Comment