Theater as Metaphor / E. Penskaya, J. Küpper (eds.). Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019
The papers of the present volume investigate the potential of the metaphor of life as theater for literary, philosophical, juridical and epistemological discourses from the Middle Ages through modernity, and focusing on traditions as manifold as French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian and Latin-American.
Pavel V. Sokolov’s “Lucis an caliginis theatrum: Theatrical Metaphors in the Early Modern historia literaria” is another one of those essays in this volume which remind readers of the frequently forgotten fact that the metaphor at issue here is present in non-theatrical texts also. Sokolov makes the striking observation that there is an intense discussion of the problem of plagiarism in an age without copyright regulations. The intricacies involved in the question of what is an “original” and what is a (perhaps plagiarized) “copy” were highlighted in contemporary treatises by drawing on the resources offered by theatrical metaphors, especially on one specific semantic strand inherent to this metaphorical complex, namely, the difficulty to decide between what is “real” action and what is (only) an imitation of real action.
This essay deals with an important chapter in the instrumentalization of “spectacularity” that is situated several decades before the humanist “Renaissance” of theater. Focusing on Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini, who acceded to the papacy under the name of Pius II (1458–1464), the essay examines the “theatrical” restructuring of Piccolomini’s place of birth, Corsignano, renamed Pienza by the Pope himself. The numerous buildings (churches, palaces, public places) that the Pope had erected in his hometown are meant to metaphorically represent his self-image as a human being elected by God with a view to leading profane and sacred history to an apogee never seen before. This self-stylization via the “stage” of the town of Pienza is corroborated, as Ivanova shows, by Pius’s textual self-interpretation in his Commentarii rerum memorabilium quae temporibus suis contingerunt (1463).
The paper is an attempt to demonstrate that theatrical metaphor plays a paradigmatic role in the philosophy of Schelling, from the very beginning up to the latest versions of his metaphysics. The image of theatrical play serves, in Schelling, as the main pattern for the conceptualization of every process in which freedom and necessity are mediated through each other – of thinking as such, of the World history as a whole, of the very genesis of the world, and of the history of the human consciousness.
Theatrical imagery reveals itself as a flexible means of presentation, that is, not the final point of the aesthetic process, but one of its means, a language to describe reality, which is more important than the imagery; in that sense, any discursive practice offering elements from the theatrical lexicon or theatrical method becomes productive. Our analysis shall use as its textual material the tradition of French anecdotes from the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, a time when the genre of the anecdote actually received this name and when its poetics were conceptualized.It may seem paradoxical to a modern reader that the psychological perspective claimed by the author leads to a reduction of a historical person to just one passion. This feature is highly reminiscent of the logic of creating characters for comedy, and it dates back to the character studies by a disciple of Aristotle, the philosopher Theophrastus, whose work became immensely popular in seventeenth-century France. Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century BC and was the teacher of Menander, identified 30 types (the liar, the slanderer, the grumbler, the arrogant one, etc.); and thus the New (Attic) Comedy became in many aspects a result of the assimilation of peripatetic psychology. The reductionist strategy of the anecdote goes back to the same conceptual and formal methods.
The article discusses the late 18th century Russian outdoor performances and demonstrates that “theatrical” techniques of staging power in eighteenth-century Russia were used for political purposes. The victory over the Ottoman Empire was celebrated by a grand open-air performance festival in Moscow in 1775 whose intention was to demonstrate not only the monarch’s power over her enemies, external as well as internal, but also the claim that the Russian empress Catherine II is able to transform nature as if it were nothing but a theater coulisse.
Jean Paul (Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, 1763–1825), one of the most unorthodox German writers, eludes classification under the titles of Romanticism, classicism, neo-baroque, or sentimentalism, his oeuvre embodying the cultural project of the transitional period of the turn of the nineteenth century. His texts, dubbed a “dreadful monster” by Thomas Carlyle and considered “unbelievably mature” by Goethe, seem to comprise multiple incongruous layers, aesthetic techniques, literary styles, cultures and identities, drawing the reader into a phantasmagoric space, astoundingly ordinary and yet surreal at the same time. This study seeks to demonstrate this creative (contrapuntal and ironical) multilayeredness and identify Jean Paul’s mechanisms of creating literary works and essays in philosophical aesthetics, which, on the one hand, fit into the cultural context of the “end of the age of rhetoric”, and on the other, anticipate the challenges of the upcoming age of modernist art. A large-scale symposium held several years ago in Moscow discussed the comparative issues associated with the reception of Jean Paul’s works in various national contexts where his ideas, images, techniques, and strategies have been employed for local cultural and literary needs.The reception of Jean Paul in Russian literature has been intense, with the 2010s seeing another climax in interpretation of his oeuvre.