Future Theatre Research.
Indeed, inter alia, traditional theatre semiotics had not provided an effective definition of 'iconicity'; second, it had been unaware that the rules of fictional creativity are beyond semiotic methodology (cf. Elam 98-207); and third, it had not envisaged the complementary role of the spectator, not to mention the fundamental distinction between the real and implied spectator. The future of theatre research totally depends on the solutions to at least these problems.
An Alternative Definition of 'Iconicity'
The universality of theatre's means of expression leads to the conjecture that its roots must lie in a spontaneous and vital faculty of the brain which reflect, I suggest, the inborn capacity of the human brain to create images. While embodying the principles of 'similarity' and 'motivation' (cf. Peirce 2.247ff), these are employed in preverbal thinking practices.
The existence of a preverbal imagistic mode of thinking was already intuited by Sigmund Freud who claimed that "dreams think essentially in images" (113; cf. Nietzsche 17-18; & Jung 33). Moreover, "[w]hat once dominated waking life, while the mind was still young and incompetent, seems now to have been banished into the night" (Freud 721); i.e., into the unconscious. Following Freud, Susanne Langer claims that images are "our readiest instruments for abstracting concepts from the tumbling stream of actual impressions. They make our primitive abstractions for us, they are our spontaneous embodiments of general ideas" (145). Furthermore, images are "just as capable of articulation, i.e., of complex combination, as words" (93). Imagistic thinking is thus rooted in perception, the matrix of mental imagistic representation.
The perception of images as fundamental units of thought is amply supported by quite recent findings in neurobiology. On the grounds of digital methodology, Stephen M. Kosslyn asserts that "[i]magery [in the sense of mental representation] is a basic form of cognition, and plays a central role in many human activities--ranging from navigation to memory, to creative problem solving" ("Introduction" 1; cf. Damasio 89-107). Kosslyn characterizes thinking as hinging on two properties: "First, information must be represented internally [in the mind]; and second...information must be manipulated in order to draw inferences and conclusions" ("Introduction" 959; cf. Langer 31). He thus presupposes that thinking, including imagistic thinking, takes place when reality is manipulated through mental representations (cf. Langer 31). Therefore, I have suggested elsewhere to redefine 'iconicity' in terms of 'imagistic thinking' (Rozik, Generating 21-33). Nonetheless, such a definition poses a few problems:
(a) Mental images are figments of the i magi nation, i.e., nonmaterial e ntities, which cannot be perceived by others. Mental images thus require imprinting on a material carrier, i.e., a medium, to enable their communication. While imprinting transforms images into iconic signs; 'medium' denotes the kind of imprinting materials that enable the communication of images. Each iconic medium is defined by the matter it employs for imprinting its images. Whereas most iconic mediums employ matters that differ from those of their models, underscoring thereby their communicative functions, the theatre medium is characterized by expanding the principle of similarity, including identity, to the material level. Indeed, images of human behavior are imprinted on actors' bodies, images of costume on real materials and images of light on real light.
This principle also applies to the imprinted images of speech acts, which constitute the backbone of fictional interaction. Indeed, images of speech acts are imprinted on the voices and bodies of actors, similarly to nonverbal acts. The use of language is thus subordinated to the imagistic principle.
(b) In contrast to words, mental images do not reveal clear boundaries between core sense and contextual associations, which can be even personal, making interpersonal communication problematic. Therefore, in order for an iconic medium to become cul tur all y-e stablished, it necessitates the mediation of language; which is indeed the main repository of relatively controlled signifieds. Assumedly, mediation happens spontaneously, because a brain conditioned by a language naturally assigns signifieds to imprinted images, according to the words that conventionally categorize their models.
(c) "Thinking' presupposes not only a set of representations, but also a syntax, which according to Noam Chomsky is innate (Chomsky). His thesis is corroborated by toddlers who, although not being taught, soon become competent users of syntax. Assumedly, the preverbal brain was thus capable of intuiting syntactic predication and reference in the practice of imagistic thinking. In other words, innate syntax is shared by verbal and imagistic thinking.
I suggest that the holistic reading of an imprinted image functions as the subject of an iconic predication (identification of a referent), e.g., 'the cat'; and the partial readings of its various qualities, states and actions are its predicates (categorization of the referent). Therefore, an imprinted image, which I term 'icon', is usually a configuration of single sentences, which are simultaneously predicated on the same subject; e.g., 'the cat is robust', 'is white', and 'is sleeping'. Each of these predicates may change on the time axis; e.g., from 'is sleeping' into 'is pouncing'. Iconic sentences thus neither preclude further analysis into their component functions, subject and predicates, nor their aggregation into a comprehensive unit: the icon.
In addition, in contrast to the linear syntax that characterizes language, due to its aural nature, imagistic/iconic representation is pictorial, in the sense of the spatial coexistence of a subject and its predicates. It might appear, therefore, that an iconic unit does not feature discrete signs. However, as suggested above, a mind conditioned by language cannot avoid deconstructing an imprinted image into its syntactic components.
'Mediation of language' thus implies the equivalence of verbal and imagistic texts, meaning that all that can be said through words about an iconic text, and is true, is equivalent to its descriptive meaning. It is in this sense that a picture can be worth a thousand words. Due to this fundamental equivalence, the iconic medium of theatre is capable of generating descriptions of fictional worlds that are highly univocal, no less than those generated by language.
Consequently, imagistic thinking, which assumedly characterized the preverbal mind, has been transmuted into a set of culturally-e stablished ima gistic/iconic mediu ms by imprinting images on matter and lang uage mediation. These principles enable the reading of an iconic text by natural inference, with no need to learn the medium; i.e., the theatre medium is transparent. It follows that, in contrast to traditional semiotics, homogeneity characterizes not only each iconic medium in itself; but also the entire system of iconic mediums.
In addition, the advantages of the imagistic definition are: (a) it connects the iconic unit to the natural faculty of the brain to produce images and employ them as units of thinking; and (b) it enables all forms of theatre semiosis, including stage conventions, iconic metaphors, iconic symbols and real objects on stage, to be read by applying the very same principles (Rozik, Generating 34-77).
In contrast to traditional theatre semiotics, the fictional worlds described by an iconic medium reflect a distinct set of structural rules, which apply beyond reading (decoding), i.e., beyond semiotic methodology, and belong in the domains of 'interpretation' and 'experience'. I have suggested that fictional creativity too reflects a preverbal mode of thinking (Rozik, Fictional 256-66).
Fictional thinking, which is characterized by creating or experiencing narratives, essentially differs from discursive thinking, typical of philosophy and science. Actually, such narratives are 'descriptions of fictional worlds' i.e., worlds of characters and their actions, whether based on pure invention or modification of real ones (fictionalization). I suggest that these narratives reflect the workings of specific principles, such as (a) their characters are personifications of psychical entities or drives, thus often embodying psychical archetypes; (b) fates of characters arouse spontaneous expectations, which reflect biologically-generated and culturally-conditioned wishful and/or fearful thinking; (c) such fates usually concern the receivers' system of cognitive and/or ethical orientation in the world, for either its reaffirmation or confutation, and reflect the emotional mechanisms of the psyche for either cathartic or shocking effects; and (d) whole fictional worlds are potentially-metaphoric descriptions of the receivers' psychical states of affairs (Rozik Generating 120-32).
A fictional world is not a mere admixture of characters and actions, but an organized macro-unit that reflects an authorial intuition as to the most efficient structure for embodying a certain fictional thought. I have suggested that the deep structure of the fictional world comprises seven stratified layers--the personi fied, the mythica l, the praxical, t he naive, the ironic, the modal and the aesthetic layers--with each of them being grafted upon the previous one and restructuring it, thus building the entire fictional world.
(a) The basic layer of personification is substantiated by the mere creation of a fictional world; namely, a world of characters and their actions (Frye 365).
(b) The mythical layer evinces elementary characterization, neutral categorization of motives and actions from any ethical viewpoint, and simple temporal order. Despite minimal characterization this narrative material is of profound psychical meaning for the spectator, possibly on an unconscious level, due to arousing extreme anxiety; e.g., a son killing his father.
(c) The praxical layer assigns a specific macro-motive to a character's actions, which explains all its actions (e.g., to avoid killing a father), and a definite related outcome (e.g., self-ostracism). It also produces two simultaneous expectations: for the macro-motive to either succeed or fail, which lie at the heart of suspense.
(d) The naive layer categorizes the characters' motives and actions from their own perspectives, which are indicated by key-terms of value systems in the interactive characters' speeches; e.g., Antigone's notion of 'family loyalty.'
(e) The ironic layer further structures the naive layer in the terms of the author's (and spectator's') perspective, which is indicated by key-terms in the speeches of functional characters or interactive characters in functional situations (out of character). The gap between the ironic and the naive perspectives defines 'dramatic irony,' which is the sense of cognitive or ethical advantage that the spectators enjoy over the characters.
(f) The modal layer organizes the previous layers through a predominant mood, which reflects the basic attitude of the author to the nature of a fictional world, as deserving a serious or light-hearted treatment. In this sense, this layer too fulfills an ironic function.
(g) The aesthetic layer further structures the ironic layers in the aesthetic terms of 'harmony' and 'disharmony.' The archetypal expectation of spectator is for a harmonious structure. Whereas each culture applies its own value system and its own standards of harmony, the application of such standards is universal. Whereas a sense of harmony leads to the reaffirmation of the audience's value system, 'disharmony' may lead to questioning it; and, on the emotional level, whereas the former may produce catharsis, the latter may eventually increase anxiety.
There is something paradoxical in reaching the experience of harmony at the expense of a character that elicits the audience's identification, and is sacrificed on the altar of their cognitive/ethical system. This paradox reflects the erroneous assumption that a character's success and the validity of the cognitive/ethical system enjoy equal status in the eyes of spectators. The harmonious structures, however, indicate that spectators are more concerned with the possible failure of their own value system, which affords a sense of meaning and orientation in the world, than with the sacrifice of a character despite possible identification; especially when a character fulfills their suppressed wishes. It follows that the fictional experience takes place in the minds of socialized spectators, for whom only identification with the value system can bring about the experience of total harmony, including catharsis.
Mythos and Logos
The mythical layer plays a crucial role in the deep structure of the fictional world. It determines the level of anxiety that such a world is expected to elicit, which is meant to be subordinated (or not) by the (praxical, ironic and aesthetic) layers of logos. These layers are responsible for transmuting the mythical narrative material (mythos) into an object that can be consciously confronted and even enjoyed. Aristotle claims that a tragic action should produce fear (Poetics XIII 2), and that this goal is best achieved when suffering is inflicted on "those who are near or dear to one another--if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother" (Poetics XIV 4). Indeed, whereas inflicting harm upon enemies is rational, doing so upon kin is inherently irrational, and may convey a deep sense of absurdity, and produce extreme anxiety.
Such mythical layers not only lend expression to suppressed drives, but also map the ambivalent nature of family relations, which, in contrast to communal values, may bring forth (a) unconscious animosity (e.g., between parents and sons/daughters, between siblings, between lovers, between friends, and between gods and their creatures; for examples in canonical dramas (see Rozik "Sacred Narratives"); and (b) unconscious sexual attraction (e.g., between mother-son, father-daughter, and brother-sister; for examples, see ibid.).
The universality of mythical mappings, and their ability to integrate a historic logos, should explain their appeal even for secular receivers in their (a) reinterpretation of fictional worlds created in religious cultures; and (b) creation of new fictional worlds that presuppose such mappings, whether using the original names of characters or not. The exposure of receivers to such mythical mappings reflects a social permit to confront disturbing contents of the psyche, including suppressed or shameful drives, in the context of a collective experience, which lends them legitimation for the purpose of their assimilation into a conscious and more complex image of life. It is the supposed rational nature of any cultural logos that makes such assimilation possible. For example, in Oedipus the King, Jocasta is probably right in saying that in dreams "many a man has lain with his own mother" (981-2), but it is Sophocles' logos that enables the receivers to confront such a drive without being destroyed or overwhelmed.
As a composite of mythos and logos, the fictional world is the arena at which mythical mappings are confronted, and usually subdued, by culture. While through its minimal categorization of characters and action a mythos produces maximum anxiety, a logos ensures maximum communicability and assimilation into the receiver's conscious discourse. Whereas a mythos is capable of undermining social order, a logos is capable of shielding the receiver from chaos. Future theatre research should not avoid these crucial aspects of performance-texts.
Traditional semiotics presupposes that all is in the performance-text, perceived as encoded by a director and merely decoded by spectators. I suggest, in contrast, that the theatre experience results not only from what is in the performance-text, but also from its complementation by the spectator, whose contribution to the generation of fictional meaning is no less crucial than that of the description itself. The spectator is expected to provide, in addition to 'reading' competence (i.e., 'literacy', in the wide sense that applies to all languages and iconic mediums), interpretive capacity, including a shared cultural baggage and culturally-conditioned psychical mechanisms. Without these no description of a fictional world can make sense. A performance-text should be seen, therefore, as a set of clues for the spectators to activate these competences and mechanisms.
On the level of interaction between performance-text and spectator two more structural layers should be discerned: (a) the fictional world as a potentially-metaphoric description of the spectator's psyche; and (b) a description of a fictional world as embedded in a rhetoric macro-speech act. Whereas the fictional principle presupposes that such a world is a description of a psychical state of affairs; the inherent difference between this world and the spectators' world precludes seeing it as a literal description. Therefore, only the thesis that such a world is a potentially-metaphoric description of the amorphous stirrings of a spectator's psychical state of affairs can explain how it is that meaningful (Rozik, Fictional 89-100). 'Amorphousness' is in the nature of the human psyche prior to experiencing expression through any medium, including language. The metaphoric thesis is corroborated by the fact that, as suggested above, the entire structure of the fictional world is built upon the basic layer of personification.
In the process of experiencing a description of a fictional world, the reader/spectator may become the subject of the self-referential fictional thought, instead of the author (Rozik, Theatre Sciencies 129-31). The basic relationship between a fictional world and the receivers thus ceases to be, as commonly perceived, an experience of watching the world of others but, rather, it becomes a confrontation with their own psyches, which are represented on two levels: being and self-description.
Such a metaphoric description is embedded in the overall rhetoric structure of a macro-speech act of persuasion, which reflects the authorial macrointention (e.g., criticism of held beliefs) and, at least, one macro-purpose (e.g., subversion), with the author being the agent and the spectator its object (Rozik, Fictional 114-26).
A rhetoric text does not aim at bringing the spectator to accept a fictional thought on the grounds not of its 'truth' in the scientific sense; but, extends the sphere of persuasion to encompass the 'experience of truth' (ibid. 117-8). To account for this difference, Aristotle introduced the notion of 'enthymeme' that, in contrast to 'syllogism,' presupposes that its premises are not necessarily true, but held to be true by the objects of persuasion (Rhetoric 75ff). In theatre, the enthymematic process of persuasion thus aims at demonstrating that a predetermined outcome sensibly follows from the axiomatic validity of the spectator's cognitive/value system. The fictional world is thus pre-structured to achieve an overall experience of truth through what only seems to be a logical process.
Since a fictional world is pre-structured to produce a pre-determined experience, the epistemic value of an archetypal fictional world is negligible. In contrast to Horace's contention that a play-script should yield both pleasure and ethical instruction (335), spectators are not expected to learn anything, but to undergo recurrent experiences of verification (or falsification) of their own value system, usually challenged under extreme fictional circumstances.
The basic distinction between 'real' and 'implied' spectator has not been envisaged by traditional theatre semiotics. Following Wolfgang Iser, 'implied spectator' means here a set of reading competencies, interpretive capacity and psychical mechanisms that a performance-text presupposes in the spectator for the description of a fictional world to make full sense (Iser 34; cf. Marinis 163-64).
The implied spectator is a sheer theoretical construct, which rather reflects a learned intuition of the synchronic real spectator. The success of a performance-text thus depends on the degree of overlap between intuition and reality. It should be born in mind, nonetheless, that it is the real spectator who actually experiences a performance-text.
Whereas the real spectator may reveal various limitations such as lacking reading competence, poor interpretive capacity, incomplete cultural baggage, and/or deficient psychical mechanisms; the implied spectator is adequately equipped for all these complementary tasks by definition. Therefore, despite being a theoretical construct, it should be seen as the vital co-producer of theatre meaning. Nonetheless, also the notion of 'real spectator,' as employed in theatre research, is a theoretical construct, usually influenced by either the implied spectator, the scholar's personal experience or over-simplifications fostered by journalistic sociology.
Future performance analysis should thus focus not on whether the contributions expected by a performance-text are realized by the real spectator or not, but on the set of expected contributions that should be met by the implied spectator.
Assumedly, therefore, the deep structure of the fictional world reflects the archetypal patterns of response of the implied spectator; especially its proclivity to react according to spontaneous and culturally-conditioned expectations; i.e., wishful and fearful thinking (Rozik, Fictional 241-51). Although different cultures endorse different cognitive/value systems, the psychical mechanisms of experience, such as reaffirmation or confutation of held beliefs and cathartic or shocking effects, are the same. A performance-text is, therefore, a complex set of clues programmed to trigger an expected "psychical" effect on the implied spectator.
Consequently, future theatre research should develop a sound methodology of performance analysis without ignoring the fundamental principles that generate the various constituents of its overall structure: it cannot avoid being a multi-disciplinary endeavor.
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Tel Aviv University
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|Publication:||GESTOS: Revista de teoria y practica del teatro hispanicos (Spanish)|
|Article Type:||Ensayo literario|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2015|
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