3. Drama as a kind of memorabilia
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.