Review of András Visky’s Monograph “What is Theatre for? On the Way to the Theatrum Theologicum”

As the author emphasises in his preface to the volume, the phrase “theatrum theologicum” is even older: it was originally a term coined by Daniel Fesselius, a little-known post-Re­forma­tion thinker, who first used it in his book Theatrum theologico-politico-historicum, which was published in 1668, “offering an ideological, political and historical explanation of the disappearance of the secular powers, and the vicissitudes of their fate, in the theatre of theological discourse” (Visky 2020, 13). As his starting point, Fesselius used the well-known idea, restated by John Calvin, that the world is the theatrum gloriae Dei, that is, the theatre of God’s glory. “Among Calvin’s […] favourite figures of speech is to make the perfect mastery of divine creation and the scene of redemption, that is, the human world and history, seen as God’s ‘beautiful’, […] ‘glorious’ theatre, where man […] occupies the orchestra and there plays the spectacle of divine goodness and wisdom […] to the delight of men and God” (Visky 2020, 13).

Figure 1. András Visky: The cover of the volume entitled What is Theatre for? On the way to the theatrum theologicum.

The term, therefore, was not originally used in a theatrical sense, but its introduction was first suggested by the author of this volume, when Melinda Gemza was writing her thesis at the Károli Gáspár Reformed University on the theatre of József Nagy and Romeo Castellucci, in the hope that this term would be of help in a comparative analysis of the performances of the two theatre artists (Visky 2020, 12). The mention of Castellucci’s name is no coincidence, as the author believes that the world-famous director is one of those contemporary artists who at the same time perceives theatre as a kind of divine question in our time. This volume claims that the theatrum theologicum also seems to describe Castellucci’s theatrical aesthetics in a prolific way, since the aforementioned question of God and the Western Christian theological tradition are also captured in an active way in his musical theatre performances and opera adaptations, among other things.1 “Visky mentions Romeo Castellucci as the greatest of his contemporaries to achieve such a beneficial success, despite the fact that he has not yet referred to Castellucci’s works in any of his writings” (Prontvai 2021, 636).

The work is divided into four sections in terms of both structure and genre: the first two parts contain the author’s studies and essays on a wide variety of subjects, which sometimes “have different motivations and factures, sometimes very divergent” (Visky 2020, 13). In other respects, however, what almost all of them have in common is an emphasis on the importance of the joint participation of performer and audience in the performance, in terms of the theatre’s contract with itself. The entire work of art is created by the recipient together with the creators and the performers, by becoming (or being) an active participant in the production, and this includes the question of post-performance interpretation.

This idea is known to be closely related to performativity, so it is no coincidence that the opening essay of the second part of the volume, entitled The Performance of the Spectator, which is in itself a telling title, discusses the importance of audience participation in the light of the performative shift that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. In the second paragraph, we can read the following about the significance of this shift, which was to radically change the logocentric tradition that had hitherto dominated the theatre:

“The innovative […] creators of contemporary theatre […] have moved from the work of art as a sacred object to be admired to the work of art as a process, with a consequent shift of emphasis [… ] to the co-presence and joint activity of spectators and performers, […] eliminating the romantic image of the artist – [the image of the creator as [a] ‘great man’, the demiurge], which […] provided the ideological basis for […] power games and institutional appropriations […]. Co-presence is not just an empty slogan […] but […] the demonstration […] of the common elements of the creative process” (Visky 2020, 91).

At the same time, the author of What is Theatre for? also emphases in this essay that the powerful pre-turnaround convention, which is mainly fed by the cult of operetta, which perceives theatre as something “‘not serious’ but entertaining, and therefore insignificant, a light ‘weekend’ event” (Visky 2020, 92), has exempted the creator from taking responsibility.2 The performative shift, however, makes it impossible to avoid this assumption of responsibility by drawing attention to the risk-taking of the spectator-participant, which carries more weight than one might at first think. To illustrate this assertion, the author cites Purcărete’s production of The King is Dying, in which the protagonist is chosen from among the audience, “indicating at the very beginning that the performance is not about the death of someone with whom we have nothing to do and who is above us” (Visky 2020, 92). Instead, the central element of the performance becomes the common presence and the “‘closeness of bodies’ (Erika Fischer-Lichte), or rather the ‘closeness of heavy bodies’ (Hans-Thies Lehmann)” (Visky 2020, 92), a gesture which, on the one hand, dissolves the obligatory reverence on the part of the audience, but which also entails an element of risk, since it forces them to experience a hitherto unknown mode of interpretation. It is no coincidence that the essay concludes with Abramović’s version of his manifesto entitled Art Vital, which has been translated into Hungarian by the author, in which the performance artist articulates what he considers to be the most important aspirations of contemporary art. According to Visky, its lines are particularly important in terms of the vulnerability of the audience (and not the artist), as they highlight that “spectator activity is not simply fashion and cheap provocation, but a demonstration and recognition that the author’s act does not separate, but connects us” (Visky 2020, 93).

It is perhaps no coincidence that the second essay that follows immediately begins with the well-known opening scene of Castellucci’s above-mentioned Divina Commedia, Inferno, when the director takes to the stage and introduces himself in the most direct way: “Je m’appelle Romeo Castellucci.”3 In Visky’s interpretation, everything in the space of the Papal Court in Avignon, turned into a stage, has an important added meaning: we are witnessing “that the once common knowledge of Western culture can only be assembled with great difficulty, and has become an archive of personal, fragmented bodily experiences” (Visky 2020, 94). Moreover, Vera Prontvai, the author of another review of the present monograph, relates this line of thought on the loss of identity in Western culture to poetic theatre, of which the author (Visky) is himself an important representative in Hungary: “The man of today, according to the philosophy of Beckett, Pilinszky, [and] Imre Kertész, can no longer tell the determining story of his own life, which goes back to universal roots, [and] language no longer carries the meanings that would recall it. Theatre turns to poetry in order to echo the Logos in space and to reconstruct a forgotten reality no longer recognised by modern man” (Prontvai 2021, 636).4

In Visky’s interpretation of the essay, the above contextual framework on the loss of identity, which is presented through the opening gesture of the Divina Commedia and is ultimately related to the question of performativity and, according to Prontvai, to the aesthetics of poetic theatre, points to the contract that the theatre has with itself, to its inherent social function, which is best manifested in the distinction between the notions of “benevolent” and “evil” success.

This is elaborated in the fourth and final part of the monograph, in a tract entitled Pseudo-Augustine’s On Success, which is written in the form of a dialogue, thus crystallising for the reader the primary mission and fundamental existence of theatre, as the author sees it, and at the same time summarising the texts of the preceding three parts of the volume, which are of different genres, and facilitating the possibility of (joint) further reflection. The work in question may have been composed after Augustine’s works Confessions and De musica (On Music), or it may be considered a direct continuation of the latter, given that on several occasions it takes passages from them verbatim, which Visky explains by the fact that in all probability Pseudo-Augustine may have memorised several passages, since Augustine was known to have intended the Confessions to be read out.

The last of the three chapters of the tract, published in this monograph, illustrates the difference between the two types of success through the example of the Ancient Roman parodist, St Genesius, who was later to die a martyr’s death. Genesius was widely known in his day as a popular actor and entertainer, and his fame led him to be invited to the house of Diocletian, the emperor who was notorious for introducing the Tetrarchy and the most brutal persecution of Christians. Since the ruler thought that the actor’s talent could be used for political purposes (as he saw the unity of the state threatened by the new religion), he asked him to create a performance in the Coliseum that would parody the liturgy. Genesius readily accepted the assignment, and therefore not only studied the text of the ceremony thoroughly, but also learned it word for word, and for the sake of the authenticity of the production, employed a real priest to conduct the ceremony. However, when the priest sprinkled holy water on Genesius, baptising him, he first collapsed, and then, shortly afterwards, regained consciousness and gave an impromptu speech about the effect it had on him, which caused many of the audience to enter the arena with Genesius, transfixed. As Diocletian then slaughtered Genesius, the priest and the audience members on stage, as well as the starved beasts, it is questionable whether we should talk about the success or failure of the career of the hitherto famous Genesius, while the tragic event itself is an example of the spectator becoming an actor, as discussed earlier.

Pseudo-Augustine’s tract offers general insights on success that merit reflection for all those seriously engaged in theatre (or any other related art form), regardless of the historical period, and we are encouraged to think further by the fact that the series of dialogues, which can be seen as a common organising element of the preceding loosely connected studies and essays, is placed at the end of the volume. “We hope that the three chapters of the last part, written in dialogues, does not close the volume, but on the contrary, will set the direction for a possible continuation” (Visky 2020, 13). The main characteristic of secular, in the words of Pseudo-Augustine simply “evil”, success, which is primarily concerned with profit, fame, and recognition, is that it is measurable: in the case of literary works, it corresponds to the number of copies of books sold, and in the case of theatre or cinema, it is the number of viewers of the production and the financial recognition often associated with it that indicate the achievement in market terms. The “beneficial” success, on the other hand, was, as the author puts it, immeasurable: Genesius had gained the highest esteem in contemporary society as a comic actor, but when he was baptised and converted during a performance that he had carefully planned and rehearsed (as the priest who celebrated the mass conducted the ceremony with the utmost seriousness, despite the mockery to which he had been subjected), Diocletian’s patronage was suddenly shattered. Yet the impact of Genesius’ testimony on his audience cannot be described by the traditional criteria of secular success.

“Beneficial” success is meaningless in the context of the Holy Mass (or any other religious ritual), as it is in the case of ritual (and perhaps we may say poetic) theatre, in which the main purpose is not to provide entertainment, but rather to transfigure the viewer and involve him or her in the events taking place at the altar or on the stage. However, we do not have any relevant means of measuring the impact on the individual members of the audience, and in this case, the highest number of viewers of the given production cannot be a consideration either. After Grotowski, for example, withdrew from giving public performances and began his theatre laboratory work, he shifted his focus from performance to an experimental attitude, and from that time did not even intend his productions to be seen by large audiences. Intent on creating more in-depth workshop work with a small community of artists, he was no longer interested in his work being more widely known, or having any kind of popularity or financial success.

The aesthetics of Silviu Purcărete, one of the most internationally renowned figures of ritual theatre, can be related to the characteristics of Grotowski’s experimental work as described above in terms of the Pseudo-Augustinian “beneficial” and “evil” success, and the dichotomy between entertainment and usefulness, which may have exerted a mutually productive influence on the work of the author of this work. András Visky, who is active not only as a theoretician, but also as a poet, playwright and director, has worked as a dramaturge in several large-scale theatre projects with the Romanian-born director, and this collaboration has resulted in one of their most significant productions, Tragedia omului (The Tragedy of Man). A detailed insight into the rehearsal process leading to the premiere, which was sometimes paved with obstacles, is provided in the dramaturgical diary published on the pages of What is Theatre for?, as part of the third genre and structural unit of the volume, detailing the most important moments of Purcărete’s canon of forms.5

Figure 2. Stage design of The Tragedy of Man (Director: Silviu Purcărete).


The production of The Tragedy of Man in question is particularly relevant to this course of thought, because in this performance Purcărete attempted to create the so-called Theatre of Parousia, which he announced to the actors as the main objective of the performance at the first rehearsal: Visky relates this in the first entry of his diary (Visky 2020, 175). The Greek word “Parousia” referred to the rite of the visitation of the ruler, which, in a biblical context, denotes the second coming of the Messiah, entailing the Last Judgment, (Visky 2020, 175). The term is thus directly related to rites, to the creation of rites, and through this to the central concept of the work, the theatrum theologicum, as referred to by the author in the title of the diary, The Tragedy of Man as the theatrum theologicum.

As if to confirm this parallel, What is Theatre for? was published in 2020 within the framework of the rite research group of the Károli Gáspár Reformed University, and, in addition, the English version of the dramaturgical diary of the Purcărete performance was published (with minor changes) in another volume of the research group’s Károli Books series, entitled Poetic Rituality in Theater and Literature.6

Visky researcher Vera Prontvai also draws attention to the connection between ritual, theatrum theologicum and the Theatre of Parousia in the context of the Pseudo-Augustine dialogue: “What is Theatre for? culminates in a conversation between Pseudo-Augustine and his disciple about the beneficial success that is the basis of theatrum theologicum, in contrast to the evil success, the theatre dominated by market laws” (Prontvai 2021, 635). She goes on to say that “the theatrum theologicum described by Visky aims at immersion in transcendence: conversion itself. And the theatre aesthetics that he believes should be followed emphasises the need to face the necessity of redemption” (Prontvai 2021, 635).

Although at the end of the Preface the author refers to the three chapters of the Pseudo-Augustine tract written in dialogues as “not closing the volume, but on the contrary, setting the direction of a possible continuation” (Visky 2020, 13), at the same time, however, it helps to find the logical connection between the sometimes disjointed studies and essays of the first three parts of the volume and the dramaturgical diaries. In this context, the reflections on the Damian Hirst skull, discussed in the study White box versus black box and in the Hamlet essay Go not to Wittenberg, may be even more meaningful, as the author uses the skull as an example of an emblematic archetype of contemporary art, one that is in the grip of money and power, in contrast to the Yorick skull, which resonates love and humanity (Visky 2020, 59). “It quickly became the icon of art in the third millennium […] the artistic act followed a pattern of substantial material investment and guaranteed profit […] removing the artist from the self-reflective intellectual activity of the individual and society. Hirst’s diamond skull equates success with profit, so money becomes the only measure of success” (Visky 2020, 59-60). The study proceeds to describe the connection between the Hirst skull and János Térey’s play Asztalizene (Table Music), directed by Levente Bagossy: the former was first shown in a gallery called the White Cube, and the latter features a restaurant of the same name, where the author “parades his lifeless, soulless puppet characters” (Visky 2020, 59). “[The] characters of Asztalizene in the dramaturgical sense […] live in a gilded cage of well-made form, […] meaningless, their suffering obscured by a flawless […] language that belies elegance, quality, and ultimately success” (Visky 2020, 59). So while the theatrical black box, as the Easter representation of the empty tomb, is a place of death and resurrection, the white box, stripped of all spirituality, is the home of the Hirst skull (Visky 2020, 59)7.

Figure 3. Stage design of the performance entitled Asztalizene (Directed by: Levente Bagossy)

By way of a conceptual distinction on the nature of success, the dialogues maintain that, inherently, art has always been (and should be) about much more than being a means to market success, as hallmarked by the Damian Hirst skull. “[Hirst’s] skull obliterates the person, […] renders the unique and unrepeatable time between birth and death empty and worthless, and places the idol of profit, which obscures all value, in the white cube of museums” (Visky 2020, 126). It is not surprising, then, that for contemporary culture “the body remains the only means of hysterical rejection of the time and death that consume us […].The human body and time are in the most direct relationship possible: if nothing extends beyond the body, […] then only in the artificial maintenance of the body […] can we seek the possibility of redeeming ourselves. […] The most direct representation of this pattern is […] sport, which has become the religion and community rite of our time” (Visky 2020, 126). However, since the theatrical text is read by the totality of our bodily experiences, it is important that we are present in the performance with our body and soul: so that the work of art, despite its not being describable by market metrics, can have an effect on us and thus play a significantly greater role in our lives than as a means of mere entertainment, and thus reduce its purpose of existence to the exclusivity of “beauty”, meaning pleasantness (Harnoncourt 1989, 9–13). The emphasis on the idea of the spectator as participant through performativity expresses the intention and the need for art not to be marginalised but to occupy a central place in our lives. On the other hand, the dialogues attributed to Pseudo-Augustine also emphasise that the spectator also becomes a “doer”, even by simply watching the performance (Visky 2020, 224). According to the text, Alypius, who came to the amphitheatre at the urging of his friends, closed his eyes but could not block out his hearing, and first his body and then his soul became one with the surging rhythm of the crowd, who were in a frenzy of joy over the spilled blood of the gladiator who had fallen to the ground (Visky 2020, 224).

Figure 4. Damien Hirst: For the Love of God (2007). Photo:

The book examines from several angles the significance, the importance and the weight of the audience becoming the “doer” in theatrical performances, with a particular focus on the question of the viewer’s risk-taking, and in close association with this, the assumption of the author’s responsibility. In the context of the theatrum theologicum (in the theatrical sense), the author examines the works and performances of a number of contemporary artists,8 whose works are seen to articulate the importance of rites in human life and their vital role in the construction of community identity, in a way that contrasts with the mainstream of our time, which does not place such emphasis on rites.


  • Visky András. 2020. Mire való a színház? Útban a theatrum theologicum felé. Budapest: KRE–L’Harmattan Könyvkiadó.
  • Visky, András. 2020. “The Tragedy of Man as Theatrum Theologicum. (A Dramaturg’s Diary.)” In Poetic Rituality in Theater and Literature, ed. Enikő Sepsi and Johanna Domokos, 225–279. Budapest: KRE–L’Harmattan Könyvkiadó.
  • Prontvai Vera. 2021. (86. évf.) 8. sz. „Visky András: Mire való a színház? Útban a theatrum theologicum felé.” Vigilia 635–636. Viewed on 24 July 2022.
  • Harnoncourt, Nikolas. 1989. „A zene szerepe életünkben.” In A beszédszerű zene, uő, 9–13. Budapest: Editio Musica Budapest Zeneműkiadó.
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On the Generosity of Theatre Historiography

András Timár
Full text in PDF “Tradition is also the practice of rejection, attraction and resolution. For us, tradition is a retrospection to mankind, our craft, and the history just preceding us, from which we are dissociating ourselves with consistent and permanent work.” (Eugenio Barba) Picture 1. Demolition of the National Theatre/Nemzeti Színház building on Blaha Lujza Square It will be a special celebration for those interested in theatre studies when they pick up this curious volume, exceptional in both content and design, as A színház öt kontinense. Tények és legendák a színész materiális kultúrájáról [The Five Continents of Theatre. Facts and legends about the material culture of the actor], a book series by the Theatre Workshop of the University of Theatre and Film Arts, which will be published in ٢٠٢٣ under the names of Eugenio Barba and Nicola Savarese. The Hungarian edition of the book is based on the text of the ٢٠١٩ English edition of the original Italian work, first published in ٢٠١٧, and was translated by János Regős, an expert in Barba’s oeuvre, and Nikolett Pintér-Németh. This volume, which is unique in the Hungarian-language publishing on the history of theatre in terms of its visual appeal – with prepress work carries out by WellCom Graphic Studio and the printing by Pauker Printing House – creates for the reader-spectator a patchwork-like contemporary “playbook” with scientific sophistication, inviting associative thinking on more than 400 pages with 1400 black and white and colour pictures and texts of various length and types. The text system of the six chapters (five plus one extra), consisting of fragments, shorter and longer trains of thought, along with a huge number of images interwoven with them with captions which sometimes contain exciting facts, historico-philosophical analyses, at other times impressions, anecdotes and a variety of questions, constitute the structure of the volume. And they create the hermeneutic freedom, the infinite web of interpretation, which – hopefully – can make the volume lasting even in the age of a change in the structure of thought identified as the “pictorial turn,”2 for a public of readers who enjoy the primacy of visual experience and imagination, and who in many ways have changing and altered demands.3 The theatre director Barba, with the systematic support of the theatre scholar Savarese, transformed some fifty years of professional experience into a discourse in the visual and textual world of their volume, consciously and repeatedly bringing to our attention that their intention was not to theorise and conceptualise, but to do practical work. They do this knowing that Barba’s oeuvre is perceived by theatre studies as a crucial point of reference for theatre anthropology, for inter- and transculturality, and as such, certainly contributing to the theoreticality of theatre studies. The Barba–Savarese volume is worth contextualising from various aspects. On the one hand, it is important to establish a dialogue with the previous Barba–Savarese book, A színész titkos művészete. Színházantropológiai szótár [The Secret Art of the Actor. Dictionary of the Anthropology of Theatre], published in 2020 by Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary and L’Harmattan.4 The authors of this book make an attempt to provide a systematic description of the highly Grotowski-influenced laboratory research to uncover the underlying principles of the Eastern and Western dancer-actor’s craft built upon the universal laws that inform performative techniques and transcend cultures. They studied awareness of the Western dancer-actor’s use of the body and their relationship to rhythm, the generation of extra-daily energy, the actor’s pre-expressive (‘prior to expression’) state and tensions, the methods of realising presence in the resolute body created by extra-daily body techniques.5 The publication of the Barba-Savarese volume is timed to coincide with the 10th Theatre Olympiad, which will be part of the 17th edition of the Pécs-Pécsvárad-Budapest Theatre Olympiad. It will also be linked to the ISTA/NG (International School of Theatre Anthropology/New Generation founded by Barba in 1979) and the resulting production Anastasis/Resurrection, which will be performed only once, at the National Theatre in Budapest, and will be presented by ISTA/NG masters and participants from twenty-seven countries under Barba’s direction. Thus, whereas the 2020 “dictionary volume” addressed the dancer-actor’s physical-mental techniques and his relationship with the audience, the Anastasis performance, unfortunately scarcely documented in contemporary critical writing, summarised the artistic diversity of Barba’s theatre aesthetics, which drew upon the archetypes that recur throughout the oeuvre (such as birth, death and rebirth, celebration and sacrifice, the intoxication of the vegetation of existence). The Five Continents of Theatre…, edited for almost twenty years with the collaboration of numerous contemporary theorists and scholars, exposes the Barba–Savarese experience that the bodily techniques and the relationship with the audience presuppose another, equally important element: the actor’s auxiliary techniques. The material culture of the actor is based on the various levels of organisation and forms of activity of the theatre profession. Everything that determines the practical, economic, aesthetic and social aspects of the actor. Since these auxiliary techniques do not only recur in various historical periods but also in all theatrical traditions, a comparative study of them shows that the actor’s material culture, with its varied processes, forms and styles, derives from the way in which they respond to the same practical needs. The authors suggest that all readers and spectators of the publication may find analogies with their own theatrical traditions, but they nuance the comparative approach by noting that their analysis cannot be exhaustive, since “not all theatrical traditions have transmitted their cultural heritage through words and images”.6 Based on Barba’s definition of the genre, reading his “travel guide” allows us to become part of a multicultural journey across millennia and continents, witnessing a dialogue imbued with a desire for knowledge, whose fundamental and only question is: how to make theatre? The first five units of The Five Continents of Theatre… are organised around the five basic questions of Anglo-Saxon journalism (the five English Ws): when, where, how, for whom and why theatre is made. Each of these chapters discusses the aspects of “the material culture of the theatre” listed under each question-word subheading by the authors, and shows the impact on the participants in the event (actors, audience, directors, writers, etc.). While the first five chapters include discursive text units alongside the fourteen hundred images and captions, selected from eleven thousand, the sixth concluding chapter – subtitled Theatre and History. Pages fallen from Bouvard and Pécuchet’s notebook, contains only images and captions. Picture 2. Using the handkerchief on stage (Stanislavsky as Gajev Chekhov in The Cherry Orchards, 1904) The theatre-historiographical approach of this publication evokes the ideal of freedom in Barba’s theatre aesthetics and form. The brief statements of fact, glosses, dictionary-like entries, and passages from the theatre artists, creators and theorists of the 19th and 20th centuries do not add up to become a voluminous argument, neither do the hundreds of images become a didactic picture album. The reading process is repeatedly interrupted, changes direction and forces the reader to focus on the theatrical-cultural traditions of the five continents referred to in the title, as represented in texts and images, and their interrelationships, through the discovery of the links between two narratives (as the subtitle indicates, “facts and legends”) of historicity and cultural traditions and rituals. The publication offers a history of theatre that does not seek to create the impression of linear-causal historiography. The postmodern distrust of grand narratives is dissipated through a sometimes shocking, sometimes playfully ironic, but always easy-to-read-and-watch form that does not impose, or even articulate, exclusive values and judgements. Offering experience is thus more easily perceived as generosity rather than revelation. The authors steer clear of chronology: the cave paintings are not intended to represent performative acts of prehistory but are part of an argumentation that first links them to the dance of humans with animals and gods, and then examines the diversity of cultural traditions in which animals are found on stage, from Greek vase paintings to Peking opera to masked characters in Balinese spectacles, while also not being oblivious to the visual and textual narrative of where the humanised ape stories of the 20th century, from King Kong to Tarzano to Planet of the Apes, originated. Events are also examined as constructs when creating a highly eclectic chronology called “Stages 1 and 2 of the Great Reform”. This exciting chapter charts the development of theatre architecture and technology, as well as the rise of neo-avant-garde theatre independent of literature, through a hundred years of design, political and cultural history, from the opening of Wagner’s theatre in 1876 in Bayreuth to the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The opening conversations of the chapters evoke the figures of Bouvard and Pécuchet, the titular characters in Flaubert’s unfinished novel, written over almost two decades, who, as Barba and Savarese’s doubles, discuss the facts and legends surrounding the actor’s material culture. The playfulness of the analogy of the two author pairs lies in the fact that the two Parisian scribes in Flaubert’s novel pursue sciences driven by a desire for encyclopaedic knowledge but are gradually led to realise how incomplete the answers to their questions in the textbooks are. The comic-ironic presence of these characters is a reminder of the need to avoid the classical seriousness of narratives on theatre-making, as well as the incompletability and humility of accumulating knowledge. It follows from the above that, in presenting the structure of this collage-like volume, we should respect the regular derailments of narrative logic, while establishing our dialogues with the events, places and people, traditions, myths and methods that the authors consider crucial, in Savarese’s words, “personal compasses.”7 The five continents and the five question words provide a structure around which the themes and the questions emerge: what are the changes in material conditions that have shaped theatrical performances from the beginning to the present day; how the economic and organisational aspects of public performance have changed; what is the role of patronage; how have payments, tickets and subscriptions changed; how have the audience and the performers travelled; how has advertising been introduced and used increasingly; what is the origin of box office practice and how it has changed; how experiments with theatrical space have affected the relationship between the performer and the spectator; how has the role of staging grown; how the design and construction of theatrical sets, lighting, make-up, props and costumes have evolved. By the material culture of the actor, therefore, the authors mean everything that the actor curious about the world surrounds himself with and that he interacts with: a theatre building, a candle, a handkerchief or a theatre telescope, as well as the events of world history. We must also see that in a volume organised around five question words, there are some ‘stories’ that clearly receive more attention. Throughout his oeuvre, Barba very consciously canonises the so-called Third Theatre, the ‘poor theatre’ movements that are organised outside the mainstream at the group level rather than within the institutional stone-built theatre and commercial entertainment theatre. He embraces theatre-makers in a state of political and social emergency, who are struggling, homeless, discriminated against, driven by the need to create professional theatre despite their difficulties, even at the risk of their lives. The two authors indeed select theatre companies, creators and theorists from five continents who have contributed to and/or played a significant role in the material development of theatre in places and situations less familiar to the reading public. Great passages from the writings of Rousseau, Baudelaire, Banu, Tolstoy, Lukianos, Goethe, Grotowski, Orwell, Appia, Artaud, Walter Benjamin, Brecht, Fuchs, Meyerhold, Suzuki, Mnouchkine, Isadora Duncan, Sarah Kane, among others. The fifth sub-chapter (Why?) titled The Little Anthology of Actor’s Honour contains columns on the exemplary and shocking (fate) stories of the theatre profession, such as the lives of Ira Aldridge, Josephine Baker, Ichikava Kumehachi, Abdias Nascimento, Meyerhold’s prison letters, suffragette actresses, the Soviet Gulag and the theatres of Nazi concentration camps. The sixth chapter features long pages of tiny thumbnails and (press) photographs, juxtaposing many of the defining historical and theatrical figures and events of the 20th and 21st centuries. This, for instance, juxtaposes masked figures from the most diverse places and eras in theatre history (from the ancient Greeks, Chinese, Vietnamese opera and Kathakali to Ivory Coast or to the clown Grock from Gibraltar) and the cover of The Economist, which featured a medical mask of Mao Tse-tung during the spread of SARS-CoV. There are also photos of protests by a number of rights groups where participants covered their faces with masks carrying important messages. Juxtaposed are ornate and burnt-down theatre buildings (such as the ruins of the National Theatre/People’s Theatre building in Blaha Lujza Square, Budapest),8 jubilees and heroes, victims, photographic documentation of the remembrance of crimes against nations and humanity. Portraits of Rosa Parks, Jan Palach and Thích Quảng Đức, and a photograph in prisoner’s clothing of Auschwitz-Buchenwald prisoner number 18,729, Józef Szajna, who later became an internationally renowned artist as Grotowski’s designer colleague. The volume, great not only in terms of Barba’s oeuvre and for art education, but also from the point of view of educating people to think, concludes with a sentence that may be read as the ars poetica of this publication: “I am sure that there will always be people – many or few, depending on the vicissitudes of history – who will cultivate theatre as a kind of bloodless guerrilla warfare, as a secret rebellion under the open sky, or as the prayer of an unbeliever. In this way, they will find ways to channel their separateness into an indirect path without turning it into destructive actions. They will experience the apparent contradiction of rebellion, and it will be transformed into brotherly love and a solitary vocation that creates bonds”.9 Sources Eugenio Barba–Nicola Savarese. 2020. A színész titkos művészete. Színházantropológiai szótár. Ford. Regős János, Rideg Zsófia. Budapest: Károli Gáspár Református Egyetem–L’Harmattan Kiadó. Jean-François Lyotard. 1993. „A posztmodern állapot.” In A posztmodern állapot. Jürgen Habermas, Jean-François Lyotard, Richard Rorty, ford. Bujalos István–Orosz László. Budapest: Századvég. W. J. T. Mitchell: „A képi fordulat.” Translated by Hornyik Sándor, Balkon, 2007/11–12. Timár András. 2021. „Eugenio Barba és Nicola Savarese: A színész titkos művészete. Színházantropológiai szótár.” Urania 1: 104–109. This review is based on the Hungarian translation of the English edition of Eugenio Barba-Nicola Savarese: The Five Continents of Theatre – Facts and Legends about the Material Culture (2017). The Hungarian edition will be published by the University of Theatre and Film Arts and is expected to be available in spring 2023. 1 This review is based on the English translation of the book. 2 W. J. T. Mitchell, The Pictorial Turn [A képi fordulat]. Transl. Sándor Hornyik, Balkon, 2007/11–12. 2–7. 3 The first caption on the opening page may as well be read as a motto for the digital native generation: “This book is a tree that sprouted from graves – and the Internet.” 4 Eugenio Barba–Nicola Savarese, A színész titkos művészete. Színházantropológiai szótár [The Secret Art of the Actor. Dictionary of the Anthropology of Theatre]. Transl. János Regős, Zsófia Rideg, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary–L’Harmattan Kiadó, Budapest, 2020. 5 Read more about the volume in András Tímár, Eugenio Barba–Nicola Savarese: A színész titkos művészete. Színházantropológiai szótár [The Secret Art of the Actor. Dictionary of the Anthropology of Theatre]. Uránia, December 2021, 104–109. 6 Quotation from the manuscript. 7 Quotation from the manuscript. 8 Quotation from the manuscript. 9 Quotation from the manuscript.
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Review of Ildikó Tamás:

Géza Balázs
Full text in PDF There is something in common in a child and a poet. And art often reinforces that. Think of children’s graffiti, Sándor Weöres’ doodle verses, or artistic endeavours that use graffiti. This “commonality” is best captured in creativity. The child and the poet move more freely in the world of language, less bound by rules. It is because a child learns the language with an internal, innate program and adapts it, rightly or wrongly, to the already set expectations of the environment, and the poet because he dares to go beyond the linguistic conventions he has already mastered. Perhaps the most striking phenomena of creativity and linguistic and visual expression are the surprises and “irregularities” offered by the new information technologies of our time. Ildikó Tamás, a linguist and ethnographer, has focused her attention primarily on children’s and youth folklore, but she also occasionally cites poetry as an example. The title of her book is “Adj netet” (Give me net) because, in her experience, this is the most frequently heard request for mobile net sharing in schools after the end of the lessons. In the past, in the same situation, it was probably said: “Give me a bite”, a taste of your food. When parents who are concerned about the internet dependence restrict their child’s use of the net and “the data run out”, children also use this request to ask for more time. Ildikó Tamás’ book explores the linguistic phenomena (genres) of children’s and students’ folklore, the characteristics of the creative groups (old and new genres, verbal literacy-written literacy, offline-online register shift, “meme culture”), and two key areas of the creative process: ethno-ethymology and gibberish. Method: anthropological-folkloristic, including observation and interview. The child lives mostly in a linguistic world shaped by themselves or by their parents, while the student is influenced by other community (school, college, group cohabitation), cultural (learning) and technological effects. The study of the culture and language of childhood is an old and rewarding task, because it was recognised early that the world and culture of the child is very specific, not necessarily the world of the adult simplified and reduced, but with its own rules and phenomena. The language world of a child is not merely a reproduction of the language spoken by adults, but has something of its own, something that is built up from within (from evolution and history). It is also a feature of children’s folklore. Research on the linguistic world of youth has so far been particular interesting in the field of group language (subcultural), and slang phenomena with another approach. However, for both age groups, little attention has been paid to the new linguistic folklore that has emerged as a result of modern, mainly technological, phenomena. For some time now, children have been born to the world of new technological devices. Even children who cannot read and write are now using smartphones, and are developing a way of communicating and using technology that they could not have learned from their parents. This phenomenon is similar to the learning of a mother tongue, where patterns are not the only factor. The ethnographer Vilmos Voigt, a teacher of many of us, recognised early on the problem of the survival and transformation of traditional folklore phenomena and predicted ‘technological folklore’. His 1983 study in Ethnography on the research of children’s folklore in Budapest is relevant for our topic. For the folklorist and the linguist, it is striking that a significant repertoire of texts has emerged which cannot be classified in traditional, fixed, unwittingly learned genre typologies. Ildikó Tamás has also taken note of these. A specific form of cultural transmission is paraphrasing or imitation, or even transcription (transcription of prayer texts). Mixed-medium, picture-text humour (graphic text, caricature, montage; today’s – incorrect – summary term: internet meme) is spreading. There are also the (absurd) ‘tall tales’ based around Chuck Norris (world karate champion and actor), reminiscent of tall tales. The absurd are a source of intellectual humour (“The coronavirus is not dangerous to the young, only to those who catch it”). The playful interpretation of foreign words and proper names is a well-known process. There are a remarkable number of jocular lists (e.g. nonsense occupations, Hungarian language features). There have been macaronisms (language mixes) in the past and still are today, e.g. in the past animal texts (Ton a lud atus > tonaludatusz), these days there are more English examples (This no all ~ pigsty), jibberish jargon (e.g. Big in Japan > bikicsunáj), foreign language imitators and interpreters (What is the name of the rich Dutch man? Stex van Boeven). Several people have been interested in antiproverbs (distorted proverbs). Pseudo-sentences are spreading. Real linguistic plays on words are the use of cyiasms (e.g. a traditional one: Nem mindegy, hogy mögöttem vagy nem öttem mög, (it doesn’t matter whether you’re behind me or not), and another: egyöntetű, (you are alouse). There is also intellectual humour in segmentation language games: For the one who lives on top of the tent, the bottom of the tent is a new place = Sátoraljaújhely). Everyone is enchanted by children’s mouth-texts (in fact, specific narrative language examples of children’s mother tongue learning, e.g. “I don’t know how old I am because it keeps changing”). There are also divinatory challenges today, reminiscent of divination. segmentation language games… Ildikó Tamás draws attention to a particular genre group, which is characterised by containing 5-7-9 etc. (brief) statements about something. It is a kind of collection, perhaps the closest to a sorting, listing designation. For example: book and film humour (e.g. Parents’ meeting: Final Countdown), one-line justifications for failed dates (e.g. The lawyer: not my type). Nowadays, it is mainly spreading on the internet through online journalism, but it used to be a popular genre in student newspapers. Its motivation may be space saving and the fact that people don’t like to read long, concise texts, but this outline is easy to read. Tamás Ildikó provides a very good introduction to the cento genre. Cento is a literary form (quotation, enumeration, elaboration) of literary works. There is nothing new under the sun so the list (cento) “deaths and crafts”, which is now circulating on the Internet, can be found word by word in the 1912 volume of the Magyar Nyelvőr (Nyelvi halálok (Deaths in Language), and in the book on page 69): “The tailor’s thread of life is broken. The gardener goes to paradise. The door of heaven opens for the doorman. The watchmaker strikes his last hour. The conductor reaches the last station. The Darwinist returns to his ancestors. The pen falls from the writer’s hand.” As it can be seen, there is a precedent for everything, because man is basically always the same. The chain letter described by Mihály Hoppál anticipates the texts to be forwarded (reproduced, shared); the memorial book, the manuscript booklet, the social media timeline; the wallpaper, the comic book, the Internet meme; the reader’s letter, the comment… Anti-proverbs or proverb-mixing is interspersed with an underlying meaning (the similar proverb) and becomes humorous. This is possible in some cases. But e.g. “pulls the wet sheet off” is, in my opinion, only humorous to someone who knows the source (puts the wet sheet on), and this is rare, because we hear similar mixes in the media every day, not intended to be humorous at all – which are then happily picked up by the press. (E.g. The cardinal question hangs over Hungary’s head.) The humorous nature of the new (hybrid) genres is striking. If it is humour, it is of course almost certainly student humour, because humour is not a feature of children’s folklore. Physical, action humour develops into adolescent humour (self-humour, abstract humour) after the age of 10 – if it develops, because we know people who are humourless (‘acidified’). It is possible to live without humour, but for some reason our age is very favourable to the spread of the types of humour. But why is there so much humour? Asks Ildikó Tamás. It is a good question. Humour has probably always existed, think of the laughter culture of the Middle Ages (Bahtyin), or the traditional Hungarian folklore forms of humour, from the naughty stories to anecdotes and jokes. We know that humour is therapeutic: it cures fear and is also a way of life and conflict management. Laughter is an age-appropriate characteristic; a form of resistance to the dominant and restrictive culture of adults (a phenomenon of rebellion, counterculture, vernacular authority). But the important, and partly unanswered, question remains: why is folklore ‘humourised’? The main characteristic of old and new folklore is its spread. Gossip is also a well-known medium for folklore. Fashion, as a cultural factor, is expressed in the form of group rituals of ‘enthusiasm’ in adolescence: badges, dress codes, and especially ‘accessory’ habits. An interesting and under-reflected observation is the infiltration of the world of the East: anime, martial arts, Korean (K) pop. A common interest of the folklorist and the linguist is the grammatical and semantic analysis of the textual repertoire. According to Ildikó Tamás, in children’s folklore, “rhythm and sound are much more important than the meaning of the text”, as is shown, for example, by the jibberish texts. How accurately this phenomenon echoes my introductory thought, since it is clear who likes to ‘gibberish’: children and poets. The other important observation is the research into the origins and etymology of children’s language texts, which gives us an insight into the world of earlier periods, cultural-linguistic and possibly sacral influences. And also, of changes. With reference to Piroska Tóth’s collection of urban (Budapest) children’s folklore, it is noticeable that images of rural life, of flora and fauna, are being displaced, thus also indicating an alienation from nature. Research into children’s and student folklore has already uncovered many linguistic treasures; new technologies offer even more opportunities for observation. What is this new medium? The boundaries of reality are blurring. Offline and online are merging, hybrid behaviour and communication (language?) are emerging. Many of the folklore phenomena have moved online, images, written and spoken content are merging, a new form of folklore (folklorism) has emerged, internet or e-folklore, but there is also the term newslore (a collective term for folklore works of various genres spreading through different channels). The common feature is distribution (e-mail, SMS, Facebook, Messenger, Viber). The author draws attention to certain narratives: I, when…, You know, when…, but, I might add, this elliptical beginning, for example, is very common: The feeling when…, even without an article: Feeling when… (it would be a full expression so: You also know the feeling when…). The author highlights the process of creation of gibberish and folk etymology. She notes that there is a lack of in-depth folkloric-linguistic study of gibberish, which is widespread throughout the world (i.e. in all linguistic cultures). Gibberish is a text without a specific meaning, but if it is artistically motivated, it is absurd (nonsense). Here too, child and poet meet. But it seems that gibberish is not quite gibberish either. Certain regularities can be detected in it. For example, phoneme sequences that imitate sounds, such as the stress on the deep vowels being greater. In other words, there is a kind of system to gibberish, words are built up from more phonetically motivated, expressive sound sequences. At first sight, the phonetic structure and possibly onomatopoeic emergence of the gibberish texts overrides the scholastic Saussurean tradition – that is, the notion of the obligatory arbitrariness of the linguistic sign. Yet it is indisputable that the linguistic sign is synchronistically arbitrary. Only we do not stress enough that it is purely synchronic. Because historically it is indisputably not. From a historical point of view, the linguistic sign is most certainly motivated, whether we realise it, or we don’t. But there is a latent, subconscious belief and desire in man that things are motivated, that something is what it is for something, so if we don’t know the reason, we will find a reason. We do this mainly with the help of folk etymology (folk etymology), and at a higher level, of course, we can also draw on the history of language, folklore, the concept of indexicality and iconicity in semiotics, and psychoanalytic linguistics, and, more recently, cognitive linguistics (echoing the effects of sound metaphor tests, as already suggested by Fónagy Iván in the 1950s, or the phenomenon of sound symbolism, often described by stylists). Folk etymology is an instinctive way of creating words, e.g. to facilitate pronunciation, but it can be more than that. As a psychoanalytic explanation, it is man’s eternal desire for meaning, and this is a real anthropological linguistic subject. I suppose that there is some kind of connection between language learning and sound imitating phonemes, that gibberish involves two moments (the playful instinct to play with language at the subconscious level and consciousness at a higher level); the gibberish may well have preserved relics (inclusions), so it is not futile to investigate them, but they may also lead nowhere, remaining indecipherable because they contain an ancient mode of language production that is inaccessible to our present logic. Béla Hamvas writes that man today has lost his sensitivity to symbolic vision and language, in other words, he does not understand the language of earlier times. But in us – in every human being – a kind of continuous motivation (aspiration, need, urge) for interpretation (folk etymology), and a system of rules of patterns, musical samples, principles of editing (thought patterns) operates unconsciously in every human being have still remained in us. This is also where (organic) misinterpretation appears, but there is also conscious, humorous misinterpretation. Nonsensical, absurd texts also appear on a higher level, as an artistic endeavour, especially in the avant-garde (Futurism, Dadaism, Lettrism, Weöres Sándor: “blind text”), the obvious reason for this being a kind of conscious return to language misuse. It is often asked whether children learn culture and language by imitating adults, by learning from them. For me – precisely on the basis of examples from folklore and language – it is clear that the child’s programme of culture and language acquisition (i.e. their innate nature) is a programme that offers broader possibilities and contexts than the specific cultural environment, and it is precisely these that are reflected in certain phenomena that cannot be explained by the culture in question. Children’s folklore, and with it children’s language, is the (hidden) collective unconscious in the Jungian sense, the world of current stimuli and contexts surrounding the child and the infinitely free creativity that it brings with it. Children’s folklore and children’s language are evidence of our all-humanity. Ildikó Tamás also refers to the continuation of this kind of research (which is not rootless in Hungarian culture), and I see great potential in this, especially if our disciplines do not retreat into ivory towers and closed professional frameworks. Her interesting, exciting book, with many examples of language, will be useful for those who want to know and understand the art of language better. Tamás Ildikó. 2022. „Adj netet!” Nyelvi, képi kifejezésmód és kreativitás a gyermek- és diákfolklórban. Budapest: Balassi Kiadó.
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