Blesok no. 65, March-April, 2009
The Specific Features and Alienation of the Dramatic/Theatre Memory
What is the past to the theatre, so that it must deal so intensely with it?
Can the theatre adequately remember the past, creatively recycle it and, in general, efficiently deal with it? Has the theatre, over the past 25 centuries of its tempestuous history, managed to develop adequate techniques and mechanisms with the help of which it was able to successfully re-semanticize the past in order to be able to transform it permanently into the famed “permanent present”, that which it has obliged itself to always display on its stages? Is the theatre bothered by the past in the process of the stage presentation of its “permanent present” which, as Aristotle puts it, should imitate reality through action “here and now”?
Can the theatre efficiently cope with the memorabilia of any kind, which it must (nevertheless) constantly tackle as opposed to its declarative commitment to the “permanent present” to which it has programmatically sworn? Can memory (the famed historicism on which, in principle, all arts thrive) and action/doing, undoubtedly a “momentary” category which inevitably happens when we, the present and living spectators testify to it and consume it without any reservations, successfully co-exist (of all places!) in the theatre itself? Can the specific features of the complex theatrical/stage mechanism be the subject to any kind of historicism, since it does not allow “things” to be evoked or narrated, but must, instead, be immediately/directly/actively shown?
Is the theatre, perhaps, trying to think of some little tricks that would help it slip somehow through the hands of history and historicism? Can the theatre, after all, leave the dangerous “shadow” of these “bogeymen of the past” in order to promote and develop certain quite specific – quite new and original – forms of memory: forms which are visual, emotional and cognitive?
What is, for instance, the differentia specifica of the famed emotional memory – one of the basic categories of the renowned theatrical system of Constantin Sergeyevich Stanislavsky – that makes this type/kind of memory essentially different from its other types/kinds?
How should we, in fact, treat theatre today: as one of the media relevant to our recent culture (including the culture of entertainment) or as one of the respectable sites of memory which, among other things, is indicative of the maturity of a certain environment (nation, culture, etc.), of its ability to enter into a dialogue with itself, to preserve its own past and to liberate itself from the prejudices and stereotypes…?
The series of “difficult questions” that this text tries to address shows, perhaps, that the time has come for a different way of reading the theatre. Or, more specifically, perhaps we should dare gradually substitute some of the “standard” methods of reading/interpretation of the theatrical phenomena (methods which, in the meantime, have become quite “used up” due to their, often uncritical, exploitation) with other and different methods (those that are more vigorous, more curious, less resolute/rigid and even dogmatic.)
The road to one such potential theatrological/dramaturgical method (methods in status nascendi?) perhaps leads through the exploitation of different experiences which historiography has luckily enough gathered and skillfully tested in the course of the past decades. In fact, historiography is a humanistic discipline whose subject are precisely the past and memory, and therefore it is believed to be the greatest authority “responsible” for their adequate treatment. Despite the prejudice that it is one of the “most conservative” sciences in general, in the course of the 20th century it succeeded in imposing itself as one of the more curious and courageous disciplines.
The credit for such status of this scholarly field undoubtedly should be given to the already (globally) renowned French school of “new historians” or “school of analysts” (L’Ecole des Annales) which, by changing the perspective from which we should learn about things (appreciate and value them) decisively changes our collective attitude to memory “as such” of all that we want to remember. Upholding its theoretical and methodological innovations quite vehemently, convincingly and strongly supporting them with arguments, the practitioners of this agile “school of analysts” have succeeded in carrying out a serious historiographic r/evolution which, in the second half of the past century, visibly “upset” historiography, but also left far-reaching consequences in the explorations that continue to the present day.
It is their new and incomparably “more open” and “more direct”, more lucid methods of the interpretation of the past and the modes/ways we remember it that are that have proved to be greatly beneficial and we should be grateful exactly to the proponents of this “school of analysts” – and their followers. These different methods enable us to begin to look at and interpret the so-called factography (which always documents, but also determines the so-called reality, including that which we remember) in a completely different manner.
And what is this manner like?
In the simplest of terms, I believe that we can conclude that this is a method based on the art of combining (swiftly and vehemently, almost in the Post Modern bricolage manner, of different perspectives (diopter, point of view, angle) through which things can be perceived. Such combining makes possible the interpretation of the reality and the past from a completely different angle which is partially individual and partially collective and/or a matter of belonging to a particular generation. Perceived in such a “multiple” but also emphatically subjective way, things, phenomena, events, sensations, facts…that “comprise” the so-called reality are inevitably appraised and valued from “up close” (rather than from the customary “historical distance”), but they are also treated as “wholesale”, as it were,, without previously being selected according to their (alleged) importance.
In contrast to the “hierarchical” treatment of source material which official history has practiced from the time of Thucydides, but also, unlike the “cold” scientific approach and/or (quasi) objectivity, with which these sources were approached for centuries, the present-day “new historians” (“analysts”) and their growing supporters decisively reduce the methodological skepticism characteristic of their colleagues from the past decades, or even centuries. That is why the everyday forms of our “little” lives that are to all of us more important, and often even more complicated than the “important” events from the “great” history become, with growing intensity, the object of interpretation,. Today, books entitled The History of Private Lives or The Intimate History of Humankind become bestsellers.
Their authors simply start from the fact that memory (=history) – today – must be interpreted with a decent amount of passion, and not only with a cool head. “The past is so complex and filled with layers of so many centuries, it is so much more multi-dimensional, fragmented and patchy that we can enter its content hidden behind numberless gates only by using different and refined keys of interpretation. Our awareness of this fact is as old as the muse Clio. And yet, it is only in this day and time that it has been given its civil rights.” (Bertoša, 2007: 39)
Today, the proponents and practitioners of the “school of new historians” show deep respect for the fact that that historiography should constantly bear in mind the important, perhaps even too important, memorabilia of statesmen, military leaders, personages of all kinds, all the protagonists there are of the crucial events that have given their stamp to a specific period…However, it should simultaneously deal with the small memories of the common people, random passers-by, children and adolescents, old people and people from the margins of life, all those who remember how it once was, but their memories have always and in all times been “skipped” or looked down upon. To the “new historians” the importance of the margin becomes equal to that of the centre. Basically, they leave the impression that their priority is precisely this systematic redefining (relativization, deconstruction) of those prevailing stereotypes that determine both our memory and our lives: centre/margin, big/small, public/private, rational/emotional, collective/individual…In history and in memory nothing must remain as it once was!
In our discourse, the qualifier “once” is always directed to memories which preserved and now keep some period of time or some time somebody has lived through. In contrast, time fixed in a work of art – that which belongs to the visual arts, literature, film or the theatre… – is no exception. Every attempt to fix time in the form of an artifact (oil on canvas, a music piece, a printed book, a theatre performance…) promotes this artifact in a kind of an intimate testimony “authorized” in a specific way. The French and other “new historians” qualify such testimonies as ego-histories.
Time memorizes not only the decisive events (those that concern all people or at least a large majority) but also certain small/personal stories narrated in the first person singular, in the I –form. What do we do with such stories? Where should they be “stored”? How should they be interpreted?
Historians, even the most rigid ones, those who would never admit it, have capitulated before the charm of such an “intimate method” of storing/interpretation of facts. Thanks to this method, we all store/memorize even those “unimportant”, sometimes difficult to explain, things which (nevertheless, nevertheless…) we remember so clearly and so long. Almost forever, “for life”. Sometimes we even remember some of those important/even too important events because of seemingly insignificant details, such as the colour of the sunset, the smell of a flower (or food), the sound of the train that passed by exactly at some dramatic moment.
World poetry teems with such brilliant examples/moments of the synesthesia of memorabilia, whose suggestibility can hardly be denied. All plots in fiction (“the sequence of events that creates the narrative component of a particular work”, as the theoreticians say) – even when it is not evident at first sight! – flirt with the seduction of this type. The best plays in world drama – for instance, those by Chekhov! – play very skillfully with its exceptional evocative potential. Even those who take the theatre literally should not dare reduce the dull sound of the crickets (recorded highly precisely in the play texts of Uncle Vanya or The Cherry Orchard) to a “random” stage/theatrical effect with which the playwright intended to expand, emphasize or “illustrate” some action.
Scholarship – and not only that which concerns historiography – has learned long ago that the psychological component of history (memory/memorizing) must not only be respected but also treated as a universal paradigm of memorabilia. The past is not recorded only in the “insensitive” archive sources (asthenic, material, made of paper or digital, but always “indifferent”…) but it is also impressed on the personal/intimate memories of people, in (alas!) the memory with which have had our disputes since the dawn of civilization. Memory has never been nor could it ever be “relieved of the burden” of the emotional charge. On the contrary, it has always been and remains “overburdened” with its human weight, be it bitter or sweet!
Regardless of how we read, interpret or experience it, the theatre persistently imposes itself on us as a very specific place – a place “overburdened” by emotions of all kinds.
Whether we define theatrical art as complex, complicated, undoubtedly synthetic, interactive, evocative, provocative or representational, each of the numerous definitions points to its unusual and absolutely hybrid nature: evidently, this is an art form which permanently strives to conform to its own laws/principles/norms but, at the same time, it also attempts to express itself as a “multipractic” synthesis (conglomerate, juxtaposition…) of several other art forms.
Whenever they talk about the theatre, its fanatics love to refer to some special kind of magic, a metaphysical aura which (allegedly) hovers above every genuine (read: aesthetically relevant) theatrical act. However, it cannot be seen (except with the mind’s eye), but only felt. And even that, just for a brief couple of moments.
Traditionally not inclined to any kind of metaphysics, theatrology puts a great deal of effort into explaining/interpreting the theatre pragmatically, precisely and, as much as possible, comprehensibly.
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” (Brook, 1988:7).
Choosing precisely this space as the focus of his theatrical interest, Brook acts first as a practitioner – a director who cannot think in abstract terms, but only in clear, visible and palpable categories. These, in addition, must exist in their three-dimensional form. It is undoubted that directing a play is a skill which requires that a certain space be thought through (filled, “settled” with something/someone). Once the space has been defined (in terms of its length, width, height, depth), the director must gradually “engage” it with the help of the actors, stage design, light, sound, text…Without being implemented in a concrete stage space, any play text works quite one-dimensionally and in a single direction – as “something written on paper” which can also have certain traits characteristic of literature.
For Brook, it is crucial that the space in which he directs (stages/puts on) a play be completely empty and that the theatre as a space should have the capacity to provide it as such. It should be emptied out and left free of anything that is redundant. After all, his cult statement on the emptiness of the stage is quite explicit also in relation to certain requirements which, in the theatre – it goes without saying – should be and remain minimalist.
The theatre calculated with and combined these ideas as early as in its long-gone archaic and mythical beginnings in exactly the same/identical way: it urged people to gather at certain cult sites (sacred sites, sites/places of memory) in order to repeat in a symbolic manner some sacred act – a codified act of sacrifice (of the sacrificial goat). Namely, this highly emotionally charged rite was intended to announce again and again some truth which would have been of great importance to the community. Even later, when the great Antique theatres were built on such sacred cult sites (some of them could seat 20,000 people!), the position of the former thymeli, located precisely at the centre of their orchestras, remained marked/memorized as magic. The site that had once been marked with spilt blood could not but become and remain mystical and sacred. Hence, the tragedies of Antiquity are performed only on sites which remember the sites of memory.
Despite the fact that in the centuries that followed the blood that was spilt on all kinds of stages (and which is spilt, to say the truth, still today) was no longer real but “fake”, the spectators never stopped believing in its colour and function. Neither have they stopped believing in its emotional and symbolic charge. At this point, Jung, Freud and other psychoanalysts would remind us of the well-known fact that ever since man uttered the first word, he never stopped dreaming, remembering, thinking and feeling through symbols. Or, for that matter, through archetypes.
Throughout all the epochs of the long theatre history, the space as a fact and a factotum has practically never changed its exclusive status. Even today, when the modalities of the identification and feeling for the sacred and the profane have significantly changed, the theatrical space has succeeded in sustaining its blurred but nevertheless undisputed “mysticism.” If there is any magic in the theatre at all – the kind of magic to which its romantic proponents so fervently refer, while we, the realists, persistently try to dispel their illusions, it probably emanates from its unique space.
Speaking in line with the methodology proposed by the often quoted “new historians”, the theatrical space could also be regarded as the site of memory. Or, in more simple terms, we can speak of it as a site from which the aura (of which its admirers so devoutly speak) emanates – from its quite unique architectonics.
All those who had an opportunity to walk through different theatre spaces, and especially through those not intended for the “common” audiences (to them, they are explicitly off limits!) will understand what I mean. I know that the feeling that overcomes you as you stand on some large, empty stage is quite unique. Even today, after so many years of experience and the amount of the knowledge of the theatre that I have gathered from a number of places, I still fail in my attempts to pass “indifferently” or “disinterestedly” across a stage barely lit with dimmed light while the stagehands prepare it for the evening event. Stages – and especially those in big theatres – leave the impression of mysterious and dangerous caves: a “river deep-mountain high” sort of feeling, the feeling that something is lurking around the corners, darkness in the empty auditorium in which you can hardly discern the seats that are ghost-like empty, too…While the Ghost of Hamlet’s father hovers above you, and Cyclops and Ali Baba lurk behind the backdrops, your own footsteps echo everywhere, you can feel the beating of your heart not only in your chest, but also in your middle ear, and some invisible specks of dust constantly threaten to cover you up. Like some menacing black snow drift.
My friend Petar Selem, a director of great caliber, an outstanding intellectual who, in addition, has a doctoral degree in theatrology, in a couple of his brilliant theatrological essays writes about the characteristic rustling produced by the theatre curtain, especially when it is raised to mark the beginning of the performance. This sound, says Selem, was special, different and incomparable in each of the theatres he visited.
The intimacy of the experience of hearing the fluttering of the many curtains which we have come across in the course of our careers is clearly an example of ego-history which, just like the memory of their raising and falling, attacks when we least expect it. Even the most rational theatrologists cannot avoid its traps. Or – perhaps – such traps should not be avoided after all, as the “new historians” claim. By applying their I-method combined with their persistent redefining (relativization and deconstruction) of those few dominant stereotypes that determine our memory as well as our lives (centre-margin, big-small, public-private, rational-emotional, collective-individual…) it appears that even we, the theatrologists can significantly profit from it. Namely, we can develop our customary methods of interpretation, “engage” our scholarly approaches and make them more adequate for the dynamic and skeptical millennium we live in.
How can the theatre function, i.e., which are its possible forms, if we understand and interpret it as the site of memory?
As a hidden treasure chest.
As a cradle of tradition.
As a place for storytelling – the greater and the more touching the stories, the better.
As an old music box which plays lullabies when you lift the lid.
As a symbolic place d’armes from which certain ideas, concepts, truths and projects should be attacked or defended.
As a unique purgatory, the place for some sort of psychotherapy through which the society will experience a moral catharsis and, in precisely defined cycles, efficiently free itself from the dark passions. They say it worked quite well with the Greeks. However, it was used for hardly a century. The society tried to control the general crisis of morality that occurred later (which, as it seems, is still taking place) with the help and power of some different sites of memory. As for the Christian world, it was the cathedrals that became such sites. However, in recent years, they are being substituted by the big shopping malls with growing success.
It seems that, faced with these combinations, the theatre is becoming introvert. Aware that it will never again experience that great feeling of showing its performances before an audience of 20,000 spectators, the theatre appears to rely more and more on the precision of the script.
Regardless of how we read, interpret and/or experience plays (play texts, play scripts) they inevitably impose themselves as texts of a special, quite specific type. Their uniqueness/distinctiveness can be identified even at first sight since, as one can see with the naked eye – they are always written differently from poetry or fiction. Both Eugenio Barba and Roland Barthes – before him! – liked to qualify plays as fabric – textures which are not written, but woven. The purpose of their weaving is not to narrate, but to weave/knit the action (as people of the theatre would put it, mise an oeure.)
Of course, literary scholarship has adopted this fabric long ago, taking great care to treat (re-read, interpret and evaluate) their complicated and evidently hybrid structures as one of its legitimate genres, or as one of those three “ideal types of possible literary expression” (Solar, 2006: 73). The famed Aristotelian postulate, that the the effect of tragedy does not depend on its performance by actors (Aristotle 1450b) – has thus become a kind of dogma to the literary studies.
On the other hand, theatre scripts/textures/fabrics have always been treated by theatrology quite pragmatically: as potential stage/theatre material, that is, as Ann Ubersfeld, the renowned French semiologist puts it, as “a description of the theatrical performance that is imminent to them.”
Of course, both people of the theatre and theatrologists can recognize and adequately respect the literary achievements of play texts, but they are not too impressed by their aestheticism. The reason is simple: they start from the fact that plays are not written to be read in isolation, but to be watched in the theatre where, as the sociologists Jean Divignaud puts it, all aestheticism is inevitably transformed into social action. This is so since, allegedly, drama should be either a social event or –nothing (Divignaud, 1978). Hence, theatre people and theatrologists a priori approach all drama textures pragmatically (including those by Shakespeare, Chekhov or Beckett), chasing the action “hidden” behind the functional “links” between space, time and the characters fixed in them. The rest is basically something collateral – something that results from this essential dramatological triad. All that is beauty to literary studies (expression, style, discourse…) to theatrology is merely one of the assumptions for the potential staging or transformation of words into action or an act. Theatrology simply understands literariness as one of the several signs that mark the path along which a certain play text can/must be led to the essence – and that is the “exhibition” of its own theatrality.
What is it that a drama script must have if its theatralization is to be not only possible, but also successful?
Except those strictly functional links through which space, time and characters are interconnected, the play text must also have a story. It should be its axis, the condition sine qua non of its existence. Even when we have a case of a play in which seemingly nothing happens – the stories surrounding this “emptiness” are always full of tension. Do you remember the story about waiting for Godot?
Since every narrative process works with the past, the nature of every story must be evocative. In order to begin at all, it must reactivate some memory and then allude to, recycle and/or resemanticize certain memorabilia on which it would rely. Stories always develop in the same manner, by “moving” from one memorabilia to another.
But, in contrast to “ordinary” stories, historical or epic, that develop (and are “transferred”) with/through narration, the story in drama must always develop (and be “transferred”) as action. It must be “brought to life” in the literal sense of the word. Aristotle emphasizes this when he says that, “Tragedy is, then, a representation of an action that is heroic and complete and of a certain magnitude--by means of language enriched with all kinds of ornament, each used separately in the different parts of the play: it represents men in action and does not use narrative, and through pity and fear it effects relief to these and similar emotions.” (Aristotle, 1449b).
In order to define precisely the difference between dramatic memory and memory that he defines as historical, Aristotle explains that the former is achieved as an expression of a rather specific kind of individual/creative memory, and the latter, as an emanation of memory which is customarily referred to as collective or cultural. By determining the difference between these two kinds of memory, he states that the latter relates “what has happened”, the former, “what may happen” (Aristotle, 1451b). The crucial conclusion that we owe to this famous theoretician from Antiquity is based on precisely this difference: “Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.” (ibid).
Nevertheless, authorial plays can remember/memorize and in different ways allude to/interpret not only “maters of general nature”, but also certain historical facts or events. In fact, they strive to perform the theatralization of such “matters of concrete nature” as creatively as possible, considering efforts of this type as challenges of significant scope, especially provocative when it comes to seemingly rigid genres such as historical and/or documentary drama. In contrast to the historical truth which can, perhaps, also be neutral and objective, dramatic truth must always be “subjective” and alienated.
Alienation is an act which attacks the manner in which the reader (viewer, listener) perceives and experiences certain authorial provocations. Urged and even provoked by their strange nature, the reader (viewer, listener) ceases to react to them routinely (conventionally, automatically). The acts of alienation give us the privilege to react to things, once again, impulsively – as if we are experiencing them for the first time.
Due to alienation with which the theatre quite skillfully manipulates, words, facts, situations, emotions…memorabilia of the past, fixed in the dramatic situation and (then) shown on the theatre stage, become effective in the most literal sense of the word: they become not only visible and recognizable, but also most impressive.
It is perhaps exactly drama – alas, that dramatic fabric of which Barba and Barthes speak – that can activate if not all, then at least some of the greatest and most impressive potentials of alienation in the theatre. Why is this so? Because, due to exactly this technique of theatralization (alienated in any sense of the word!) the dramatic material is systematically “supported” by the numerous arguments that the theatre stage (acting, directing, stage design, light, movement, sound…) “adds” to it. Thanks to these arguments, the dramatic material has the unique privilege to experience its true interpretation in the most effective way possible. Theatralization or, simply said, staging of the dramatic story/plot, instead of narrating its parts, must show them “live”! Every play text in this world – including those in which seemingly nothing happens – is basically, really only a description of such effective (alienated) “bringing to life”. It should be noted that such a description (of an earlier memorized/remembered action) is inevitably experienced with each next reading/watching as if it were happening for the first and only time!
We will attempt to test this through the simplest dramatological analysis (interpretation) of two, in terms of their genre, quite intriguing/hybrid plays, Crnila (Bleak Times) by Kole Čašule (1961) and Osloboduvanje na Skopje (The Liberation of Skopje) by Dušan Jovanović (1976). Both plays deal with memorabilia, playing with – in terms of craftsmanship, quite skillfully – the two types of memory quoted by Aristotle, dramatic vs. historic.
Both plays appear to theatralize concrete historical events. More specifically, they strive to develop their action in a quite concrete historical context. The first one, examines the gruesome reckonings between immigrants in Sofia in 1921 which culminated with the assassination of Gjorče Petrov, one of the epitomes of the Macedonian struggle, and the second, the ordeals and traumas of the war (1941-1944) which appear to be resolved (or, perhaps, culminate) with the liberation of Skopje, the Macedonian capital.
Although both plays appear to take historical events as their referential framework, neither can be defined as a historical play. In both cases, the dramatic story of historical facts is rather random; thus, they only briefly touch upon, as if in “flashes”, a single moment in history (or, if you prefer, a moment of memorized history as recorded and codified truth). However, before and after it, they uninterruptedly develop their fictional plots and their unraveling. Instead of attempting to “come closer” to the historical matter that they thematize (regardless of the manner in which it would be done) or developing it “simultaneously” (by commenting on it or entering into a debate with it), the dramatic stories of Crnila and Osloboduvanje na Skopje systematically move further away from this historical matter as fact, thus establishing a radically tangential relation to it and, by doing so, alienating it in a quite dramatic manner.
In Crnila, a play which appears to speculate on the alleged circumstances that led to the assassination of Gjorče Petrov on 28 June 1921, alienation is the principle on which it is built. It is evident both on the level of the so-called historicism (“showing people and events in their historical, transient form”, as Brecht puts it), but also on the level of the story itself as a parable, a story which is Existential (Biblical, as it were) in its setup. Namely, its texture is masterfully woven on at least two levels: the level of plot development (a group of brutes, traitors and desperate men who assassinate the national hero) and a level “concealed” behind the ideological, political and historical empty phrases with which – sometimes – drama, and especially that which is Existential in its traits, likes to operate (obliteration of one’s own ideals; the skepticism that subverts every great idea; the dubiousness of the so-called great goals which are, allegedly, worthy of self-sacrifice…). “The parable is the reduced model of our own world whose measures are faithfully reproduced. It reduces every concrete event to a theoretical principle which is then offered as a paradigm. Paradoxically, the parable is the way in which we speak about the present, but which is, at the same time, placed within a different perspective and is disguised in an imaginary story or framework.” (Pavis, 2004:255).
By speaking of the crisis of the national idea (or cause, for that matter) which resulted in the assassination of Gjorče Petrov in 1921 (as one of its undisputed protagonists or symbols) the playwright actually speaks about the dubiousness of the entire project of the national emancipation of the Macedonians. He addresses the delicate question of the dubiousness of the Macedonian idea, cause, state…for which he himself fanatically fought in World War II (1941-1944), and which he lived to see come to life as ASNOM Macedonia (founded at the Anti-Fascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia). However, his play was written in 1961, forty years after the historical event which it memorizes as a parable and twenty years after the strivings of the generation to which he himself belonged and which set out to radically change the world and Macedonia as its part. If we bear in mind these facts, we can adequately decode some of the most direct, but also the most provocative lines from Crinila (e.g. “Macedonia is dead, it has been dead for a long time, it died first in our hearts, and then, there where you are looking for it – in History” (Čašule, 2002:346). The parable is, simply, a genre with a “double bottom” (Pavis, ibid) and, hence, an exceptionally alienated one.
In Osloboduvanje na Skopje (1976) the process of alienation does not necessarily concern its genre; it is essentially methodical and formative. Namely, in this play, the process of alienation is developed precisely in the manner described by Shklovsky as ideal; he explains that the procedure/technique (the famed Russian Formalist priom!) should be considered as the concluding element of literary technique, but not of the literary art itself. In other words, every text either becomes a literary work or a work of art, or it does not, depending on the technique, that is, the manner in which it has been made; however, the manner/technique should be alienating without exception
By making the protagonists of his play children between the ages of three and twelve, Jovanović a priori determines his alienating point of view of an allegedly historical subject matter fixed and given in the play’s title. Yes, the play does thematize the liberation of a concrete city which did happen on 13 November 1944, but the playwright is not concerned with the facts or persons that confirm the historical context to which the events refer, but with the alienating perspective from which this context is experienced and remembered.
This is, naturally, the perspective of a marginal group – women and children – whose view of events, and especially of the great and fateful ones (war, bondage, freedom…) usually cannot be brought into correlation with the perspective of the historical protagonists of the given event, the fathers and the men, the heroes and liberators. Situated in a historical moment filled with anxiety (the war) and in an even more stressful drama/stage space to which they belong (the basement and the narrow yard of a house in Skopje) these marginalized individuals constantly look upon the world and the events from below – that augmentative perspective that frogs are said to have.
In contrast to them, the hero-men always look upon the world from above, having the perspective that in film making usually results in the visual reduction and the perspective that birds are said to have. Such a choice of perspectives becomes, at the same time, a model for remembering/memorizing events and the consequences that follow. In as many as 34 scenes of the total of 36, the participants are mainly children and women. Adult men either only pass by or stay/visit them for short periods (as family members, enemies, sympathizers or characters with similar roles). Since in the given historical event (the liberation of Skopje) they participate in a different – active, direct, decisive – way, they will remember it completely differently, and that is, without doubt, as epically pathetic.
The skill in the technique that Jovanović applies in order to make his play about the experience and memory of the liberation of Skopje is, simply, the skill of articulation/practicing of a quite unique dramaturgical memory which is alienating without exception!
A grand and beautiful theatre building stands near Gare du Nord in Paris since as early as 1876. It is somewhat pompous and quasi-monumental, as if it were meant to be a place for important events. It was renowned and remembered under different names, but it became really important in 1974, when Peter Brook chose it as the site of his International Centre for Theatre Research (thus saving it from inevitable demolition since the site had been planned for a parking lot). Today, it is perhaps the best known theatre in Paris. They call it simply Bouffes du Nord.
By renovating the building of the Bouffes du Nord, and especially its stage and auditorium, Brook put in an enormous amount of effort to preserve, demonstrate, revalorize, and even impose the entire history/memory that has accumulated over the past decades under its high ceilings and on its massive staircases…All over the interior one can see the traces of the various coats of paint applied long ago (some shade of heavy dark red prevails!), fragments of ornaments from the past, holes and crevices that remained after same repair work done in former periods, patches and additions made by some dead hands.
While you are at Bouffes du Nord watching some play, it does not matter which one, you cannot help but feel the heavy pressure of the accumulated theatrical memory and therefore, you experience it as a place of powerful symbolism. A place quite alienating in some sense.
A site of memory.
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