Grounded equally in discussions of theater history, literary genre, and theory, Martin Puchner's Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama explores the conflict between avant-garde theater and modernism. While the avant-garde celebrated all things theatrical, a dominant strain of modernism tended to define itself against the theater, valuing lyric poetry and the novel instead. Defenders of the theater dismiss modernism's aversion to the stage and its mimicking actors as one more form of the old "anti-theatrical" prejudice. But Puchner shows that modernism's ambivalence about the theater was shared even by playwrights and directors and thus was a productive force responsible for some of the greatest achievements in dramatic literature and theater.
A reaction to the aggressive theatricality of Wagner and his followers, the modernist backlash against the theater led to the peculiar genre of the closet dramaa theatrical piece intended to be read rather than stagedwhose long-overlooked significance Puchner traces from the theatrical texts of Mallarmé and Stein to the dramatic "Circe" chapter of Joyce's Ulysses. At times, then, the anti-theatrical impulse leads to a withdrawal from the theater. At other times, however, it returns to the stage, when Yeats blends lyric poetry with Japanese Nôh dancers, when Brecht controls the stage with novelistic techniques, and when Beckett buries his actors in barrels and behind obsessive stage directions. The modernist theater thus owes much to the closet drama whose literary strategies it blends with a new mise en scène. While offering an alternative history of modernist theater and literature, Puchner also provides a new account of the contradictory forces within modernism.
Martin Puchner is a professor of English and comparative literature at Harvard University and author of The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy.
Table of Contents
Contents: The Invention of Theatricality Richard Wagner The Modernist Closet DramaStephane Mallarme James Joyce Gertrude Stein The Diegetic TheaterWilliam Butler Yeats Bertolt Brecht Samuel Beckett
What People are Saying About This
This book gives the reader not only a brilliant study of modernist theater but also a superb demonstration of the theoretical productiveness of taking apparently opposed terms and considering them as parameters of a field of forces rather than as mutually exclusive alternatives of which only one can be chosen.
Barbara Johnson, Harvard University, author of The Critical Difference and A World of Difference
Puchner is razor-sharp theoretically. His argument brilliantly illuminates the relationship between and among the performance theorists of the historic avant-garde and a startling array of canonical authors whose careers in drama and especially closet drama proceed from a phobic distrust and even loathing of the theater. Stage Fright is the most exciting book in the field of modern drama that I have read in ten years.
Joseph Roach, Yale University
"Puchner is razor-sharp theoretically. His argument brilliantly illuminates the relationship between and among the performance theorists of the historic avant-garde and a startling array of canonical authors whose careers in drama and especially closet drama proceed from a phobic distrust and even loathing of the theater. Stage Fright is the most exciting book in the field of modern drama that I have read in ten years."
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