Monday, 23 January 2017

Diderot Loves a Paradox (a dialectic tension)

I found this phrase at the front of the notebook. It probably alludes to Diderot's thoughts on the nature of acting - his Paradox discusses the irony of the performer who, in presenting an emotion, does not feel it (in fact, must not feel it, in order to perform it accurately). 

The next comment in the notebook is a quotation from Diderot. 

Oh you who make general rules, how little you know about art!

There is another paradox here: Diderot did make general rules about art. Like the one in the Paradox

Turn a few pages, and a few more quotations, all taken from Entretiens sur le fils. Apparently, it is on page 135, in the Irresistible Diderot, a compilation of his writings.

We should no longer be portraying characters but ranks or stations... more fruitful... the father as a social function has not been done.

A character need only be slightly exaggerated for the spectator to be able to say to himself: I'M NOT LIKE THAT!

From the following page, I have tried to copy the author's diagram of connections between Diderot's notions of light and serious theatre. 

Then, a new page and a new heading... Discours Sur La...

To judge a work well, one should not compare it to another work.

There might have been a gap in both time and location before the next set of notes were written. Several pages later, a new heading:

Theatre is anti-christ.

The following comment is unsourced and may be considered the author's own.

Only through the training of the critical faculties can the theatre be redeemed (question mark) (in which case, the training of the audience is more crucial than the training of the artist)

Next page, an obscenity followed by 'until you answer my question - St Augustine knew.'

(In fact, he fucking nails the problem of Aristotle's 'catharsis' - feelings are attached to external worries, not CARE OF SELF)

Again, this statement may be considered the author's own. The shift from Diderot - Enlightenment, rationalist - to a more primitive and theological thinker may reflect the author's anxiety about the function of performance and denies Diderot's optimistic belief in its social good. 

Turning the page, and it becomes evident that, for several pages, the author has written from back to front... the obscenity at the front of the previous page makes sense in this context, as follows...

Truth and lies all mixed up - I worried that the effect would be to make an audience think the lies were the truth. I'm not stupid enough to think that watching Oedipus makes me (previous page, first line) want to fuck my mother.

But I'm still smarter than Aristotle's students who put together their lecture notes and called them Poetics.

I recognised a problematic ontology - 
(roughly, that is, the way a play exists)

This statement is a description of 'ontology' itself - reduced to absurdity - rather than the problem, which is described as follows:

It both really happens and pretends to tell...

Moving forward several pages and reading backwards may clarify the development of the author's argument. It begins...

Aristotle and Diderot agree: the value of theatre (and probably all art) is dependent on its ability to 'teach' the audience.

So does Brecht, Boal - but isn't there a problem? The efficiency of pedagogy relies not only on the 'genius' of the artist but on the receptiveness of the audience.

The scare quotes around 'genius' suggests that the author is referencing either Diderot's definition of the genius or another quality - such as a guiding spirit, following the etymology of the Latin genius. 

Next page, the text continues...

I am forging my own aesthetic - that champions what exactly? A theatre or art that refuses its responsibility to teach, to have virtue?


The absence of a source here is frustrating. If Diderot did say that, it's disappointingly cliched.

A beautiful rationalist, worthy of admiration but ultimately to be rejected.

What follows is an interpretation of Plato's thoughts in The Republic on the dangers of allowing actors into his perfect state. It assumes that Aristotle's Poetics are a response to Plato's dislike of actors.

(Plato is aware of art's ability to instruct for good or evil... his censorship is of a specific type (he does not banish theatre until after it has been performed... he's much harsher on certain modes of music)

Aristotle's intention is to define how theatre acts as a moral teacher - he shifts the emphasis from Plato's recognition of the nature of performance to the content and form - 
Plato was concerned about the DECEPTION of the actors... banishing them and not theatre

(he does recognise the falsehood St A would in 'crying over Dido'

This refers to St Augustine's anxiety that he spent more time reading the Aeneid and getting upset at the death of a fictional woman than taking care of his personal salvation. 

Plato's specific charge remains unanswered. 

Diderot is adapting Aristotle to contemporary ends (yet aims for 'universality' - where would this reside? in the quality of the art -- not the content...

(Does Aristotle discuss quality?)
Plato does.

Plato says - 
You still haven't got it, have you?
No- when I said banish
The actors notice how
I said I'd do it after
The play, the laurels, the praise.

What I didn't want 
Is Celebrity.

Actors hanging about,
Respected for their ability
To deceive and shift-shape.

I'm talking about bisociation
And how you've missed it.

Trying to tell me 'content can be moral.'

I know.

It's a side point, the bad stories
About gods and heroes.


I'm not saying I'm not totalitarian. 

This returns us to the earlier pages. 

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