Archive for May, 2010

Theatre Ruminations – Tragedy

May 26, 2010 Leave a comment
What is function of modern and classical tragedy and its relation to the socio-historical periods of their creation?
The function of Modern tragedy is that of a protective notion. It is a modern art form that attempts to save humanity from it’s own intellectual prowess. It is deliberately designed to bring emotion back into a seemingly cold, isolated and desolate post-modernistic society. Separate and similar to the classic form of tragedy evident in ancient Greece, this modern take on a seemingly perfected art form takes on a new role in the contemporary society. Similar in the sense that both forms of tragedy deal with the notion of political and religious power, key differences have developed over the generations. Whilst being mainly concerned with the downfall of the tragic hero, ancient tragedy serves its purpose in the instruction of citizens on model forms of acceptable social behaviour. Modern tragedy takes on a much more metaphysical role, implying that emotion must be placed back into a society of monotony and strict moral codes. The emotion evoked through modern tragedy, leads to a much more powerful discovery of self and reality, catalysed by the realisation of ones own mortality. 
The themes of religious and political power, perhaps more prevalent in classical, is evident in both forms of tragedy. Tragedy whilst perceived to be nothing more than a portrayal of an horrific event, is rather, an acceptance of death as a process of growth. This ideology is still central to both forms of tragedy, thematic issues have differed from the ancient form. Political and religious power, dominant in the ancient society, is far less evident in modern forms of tragedy. The image of the gods playing games with the mere mortals no longer captivates the majority of conscious thought meaning that modern tragedy has been altered to accommodate the contemporary psyche. The notion of the gods has been replaced with terms such as fate, and karma. The evidence of the political power has been reduced to the often-detrimental boundaries of political and corporate red tape. This means that rather than ethereal gods toying with mortals, fate, karma, and law dictate the enormity of the tragedy. This is particularly evident in, Arthur Miller’s work, “Death of a Salesman,” with the law (life insurance in particular) dictating the implied suicide of “Willy.” 
Ancient and Modern tragedy differ, in regards to the moral being portrayed through each piece. Religion, an integral part of ancient life, meant for the depiction of the ethereal gods, and inclusion of such themes in the ancient tragedy. This notion of ever-present mythology in daily life is evident within the first line of a classic Greek tragedy,
“Once more I ask the Gods, once and for all,
“To end this heavy duty.” [Agamemnon].
To defy the gods, was to defy all manner of rationality and logic, existence was dictated by their mythological presence. In this way, ancient Greek tragedy acted as a medium in which to keep the populace fearful, but obedient of state, and indeed state religion. Modern tragedy dealing much more with political sanctions and the written law (that is both religious and regulatory) means for an almost juxtaposition interpretation of the art. Through the detrimental portrayal of political sanctions and regulations that often evoke the death of not only the tragic hero, but innocent souls involved in the general development of the storyline, is a distaste for the rhetoric of the contemporary society fostered. Arthur Miller exemplifies this notion, in two of his most famous modern tragedies, “The Crucible,” and “The Death of a Salesman.” In both of these pieces, the boundaries of the written law are brought into direct question, due to their detrimental impact on both the wider society and the personal psyche of one family. Then the question for modern tragedy, is, not what does it discredit, but what does it deem as preservable in an ever changing society? Emotion, being one of the very few pure things left in modern society is perceived to be that which is worth preservation, through tragedy. Pure emotion that is evoked through the death of the tragic hero calls us as finite beings to place existence in perspective.
Modern tragedy, through the portrayal of humanity’s mortality allows an audience to develop a deeper understanding of, not only themselves, but, all manner of existence. The seemingly reflective “mirror,” of facing ones own mortality is subsequently transformed into a transparent lens through which to see the world. In this sense an entire perception of reality is drawn into question through the application of modern tragedy. This is not to say that ancient tragedy does not allow the audience to face their finite existence, but to say that ancient tragedy portraying the near uselessness of life, calls for the audience to live an auspicious existence, in order to find meaning through the mythology of the gods. This is evident in “The Illiad,” particularly in Book 14, as the deception of Zeus, by his divine bride Hera, leads to a repel of the Trojans and the wounding of Hector. The constant reinforcement of the notion that death comes on swift wings to those who defy the gods, gives ground to the ideology that meaning and life are found with those who identify with the same gods that toy with the mortals. Modern tragedy, translating mythology into a modern context (through the substitution of fate, and karma) allows the audience to explore their own existence, attempting to find meaning in a post-modern life. Depending on the member of the audience, numerous responses can incur. From despair to a paradigm shift, modern tragedy evokes the audience to make meaning of their own life, without ethereal influences. This particular form of tragedy calls the audience, to understand their own psyche (through the acceptance of mortality) and subsequently form their own beliefs about the very nature of existence, knowing full well, the power and the purity of emotion (the catharsis). One particularly powerful quote, from Arthur Miller’s, “Death of a Salesman,” illustrates in reality a reflection of the search for meaning.
“Today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear—or personality. You see what I mean? They don’t know me anymore.” [Death of a Salesman]
Tragedy in any context is an idealistic attempt at making the audience grow, either as people or model citizens. The art from is meticulously designed to allow the audience to face their own mortality whilst not having to experience such a tragedy in reality. The strong themes of political and religious power evoke different audience responses depending on the manner in which they are portrayed and dealt with. Tragedy relevant to the social context of the time, allowed for the inclusion of mythological themes and ancient social moray’s. Both forms dealing with the fall of the tragic hero can be interpreted in almost complete juxtaposition to one and other. Ancient tragedy dealing with the instruction and model for behaviour, whilst modern dealing with the search for meaning. Factoring in the influence of emotion, in addition to the display of ones finite existence, means for an art form that is truly derived from the social context in which it was created.
Written by Braiden Dunn.


Categories: Theatre


May 20, 2010 6 comments

Limitations – everyone has a degree of social, intellectual or physical impairment, some more severe than others. But does this give adequate justification for majority of the Western world to metaphorically lay down and die? What happened to passion, morality and motivation? And is society reinforcing these types of complacent attitudes upon its members? Perhaps it is because we are more aware of our own bodies, or even that we do not exist in the first place [more on this later]. Culture, peer pressure popularity are also key factors in this degradation of humanity. The problem with this issue is that whilst people acknowledge that it is indeed effecting society, they lack the motivation to attempt to do anything about.

Yes, it is human to become passionate about one aspect of existence only then to become bored or disillusioned with the idea. But is this actually a human characteristic? When three definitions of the term ‘human,’ state that it is merely:
-A member of the genus Homo and especially of the species H. sapiens.
-A person
-Having the form of a human.

Now last time I checked this had absolutely no relationship to complacency. Thus it can be considered the aforementioned statement to be not an exclusively or even human quality. This and many other underestimations of the power of humanity stem from this notion that people are intrinsically immoral, flawed or even evil. But this notion, really came the idea of worship -The elements, gods, goddess’ then eventually God, Yahweh or Allah. In worshiping these higher power eventually developed the notion that humanity is not divine. Now this is not to say that humanity is divine, however if society gave more credit to the capacities of our species then perhaps more would be achieved in this lifetime.

It always used to amaze myself the amount of work, struggle and tribulation past generations have experienced whilst still creating and furthering every aspect of existence. I always used to wonder the manner in which people would motivate themselves for twelve-hour days on the farm, before coming home to the wife to procreate for the good of ‘God.’ Looking at it from the perspective of a woman, having to raise, and at point school the entirety of children in the household, whilst keeping the province clean, providing majority of meals. For the feminist’s reading this, know that I more than support your cause, however I cannot change the course of history, perhaps more aptly named ‘her-story.’ Moving back to the matter at hand, I was enlightened to an idea by my lovely partner, who theorised that the reason we perhaps are more ‘soft,’ than previous generations is not new age parenting or nanny-state Governmental policies. Perhaps it is something as simple as being more fully aware of oneself. That is, as modern people have more time upon their hands to reflect and become pensive we become more attuned to knowing our own bodies and namely our problems, wants, dislikes, fears, pains. That being said it evokes, a sense of rationalisation (especially amongst the youth) to believe that they are actually ‘passionate,’ or searching for meaning within their life when in reality, it is mere complacency.

Another notion often used within numerous arguments – usually as a trump card – is the validity of existence. That is- ‘How do we know that we are not severely psychologically damaged and have created this entire reality as a response to the harsh disorder?’
Using this question tends to null all manner of argument, as if we cannot prove that we exist then is it worth debating the idiosyncrasies of this reality? Conversely to this ideology however, if this reality was created then it would be a mere manner of perception. Using this logic it would also be indicative of a personal aversion to sacrifice for passion or lack of passion itself.

Western culture is projecting onto the majority of our society that it is not essential to question their beliefs, their reality so as to remain ignorant and continuing to partake in consumerism. But this is evident in any nation wherein Capitalism runs rampant amongst business. It is one of the many tools used to maximise profit at the expense of the minority, that is, anyone who does not conform to the ‘nuclear family,’ husband, wife, 2.3 children. But in order to continue producing astronomical profit consumers cannot remain intelligible in regards to their product, otherwise adequately knowing the risks involved no one would buy it. This is ingrained within Australian culture with slight moderation from the Government. Media is also guilty of this (dare I say) sin. It is the assumption that majority of audiences are not well read, thereby creating an oversimplification of complex global, political and environmental issues. This has negative implications for those that are not well informed as it means that a new belief is based on ignorance, thus it is indeed falsely held.

Additionally this notion is also ingrained into the social culture of Australia. ‘Tall poppy syndrome,’ is defined as the abuse or defamation of successful people within the culture, due to their success. Usually this is motivated by jealousy, but regardless of its motivation it is seriously detrimental the populace. As it reinforces the idea that if one being is besting you, there is no need to rise to the challenge, one merely has to defame the character of that person so as to make oneself feel less insecure. This stance is holding the entirety of humanity back from achieving what we have the capacity achieve. Look at any man made monument across history, (or ‘herstory’) the significance is that humanity created these displays of skill. The significance here is that, man made these objects, not a god, nor goddess nor any ethereal creature. These monuments were created using, blood, sweat and human bone (not literarily, but in some cases possible). The revolutionary ideas in human thought (chemistry, literature, psychology) were not placed into the mind of humanity by God they were the product of years of determined passionate work, based upon the knowledge of previous sources. This is the paradigm shift that society requires so as to project itself into a more effective, efficient, economical future.

“One day I long to see a world filled with tolerance based on information,
Where no man shall be executed regardless of the convicting nation.
To see the world filled with positive energy, joy and intellect,
Without the need for insecurities, evoking all forms of respect.
To reject hypocrisy,
Reject genocide,
Reject autocracy,
Reject bigotry,
Reject fascism,
Reject racism
Reject conservatism

To see a world where humans are treated as humans.”
Braiden Dunn.

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