Patrice Pavis: "The State of Current Theatre Research"

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Theatre semiology established itself as the dominant academic discourse of the seventies because theatre (since Artaud) felt the need to be treated as a discipline in and for itself, as an autonomous language and not as a branch of literature. Its principal concern has thus been to start with the stage, with the large moments or stage units, and to examine the text as it is enunciated on stage. As a result, the semiology of the text was neglected or even disqualified, the text and the stage were radically separated as were dramaturgical analysis and 'theatrical language'. But now the dramatic text is making a marked comeback: theatre is no longer simply considered as a performance space, but once again, albeit in a different way, as textual practice. Once again, we talk of theatricality, but theatricality as found in the text (Bernard, 1976/1995) and in language (Finter, 1985). We must examine this return to the staged text (see chapter 5, part 2), to stage pragmatics where the text is spoken and unspoken.
The rise of semiology in the human sciences coincides with the sort of criticism, most often Marxist, of so-called bourgeois ideology. Barthes (1964) best exemplifies this alliance between linguistics and sociology:

Tired with the slippery, oratorical nature of ideological denunciations, I was dazzled when reading Saussure (it was in 1956), that an elegant method (as is said of the solution to a mathematical problem) could be developed for the analysis of social symbols, class distinctions and the cunning mechanism of ideology.

What has changed since the dazzle and optimism of the sixties is the belief that semiology necessarily has a socio-critical perspective, the confidence in a radical criticism of ideology. Since the fall of empires and 'socialist' ideologies, semiology has often been accused of having compromised too much with ideologists and 'masters of meaning'. Such criticism is all the more violent now that we are no longer interested in denouncing false consciousness, and generally condemn any established system, discipline, or theatre which claims to represent reality. For many critics, nothing remains of these ruins of ideology and militant critical thinking but a sceptical relativism and a vague meditation on the 'end of history' and the futility of theory. Such a vision is rather limited and pointless when the theoretical reflection strives systematically to describe a production in all its components: such a task is obviously very demanding and requires considerable patience.
Such a task is all the more demanding given that post-modern criticism accuses semiology of camouflaging notions of intention and authority behind the concept of signification, to which post-modernism opposes the ideas of opening and non-representation. Thus, the very model of the sign is called into question.






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1.5.1997