In the beginning, a series of questions
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.)
1. Memorabilia as Source Material
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.