The Fuzzy Edges of Contemporary Theater

 

Theater has always been mercurial if not chimeric, a hybrid of art forms. It is unstable and pliable by definition, since its realization relies on a multiplicity of collaborators under unstable, often tenuous conditions. The result is invariably a composite beast, reconfigured in each iteration.  Unsurprisingly, then, theater today has fuzzy edges – indeed, if it has edges at all, for edges suggest territory, a demesne, a pale, that is, limits, and the art of contemporary performance cuts across, runs through, is entangled with, bleeds into not only many another contemporary art form but intersects with and overlaps popular entertainments and everyday activities, religious and secular, so that the limits, distinctions, boundaries, even generic separations are often indistinguishable among performative activities. Much of such contemporary theater practice develops in defiance of realistic or illusionary threads of performative art with their emphases on architectural and material validity and focus on family constellations.

In his seminal textbook, Performance Studies:An Introduction, Richard Schechner details what he calls “Performing in Everyday Life” with a string of examples of contemporary performative activities: “Family and Social Roles—Job Roles–Spectator Sports and Other Popular Entertainments—Performing Arts—Secular and Sacred Rituals—Trance” (Schechner 172-3).  Such a list is, of course, partial, but its implications are that we are all and always performers, in one way or another, “Performing on stage, performing in special social situations (public ceremonies, for example), and performing in everyday life are a continuum.  These various kinds of performing occur in widely divergent circumstances, from solo shows before the mirror to large-scale public events and rituals, from shaman healing rituals to identity changing trances, from theater and dance to great and small roles of everyday life” (Schnechner, 170).

Pursuit: The Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder

The phenomenon of everyday performance is punctuated by the growing trend of being constantly on view, on camera, under perpetual surveillance in much of contemporary urban life. We are thus part of the surveillance society, a society of control, an automatic society with real-time web cams. Some theater groups, like New York’s Surveillance Camera Players, perform against such intrusions into our private spheres, while the rest of us just mug or make obscene gestures to elevator surveillance cameras and the like in our feeble attempts at resistance and defiance, but even such gestures have a tradition.  Early in the Modernist era, Dadaists and Surrealists hated the conventions of theater but loved spectacle and public performance, and so provocations left theatrical space and took the shape of street actions, or “Happenings” in the next generation, a term coined by Allan Kaprow, a student of John Cage at Black Mountain College, in the early 1950s to describe spontaneous, non-linear provocations deemed art.

For Peter Brook, “Happenings” were a part of “The Holy Theatre”:

“A Happening is a powerful invention.  It destroys at one blow many deadly forms, like the dreariness of theatre buildings, and the charmless trappings of curtain, usherette, cloakroom, programme, bar. A Happening can be anywhere, any time, of any duration:  nothing is required, nothing is taboo.  A Happening may be spontaneous, it may be formal, it may be anarchistic, it can generate intoxicating energy.  Behind the Happening is the shout, “Wake up!”

(Brook, 1968, p. 50)

Amid his calls for “a primitive spontaneity,” Eugenio Barba has suggested that “Theatres are still antiquated buildings where classical and contemporary texts are recited in a routine and conventional style.  There is no creative act on stage—only the sterile repetition of worn out formulas and hybrid styles which try to look “Modern” by exploiting the discoveries of other art forms” (Barba 153).  “Happenings” were attempts to break through such conventionality, and in 1963 British publisher John Calder followed up his provocative 1962 Edinburgh Writers’ Festival with what was deemed the notorious 1963 Drama Conference to end that year’s Edinburgh Festival with a series of “Happenings”. As he recalls in his memoirs, Pursuit, the last day of the Festival was dedicated to the topic of what forms the theater might take in the future, during which a young model named Anna Kesselaar would appear in Ken Dewey’s “Happening”:

“….at the end of the organ gallery that ran behind the platform where the conferences sat. She was hanging on to a BBC lighting trolley and was wheeled around the gallery by a BBC technician, naked, but within the law, as she was not moving, but being moved.”

(Calder, p. 260)

Kaprow would follow Dewey’s “Happening” with one of his own – one which impeded the audience members’ exit from the building by having used tires piled in the doorways over which those exiting had to climb.  These events would, in turn, lead to Calder’s famous performances called “Ledlanet Nights” in Kinrosshire, Scotland. These were music, opera and theatrical events at his Baronial ancestral home.  Calder would subsequently use an image from the London Sunday Mirror’s coverage of the uncovered Kesselaar performance on the cover of his autobiography.

 
S.E. Gontarski is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University, where he specializes in twentieth-century Irish Studies, performance theory, and British and European modernism. He is also a writer and director, and General Editor of the Anthem Studies in Drama and Performance series.

 

A Fibrous Weave of Literary Scholarship

This is a guest post by Jeffrey C. Robinson. wordsworthAuthor of Poetic Innovation in Wordsworth 1825–1833: Fibres of These Thoughts, out on Anthem Press this month. 

In the 1980s I first gained sympathy for the poetry of the “late” Wordsworth while helping to edit the “Last Poems” volume of the Cornell variorum. In between long spring and autumn walks, winter evenings trying to keep warm huddled by a small fire and comforted by wee drams of whisky and shortbread, I spent day after day in the Wordsworth Library (Grasmere) poring over manuscript pages. These pages brought me closer to poetry then more or less unread. Critics in those years valued what Wordsworth wrote before 1807 much higher than what he wrote after, all the way to his death in 1850. This iron-clad view was indeed firmly set during his lifetime and still exists today (although scholars over the past 30 years have begun to revise it). Wordsworth himself said of his work in the 1820s, “my vein I fear has run out.”

Valued as one of the premier poets in the history of English-language poetry, Wordsworth called the poems in Lyrical Ballads (1798, 1800, 1802, 1805) an “experiment” in the language and content of verse designed to acknowledge the social and spiritual lives of the lower and lower-middle classes. The older successful poet of the late 1820s and early 1830s was—according to many readers from his own time to the present—no experimentalist. Only when absorbed in the manuscripts of the “late” Wordsworth’s poetry at the Wordsworth Library, Grasmere, did I intuit that the view of his work which reviewers and critics have characterized as politically conservative and religiously orthodox, and formally complacent, might not be completely true. Surely the poet of Lyrical Ballads capable of articulating and practicing a paradigm shift in what we can expect of poetry would not altogether lose that early intellectual energy, vision, poetic skill, and most of all a sense of exploration, over time.

Reading these manuscripts again and again particularly in the past seven years, turning the pages in his notebooks over and over, picking up a characteristic atmosphere of varying pen pressures, a range of penmanships, strike-overs, obsessions with certain words, phrases, and rhythms drew me into an intimacy with a writing and thinking process revelatory (or so I have imagined) of Wordsworth’s direction of thought and practice. I saw vitality there indicative of the experimental spirit applied to the making of his best poems. This book is a history of this experimental spirit working at full throttle even during a time which his best biographer (Stephen Gill) called “fallow.”

We do not typically associate the act and presentation of scholarly criticism with intimacy, yet that is what I have cultivated and sought to broadcast in this book. I have learned from the French theory of manuscript study called Critique genetique, in which a poet’s manuscripts afford not only the data of the “early draft” as information containing the “final,” publishable draft in embryo, but also the avant-texte, manuscript as an event in itself, with its data a swirl of composition and processual thinking. To make contact with the page as motion, or motions, requires—at least for me—an intimacy with its goings on. The motions are discrete, hidden, yet they register, as Wordsworth said, “the life of things” and “the dimpling stir of life”—a life of poetic consciousness, a different kind of data for the critic.

In that relationship between reader and text, I have noted that, while the physical page puts a fence around its contents, provides a limit, the page also projects itself outward to other domains of living that I have chosen to follow scrupulously: landscapes walked by Wordsworth, rooms in which he lived and wrote, family who copied out his drafts and participated in his thinking and writing, histories of poetic movements. The expansion of focus further includes my own walking and observing and my own original poems “found” in Wordsworth’s manuscripts and poems, and then, finally and crucially, other poems that he drafted during the same years.

In other words, as I worked on these materials, I found myself increasingly committed to an ever-expanding space that became a phenomenon of poetic activity. I have tried to represent this phenomenon on the pages of my book, with multiple coordinates for reading and viewing: notes not at the bottom of the page but along the side, colour images both of manuscript highlights and points in the landscape, paratexts from other writers, and colour displays of my own poems. All of this I interweave with a steady expository text stream. The subtitle of the book, “Fibres of These Thoughts” taken from a late-Wordsworth poem, vividly imagines thought and poetry and writing (in a manuscript) as texture of brain, muscle, and paper, no part extractable from the whole. I recast the phrase as characteristic of my book; what I hope will be a web-like recovery of a crucial period not usually acknowledged in the career of this great poet and his work.

Aesthetics and the Cinematic Narrative: An Introduction

This is a guest post by Michael Peter Bolus, Ph.D. Author of Aesthetics and the Cinematic Narrative: An Introduction, out on Anthem Press this month. 

acnThe welcome and entertaining distraction that defines most movie-going experiences has become the default expectation for general audiences. The commercial cinema, as a pop-cultural phenomenon, is rooted in an Escapist tradition that requires nothing from its audiences, other than a desire and willingness to be temporarily transported into another realm; to be fleetingly hypnotized by a viscerally enveloping, emotionally satisfying encounter. But cinema can also operate as a complex and demanding art form — one which requires a certain degree and type of effort on the part of its spectators. This effort issues from a given film’s adherence to a set of aesthetic strategies which might not be in alignment with a viewer’s prefabricated assumptions regarding commonly-held notions of what comprises a rewarding cinematic experience. Just as 17th-century Chinese lute music operates under a different set of aesthetic templates than 21st-century Hip-Hop, so too do different films and cinematic traditions employ various structural, stylistic, and thematic designs that might differ from one another in jarring ways.

An audience’s lack of familiarity with a specific film’s aesthetic foundations might result in a casual dismissal, a more resentful rejection, or even worse. As the 20th-century philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset observed in his seminal essay, The Dehumanization of Art, if someone doesn’t like a work of art, but understands it, he feels superior to it. If he doesn’t like a work of art, and doesn’t understand it, he becomes hostile to it.

This, of course, implies that a comprehensive and accurate appreciation of certain artworks requires a brand of knowledge and understanding — an aesthetic sensitivity that, presumably, is denied to most people. This “organ of comprehension” (to use Ortega y Gasset’s own idiomatic phrasing) must be acquired and cultivated, lest our own organic, instinctual responses to art prevent us from apprehending the complexities of its ambitions. These “high-brow” assumptions smack of elitism in the pejorative sense; the problematic notion that great art is reserved for a rarefied realm that denies access to the uninformed mass.

But while our knee-jerk response to such apparently exclusionary attitudes is often abject dismissal, one must concede that many art objects do, in fact, demand a significant degree of familiarity — if not intimacy — with the uncommon aesthetic grammars which inform them.

Despite its profound and widespread appeal, the cinema is no exception.

Unfortunately, most film analyses which examine aesthetics as a philosophical discipline and/or artistic system tend to investigate and explicate the aesthetics of film rather than aesthetics and film. In other words, they work inductively to tease out and elucidate those filmic elements which are unique to the cinema, or, at least, are idiosyncratic components of cinema as a stand-alone art form. But how does cinema fit into the more over-arching evolution of the arts as both a creative and intellectual endeavor?

Aesthetics and the Cinematic Narrative: An Introduction attempts to place cinema in a much wider historical and aesthetic context that is too often overlooked by both filmmakers and audiences alike. By examining an array of traditional and diverse aesthetic traditions and stratagems — and, in some cases, the socio-political cultural contexts in which they are cultivated — the book makes connections between Aesthetics as a practical discipline and filmmaking as a creative process, while simultaneously providing interpretive strategies for the spectator who might be unfamiliar with the artistic heritages from which idiosyncratic strains of cinema emerge.

Spring is in Full Swing at Anthem Press: New Titles

It has been a busy season here at Anthem Press and we want to share some information about our exciting new titles and authors.

Sustainability Is the New Advantage: Leadership, Change, and the Future of Business by Peter McAteer

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Peter McAteer’s excellent new title, Sustainability Is the New Advantage, expertly answers the question: “How can leaders accelerate business transformation in the face of climate change and other environmental issues?” Transformation is a difficult process for any company and Sustainability provides a straightforward approach for incorporating sustainable business practices while ensuring profitability.

Peter McAteer is managing director of SustainLearning and member of the board of directors for KPPM Global. Peter’s prior work includes service as CEO of Corporate University Research and CEO of the Corporate University Xchange.

 

Private Equity: A Casebook by Paul Gompers, Victoria Ivashina and Richard Ruback

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Private Equity: A Casebook is an advanced applied corporate finance book dedicated to educating investors and students on practices delivering sustained future profitability. This title features a collection of cases written from private equity investors’ perspectives, detailing actual investments and outcomes.

Paul A. Gompers, Victoria Ivashina and Richard S. Ruback are distinguished Professors of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

 

 

 

The Plight of Potential: Embracing Solitude in Millennial Life and Modern Work by Emerson Csorba

plightThe Plight of Potential is a field guide for the millennial worker searching for career satisfaction without sacrificing personal enrichment. In the modern world, millennials experience constant pressure to grow professionally without advancing emotionally. Csorba uses scholarly research, his first-hand experience with intergenerational engagement and case studies of millennials from networks like the Global Shapers Community to show how hitting the pause button for inward meditation will benefit the individual.

Emerson Csorba is president of Csorba & Company Ltd., where he leads projects involving social network analysis, intergenerational engagement and political campaign management.

 

Iron Men: How One London Factory Powered the Industrial Revolution and Shaped the Modern World by David Waller, Foreword by Norman Foster

ironIron Men centers around Henry Maudslay and his followers, whose factory on Westminster Bridge Road in London, England attracted the country’s top engineering talent during the early nineteenth century. Their contributions to precision engineering and machine tools helped Great Britain become the workshop of the world.

David Waller is an author, business consultant and former Financial Times journalist specialising in business and the nineteenth century.

 

 

 

 

For full catalogue, please visit www.anthempress.com.

The Post-Truth About Fake News

This is a guest post by Anthem Press author Steve Fuller, University of Warwick. His new book, Post-Truth: Knowledge As A Power Game, is now availableSteve recently spoke to the BBC. Check out his interview here:

http://www.anthempressblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/ThinkingAllowed-20180919-PostTruth.mp3

In Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game, I argue that the post-truth condition was first understood by Plato nearly 2500 years ago. His most diligent latter-day student has been Walter Lippmann, the man who set the tone for ‘objective’ and ‘professional’ journalism in the twentieth century.  Both Plato and Lippmann agreed that that key to political stability was a public belief in a generally stable reality, with the remaining uncertainties left to be managed by experts, which in Lippmann’s case included journalists.

‘The present crisis in democracy is a crisis in journalism’ is a statement about what we now call ‘fake news’, but it was made not today but in 1920. It appeared in Liberty and the News, one of Lippmann’s early books. He was reflecting on The New York Times’ coverage of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which at the time was heralded as the most detailed, up to-the-minute reporting of any major overseas political event. His analysis had originally appeared as a forty-page supplement to an issue of the progressive US magazine, The Nation.

The New York Times’ reporters had been drawn from the ranks of ‘muckrakers’, the prototype of today’s investigative journalists, whose credibility came from their eyewitness accounts of what was happening ‘in the field’, channelling the mood and feel of the major players. The result was that print readers were subject to an unprecedented immediacy, as editors in New York rapidly reconstructed the accounts they received from the field, mainly by telegram. Keep in mind that this was just before the advent of radio broadcasts, and more than a generation before television.

However, once the dust had settled from the conflict, Lippmann concluded that the reporters had radically misrepresented the course of events. Largely sympathetic to the Bolshevik cause, they ended up trusting Bolshevik press releases and read their own wishful thoughts into what they managed to witness first hand. There may have even been a touch of narcissism, as many of the revolutionaries – not least Lenin and Trotsky – had been very able publicists, appropriating much of the rhetoric that the muckrakers had used to describe poverty, corruption and injustice in America.

Indeed, Lenin is reputed to have coined the phrase ‘useful idiots’ for the journalists that Lippmann went on to criticize. Today we would simply say that Lippmann discovered that they had been ‘spun’.  But what does ‘unspinning’ mean? It is here that Lippmann, a philosophy student at Harvard, shows his mastery of Plato – and the post-truth horizon.

Lippmann was clear that The New York Times’ breathless coverage of the Bolshevik Revolution got enough of the basic facts wrong to undermine the newspaper’s credibility. However, Lippmann’s solution was arguably more about publicizing journalistic credibility than validating specific facts, especially in an increasingly uncertain and complex world. The legacy is that even today newsreaders are normally careful not to display too much affect as they read news copy, which is itself scrupulously written to downplay or neutralize any values at play, unless they can be attributed to specific parties, preferably in their own words. Even more than speaking the truth, it would seem that one must appear to speak the truth. This is the post-truth condition in its most naked form.

Interested in more on the topic? Check out Steve’s interview with Virtual Futures.

Steve Fuller is the Auguste Comte Professor of Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK. Originally trained in history and philosophy of science, Fuller pioneered the field of ‘social epistemology’ in a quarterly journal that he founded in 1987 as well as in more than twenty books. His most recent books are Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History (2015) and The Academic Caesar (2016). Connect with Steve on Twitter and Academia.

2018 Award Winning Books and Authors

Several Anthem Press authors have received awards this year. Our congratulations to these authors for this well-deserved recognition!

2018 Schumpeter Prize - John MatthewsGlobal Green Shift: When Ceres Meets Gaia

Schumpeter 3The International Schumpeter Society (ISS) announced John Mathews (Global Green Shift: When CERES Meets GAIA) as co-winner of the 2018 Schumpeter Prize.  The prize winners were announced at the gala dinner of the Schumpeter Society held at Seoul National University, Korea, on July 1, 2018. The prize is supported by 10,000 Euro provided by the prize sponsor, Aurora World, a Korean firm whose founder and chair Noh Hee-Yoel awarded the prize at the gala dinner. Also in attendance were Professor Keun Lee, President of the Schumpeter Society and Chair of the Society’s 2018 conference, and Emeritus Professor Massimo Egidi, of the LUISS Guido Carli university in Rome, chair of the prize selection panel and president-elect of the Schumpeter Society. For more information, click here.

 

2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought - Dr. Mariana Mazzucato

Dr. Mariana Mazzucato has been awarded the 2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought for her research on the role of governments in innovation. GDAE Co-Director Neva Goodwin remarked: “The topic of innovation receives a lot of attention these days. What has been insufficiently recognized, before the work of Mariana Mazzucato, is the critical role of governments in innovation and hence the role of the public sector in the process of wealth creation. Her work argues for concrete ways to make sure both the risks and the rewards are better shared so that smart growth is also more inclusive growth.” Mariana is the author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, original version published by Anthem Press in 2015. For more information on the prize, click here.

 

2018 AGBA International Book Award - The Unglobals: Groundbreakers in the Age of Economic Nationalism, J. Mark Munoz

IMG_4227The Unglobals: Groundbreakers in the Age of Economic Nationalism by J. Mark Munoz has won the 2018 AGBA International Book Award. The award was presented to J. Mark Munoz at the Academy for Global Business Advancement 15th Annual World Congress, Thailand.  For more information, click here.