THE COMPAKATIST MARTIN PUCHNER. Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002. ? + 234 pp. Martin Puchner's book, in the light of critical theory about the modemist era, makes a new point of entry into the issues of how genres (dramatic and nondramatic as well) may have constituted an anti-theatrical tradition as resistance to theater by transforming its spaces, actors, and objects. Unlike most studies that deny anti-theatricality as a category oftheater, Puchner shows how the tradition of antitheatricalism presents an ambivalence that finds its counterpart in what he names "(pro) theatricalism" and that both are closely intertwined and have similar aesthetic goals. By analyzing the values ofmodernism as an attack to the theater, he locates the emergence ofsuch a modernist "ambivalence" that uses the theater as basis for avant-garde practices in various genres. Puchner traces a genealogy ofthis tradition dividing his book into three major sections, thereby accounting for avant-garde theatricalism in the form ofvarious modemist literary works that he views as antitheatrical. Locating this tradition back to its founder Richard Wagner, Part I, "The Invention ofTheatricality," is the point ofdeparture for the subsequent emergence of such a modemist "ambivalent" stance about the theater. Part ?, "The Modernist Closet Drama," gathers such texts that are marked by their modemist ambivalence (in various forms and genres) in regards to the theater. Specifically important to the author is how although these works resist the theater yet they never leave it alone. Stéphane Mallarmé's "closet drama," exemplified in what Puchner proposes to call "theater-texts. " James Joyce's novelistic use ofthe theater in "Circe" opens up to a new narrative form based on what he names "the choreography oflanguage." In the same vein, Puchner shows how Gertrude Stein's dramatic texts such like Four Saints never take the dramatic form for granted. These such works like Hérodiade and Igitur, defies the usual literary genres to present texts are essential in that they, according to the author, characterize this tradition of resistance to theater and establish it as one type ofanti-theatricalism to an extreme: what he defines as a diegetic theater. Thus part III "The Diegetic Theater" explores more of these new forms of dramatic texts and their ambivalence towards theater. Such is the case with the poetry of William Butler Yeats in terms of stage and acting (precisely through dance). Puchner then leads us to the familiar epic theatre ofBertold Brecht in its use ofacting, gesture, and text, thereby transforming the theater into a new function. His argument finally closes with the link between this tradition and the postwar stage, specifically in the theater of Samuel Beckett and how gestures tend to disappear entirely to present a new form ofanti-theatricalism rooted in the theater itself. Concluding his work with how this "anti-theatrical impulse" impacted postmodernist genres, Puchner makes a convincing statement about a tradition that has been wrongly categorized and neglected in theoretical studies. Although this comparative study deals with a rich array oftexts targeting readers that are supposed to be familiar with them, yet it is remarkable in shedding a new light on both theater and cross-disciplinary studies. Puchner's book should be regarded as a capital addition to the history oftheater as well as an innovative theoretical approach rooted in literary history. Anne V. Cirella-UrrutiaHuston Tillotson College Vol. 28 (2004): 165
The Comparatist – University of North Carolina Press
Published: Oct 3, 2004
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