|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||16. Nr.||August 2006|
9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art
Márton Mészáros (Károli Gáspár Univerity of the Reformed Church, Faculty of Arts, Budapest, Hungary)
My presentation attempts to analyse the peculiar relationship of drama and prose via János Háy’s book Gézagyerek (written/published in 2000). The interpermeabilty or juxtaposition of the different literary genres is a problem emerging in Háy’s works as early as in Marlon and Marion (in 1993). Moreover, strictly speaking, the whole of Háy’s oeuvre can be regarded as the thematization of this problem: while the language of his poetry is consistently and deliberately indelicate, that of his prose is subtly refined in the same manner. In Gézagyerek, short stories and dramas with the same title and roughly the same plot follow each other, supplementing, rewriting and overwriting, interpreting and explaining each other. The individual short story-drama pairs are linked not only by the same title and the similar plot, but also by their numbering, thus four short story-drama couples remain in strong relationship with one another, as well. The declared genre of Gézagyerek is dramas and short stories, where the conjunction ’and’ is of paramount importance, since it inevitably confronts us with certain medial problems. ’Medial tension’ lies here primarily not between the written and the performed play, evincing not only in the different structural characteristics of drama and prose, but confronts the reader with the different ways of reading dramatic and prose texts. The most obvious question is, of course, whether it is possible to work the text of a short story into the language of mediality, the drama, and if so, what is the price to pay. Though the melodious language of the short story, exploiting the acoustic aspects of language in the best way, clearly facilitates the ’translation’ of short stories into dramas, we must constantly face the problem of self-identity.
Drama theories had attempted to determine the possibilities and limits of medial transformations well before the media theories of McLuhan or Kittler. In defining drama as a literary genre, its contrasting with poetry and prose has always been salient. Aristotle’s Poetics thus begin: Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects - the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct. For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of colour and form, or again by the voice; so in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or 'harmony,' either singly or combined. Wellek and Warren(1) argue that the three main literary genres in Aristotle’s system are different from each other, as much as the lyric poet speaks directly, the epic author speaks directly and via his characters, while the playwright dissolves into his characters. Most drama theories have their own systems to distinguish between the main genres; here we shall enumerate the most frequent aspects only. These are: a marked view of time (present, past and present pointing towards the future); the relationship between the author, the work and reality (subjective, objective or dual); viewpoint, the presence of the self in the oeuvre (the lyric self and the narrator); psychological sensitivity (emotion, reason, will); communication base function (expression, information or both) and so on. From the earliest times, however, a hidden medial differentiation has been present, assuming the fundamental aim of drama to be performed on stage. Goethe formed this as follows:
Wir unterscheiden nahverwandte Dichtungsarten, die aber bei lebendiger Behandlung oft zusammenfließen: Epos, Dialog, Drama, Theaterstück lassen sich sondern. Epos fordert mündliche Überlieferungen an die Menge durch einen Einzelnen; Dialog Gespräch in geschlossener Gesellschaft, wo die Menge allenfalls zuhören mag; Drama Gespräch in Handlungen, wenn es auch nur vor der Einbildungskraft geführt würde; Theaterstück alles dreies zusammen, in so fern es den Sinn des Auges mit beschäftigt und unter gewissen Bedingungen örtlicher und persönlicher Gegenwart fasslich werden kann.(2)
It is evident that Goethe believes visual perception to be vital, which allows saying that he recognized the scriptural-visual distinction in the difference of text and performance.
Historical approaches also distinguish between written drama, language being its primary conveyer, and performed play, the conveyer of which is the actor (or, more strictly, the human body) and the scenery. As Hegel put it: "Das eigentlich sinnliche Material der dramatischen Poesie ist, wie wir sahen, nicht nur die menschliche Stimme und das gesprochene Wort, sondern der ganze Mensch [... ] "(3).
This is the reason of Hegel’s regarding performance decisively more valuable than the written play: "Real drama always keeps performance in view; in fact theatre performance is the real touchstone." György Lukács, clearly not independent of Hegel, sees ’performance’ to be the primary function of drama: "A play is a written work aiming to exert a direct and powerful influence on a mass of people, by (displaying) events happening among people."(4). Lukács thus attributes a dual way of existence to drama, since on the one hand he calls it a written work, while on the other he emphasizes its visuality. "[...]masses can think in images only, they can be influenced by images only"(5)
20th century Hungarian drama theories also make a distinction between drama and performance. Tamás Bécsy thus points out the differences of written drama and performed play, though he links it to the breaking away from verbality. "The independence of play began when nonverbal elements were put on the stage: stairs, podiums, illusion-scenery, period dresses, clothes typifying the characters, and, as the most important nonverbal component, electric light..."(6)These nonverbal factors meant a new situation in the relationship of written drama and play. The development of European drama, parallel with the achievements of stage theories required the interpretation of written drama separately, as written text, as one of the main genres of literature. The process, however, that led to the theatre becoming an individual art form, did not prove that drama was a text to be performed on stage; moreover,- as can be seen from Tamás Bécsy’s remark - it is not similarities, but differences that played a crucial part. Theatre is an art form of nonverbal signs and its systems; the originally written text appears in sound modulations and corporeal phenomena. Performance, by relying on non-linguistic components as well, emphasizes the acoustic and visual experience before the scriptural medium. This fact definitely requires the interpretation of a written text, appearing as verbal signs, independently of the performed play, in accordance with its own nature, and vice versa. Patrice Pavis points out that the relationship between the text of a drama and the performed play cannot be properly described with relations such as signifier/signified, or form/content, while introducing the notion of mise en scéne(7) highlights the interpretation and intertextuality. Erika Fischer-Lichte, approaching drama from communication and sign theory, similarly to Pavis, and following Plessner, draws the conclusion that the basic theatre situation is the most perfect manifestation of the conditio humana, (i.e. you can form a view of yourself contemplating someone else). This theory now decisively lays stress upon the non-scriptural aspects of drama.
As this short summary shows, while most drama theories make a clear distinction between the written (scriptural) and performed (oral, acoustic and visual) aspects of drama, they provide little help transforming prose texts into plays. The transformation thematized in Háy’s text, however, remains all the while inside the scriptural medium, thus, in the narrow sense, we cannot speak about a medial shift. In fact, the state of the written play is now comparable with screenplays of film adaptations. Nevertheless, the main characteristic of screenplays is, that although they use language in the process of transforming the ’literary text", language itself is not present any longer in the foreground, it becomes virtually transparent. As Béla Balázs points out, the screenplay serving as the basis of a film cannot be the result of literary imagination because, apart from being mediated by the language of aesthetic experience, it develops along different structural principles than the novel, because the screenplay always focuses on the film as medium. If this comparison were correct, we had to conclude that written drama, in the course of reading, should always evoke the stage performance. As we shall see, however, the language of Háy’s drama is never transparent, always keeping the (acoustically experienceable) oral aspect of language in play.
Háy makes quite a sharp distinction between drama and prose: dramas are built on dialogues exclusively, stage instructions are as brief as possible, most often restricted to single words, such as ’street’ or ’bar’. The scenery, the intonation, gestures or movement of the actors are all up to the director, in drama it is verbality rather than visuality that is chiefly emphasized. Note that this is precisely the common aspect of prose and drama, therefore verbality can be the link ensuring successful transformation. The language of the short stories appearing in Gézagyerek, unlike in Háy’s earlier prose, strongly relies on spoken language, even in the case of narration. Successful transformation, however, does not mean it is not without loss of information. Very important text organizing principles of Háy’s prose, and all other means of description or narration seem to be lost... Note however that the text of the drama (due to the strong intertextual relationship between dramas and short stories) is able to keep the text of the stories within the context of interpretation, which means that we cannot disregard them even when reading the play.
Transformation is facilitated by the important role of the plot of short stories, which are never developing through narration, but by the dialogues of characters. Plays also exploit the possibilities of verbality to the utmost: the real plot is revealed to us through the gaps of untold or unfinished sentences and ambiguous metaphoric double talk. While the plot is more or less fixed, (roughly the same events happen in the short stories and plays), the accents of motivation are often shifted.
If either film adaptation of novels or translation from a language into another is conceived as the model, then it is true for both cases that target and source change place, the first trying to take the role of the other. In Gézagyerek, however, the texts of short stories and plays are far from extinguishing each other, on the contrary, they strongly need each other’s presence, and therefore their relationship may be properly described as dialogue. Bearing in mind that Pavis applied the notion of dialogue and intertextuality to denote the relationship between written and performed play, we can conclude that reading the texts of Háy’s plays, the texts of the dramas, as well as their performance both appear as a context influencing interpretation. While Háy makes use of the common verbal origin of short stories and written plays as much as possible, he concentrates exclusively on the scriptural-oral, i.e. intramedial shift between the written and the performed play, leaving visual and acoustic components to the director. This demands that every component is manifested in its distinctive, characteristic features.
The connections of the partly intermedial, partly intramedial differences might as well lead to the conclusion that both the drama and the short story can be read as interpretations of the same story, neither being ’truer’ or ’more genuine’ than the other. Goethe wrote in a letter to Schiller:
Sie werden hundertmal gehört haben, daß man nach Lesung eines guten Romans gewünscht hat, den Gegenstand auf dem Theater zu sehen, und wie viel schlechte Dramen sind daher entstanden! [..] Diesen eigentlich kindischen, barbarischen, abgeschmackten Tendenzen sollte nun der Künstler aus allen Kräften widerstehen, Kunstwerk von Kunstwerk durch undurchdringliche Zauberkreise sondern, jedes bey seiner Eigenschaft und seinen Eigenheiten erhalten, so wie es die Alten gethan haben und dadurch eben solche Künstler wurden und waren..(8)
If we are ready to accept that performance, drama and short story can show different fragments of "reality", we can assume of one thing: performance, play and short story together will give us more, and in particular different experiences than either performance, play or short story alone.
© Márton Mészáros (Károli Gáspár Univerity of the Reformed Church, Faculty of Arts, Budapest, Hungary)
(1) Wellek- Warren Az irodalom elmélete. 226.
(2) Goethe: Shakespeare és se vége, se hossza. in: Antik és modern 497p
(3) Hegel: Esztétika 389 p.
(4) Lukács György: A modern dráma fejlődésének története. 27. p
(5) Uo. 28. p.
(6) Bécsy Tamás: A magyar színházról és elméletéről. Árgus 2000/3
(7) Patrice Pavis: A lapról a színpadra. In: Theatron 2000 nyár-ősz. 93-105 p.
(8) Goethe: Friedrich Schillernek. Antik és modern 195 p.
9.5. Recycling Culture. Ancient and Sacral Texts in (Post)Modern Literature and Art
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