Spectator in Drama/Drama in Spectator

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    Una Chaudhuri

    Modern Drama, Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 1984, pp. 281-298 (Article)

    DOI: 10.1353/mdr.1984.0027

    For additional information about this article

    Access provided by Hacettepe Universitesi (12 Dec 2014 04:22 GMT)

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mdr/summary/v027/27.3.chaudhuri.html

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mdr/summary/v027/27.3.chaudhuri.htmlhttp://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mdr/summary/v027/27.3.chaudhuri.html
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    The

    pectator

    in

    Drama

    Drama in the

    pectator

    UN CH UDHURI

    [ ] text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering

    into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place

    where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we

    have hitherto said it was, but the reader.

    Roland Barthes

    The theoretical maneuver by which the reader came to occupy the space vacated

    by the disappearing author did not remain unquestioned for long. The reader-

    whether it be the mock-reader, the model reader, the implied reader, the

    super reader, or even the real reader (me) 2 - could hardly withstand the

    pressure exerted by contemporary literary theory upon any construct in which

    meaning can be grounded (or, as Barthes says, collected, united ). The

    multiple writings which Barthes found playing through and pulverizing the

    once closed, organic, stable, objective, autonomous text

    ~ o u l

    hardly remain

    absent from the reader. They soon appeared, in the forms either

    of

    the

    institutional codes and conventions of semiotic theory (see Culler's literary

    competence 3) or

    of

    interpretive strategies, shared, cultivated and enjoined

    by the fact of one's membership in interpretive communities. 4 Barely

    installed as a literary fact, the autonomous reader was revealed as a critical

    fiction, the latest in a series that has included the autonomous author and the

    objective text.

    f

    the reader remains at all, it is

    as

    a psychologically unique

    individual (the actual person reading) imprinting private fantasies, desires and

    neuroses, in a radically personal way, upon the text.

    5

    This reader

    is

    a construct

    of little theoretical use to literary study, though not without attraction to literary

    theologians desirous of justifying the existence

    of

    literature.

    6

    Thus, from the denial of the reader (the affective fallacy) to the elevation

    of

    the reader (the affective fallacy fallacy7), criticism has arrived, in a few short

    decades, at the extinction

    of

    the reader (the affective fallacy fallacy fallacy?).

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    UN

    CHAUDHURI

    However, the explosion

    of

    this promising construct has not been concluded

    without considerable fallout. Reader-response criticism - a very mixed

    bag

    of

    critical writings sharing an orientation towards the role

    of

    the reader - has

    contributed greatly to the specification of the critical and pedagogical

    enterprises, generating a set

    of

    terms and articulating a range

    of

    issues that have

    had no less n effect than that of irreversibly altering the path ofliterary studies.

    Preeminent among these issues is that

    of

    the locus and nature

    of

    literary

    meaning, with its attendant inquiry into the question of how such meaning can

    be apprehended and described. The most extreme response to this question

    is

    probably that of Stanley Fish, for whom meaning is reading, and vice versa.

    Defining meaning as an event rather than a content, Fish argues for a criticism

    that describes - in minute detail - the dynamics of this event, revealing the

    work's meaning

    s

    a response to the question: what does this text

    o

    to its

    reader? Thus the text is no longer an object, a thing-in-itself, but an event

    something that happens to, and with the participation of, the reader.,,8

    The preponderance of words like event, participation and happens in

    Fish's discourse, as well

    s

    that of words like performance, activity and

    process in the discourse

    of

    reader-response criticism in general, would lead

    one to expect this criticism to be particularly suited to and productive in the

    study

    of

    drama. In fact, however, the drama is conspicuous by its absence from

    the concerns of reader-oriented criticism. Neither as literary type nor s

    theoretical model does drama enter here

    (in contrast, for instance, to its

    ubiquity as theoretical model in the social sciences

    10).

    This situation is already

    being remedied, no doubt, as testified by Patrice Pavis's recent essay on The

    Aesthetics of Theatrical Reception: Variations on a Few Relationships. I

    Pavis opens his discussion with a description

    of

    the present state

    of

    this line

    of

    inquiry, not neglecting to highlight the paradox of its paucity in the one field

    seemingly most suited to it:

    The theatrical work has always been subjected to a very detailed analysis

    of

    its working

    parts, an analysis which has described even the most insignificant mechanisms

    of

    composition and function. But the question of its reception by the spectator seems to

    have been totally neglected, except for the famous instance of catharsis or its Brechtian

    counterpoint, alienation. Such is the paradox of theatre criticism: more than any other

    art, theatre demands, through the connecting link of the actor, an active mediation on the

    part

    of

    the spectator confronted by the performance; this happens only during the

    event

    of aesthetic experience. Nonetheless, the modalities

    of

    reception and the work of

    interpreting the performance are very poorly understood. I

    Why this should be the case is a great deal more complicated than Pavis

    suggests: he accounts for it in terms

    of

    the suspicion about theory

    of

    reception,

    which has been accused

    of

    idealism because it is too centered on the perceiving

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    Spectator in Drama/Drama in Spectator

    subject and too far removed from a structural description

    of

    the performance.

    That such a suspicion exists is certain, but why it should paralyze dramatic

    criticism while being overcome in the criticism of poetry and the novel is

    mysterious. The success (or at least progress)

    of

    reader-response criticism

    of

    other literature and its nondevelopment in drama criticism hint at the existence

    of deeper problems.

    Reader-orientation in drama criticism

    is

    hampered by the preexistence of

    another sort of reception problem in drama study: the problem that dramatic

    texts appear to have at least two addressees. Whereas novels and poems are

    addressed directly to their readers (although one must distinguish between

    readers belonging to different historical periods and cultural contexts - readers

    from the work's original time and place, and those from other times and places

    in which the work is read), plays are addressed to spectators through

    performers. Or, to put it differently, the reception of a play involves a

    relay -like process: the play is received first by performers and then by

    spectators. Nor does the plurality

    of

    addressees stop here. Dramatic texts are

    also read usually (but not always) after they have been produced

    thUS

    adding

    another step in the relay process, for the production experience may well alter

    the way texts are read). Moreover, the existence of contemporary as well as

    later receivers, noted in the case

    of

    novels and poems, also holds true for plays,

    and is exacerbated by the continuation and repetition, over time,

    of

    the relay

    process that distinguishes the dramatic text to begin with. The extension of the

    map of drama's addressees over that of a map of literature's addressees is

    expressed in the following table:

    Drama

    Other literature

    (a) contemporary performers

    (b) contemporary spectators contemporary readers

    (c) contemporary readers

    (a) later performers

    (b) later spectators later readers

    (c) later readers

    t should be noted that groups (a) and (c) - both in the contemporary and the

    later case - though performing the same physical act (reading), do so for

    altogether different reasons. (a) reads in order to perform, that is, in order to

    produce an aesthetic experience (in b, while (c)'s reading is the aesthetic

    experience. The two activities are wholly different, therefore, involving

    distinct interpretive procedures and decisions. (This is not to say that no

    overlapping of interpretive strategies will occur in the readings

    of

    (a) and (c):

    indeed, to the extent that both share the same cultural and ideological codes,

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    UNA CHAUDHURI

    their interpretations will coincide to a large extent. Nevertheless, the

    performer-reader will constantly tailor his interpretation to fit withi