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What I'm saying, then, is that the V-effekt's political character is its ability to expose social relationships -- and that this is the necessary starting point to political thought itself.
I think Tobin has raised a vital point, one which I would like to extend. I draw the readers attention to an essay by Murray Smith, "The Logic of Brechtianism," in Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (Ed. Bordwell and Carroll), a book called to my attention by David Saltz. Briefly, Smith challenges Brecht to prove that without the V-effekt, audiences won't "get" the political/social/historic/relationship, or the actor/audience/performative relationship. In other words, conventional narrative is dismissed by Brecht and his followers because it will fail to elicit an awareness of the social contradictions embodied by the conflicts in the narrative. We won't ask "why this is happening" (we, being the spectators) because we'll merely be swept up by the narrative flow without challenging it's inevitability. We will, as a result, fail to challenge the ideological apparatus because we won't be able to tease out the distinctions between the apparatus and the event unfolding onstage without the V-effekt.
What Smith implies is that Brecht a) is condescending to audiences (they're too simple-minded to "get it" unless it's thrust in their faces), and b) the estrangement effect itself is also an ideological apparatus, what Smith calls a "miniature" version of the bigger, "State" machine. Spectators, having little or no agency or free will, can't tell the trees from the forest without a road map. Since audiences are "constructed" in the same way that actors are, their opinions can be shaped by "mapping" out the process of how things turn out the way they do. But the "map" turns out to be a propagandistic mechanism essentially no different from the mechanism it seeks to critique.
I'm not entirely convinced by Smith's argument (all texts or performances seek to illicit some response, and the fact that it's ideological doesn't negate its aims or value). But I am persuaded by Smith that Brecht is condescending to some degree. I can see a linear narrative and I'm not so duped that I can't tell when the form is "con"forming to received notions, ideological rigidity, etc., and when it isn't. I can also see linear narrativity ALSO exposing social relations, revealing oppression, and eliciting political thought, and doing it sometimes even better (i.e., more subtly) than breaking the fourth wall, stepping out of character, etc., and instigating, as Tobin has astutely phrased, "the necessary starting point to political thought itself." I don't need to be slammed against the back of the theatre to know when there's a political "message" before me, or when we (the audience) are being singled out as complicit participants in the events onstage. Brecht's techniques are dynamic theatre when used wisely and imaginatively, and deadly when they come on like a sledge hammer (as is any technique, of course). Linear narrativity may not be to everyone's tastes, which is fine, but this is purely an aesthetic distinction, not a political one. The assumption is that unless there's some way of breaking fourth walls, disrupting narratives, and juxtaposing contradictions (what Tom accurately points out is Brechtian dialectic), we won't see/get/comprehend the political underbelly of events. However, the burden of proof, Smith points out, is on Brecht and his followers, not the other way around. It's up to Brechtians to demonstrated conclusively that unless these apparatuses are revealed through formal structures we won't "get" the "real" political story. So far, the evidence has proved inconclusive and doubtful. Krasner
But the next exchange made the point of comparing Artaud and Brecht:
There is a distancing effect in all theatre, in the sense that drama takes a conflict from life and puts it into some kind of artistic framework on the stage. Brecht put a certain theoretical spin on this: "the familiar made strange" onstage. This might even be called "catharsis" (despite B's anti-Aristotelian stance)--clarifying social attitudes (with gests) to encourage critical thought and political action, i.e. using tragicomic fear and sympathy, not to rid the spectator of those emotions, but to work toward an eventual purification of society.
I find Brecht's ideals most insightful when compared with Artaud's apparently opposite goals: to bring the audience closer to the cruelty onstage, through emotional, communal participation--a return to ritual sacrifice. And yet, these contrasting methods of modern catharsis are not mutually exclusive. They may even be improved when used together: a prospect I began to consider with chapters on Brecht and Artaud--and examples from their plays--in my first book (Edges of Loss) and am continuing to consider in a new book (Theatres of Human Sacrifice) with chapters on Greek, Roman, and Aztec sacrifice, Soyinka's drama, and various films and TV drama (including NFL football).
Have any of you likewise applied both Brecht and Artaud to specific plays or performance media--regarding stage/screen violence and cathartic effects? In my research I find that nearly all scholars using one do not use the other.
Mark Pizzato, PhD
Dept. of Dance and Theatre
Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte
Charlotte, NC 28223
Phone: (704) 687-4488
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