Towards a Poetics of Performance


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In Bakhtin's opinion, "the relation to meaning is always dialogic. Even understanding itself is dialogic." Particularly, the art of acting is such a dialogic relationship that fuses character and interpreter in the same unity of the presence before the audience. In other words, acting is a "dialectic" relationship, a dialogue on a higher level (a dialogue of personalities), as Bakhtin said. Dialogic acting manifests itself between two extreme aspects (identification and "distanciation") and as a merging of them. Putting the concrete manifestation of acting and staging into a formal model, we can affirm that the function of (theatrical) representation has a multitude of fuzzy values, situated between a theoretically absolute embodiment and a theoretically complete "distanciation." For instance, the former tends to be manifested in the "mimetic" rites (Durkheim) and in Stanislavski’s poetics. The latter is known as Brecht Verfremdungseffekt, or "alienantion effect," also to be found in traditional drama of the Extreme Orient, which inspired Brecht. (Today in the United States, Stanislavsks’s theories are a very important source of study for many actors. In contrast to Stanislavski, Brecht theorizes Verfremdungseffekt, endowing it with ideological connotations.) In mimetic rites, it is compulsory for the interpreter to identify itself with the archetypal character; this is a primary condition for the social, magical or religious efficiency of the ritualistic act(ing). More than (theatrical) performance, ritualistic act(ing) is a performative (re)presentation, i.e., the very archetypal event, in its immediate unfolding: drômenon as "lived transcendence" (Gusdorf), and Gadamerian metamorphosis. Alternatively, for both identification and distanciation as manners of acting, the concept of dialogism (Bakhtin) highlights one and the same discursive mechanism. The advantage is that the analysis of such a heterogeneous corpu—from modern theatre poetics to the ancient ritualistic performance—may operate in a relatively homogeneous way, with the same descriptive categories, borrowed from dialogic theory, and from theory of speech and fictional acts. Situated on the same axis of interpretation/ (re)presentation, "identification" and "distanciation" are fuzzy categories, with differences between them difficult to establish. This evokes Diderot's famous paradox, as reformulated by Lee Strasberg: "to move the audience, the actor must himself remain un moved.”