Sunday, 27 March 2016

Hmm -Art? A good thing? You are kidding, right?

Thanks to some half-baked reading about Diderot and the Quarrel Between the Ancient and the Moderns, I have become suspicious of Art. To continue the ridiculous simile introduced by King Tynan of BDSM, if theatre is my lover, it's like finding out that she has a job in marketing for UKIP.

The QBtAatA revolved around methods to assess art - whether, following Aristotle's guidelines, it was better to imitate classical sources (The Ancients), or strive after contemporary styling. Diderot, editor of the Encyclopedia was a Modern. He won, in the end. His influence on Saint Lessing, who coined the word dramaturgy, and Comrade Brecht, makes Diderot the Man. All that relevant theatre - that's his fault.

However, what the Ancients and Moderns shared was a conviction that theatre had a cultural importance, that the kind of plays that are produced reflect and support the values of society. This ought to be a straight 101 course in the Sociology of Theatre - Marx, for example, identifies the economic base (the political system, more or less) as defining the superstructure (culture and that).

The Ancients did far more than claim Greek Tragedy as the Best Tragedy. They recognised that its order (reduced to Aristotle's Unities) reflected a Universal Order, that respect for tradition discouraged revolutionary thought. Happening just before The Enlightenment  (or, perhaps more accurately, as an early skirmish that kicked the whole thing off).

They were unapologetic about theatre as propaganda: equally, by the time Diderot got around to writing long justifications of his tedious scripts, he realised that a bourgeois theatre, with a new format known latterly as dram, could encourage different ways of thinking. His plays, which have never been satisfactorily integrated into canon, addressed matters like 'the role of the father'. All worthy issue plays owe their genesis to Diderot's dialogues. Plays dealing with wider, existentialist themes could owe as much to Greek Tragedy.

Of course, the two terms of the ruckus have never been that clear: Euripides was dealing with Athenian politics in The Trojan Women, and Beckett's Endgame speaks to cold-war paranoia, yet both are Aristotlean in format. As Diderot was smart enough t notice, theorists make labels after artists make work. Yet The Quarrel did have Racine storming out of the Academie Francaise when Perrault read a paper about how great the modern age is. Lines were drawn. Corneille's Le Cid, for example, was declared naughty by the Acadamie for not following Aristotle in its structure, even if audiences loved it. 

1 comment :

  1. But if dramatists gave the audience what they wanted and nothing else, wouldn't it merely be the rule of the mob?