Arts & International Affairs: Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2018 - Page 31

ARTS & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS the fear and loathing of theatre and spectacularization more generally. These instances of the fear of theatre’s supplementarity, its ability to stand in and for the world but also to always not fully or truthfully represent it, all bear distinctively Platonic traces. Indeed, we could claim that Brecht himself might, in some ways, be read as a Neo-Platonist, only for him the power of theatre to move us, to make us feel at home or strange is not a negative quality. I would like to tease out some of these constellations of ideas that link the political to the theatrical and spectacular through a reading of the function of the actor. In its classical Greek etymology, a hupocrites is not someone that tries to deceive us, that says one thing and believes another, that sways us through the power of language and acting. The Greek term for actor, hupocrites, refers to the actors who were separate from the chorus, and responded to it; they were the answerers, both under (hupo) and separate (krinein) from the chorus (with Thespis as the first to enact this, according to the story or myth of the primal scene of the genesis of theatre). And the term has been read as morally neutral. I am not convinced, however, that it was all that neutral. If we add to the term krinein its other connotations of judgment and possibly even its later rendition as critique, then one possible reading of hupocrites is that this is a performer who is indeed under constant judgment, in dramatic contests, as an ideal or flawed representative citizen of the democracy that was structurally constitutive of the art-form of theatre itself. It is indeed this ability of theatre to create in the audience what Plato considered an illusion of judgment, that he found so abhorrent (“a conceit of their competence as judges. Thus, our once silent audiences have found a voice,” as he states). 3 In its Christian rendition, this anti-theatrical prejudice associated with acting acquires all the negative connotations of deceitfulness and manipulation. In Matthew (23:1–39), Jesus lists the seven woes of hypocrisy and recognises the “bad faith” of the Pharisees by accusing them of manipulating language, “Why are you trying to trip me up, you hypocrites?.” However, classical Greek acting was not about pretending to be something one was not, it was about performing that role, enacting it, demonstrating it through very specific conventions like masks (which later also become metaphors of deception). So, when Aristotle uses the verb hupokrinesthai, he is not stating that an actor is pretending to be a king or any other role (literally a pretender), but that he (and it was a “he” as the classical Greek stage only featured male actors) is demonstrating, showing the function or role of the king, and of kingship itself. There is no conflation of actor and role, and the term hupocrites in the Greek sense enacts that distance, separation, that crisis/critique (krinein) that can act as a safeguard against manipulation. Fear of hypocrisy in its post-Christian sense always parallels fears about the limitations of democracy itself (hence the scene mentioned above in Brecht’s play). Is democracy a For the Modernist articulation of anti-theatricality see amongst others, Artaud (1976). In its most radical and aphoristic mode, this critique of theatre’s distorting powers appears in Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle. Written in 1967, it came to act as the manifesto of Situationism, expressing the repudiation of the spectacle as the quintessential political tool of capitalism. 3 See note 1. 30