Patrice Pavis: "The State of Current Theatre Research"


3.3. Between Socio-semiotics and Cultural Anthropology

In the last few years, socio-semiotics has moved towards cultural anthropology which encompasses the cultural and relational dimension of performance. The development of an intercultural theatre (Brook, Grotowski, Barba) over the past few years has accelerated the challenge of purely linguistic and semiotic instruments for analysis. Intercultural semiotics encourages us to relativize our choices, priorities and habits when analysing a performance. It warns us, for instance, against our obsession of describing a visible and readable space, of looking for and quantitatively processing information and redundancies, of valuing all that deviates from the norm and shows originality. Such semiotics may heal us of our inability to understand the phenomena of hearing, voice, time and rhythm, our inability to follow several parallel actions and to assess the energy of an actor. Without demagogically renouncing our Western cultural habits, we should acknowledge how our ethnocentric or Eurocentric gaze influences and often distorts our perception, and how much we will gain by changing our perspective and tools for analysis (Pavis, 1990).

3.4. Phenomenology

The basis of phenomenological thought5 is that any experience of perception has a form or gestalt which contains organized, defined wholes standing out against a background. The spectator's perception tends to look for the most balanced, simple and regular form to distinguish different ensembles with clearly defined contours: the ensembles are in a relation of hierarchy, but they are, nonetheless, globally perceived by the human eye and understanding, as Tindenmans (1983: 53) suggests:

Perception is fundamentally a constructive rather than a receptive or simply analytical act. [...] A really satisfying theory of mental processes can only exist, however, if we find an equally important place for theories of motivation, of personality and of social interaction. Is it a risk to say that whenpeople watch a performance, they also look continuously for points of recognition, for causal connections between events.

Phenomenology provides an image of the stage processes which is at the same time a theory of action and a theory of the perceiver's appropriation of the performance (he seizes everything). "Theatre does not 'reach' someone, someone has the theatre 'reach' him" (Tindenmans, 1983: 55). Whether we are thinking conceptually, looking at a painting or watching a performance, eye and mind are active and not merely recording. 'To think means to try, to operate, to "reform, regulated only by an experimental control in which only the most highly 'wrought' phenomena intervene, phenomena which our mechanisms produce rather than record" (Merleau-Ponty, 1964: 10). Likewise, the spectators produce their perceptions and the connections between them, instead of merely notating them. 'This phenomenological perspective is a valuable invitation to move interactively through the highways and byways of performance and meaning.

3.5. Theories of Vectors

To a relative degree, moreover, one must 'follow the arrows' on such walks, for our movement is channelled by the 'arrow of desire' (an arrow which seeks, but does not find), but also by an arrow which outlines a way through the performance according to vectors which, as we shall see in the chapter on the actor, organize and dynamise the whole performance). This idea of an open yet coherent network will enable us to take into account the necessary updating of theory while addressing different methods of analysis and the various components of performance. This open and coherent network of vectors will allow us to accept the necessary renewal of theories, while retaining the general framework of vectorisation. Semiology remains a discipline - in the sense of an ethical and methodological guiding rule - which we naturally use to observe theatre performances. It must always be enriched - without losing any of its rigour if possible - by studying the mechanisms of (sociological) necessity and (psychoanalytical) desire from the perspective of an anthropology of the actor and of the spectator.

5. Phenomenology applied to theatre can be found in Bert States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms (1987), Marvin Carlson, Theories of the Theatre (1987) and Stanton Gardner, Bodied Space (1994). [Up]

This article constitutes the first chapter of the author's soon-to-be-released new book in English translation.

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AS/SA Nº3, Article 1 : Page 15 / 16

© 1997, AS/SA

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