Memory, "Mimesis," Tragedy: The Scene before PhilosophyAuthor(s): Paul A. KottmanReviewed work(s):Source: Theatre Journal,...
Memory, Mimesis, Tragedy:                            The Scene Before Philosophy                                          ...
82        /       PaulA. Kottmandramatic work. The determination                          of tragedy as first and foremost...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                                    PHILOSOPHY /           ...
84        /    PaulA. Kottmannot  the only play of its time to represent historical     events within   living memory.16Ph...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                          PHILOSOPHY /                     ...
86        /      Paul A. Kottman    In this spirit, I shall not begin with an exegesis of Phrynichus      play itself, nor...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                                           PHILOSOPHY /    ...
88      /      Paul A. Kottmanprecisely    the presupposition     that I wish    to challenge. By focusing on Herodotusnar...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                                    PHILOSOPHY /           ...
90         /      Paul A. Kottman theatrical performance?like                          any combination                    ...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                              PHILOSOPHY /                 ...
92         /       Paul A. Kottmanproposing     is neither anthropological  nor hermeneutical.     Rather than focusing on...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                                 PHILOSOPHY /              ...
94         /      Paul A. Kottman   Now, inmy view, what is decisive in Vernants analysis is the way inwhich tragedy      ...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                                         PHILOSOPHY /      ...
96          /       Paul A. Kottman    But are things so clear? Given that Phrynichus play (494 BCE) is the first tragedy ...
THE SCENEBEFORE                                                                        PHILOSOPHY /                       ...
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Memory, mimeses, tragedy

  1. 1. Memory, "Mimesis," Tragedy: The Scene before PhilosophyAuthor(s): Paul A. KottmanReviewed work(s):Source: Theatre Journal, Vol. 55, No. 1, Ancient Theatre (Mar., 2003), pp. 81-97Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 23/09/2012 12:10Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Theatre Journal.
  2. 2. Memory, Mimesis, Tragedy: The Scene Before Philosophy Paul A. Kottman "Life is the non-representable origin of representation." Derrida ?Jacques The historical complicity of Greek tragedy with the emergence of the Athenian polishas interested political thinkers and classicists alike for some time.1 Among classicists,this interest has tended tomanifest itself either in an analysis of particular dramatists;2or certain thematic, conceptual, or linguistic patterns within individual tragic works.3In short, the political stakes of the theatre have derived from the exegetical analysis ofthe theatrical works themselves in relation to their context of origin.4 The predominance that this sort of exegesis continues to enjoy is due not only to thephilological care and attention with which classicists, especially, tend to proceed butalso to a tendency to understand the dramatic work itself (both the textual artifact, andwhatever the archives retain of its context of origin) as the repository of political orsocial meaning. And this means, consequently, that the political nature of tragedy is implicitly regarded by such amethodology as an effect of the mimetic character of thePaul A. Kottman is Assistant at SUNY and Adjunct Professor of English Albany, Professor of Studies at New York University. He is currently his first book, tentatively entitledPerformance revisingBetween Actors and Witnesses: A Politics of the Scene. His recent include the publicationsIntroduction to Narratives, by Adriana Cavarero, and articles on Shakespeare and Relating literary theory that have in Shakespeare Studies and The Oxford Literary Review. appeared 1 See, as a start, Karen Hermassi, Polity and Theater in Historical Perspective (Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1977), and J. Peter Euben, ed., Greek Tragedy and Political Theory (Berkeley: Universityof California Press, 1986), and The Tragedy of Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton Press, University 1990); some of the essays in John Winkler and Froma Zeitlin, ed., Nothing to Do With Dionysus?:Athenian Drama in Its Social Context (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). 2 on See, for example, Charles Segals work Iwill return to Segal later in this article. Euripides. 3 One might think, for example, of the various of Antigone over the past political readings thirty yearsor of Froma Zeitlins and Nicole Lorauxs work on and ritual in the Greek context. gender, myth, 4 For a good account of the German roots of this philological methodology, as well as its relation tomore to interpretations of Greek see Simon Goldhill, "Modern archaeological approaches tragedy,Critical to Greek in The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy, ed. P. E. Approaches Tragedy,"Easterling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 324-48. Even the most philosophically inclined classicists tend to insist upon the exegetical character of their labor. Notably, Jean-PierreVernant has offered a number of eloquent and convincing defenses of careful contextual of analysisclassical Greek works. See especially Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Greek Problems of Interpreta Tragedy: tion," in The Structuralist Controversy, ed. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore: JohnsHopkins University Press, 1970), 273-95. Theatre Journal 55 (2003) 81-97 ? 2003 by The Johns Hopkins Press University
  3. 3. 82 / PaulA. Kottmandramatic work. The determination of tragedy as first and foremost amimetic work inturn reduces the political essence of tragedy to the legible features of this or thatproduction. Among political thinkers, the situation is perhaps more complex. Hannah Arendt, inan exemplary and influential discussion of the origins of tragedy, declared that "thetheater is the political art par excellence; only there is the political sphere of human lifetransposed into art."5 For Arendt, the political essence of the theatre arises from its"pre-philosophical" presentation of human affairs.6 By "pre-philosophical," Arendtsimply means that the theatre is an experience of speech and action as pure actuality, through which each actor reveals "who" s/he is by speaking and acting among others. Indeed, from Arendts perspective, the theatre?like the praxis it imitates?is also prepolitical, for it is precisely the interaction that adheres in speaking and action amonga plurality that opens the space of the polis.7 Thus, what makes the theatre political, inArendts view, is not the imitative or mimetic quality of the work as such; rather it is the fact that tragedy "imitates" "man in his relation to others."8 Put simply, it is therelationality of the scene that lends the theater its political sense. Given these seemingly contradictory approaches to the problem, one is thus left towonder: does the political essence of the theatre arise from a pre-philosophicaltheatrical experience as such? Or, does the political nature of theatrical experiencecome from the mimetic or imitative quality of the dramatic work, as the philosophical tradition since Plato defines it? Before addressing these questions myself, itmay be helpful to recall that alreadywith Aristotle, one finds significant resistance to the Platonic definition of tragedy aspoetic production (poiesis) or m?meseos en ontos. Indeed, it was precisely in order to assert a political sense for tragedy?over and against Platos banishment of the tragedians in the Republic?that Aristotle defined tragedy in the Poetics as m?meseospraxis.9 For unlike the m?meseos en ontos which, for Plato, made the theatre a poetic or work, based on mere that lead its audience from theproduction appearances astrayonto-theological order of Ideas?Aristotle sought to orient the theatre toward praxis.This is why, as Jacques Taminiaux has demonstrated, Arendts take on tragedy mightbe read as a partial recuperation of Aristotles rejoinder to Plato.10 It is therefore important to note that the debate over how to account for the political essence oftragedy?is it a function of the mimetic, poetic work, or does it adhere in the scene ofaction??is a problem that is inscribed in Aristotles agon with Plato over the termmimesis itself. For this reason, and others, the terms mimesis and mimetic can hardly be 5 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 188. 61 take the phrase "pre-philosophical" from Hannah Arendts The Life ofMind (New York: HarcourtBrace, 1971), 129-40. 7 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 179-89. For an excellent discussion of Arendts views on action and the theatre, see lacques Taminiaux, "From Aristotle to Bios Theoretikos and Tragic Theoria," in The Thracian Maid and the Professional Thinker (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 89 121. 8 Arendt, The Human Condition, 188. 9 See Aristotle, Poetics, tran. Stephen Halliwell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 1449b, 25. 10 See note 5.
  4. 4. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 83used in any univocal way; where I use them inwhat follows, I have inmind primarilyPlatos use of mimesis in Republic X. It is not my intention here to rehearse Aristotles riposte to his teacher in any detail;it has already been the topic of numerous studies.11 Nor am I interested in taking sidesin order to simply privilege Aristotles views over those of Plato. Given the history andcharacter of the problem, which Iwould like to bear in mind throughout this essay,one can hardly hope to offer anything like a final solution. Instead, having outlined the problem of how to relate the theatre to politics in abroad?albeit cursory?fashion, Iwould like to approach it from another perspective,for itmay become clear along the way that the parameters of the ancient debate itselfcan be shifted. In this spirit, Iwould like to consider another way inwhich to articulatea "pre-philosophical" (i.e. not simply imitative or representational) political essence oftheatrical experience?one which would be irreducible to the mimetic work, andadhere in the living scene as such?by returning to an ancient anecdote. Around 493 BCE one of the very first works of Greek tragedy?The Fall of Miletus by the tragic poet Phrynichus?was staged inAthens only two years after the events withwhich it dealt actually occurred.12 No script of the play is extant, but it appears to havebeen a theatrical representation of a military defeat that the Milesians suffered at thehands of the Persians.13 The play was therefore received not as a representation of afamiliar myth, or distant legend.14 Rather, the play presented something that theaudience members themselves remembered, and in so doing both brought about and confirmed this living recollection. Indeed, so unsettled were the Athenians by what they saw that they were reduced to weeping. Herodotus provides the following account of the audiences reaction to the performance: The Athenians . . . showed their profound distress at the loss of Miletus in a number of ways, but in none so than in their of Phrynichus7 for when clearly reception play; Phrynichus produced his Fall ofMiletus, the audience in the theater burst into tears, and the author was fined a thousand drachmae for reminding them of a disaster which touched them so [hos anamnesanta oikeia kaka]. A law was closely subsequently passed forbidding anybody ever to on put the play stage again.15While this account is, as far as is known, the first surviving report of the earliestperformance of a tragedy of which we are informed, The Fall ofMiletus was certainly 11 Two to start are: Gerald Plato and Aristotle on good places Else, Poetry (Chapel Hill: University ofNorth Carolina Press, 1986), 74-88; and Stephen Halliwell, Aristotles Poetics of (Chicago: UniversityChicago Press, 1986), 109-38, 331-36. 12 on the date, For more see Joseph Roisman, "On Phrynichos Sack of Miletus and Phoinissai,"?ranos 86 (1988): 15-16. The timeline at the end of Easterlings The lists Cambridge Companion as the firstPhyrnichus Fall ofMiletus tragedy on record, 352. 13 See William Ridgeway, The Origin of Tragedy (New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1966), 66. See also,Malcolm Heath, The Poetics of Greek Tragedy (London: Duckworth, 1987), 67. 14 See Sir Hugh "Problems of Early Greek Tragedy," in The Academic Lloyd-Jones, Papers of Sir HughLloyd-Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 230-33. 15 Herodotus, The Histories, tran. Aubrey de Selincourt (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 366, emphasis mine.
  5. 5. 84 / PaulA. Kottmannot the only play of its time to represent historical events within living memory.16Phrynichus himself returned to historical material about fifteen years later with ThePhoenician Women (476?) and Aeschylus The Persians (472), the oldest extant work oftragedy, portrayed the defeat of the Persians at Salamis in 484. The obvious differencebetween The Fall of Miletus and these later historical plays, of course, is the fact that thelatter did not (as far as is known) lead to this sort of weeping; additionally, theirauthors were not fined and the plays were not banned. Although it is true that Herodotus says that this reminder then led to the ban and fine, I shall be more concerned inwhat follows with the weeping of the Athenians thanwith the fine and the ban that were subsequently imposed, since the act of weeping spontaneously occurred on the scene itself. The fine came next, according toHerodotus,while the ban came later; they may have been anything but spontaneous.17 Thus, for the moment, I would like to focus on the scene of the actual performance thatHerodotus describes: namely, the performance of The Fall ofMiletus and the tearsproduced by the reminder of catastrophe. This may seem a counter-intuitive way toproceed, given that the ban and the fine have received the most attention from readersof Herodotus account. However, given how little we know about the actual motives for the fine and the ban, I would like to focus instead upon the more immediate connection, manifested on the scene described by Herodotus, between the Atheniansmemory of the catastrophe and their tears. It is, of course, hardly surprising to find an audience weeping at the close of a tragedy. What is striking, however, is the way in which the tears described byHerodotus do not appear to be a manifestation of katharsis, nor do the tears seem to result primarily from the mimetic force of Phrynichus play. Indeed, already a certainrevision of Aristotles account of tragedy in the Poetics is in order; for the tears that resulted from the performance of The Fall ofMiletus are not reducible solely to theeffect of its "imitation of action" let alone to the plot or script of Phrynichus play. the lamentation was not kathartic; it didnt to have educated,Evidently appear instructed, some moral; nothing was learned from Phrynichus play.18 Nor or instilleddoes it seem, according to Herodotus, that the audience wept because they were simply affected emotionally by what they saw, the way a contemporary audiencemight be affected by a play about the Second World War. Rather, it seems that their lamentation was the result of a shared recollection of a suffering that was theirs?oikeia 16 on the authority see For more of Herodotus account, Joseph Roisman, "On Phrynichos Sack," 16 17, especially n. 7. 17 Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones has suggested that the ban and fine were imposed because of "an event connecting Phrynichus with the archon Themistocles," who wanted the Athenians to prepare for war against the Persians ("Problems," 233-38). Joseph Roisman has suggested that this "interpretation of the Phrynichus affair in terms of the politics of the time has proved ... is known unsatisfactory nothing of the play to indicate whether it was pro- or anti- Persian in tone and message" ("On Phrynichos Sack," 16). In any event, the ban and fine?like most acts of censorship?may likely have had motives that extend far beyond the performance of Phyrnichus play itself. My interest here, rather, is thespecific interaction of the scene as such. 18 Obviously, the term katharsis would require a more lengthy interpretation than can be providedhere. For a good overview of the problem, see Stephen Halliwell, Aristotles Poetics, 350-57; AndrewFord, "Katharsis: The Ancient Problem," in Performativity and Performance, ed. A. Parker and Eve Sedgwick (New York: Routledge Press, 1995), 109-32; also see Jonathan Lears contribution to Essays on AristotlesPoetics, ed. Am?lie Oksenberg Rorty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 315-40.
  6. 6. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 85kaka, "something bad that touched home"; the play "reminded them" [anamnesanta] ofwhat they already remembered. At the very dawn of the Western theatrical tradition, therefore, it is possible toglimpse an effect of tragedy that differs markedly from the way in which theatrical a century later,experience gets described by Plato and Aristotle more than descriptions which have characterized thinking about the theatre ever since. That is to say, itmay be possible to discern a singular, unrepeatable and un-representable?and therefore "pre-philosophical" scene?the features of which are irreducible to the work that is performed. Clearly, Herodotus is describing a highly unusual scene. Were Phrynichus playperformed today, or even one hundred years after Phrynichus death, weeping from ashared memory would be an unlikely result. This is not simply due to the fact thatsuch historical tragedies gained wider acceptance among the Athenians; the point hereis not simply that Phrynichus or the archon Themistocles failed to make the materialpalatable to the audience?although it is true that, "after a perhaps tactful interval offifteen years or so" and after the defeat of the Persians themselves in 48(M79, and then Aeschylus were able to stage historical dramasPhyrnichus, successfully.19Rather, according to Herodotus account, the tears had to do precisely with theuniqueness of that audience. Apparently the tears were the manifestation of a livedrecollection of a traumatic event, a memory that of course died with the people whobore it. The memory in question is, of course, not an individual or private recollectionof a psychic injury or trauma?but rather a shared, public, mortal memory of a"catastrophe" [kaka]. The term "memory" therefore needs to be understood in thiscontext as designating an essential part of the singular, finite relation of thespectatorship?for it is this shared memory that, in large part, distinguishes them fromall other potential audiences of the play. Indeed, what Herodotus description of thescene makes clear above all else is the singularity of this relation among witnesses. Thus; ^although Phrynichus was fined and the play censored, we ourselves mighthesitate before blaming the tears exclusively on the play or dramatic work itself.Phrynichus production no doubt "imitated a complete action" (to use Aristotlesdefinition) that called to mind something that those Athenians who saw itwished toforget. But this "imitation of action" in and of itself would, again, not result in anidentical reaction were it performed elsewhere, or at another time, before a differentgroup of spectators. What is decisive inHerodotus account is not the work by the poetPhrynichus, nor the form or content of the theatrical oeuvre, but rather the scene of itssingular performance as it is recounted by the historian. Moreover Iwould like to suggest that this makes possible an analytical distinction,which Iwill try to elaborate inwhat follows, between the scene and the work. That is to say, by relying upon Herodotus testimony we can see clearly that the scene itself? the actual enactment of the play and spontaneous weeping that followed?is ultimately irreducible to the work that was performed, to any archival content or remnant that could survive the lives of those on the scene. 19 But then, what would the fact that "no known Greek after Aeschylus Persians explain tragedydealt with a contemporary theme centered on historical events"? See Paul Cartledge, "Deep Plays:Theatre as Process in Greek Life," in Easterling, The Cambridge 24-25. Companion,
  7. 7. 86 / Paul A. Kottman In this spirit, I shall not begin with an exegesis of Phrynichus play itself, nor shall I attempt to analyze the particular mode of its performance.20 Such an analysis wouldbe impossible anyway, since no copy of the plays script is extant. It may seem somewhat disingenuous to take advantage of that fact; one would hardly like to rejoice in the loss or destruction of a play. But in this case, the very lack of the work, or text,provides a certain window of opportunity, or, rather, the occasion for a critical andmethodological purchase. That is to say, it produces a state of affairs in which one is forced, as it were, to consider the theatrical experience of the scene itself, throughHerodotus testimony, as distinct from the play or work. Of course, Herodotus himself gives us little to go on. We do not learn howPhrynichus play was performed, or what in the actors speech or gesture would havebeen particularly unwelcome to the Athenians. In fact, it is as ifHerodotus intuitively of the scene lay not in the performance as such, but rathergrasped that the significancewith the reaction of the Athenians. While this paucity of information might generate some frustration, it is here something of a bonus. For, in this case, Herodotusnarration stands, interestingly, in contrast to the sort of historical discourse of whichhe is, according to Cicero, the "father," since his focus is not so much on whathappened but rather on the lived scene of that happening.21 It is the spectatorship, andnot the spectacle, which is decisive here. Or, better, it is that particular spectatorshipwhich is decisive, for it is of those who constituted a community of witnesses, in that they collectively recalled the events recounted by Phrynichus play upon seeing itperformed. The Fall ofMiletus was what we might call a reminder that triggered this remembrancer?but itwas not itself fully responsible for it, since, after all, the memory wasalready in the hearts of those Athenians well before they attended that ill-fatedperformance. Indeed, the fact that an audience today would most likely not react inthe same manner means that those Athenians were already, prior to the performance, a Their shared remembrance of the capture of unique polity?or potential community.Miletus itself iswhat distinguishes them from any other potential audience and whatmakes their reaction so singular. This singularity is in fact what Herodotus account of the scene leads us to consider, for it becomes clear that the tears of those Athenians confirmed their collective recollection of the original battle. 20 an excuse Obviously, the fact that there is no extant script of Phyrnichus play gives me to "refuse" to read it. Nevertheless, even if the were extant, Iwould want to proceed with a that play methodology textual traces from differs somewhat from that of classicists who interpret Greek drama based upon the period and the philological or social contexts of the plays themselves. For my purposes the point is not to debate the extent to which a comprehensive reading of a play by Sophocles, for example, is Rather, Iwould note that?in the case of Herodotus account of Phrynichus, we are possible. simply not reading the play itself?but rather trying to come to terms with Herodotus testimony regarding one scene. As a result, I cannot hope to offer an account of Herodotus testimony that would particular derive from our current understanding of Greek tragedy in its context, for the context of the memory of the original battle is illegible and irretrievable. Rather, one might begin to look for ways inwhich the of such understanding is perhaps put into question by the anecdote Herodotus provides. possibility 21 from a lecture on Herodotus Cicero, De legibus 1,5; De oratore II, 55.1 take my cue here as well given White at U. C. Berkeley in the Fall, 1995. White suggested that Herodotus, rather than by Hayden facts or focusing on the events themselves, creates memorable scenes simply imparting through narrative techniques. sophisticated
  8. 8. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 87 We are dealing, a scene wherein therefore, with the political identity of the is not a pre-existing class, orparticipants simply defined through membership,national affiliation?although those attributes clearly play a role here?nor through anything that they might have in common outside remembering the fall of Miletus andwitnessing its theatrical representation. In fact, this is borne out of a close reading ofHerodotus own account?in which the nature of the recollection itself (hos anamnesanta oikeia kaka) hinges upon how one reads oikeia kaka, "their own catastrophe." As DavidRosenbloom points out, in the period in question (478-456 BCE), "the relation between the inside and the outside of the city, between oikeia and allotria" was undergoing akind of transformation; what "ones own" means here is very much in question.22 Indeed, the very fact that the Athenians could identify themselves so strongly with theMilesians, such that the Milesians catastrophe (kaka) refers "to the Athenians own troubles and misfortunes," underscores the extent towhich the polity?in its emergent form?is defined not by fixed borders, allegiances, or blood-ties.23 Rather, the polisemerges here, to borrow Arendts phrase, as "a kind of organized remembrance."24 Putsimply, what defines and distinguishes that spectatorship of Athenians from all otherpotential (or actual) spectatorship of the play is the remembrance they shared, andtheir ability to confirm that remembrance to one another.25 Or better, what defines theirrelationship is not something that could be abstracted from, or that is foreign to, the scene itself; rather, it arises from the living confirmation?the actual relation?of a shared remembrance made possible by the scene. Now, it could be objected that my choice of Phrynichus The Fall of Miletus issomewhat disingenuous, given both its peculiar content and the fact that the text didnot survive. What about, at the very least, Aeschylus The Persians, which is an entire,extant example of a tragedy whose subject matter was within the living memory of its audience? In a sense, they make a natural pair. And admittedly, any comparison of the two ought to begin by asking why the earlier work was banned and its author fined,while the later work won first prize at the festival? What was it that made The Fall ofMiletus so disagreeable in comparison to the well-received Persians? Interesting as they are, however, Iwould like to refrain from pursuing them here since aim is not to the works themselves, but rather to focus on the scene my analyzeof one particular performance. Indeed pursuing these questions presupposes that thetears produced by The Fall of Miletus can be attributed, at some level, to the content orthe form of Phrynichus work?and that Aeschlyus play succeeded, as it were,because of some discernable difference between the works themselves.26 This is, again, 22 See David Rosenbloom, "Myth, History and Hegemony in Aeschylus," in History, Tragedy, Theory, ed. Barbara Goff (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 102. Roisman points out that oikeia is "patently contrasted" with allotria throughout Herodotus, which makes Rosenblooms argument all the more pertinent for the passage in question here ("On Phrynichos Sack," 17-18). 23 Roisman, "On Phrynichos Sack," 18-19. 24 Arendt, The Human Condition, 198. 25 It has been suggested that the Athenians wept not just out of memory, but in anticipation of asimilar disaster. However, there is no evidence to support such a view. On the contrary, a close readingof Herodotus own text appears to suggest, that the conflation of memory and political precisely, are very much at stake here. See, again, Roiseman, "On Phrynichos Sack."belonging 26 Such differences could be characterized in any number of ways. Vernant, for example, suggests that the events were not the Athenians, in contrast to their presented by Aeschylus regarded by
  9. 9. 88 / Paul A. Kottmanprecisely the presupposition that I wish to challenge. By focusing on Herodotusnarrative about a non-extant play?as opposed to reading The Persians?I would like to strip bare some of our assumptions about locating the political sense of tragedy in the legible features of any given work. The point, from my perspective, is not finally todetermine why the Athenians wept at seeing The Fall of Miletus, while The Persians was lauded. Given how little we know about the former, any explanation would be speculation anyway. Put simply, I am interested instead in the fact that they wept, and the fact that this is the focus of Herodotus account of the scene. Rather than compare the two plays, therefore, it seems tome that a certain analytical purchase can be gainedby insisting here on the difference between a singular scene, like the one to whichHerodotus draws our attention, and a particular work like The Persians. Obviously, it is not always (though it is sometimes) the case that the performance ofa dramatic work stages something that corresponds so recognizably to the livedmemory of the spectators. Admittedly, the story that Herodotus provides is hardly themost typical sort of theatrical experience. for that matter, Nor is Aeschlyus ThePersians. Indeed Imight imagine an ulterior objection tomy guiding example: What isthe political sense when what is performed, while itmay recount a familiar story, doesnot correspond to anyones living memory, for instance, in the case of a legend likeOedipus, or a morality play like Everyman, or for that matter, one of Samuel Beckettsenigmatic short works? One might safely assume that Becketts Waiting for Godot orLuigi Pirandellos Sei personaggi in cerca dautore does not actively recount actual eventsthat any potential spectator could remember as part of their own lived experience.27 What, then, could be said?from the position proposed in this essay?about thepolitical or communal significance of a performance of a purely fictional work? Does it even make sense to speak, politically, of a rigorous distinction between historicalworks (like The Fall ofMiletus or The Persians) and manifestly fictional works? What Iwould like to argue is that the political sense of the theatre is not to be foundin the distinction of any genre, form, or content of the work, nor even in any possiblereferential relation between the play and an outside reality or history upon which it isclosely or loosely based. As far as the political essence of tragedy is concerned, therelation between the artwork and reality, or between discourse and its outside, is notdecisive. What is decisive is the relation that is brought into being by the scene?through the action and speech of those present, or through the performed affirmationof a shared recollection. Consequently, it does not matter whether a play is pure fiction (Beckett) or a historyplay (Shakespeares Richard IJJ or Henry V). The genre of the work it is not essential reaction to The Fall ofMiletus, as "their own" (Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Myth and tran. Janet Lloyd [New York: Zone Books, 1990], 245). My point, however, is that whateverTragedy,differences one traces, the fact remains that the singular scene recounted by Herodotus is not reducibleto any describable features of Phrynichus work. 27 in the United States still make disavowals of this sort motion pictures produced Symptomatically, that any relation between the characters and events of the film and actual persons or eventsby clamingare coincidental. This disavowal, of course, seeks in principle to affirm (or hide behind) a rigorousdistinction between fiction and truth?while at the same time or to, its possible admitting, responding confusion.
  10. 10. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 89here, nor is the dramatic work itself. For the Athenians, at least inHerodotus view, thepolitical value and significance of that peculiar early performance of Phrynichus play lay in the relation among those gathered, rather than in the Aristotelian elements of theperformance itself (mythos, lexis, opsis, etc.) or the historical meaning of the capture ofMiletus. Indeed, the relation that is inaugurated by a shared remembrance of theoriginal scene is the theatrical scene that Herodotus describes?quite apart from any consideration of the artistry, representation, or imitative quality of Phrynichus The Fall ofMiletus. It is clear, after all, that the scenes recounted by Herodotus, both the battle itself and its ill-fated theatrical resurrection?like any singular scene worthy of the name?arenot reducible to representation, imitation, or artistry. While this may seem counterintuitive, given the fact that we tend to think of a scene as that which is representableor repeatable by definition, it is nevertheless the singular unrepresentability of thescene that distinguishes it from the work or the artifice. Indeed, it could even be saidthat a scene becomes awork or an artifice precisely when it is abandoned to repetitionor work in some sense the or effect of this re-presentation?the being consequence or continual "iterability" re-staging.28 In contrast, while the events of the battle of Miletus (or, for that matter, the Trojan the French Revolution, or the killings in Jenin) can bewar, re-staged or represented (theatrically, verbally, televisually) ad infinitum, well beyond the lives of those whowere there, the lived relation of those on the scene?which results from the actionsthemselves, and the shared memory they leave behind?absolutely resists representation or repetition beyond their life span. Put formulaically, while any word or deed{praxis, lexis) can be archived, recorded, or even re-enacted (visibly, audibly) wellbeyond the time and place of the event itself, in a potentially infinite way, the relationof those on the scene ismortal and cannot be archived. It resists representation. For this reason, Iwish to argue, it is the relation?always unique, each time brought into being either through words and deeds, or through a shared, living (and thereforepotentially utterable) memory?which constitutes the scene as such, and is the mostessential condition for any political sense. In short, a political account of theatrical to not so much with an of what isexperience ought begin analysis performed (whether the play is fictional or historical)?but rather with an understanding of the relationalaspect of the scene itself. In the same way, what happens in a historical or journalistic sense ought not to be the final place for for it is contemporary political meaning,precisely the reduction of politics to the representable content of this or that event,which obscures the mortality and fragility of the political relation, the lives, which areat stake. Back to the place of theatre in all this, it could be said that the performance of afictional play or theatrical work?as witnessed by this or that spectatorship?is alsofirst and foremost itself an actual event that is immediately political regardless of itsform or content. In other words, to any consideration of its form or content, a prior 28 Here and this discussion, I have in mind throughout Jacques Derridas work regarding theconstitutive nature of repetition or as in to the literary work. See, representation, particularly regardsfor instance, Derek Attridges interview with Derrida in Acts of Literature (New York: Routledge Press,1992).
  11. 11. 90 / Paul A. Kottman theatrical performance?like any combination of action and speech?is political only if, and insofar as, there remains ex more than one who can post facto person speak together inmemory of having been on the scene with others. To return to the of the scene, therefore, means to return to the relation essentiality that is brought about by the shared, living memory of what is collectively witnessed?a memory that is, through a paradoxical temporality which will need to be explored, constitutive of the scene itself, even as it appears to be merely its consequence.Whereas a work or representation survives through its radical indifference to the livesof the witnesses, the scene is nothing other than a lived relation that is?like the words and deeds from which it springs?absolutely mortal and contingent. Unpredictability and mortality are in fact constitutive of the scene, for in order to be what it is a scene requires?without any prior guarantee?that someone speak in itsmemory, especially to and for another who also bears that memory. Therefore, this subsequent testimony?the speech that follows action?is not ontologically separate from the scene,no matter how much time passes between scene and testimony. Rather, the subsequent is the scenes most essential trait. testimony With all of this in mind, Iwould like now to situate that anomalous performance recounted by Herodotus within the distinction between scene and work that I am elaborating. For, inmy view, this is a distinction whose emergence is contemporane ous, both historically and conceptually, with the birth of tragedy in the traditional sense. Tragedy is born, according to tradition, precisely when the work breaks with the living scene and appears to stand alone as mimetic, over and against the sociality of life?in tension with life, but always at some distance from it. Where does the performance of Phrynichus play, which occurred alongside thebirth of tragedy, fitwithin this history? Is there something within the logic of the sceneHerodotus describes that resists the conventional wisdom regarding the bond between tragedy and the polis? Let me first give a brief summary of the dominant view. Now, at first glance itmight appear that the sort of "common grief" (koinon achos)provoked by Phrynichus play resembles the sort of public weeping that has come tobe understood as one of the defining characteristics of Greek tragedy, as it developedespecially in the works of Euripides and Sophocles.29 According to Charles Segal, for instance, the staging of "rituals of lamentation" marks the emergence of a polis thatrecognizes and confirms itself through the theatrical performance of communalpractices, such as collective grieving.30 The difference between this sort of performanceand the scene recounted by Herodotus, of course, lies in the fact that Phrynichus playdid not (as far as we know) stage this common grief within the performance itself;rather the performance actually produced it spontaneously among those gathered. In this sense, the response of the audience is itself part of the action of the scene, over and beyond the unpredictable character of the performance itself. In other words, therewas no artifice, no ritualistic character to their grief.31 29 Koinon achos is a phrase taken from the chorus at the end of Euripides Hippolytus, tran. Rober Bagg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 1462. 30 See Charles Segal, Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993). 31 scene that Herodotus Again, this iswhy we are more interested in analyzing the singular describes than we are in interpreting the particular character of Phrynichus work.
  12. 12. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 91 Nevertheless, it is worth pausing briefly to consider the difference betweenHerodotus account of Phrynichus play and more contemporary accounts of subsequent works of Greek tragedy, which often contain scenes that explicitly perform or imitate acts of communal lamentation. This will help make clearer the difference I am trying to articulate between what I am calling the scene and the work to which itremains irreducible. The connection most frequently drawn among modern scholars between theevolution of tragedy and the theatrical appropriation or representation of communallife begins from the fact that a number of Greek tragedies appear self-consciously toappropriate rites of lamentation, or burial.32 In Sophocles Antigone and communalEuripides Hippolytus, for example, we find climactic scenes in which lamentation isboth performed within the drama and implicitly elicited from the audience as well.33To tarry with the example offered a moment ago, we might briefly recall Segalsanalysis of Euripides Hippolytus. In Euripides play, as Segal argues convincingly, theperformance of "rituals of lamentation" can be regarded as characterizing andreflecting an emerging polis that is "conscious" of itself as a community and cognizantof the theatre as an artifice through which that community is both represented andconstituted. Segal suggests, for instance, that the chorus at the close of Hippolytusreveals that "koinon achos is the emotion proper to a theater that has become consciousof itself as a uniquely communal form." Indeed, the shift inHippolytus from the privategrief of Phaedra that opens the play to the "common grief" with which the play closes seems to suggest, as Segal puts it, that "personal grief is lifted from the level of individual response to the level of self-consciously communal reaction."34 What Segalwants to underscore is the fact that tragedy represents an important moment in the formation of the poliss own self-awareness, an awareness that only emerged through the work of tragic representation. Ritual commemoration or suffering, he argues, was imitated in order to "reflect on the ways in which Greek society represents itself such collective as rituals, festivals."35 through expressions myth, Now, what is important for our purposes is not so much Segals ostensible focus onrituals of lamentation or the fact that the Greeks represented their own rituals tothemselves through the performance of tragedies. Again, the perspective I am 32 a start see Charles As Alcestis: How to Die a Normal Death in Greek Tragedy," Segal, "Euripides in Death and Representation, ed. Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elizabeth Bronfen (Baltimore: JohnsHopkins University Press, 1993), 213-41; Charles Segal, "Lament and Closure in Antigone," inSophocles Tragic World MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 119-37; Nicole Loraux, (Cambridge, a Woman MA: Harvard Press, 1987).Tragic Ways of Killing (Cambridge, University 33 Charles Segal has written about the cues within both Antigone and Hippolytus that call the audienceto respond with pity and fear at appropriate moments in the play ("Lament and Closure," 120, and"Catharsis, Audience and Closure," in Tragedy and the Tragic, ed. M. S. Silk [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996], 149-72). See also P. E. Easterlings response to Segals piece in the same collection. 34 Segal, Euripides, 127. See also Segal, "Catharsis, Audience and Closure," in Tragedy and the Tragic:Greek Theatre and Beyond, ed. M. S. Silk (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 157. In this latter piece, Segalseeks to expand Aristotles notion of katharsis by giving to the collective . . . "greater emphasiscommunal experience." That is, Segal seeks to understand the participatory nature of lamentation as something that opens up katharsis beyond the individuals experience of pity and fear, examined byAristotle in the Poetics. 35 Segal, "Catharsis," 157.
  13. 13. 92 / Paul A. Kottmanproposing is neither anthropological nor hermeneutical. Rather than focusing on whatwas represented, or how the polis represented itself to itself through dramatic works, it is important to recognize simply that Segals thesis presupposes that the polis found itself?that is, it seems to have accomplished a certain self-identification and organiza tion?through whatever was represented to it. Indeed, Segals analysis leads us to conclude that the emergence of Greek tragedy marks a fundamental shift in the formation of community, a shift that is manifested especially in the citys nascent reflection upon itself through tragic representation. Put simply, the very fact thatGreek tragedy develops through a self-conscious appropriation of the communalexperience of lamentation signals, for Segal, a shift away from a community that wasconstituted through the spontaneity of lived ritual as such, towards a community thatgathers around a shared representation of the act of mourning. The peculiarity of tragedy, from this perspective, is that it emerges as a communalexperience in which the communal itself is ex-propriated by the dramatic work or spectacle.36 Or put another way, with the birth of tragedy, communal life itself appears to have been given over, and henceforth subjected to, the order of representation.37With the birth of tragedy the community of spectators begins to find itself in, and in fact to constitute itself through, the work of a shared self-representation. Of course, this self-representation ismore than amere self-reflection. For the Greeks, according to Jean-Pierre Vernant, tragedy did not simply offer an uncritical mirror of the polis; rather tragedy was the putting-into-question of the polis itself. That is to say, tragedy "depicted the city rent and divided against itself" in at least two senses38: first, insofar as the tragedies themselves?in both form and content?presented the polis various crises, and second, insofar as the dramatic itselfundergoing representation could be seen as taking on a life of its own, quite apart from the lives of the spectators, even as that representation also played a crucial role in the social life of the polis, at city-sponsored competitions and festivals.39 In other words, the order of tragic a constitutive role in the of social life, representation played organization paradoxi cally by mamtaining an essential distance from, or indifference to, that living reality. 36 For this reason, the phenomenon of Greek tragedy already brings about the expropriation of lived that Guy Debord as the mark of contemporary At the beginning of his community postulates society. treatise, Debord claims that "all that once was directly lived has become mere representation." Is thisnot also the very shift that defines the emergence of Greek for instance as it is traced in the tragedy,work of Jean-Pierre Vernant? See Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, tran. Donald NicholsonSmith (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 12. 37 It is true that, in the context we are discussing, this order of representation is manifestly or dramatic. However, it ought to be understood as discursive as well. Indeed, spectacular implicitlyAristotle himself is already toward the dramatic or theatrical as reducible to disposed consideringdiscourse (lexis), especially where the question of mimetic representation is concerned. See Aristotle Poetics, chapter 3; Halliwill, Aristotles, 128; and Domenico Pesces excellent essay to the introductory Italian translation of Aristotles Poetics (Milan: Bompiani, 2000), 26. 38 and Tragedy, 33. Vernant and Vidal-Naquet, Myth 39 Vernant and others have shown that the very form of Greek tragedy, for instance the lexical difference between the chorus and the protagonists, depicts the structural distance between the social life of the polis and the dramatic representation that is essential to tragedy. See Vernant and VidalNaquet, Myth and Tragedy, 29-48 and passim.
  14. 14. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 93 Vernant has offered perhaps the most articulate account of this phenomenon,regarding the origins of Greek tragedy. For him, the polis acquires its democratic formprecisely at the moment in which it learns to find itself through what it represents to itself. But this self-finding now has the paradoxical character of a "putting into crisis/For that which is found is now at once the most familiar and intimate being of the community and its ex-propriated representation. Indeed, Vernant claims that the newly democratic polis "turned itself into a theater" through the performance of tragedy in festivals or contests, at the same time putting itself "into question."40 Like Arendt, or Aristotle for that matter, Vernant sees the polis itself as emerging like a sort of stage whereupon the cultural phenomenon of tragedy served to open the city up for debate.41 Noting, for example, that Greek tragedy "takesheroic legend as its material," Vernant emphasizes that tragedy presents the hero notas a model, like in epic, but instead as a problem or subject of debate.42 First of all,Tragedy does this, of course, by setting the heroic or tragic figure on stage, before theeyes of the spectator, as opposed to relying upon verbal narration. Thus, the tragicheroes "are made to seem present, characters truly there, although at the same time they are portrayed as figures who cannot possibly be there since they belong to somewhere else, to an invisible beyond."43 The tragic performance is therefore regarded as in some way both familiar to and distant from the spectatorship?familiar enough to allow for identification and distant enough to allow for reflection, critique, and subsequent discussion. In this way, too, writes Vernant, tragedy "played a decisive role inmans apprehen sion of fiction,"44 for the characters that were on before the of presented stage, eyes the public, afforded at once a phenomenal were reality and a fictitious status,According to Vernant, a certain "consciousness of fiction" emerged in fifth-centuryAthens; one that remained "essential to the dramatic spectacle," such that "it seems tobe both its condition and its product."45 That is to say, while it is impossibleunconditionally to locate the origin of tragedy in a nascent "consciousness of fiction,"or vice-versa, it is nevertheless impossible to dissociate fully the former from the latter.Each appears as the condition for the birth of the other.46 40 Although tragedy "appears rooted in social reality/ he writes, "it does not merely reflect thatreality, but calls it into question." See Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Myth and Tragedy," in Essays on AristotlesPoetics, ed. Am?lie O. Rorty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 36. 41 Ibid. 42 Vernant and Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy, 23-29 and passim. 43 Ibid., 243; Segal makes a similar claim: "Tragedy combines the distancing effects of myth andfiction, with the agonistic model of debate and conflict. It speaks to the assembled citizens of the polis in the here and now of a time full of crises, dangers and conflicts; but it uses a frame of remote, legendary events that enables the poet to look far beyond the passions and anxieties of the presentmoment" (Euripides, 5). 44 Vernant and Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy, 242-43. 45 Ibid., 244. 46 As if to drive this point home, Vernant notes that this "new experience afforded by the tragic spectacle" (ibid., 242) was most likely a decisive impetus behind the theory of mimesis-as-imitation articulated by Plato and Aristotle. Not surprisingly, theatrical experience turns out to be prior, so to to the determination of mimesis-as-imitation; indeed, the theatrical scene deter speak, conceptualmines the mode of its philosophical emergence.
  15. 15. 94 / Paul A. Kottman Now, inmy view, what is decisive in Vernants analysis is the way inwhich tragedy as an imitative reflection, or self-consciousworks performance only insofar as itportrayed something that was already historically or temporally distant from theaudience.47 Interestingly, Vernant notes that this distance had less to do with the merepassage of time than with the fact that the events represented by Greek tragedy did notbelong to the living memory of the Athenian spectators. Likewise, he suggests that the representational, fictitious, or mimetic quality of the play was not simply due to the technique of the production, the labor of the actor, or the fact that tragedy comprises spectacle, not just speech. To be sure, all of these things played a role in the becoming fiction of tragedy, its break with epic, and its emerging place as the problematic reflection of the polis. But Vernants analysis allows us to direct our attention beyond these more formal qualities of tragedy to the fact that theatrical experience exceedsmyth and becomes a fictional representation (mimesis) only insofar as the eventsportrayed are, a priori, understood as "happening somewhere else" or belonging to amythical past that is by now beyond the grasp of living remembrance.48 Put another it is precisely way, by becoming a itself over to work?givingrepresentation, repetition, and reproduction?that tragedy simultaneously differentiates itself from myth, which is to say, differentiates itself from the immediacy between living memory and communal life inwhich myth finds its home.49 The birth of tragedysignals, ifwe follow Vernants logic, an irreparable rift between the work as it appearsbefore the community in dramatic representation, and the living memory of what isbeing represented. In the terms of my argument here, Vernants account leads to the following conclusion: the birth of tragedy lies in nothing other than the radical separation ofwork from scene. Interestingly, it is in the light of this division that Vernant namesPhrynichus Miletus as somewhat anomalous. While we know of other plays The Fall of 47 An important exception to this account of tragedy is the chorus. Vernant and Vidal-Naquetsuggest that the chorus embodies "the collective truth ... of the polis" over and against the "otherness"of the tragic hero (ibid., 243). More recently, other scholars have argued that the chorus is even moredemocratic than the Athenian polis in that it included old men, women, slaves, and foreigners; therefore, the chorus represents an ulterior and complex set of problems with to the relation regardbetween the emerging democracy and dramatic practices. Given the inevitable limits of scope,however, I cannot include a discussion of the chorus here. The interested reader could see, as a start,the following: Vernant and Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy; Oddone Longo, "The Theater of thePolis," in Nothing to Do with Dionysus?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context, ed. John Winkler andFroma Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 12-19; John Gould, "Tragedy andCollective Experience," in Tragedy and the Tragic, ed. M. S. Silk (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996),217-43, and Simon GoldhiUs response to Goulds piece in the same volume. ^Vernant and and Tragedy, 246 and passim. In contrast to tragedy, the Vidal-Naquet, Myth transmission of myth was tantamount to the transmission of memory itself; living through epic remembrance, in short, is absolutely essential to epic song. For more on this, see Eric Havelock, TheMuse Learns to Write (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), especially 70-73; Albert Lord, Epic Singers and Oral Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) and The Singer of Tales (Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). 491 am indebted here and throughout to Jean-Luc Nancys analysis of myth in The Inoperative University of Minnesota Press, 1991), especially 45-47, which has helped me Community (Minneapolis: to understand the stakes of Vernants in ways I otherwise would not have seen. analysis Especially relevant here is Nancys elaboration of the relation between myth and scene in the third chapter.
  16. 16. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 95whose subject was historical, Phrynichus is "the first tragedy of which we areinformed."50 For Vernant, Phrynichus play?perhaps because it lies at the begirvningof the tradition?represents something like an alternative to the trajectory that Greektragedy, in his view, seems to have followed. the one hand, we have the dominant On tradition described by Segal, Vernant, andothers, which establishes tragedys emergence as fiction or mimetic art through theappropriation of communal rituals or heroic legends that already belonged to animmemorial past. This view, which is recognizable in nearly every theory of performance that has its foundations in classical Greek philosophy, tends to regard thedevelopment of theatrical experience as dependent upon a fundamental mimeticdistance between the spectacle and the lives of the spectators.51 Vernants and Segalsanalyses would belong to this tradition, even while attempting to account for it. Theycould even be said to be the very product of this tradition, for this mimetic distance is,according to the philosophical and critical tradition to which we belong, the mostessential feature of any artwork or discursive representation. And this distance isgenerally thought to be commensurate with its foreignness to the living memory of those who encounter the mimetic performance. On the other hand, we have Phrynichus play, which was "not a legendary" tragedy, as Vernant notes, but rather "a tragedy of contemporary events."52 Now, Vernant concludes that the public condemnation of The Fall ofMiletus resulted from the fact that the play portrayed events, which he says "were too close" to the lives of the spectators. The play, he writes, "did not allow for the distancing, the transposition thatmade it possible for feelings of pity or terror to be displaced into a different register, no longer experienced in the same way as in real life, but immediately apprehended andunderstood as fiction."53 Vernant thus imagines Phrynichus play to be an irregularity,which did not meet the criteria for "fiction" or "mimesis" towhich the Athenians weregradually becoming accustomed. The scene was too close to "real life." AlthoughVernant does not say so, the logic of his argument leads one to conclude that the sceneHerodotus describes cannot properly be understood as an artwork or discursiverepresentation. Indeed, for Vernant the censure of Phrynichus work was a consequence of an already accepted and established "consciousness of fiction," which was in fact offended a that was too-close-to-the-bone.54 What made the by play playexceptional, it would seem, was that it could not be received as mere fiction. ForVernant, of course, this is an exception that only serves to confirm the rule, that is, toconfirm the account of tragedy as commensurate with the distance between fiction andlife. 50 David Rosenbloom, "Myth, History," 102. For a list of other non-extant tragedies that allegedlydealt with historical see H. D. Broadhead, "Introduction," Persae of Aeschylus subjects, (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1960), xvii. 51 In a sense, this claim calls for no justification. Since Plato and Aristotle, at least in the tradition ofthought which this article attempts to analyze, mimesis has been the key to the question of the relationbetween artworks dramatic works) and the world or nature. (especially 52 Vernant, Myth and Tragedy, 244. 53 Ibid. 54 Ibid. Malcolm Heath makes a similar that Phrynichus was censured assumption, claiming play"because the tears were shed over misfortunes that touched the audience too closely, them remindingof their own troubles." See Heath, The Poetics of Greek Tragedy, 9.
  17. 17. 96 / Paul A. Kottman But are things so clear? Given that Phrynichus play (494 BCE) is the first tragedy ofwhich we have any record, can it be certain that the censure of The Fall Miletus after of this early performance was a consequence of its failure to be "immediately apprehended and understood as fiction?" Particularly what if, as Vernant himself claims,this "consciousness of fiction" itself emerged partly as a consequence of the intensifying consumption of tragedy? What, after all, accounts for the appetite for fiction asopposed to real life that Vernant supposes to have existed? Why must the history oftragedy begin with the self-reflective apprehension of mimesis? Might it not be the case that the trajectory outlined by Vernant, Segal, and all thosewho follow in Aristotles footsteps?which equates tragedy and the emergence of a formal theatrical consciousness with the contemplative apprehension of tragedy-as imitation?presupposes a prior recognition of fiction that may in fact be the consequence of a lived remembrance that distinguishes, without thought or reflection,between the real and the imitation? Perhaps the scene described by Herodotus forcesus to consider the living scene as a condition without which like imitation somethingor a consciousness of fiction would not emerge. After all, it seems clear that those Athenians who banned Phrynichus play wereaware that the play was not the same as the events that it portrayed. That is, they thingrecognized the performance for what itwas and quite naturally did not confuse itwiththe real capture of Miletus. Indeed, this recognition is what was manifested in the censure. After all, one can censure a work, not historical events.plays only And it is equally clear that this recognition of the play as an imitative performancewas not the result of a formal convention or "consciousness of fiction." Still less does the plays reception seem to suggest that the performance of this tragedy signaled aquestioning of the city or anything like Aristotles phronesis. It could even be said,without exaggeration, that the recognition of Phrynichus play as an "imitation" of real events came to those Athenians without reflection, without a "conscious" apprehension of fiction. Indeed, the apprehension of theatrical mimesis by theAthenians in the scene Herodotus describes is utterly foreign to the sort of theoretical contemplation that will come to characterize the philosophers noetic grasp of mimesis in Platos work a later. century First of all, therefore, this scene marks the dissociation of the apprehension ofmimesis from the act of thoughtful debate, understanding, or collective wisdom (phronesis) that, according to Aristotle and Vernant, characterizes theatrical experience.55 Indeed, to paraphrase Arendt, it could be said axiomatically that theatricalexperience in fact antedates the vita contemplativa presupposed by classical philosophysaccount of the theatre,56 for Herodotus account presents us with a scene inwhich theconscious recognition of theatrical artifice fails to result in, or coincide with, the "fictional distance" that characterizes Aristotles definition of theatrical experience. Instead, the artifice "calamaties" that were, as Herodotus "too close to presented says, 55 Aristotle underscores the way in which the pleasure of watching or an imitation coincides hearingwith a sort of consciousness or the imitative nature of the spectacle itself. See knowledge regardingPoetics 1448M4-15. 56 See Arendts discussion of Pythagoras in The Life ofMind, 93.
  18. 18. THE SCENEBEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 97home" (oikeia kaka), too close to allow the play to stand as a subject for debate, or forthe feelings that it inspired to mature into detached, deliberative reflection. Therecognition of the plays artifice, therefore, appears to be a result of the immediacybetween the mimesis of Phrynichus play and the living remembrance of its spectators,rather than the result of the plays distance from their living memory, as Vernantsupposes. It is as if the mimetic aspect of Phrynichus play lay not so much in theartifice of its theatrical manifestation, but rather in the plays function as a witness forevents that the spectators had themselves seen. The theatrical scene Herodotusdescribes is constituted most essentially through the very relation between livingmemory and mimetic performance that, according to tradition, characterizes myth asopposed to tragedy. Thus, something like an alternative account of the origins of the theatrical scene,and consequently of the relation between mimesis and politics as well, begins toemerge?an account whose origins lie at the very outset of the political and theatricaltradition that we inherit. Rather than focus on a nascent consciousness of fiction or imitation, or on the self-conscious representation of the polis in a dramatic work, it is instead the singularity of the scene that comes to the fore here, from which the political sense of the event (both the battle itself and its representation) arises. RevisingAristotles account of tragedy in the Poetics, we could say that the mimetic character of the scene does not lie necessarily in the event of the performance (opsis), or in thestructure of the artistic work (plot, diction, mythos, lexis). Likewise, the habit ofreducing the term mimesis to a general, essentially Platonic, determination of therelation between "art and nature" or "imitation and often obscures the terms reality"own ambiguity. The problem lies in this: the political sense of mimesis?that whichrelates the theatrical experience of being on the scene to political life?cannot be fullygrasped in terms of the fictional or artistic character of performance or work, and itsrelation to an outside reality. Rather, mimesis acquires its political sense in theatricalexperience insofar as it corresponds to the living relation of the scene. A radical politicsof mimesis, in sum, would therefore need tomove beyond the centrality of representation, of what is represented, and begin to take account of this correspondence.