Monday, December 20, 2010

Theatre as the Art of Praxeology

David Mamet argues in "Theatre" that plays are very translatable precisely because they are about plot -- action.

Ludwig von Mises, in "Human Action" argues that "the logical structure of mind is uniform with all men of all races, ages, and countries" (38) and that, therefore, praxeology is valid for all people at all times -- that it is indeed a science.

Perhaps plays are the art of praxis? Indeed, as Aristotle argues (and Mamet parrots), plays are the art of action.

This is different from the fact that action is necessary for the production of any work of art -- or to engage in it at all, if you are a member of the audience. A play presents action. As Frederick Turner has observed, to act is both to do and to pretend to do (as an actor is in one case someone who performs an action, and in another case is someone who pretends to perform an action on a stage).

What more is a plot than the problems inherent in the fact that "acting man chooses, determines, and tries to reach an end. Of two things both of which he cannot have together he selects one and gives up the other. Action therefore always involves both taking and renunciation" (Mises, 12). The audience of a play judges the characters according to both their ends, and the way(s) they go about achieving those ends. Audience members, in viewing a play, thus act as praxeologists, as praxeology studies human action to help us determine what actions are appropriate to achieve one's purpose (12). This is why one can appreciate the goal of a character, but disagree with their actions to achieve it (which makes us feel conflicted toward the character), or disagree with the goal and appreciate their actions (as one may be impressed by Iago in "Othello"). Such things add richness, complexity to plays. Of course, even abstaining from action is itself an action (Mises, 13), so works such as Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" are interpretable using praxeological methods.

To make a man act, you need uneasiness, "the image of a more satisfactory state," and "the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness" (Mises, 14). What else is this but a summary of plotted literature? If the protagonist achieves "a more satisfactory state," one has comedy; of (s)he does not, one has tragedy. More specifically, if the character reaches equilibrium -- happiness -- one has comedy; yet if the character does achieve what (s)he wants, and it results in more uneasiness in their lives rather than less, one has tragedy. If they do not achieve what they want, we just have a sad story -- a drama, perhaps. From the principles of paraxeology, therefore, we are able to derive the three basic forms of theatre. Theatre is indeed the praxeological art.

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