Enactment and make-believe

Karin Schlapbach

I’m happy to announce a talk I will be giving at Catholic here in DC next Wednesday. Here is the poster.

The point of departure of the talk is the following observation: in many ancient descriptions of spectacles the focus is very much on the staging itself, to the detriment of the representational content. To give a couple of examples:
– Xenophon, Symposium: when the dinner-guests witness a staging of Dionysus and Ariadne, they end up believing that the young performers are in love with each other. The divine couple instead recedes from their awareness.
– Martial, Liber spectaculorum: Martial’s epigrams often express a tension between the myth and and its reenactment, the latter tends to outperform the former (e.g.: if myth has it that Herakles killed a lion, now there is a woman in the arena who does the same). What can be seen at the amphitheatre is more real and deserves more credit than the mere hearsay (fama) of myth.
– Lukillios, epigrams: a dancer impersonating the mythical character Niobe, who was turned into stone, is criticized for being ‘stiff’ (that is to say, an attribute that belongs to the character is transferred to performer by an ungenerous spectator).
The impression of the truth of the spectacle is always crucial for the audience (although in most cases this impression will actually be the result of a theatrical illusion, like e.g. in Xenophon). But what matters is that in the examples I mentioned, this (perceived) truth is not that of the representational content. Instead it is (often mistakenly) located at the more immediate, physical and palpable level of the performance itself, which outshines the representational content…
In my talk I am going to look at texts that present the opposite scenario, i.e. spectacles in which the representational content is perceived as true. … well, I won’t give away more at this point! I hope it’s going to be fun to talk about those texts.

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