[MSA 2015] "The modernist "mysterium", between allegorical drama and revolutionary politics"

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Andres Perez-Simon
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Modernist Studies Association Conference
November 19-22, 2015
Boston, MA

In The Death of Character (1996), Elinor Fuchs conceptualizes the "mysterium" as a modernist theatrical practice with a strong didactic orientation that adapts the expository nature of the original medieval genre to the historical reality of early twentieth century. What takes place is a phenomenon broader than the revival of medievalism that had characterized symbolist dramas in the late years of the nineteenth century. The modernist mysterium investigates the conflict between the individual and the community, privileging the interior perspective of the dramatic character(s) instead of presenting the fictional world as if it were the reflection of an empirical reality. This strain of modernist theater adopts structural and symbolic patterns typical of the mystery play and religious drama – from allegorical depiction to images of martyrdom – which are now interpreted in reference to contemporary political discourses. Questioning the traditional division of modernism between the "irrationalists" and the "materialists", Fuchs notes how Toller, Mayakosvky and Brecht were drawn to the mysterium form "as implausible as the project of dressing the Marxist doctrine in Christian eschatology might seem at first glance" (44).

This panel welcomes papers that reflect on the uneasy relationship between aesthetics and politics in the interwar years, and how this tension redefined the stage / audience divide during these years. In their attempt to make modernism and didacticism compatible, authors such as Brecht ("The Baden Play for Learning"), Lorca ("The Dream of Life") and Capek ("The Mother") experiments with forms reminiscent of liturgical drama to reconfigure the role of the theatrical institution and eventually give way to a new relation between individual and community.

Please submit an abstract of 400-500 words to Andrés Pérez-Simón, perezsas@uc.edu, by April 1.