15th century post modernism ~ theatre notes

Saturday, November 11, 2006

15th century post modernism

You can tell that I'm writing a novel. It's having lamentable affects. I'm (mostly) doing my 2000 words a day, but it seems to be sparking off a concomitant logorrhea in this blog. Just be thankful that you're not my family.

Anyway...for reasons that will become clear, I am reading about Noh theatre at the moment. And in my wanderings, I found this quote from the great Noh playwright Zeami (or Seami), translated here by Arthur Waley from Zeami's Kwadensho or Book of the Handing on of the Flower (c1430). What struck me was how utterly modern it sounds, and how deeply this idea is embedded in contemporary theatre practice. Here, of course, it derives from Zen:

Gestures and intonations which yesterday appeared to be admirable may today be insufferable, even if the same actors are playing in the same play... If you look deeply into the ultimate essentials of this art, you will find that what is called 'the flower' has no separate existence. Were it not for the spectator, who reads into the performance a thousand excellences, there would be no 'flower' at all. The Sutra says 'Good and ill are one; villainy and honesty are of like kind'. Indeed, what standard have we whereby to discern good from bad? We can only take what suits the need of the moment and call it 'good'.


Anonymous said...

Please don't think I'm stalking but that is a marvellous quote that you have unearthed. I suppose one part of the antagonoism that exists between audiences of theatre is that some come for an ontological workout and others come for entertainment and it is very hard for either to explain the integrity and delight of each experience to the other.

Theatre Queen

Lucas Krech said...

There are a lot of similarities between Zen thought and Western Post-Modernism. Heidegger's Hidden Sources explores the similarities between Marty's thinking and Zen. Given that Heidegger's "Destruktion" laid the groundwork for Post-Modernism's deconstructionist currents, one would expect the two to share some afinity.

TimT said...

Everything that's new is old. One of my favourite scenes in theatre is the opening to an Aristophanes play (I forget which) where two slaves are shovelling cartloads of crap to feed to a gigantic dung beetle, which the hero is about to use to fly to Mt Olympus on - it's an extraordinary piss-take of the Pegasus myth, the sort of toilet humour/parody you might expect to find in a National Lampoon Movie.

Walsh said...

Kyogen is fun too, it's like Noh's corny repressed cousin which springs out onto the ritualised stage and acts stupid when Noh isn't watching. I like the fact that serious traditional theatres accross the board tend to share this concept of 'comic relief', a sweet dessert to the savoury fare perhaps.

Actually Robert Wilson's il a Galago reminded of Noh quite a bit- with the chanter, the rear runway, musicians on stage, stage surface.