11 (2008), Nr.1/March


Florence Dupont, Aristote ou le vampire du théâtre occidental, Paris: Flammarion/Aubier 2007, 313 Seiten, € 22,–. 4990 Zeichen.


According to section 7 of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” the villain who poisoned and withheld the monastery library’s pages of Aristotle’s lost second half of the Poetics did so because he did not wish to make its message find the way to the public. According to the monk convicted by Eco’s William of Baskerville, Aristotle had also written a defense of laughter. And because laughter is a property of common people as for instance peasants who give way to that particular temptation of the devil Aristotle needs to be kept “pure” in the shape of the Poetics as we know it. Some centuries or decades later – you choose – that lack of a defense of laughter which is a fact in the Poetics as we have it is turned against the whole text altogether.


It is Florence Dupont who opens up an old account. As distinguished professor of Latin language at the University of Paris-VII and specialist for antique theatre with emphasis on orality her revaluation of antique culture with respect to everyday and festive practices leads her to abandon master narratives including that of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. With Aristotle – and Hegel – , she holds (21), Nietzsche shares the opinion of a certain event of origin of tragedy which basically neglects the complex changes of spoken and written language, of the architectonic, artistic and musical institutions as well as the social transformations that took place in ancient history.


For Dupont the Poetics is a trap (12-14). Pointing at a still existent consensus about the tradition of defending theatre in our (post-)cinematic days as she takes pains to elucidate with the quarrel around the Festival of Avignon in 2005 – she speaks of a nouvelle querelle des Bouffons Dupont tries to leave behind the old debate of those who intend to preserve theatre as text and those who intend to found it on the body as shown up recently.


Going back to the Greek-Latin environs – her books include Homère et Dallas: introduction à une critique anthropologique, 1990; L’Invention de la littérature, Paris: Hachette/La découverte, 1994; L’Insignifiance tragique, Le Promeneur, 2001 – she minutely (and refreshingly polemical from the outset) explores “II The Expansion of the Desaster: the Three Aristotelian Revolutions”. When the Poetics – against the vivid practices of the Dionysian cult –deprived theatre of its performative dimension and spectacular efficacity with conceding to literature the first place this stance has become a successful fortress by a long tradition of neo-Aristotelian commentaries of whom Dupont delineates three waves.


Astonishingly not mentioning the French classical theatre of 17th century – because of the historical fact that the performances preceded the editions of texts – Dupont identifies a mid-eighteenth century the first wave when Goldoni and others displaced the harlequin and Diderot wrote a manifesto for a realist illusion. A second wave during late nineteenth century is given when scenography replaced the director and the space of stage became a fictional space for a hopefully ever more competent audience deciphering instead of being drawn into the former real space of actors. A third wave – for Dupont still important today – is detected with Brecht’s rehabilitation of Aristotelian myth now reinforced by scenic semiology.


Which disaster? For Dupont who refers to an astonishing amount of recent French and Anglo-Saxon research in the field it is still not easy to be a non-Aristotelian. Hans-Thies Lehmann’s notion of post-dramatic theatre did not change much, claims Dupont. Moreover, her scope directed at a résistance covers the whole of theatre’s occidental history, for instance also a reading of Molière’s Bourgeois gentilhomme where, between comedy and ballett, the figures obeyed a „raison musicale“ still different from literary reason. It may be criticized that Dupont ignores to a large extent those contemporaries who revalued the spectacle, like Artaud, Kantor or Fo. Her answer is that those avantgardists still obeyed to a textocentrisme. Instead, for a retheatralization Dupont invokes the cabaret, the operetta when play is still popular, in particular the boulevard at which point she refers to the positive example of a movie (!), Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis of 1945 (131). Still at stake remains to offer “Some means for leaving contemporary Aristotelianism and not feeling bored in the theatre” as the title of the concluding chapter has it.


Jean-Louis Jeannelle (La faute á Aristote. Selon Florence Dupont, le philosophe grec, en plaçant le texte avant le jeu, a tué l’esprit du théâtre, in: Le Monde, Des Livres, October 19, 2007) invokes that actor and philosopher Denis Guénoun’s claim that cinema has taken over the imaginary and identification of the theatre (Le Théâtre est-il nécessaire?, Circé 1997) is now surpassed by Dupont’s claim that the catastrophy is not caused by cinema but by theatre’s early influential theoretician Aristotle. Denis Guénoun (Pour le théâtre, merci Aristote, in: Le Monde, Des Livres, October 26, 2007) replies that for Dupont –despite her rebuttal of the subjection of scenic reality to interpretation by means of an upheaval of the harlequin against professors – laughter comes academic. Also, against the liquidatory rage against story, fable, drama and text, the play of actors remains rooted in a language playing with words, ideas and emotions. Guénoun defends Aristotelian theatre a an operation of research and aperture transgressing the ritual of local identification. That does not seem dialectical. But how and with which words will this be confronted. At which stage? The debate will go on, in academic theatre of truth, to be sure.


Peter Mahr © 2008

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