Thursday, 7 January 2016

Great Art is Not Timeless

Great art is not timeless, says HDF Kitto in Greek Tragedy (pg 101), unless we take the trouble to understand its idiom.

Kitto's study of Athenian tragic drama was written in 1939 (and updated into the 1960s), and had the luxury of not being troubled by post-modernism, intersectionality or contemporary semiotics. While he has the virtue of sticking close to the texts, he doesn't always build his arguments on attributions or footnotes, making his philosophy of theatre more personal and, incidentally, readable. 

When he does mention other academics, it is usually to debunk their theories or, when it comes to Aristotle and The Poetics, to weaken their dogmatic grip on analysis. 

When he addresses the problems of presenting Aeschylus or Sophocles to a 'contemporary' audience (and this is not the same contemporary audience in 2016), he stresses that any script was written within a specific historical moment, and the author would make assumptions about what issues and ideas were shared and important.

Kitto exposes the tension within the idea of a canon - a selection of artworks that are 'for the ages'. Outside of their idiom, or context, any artwork flounders and miscommunicates.

He expounds with some confidence on Shakespeare's culture (a shared appreciation of medieval understandings of monarchy and religion), and is able to elaborate on the classical culture that frames Euripides and the gang. 

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