Martin Puchner, one of the co-authors of Anthology of Western Literature 9th Edition, is a philosopher and literary critic and currently is the chair of drama and Comparative English at Harvard University. Known for his various works on modern and contemporary society, he emphasizes on the role of actors in every single society and how these roles are intertwined; dependency in the modern and contemporary society. The paper expounds on modernism inside and outside the theatre is as a result of conscious and deliberate actions taken by residents in the 18th and 19th Century.
Martin Puchner mainly focuses on drama and mostly closet drama, a practice started back in the late Eighteenth Century. A closet drama is a play that is not intended to be performed on stage. It usually addresses the issues affecting the people and typically it does not require stage techniques or to be impoverished by a character. In itself, the play is alive and the message is communicated in a soliloquy by a single reader (Puchner, 2005; pg52). Highly though to be a product of script writers that could not develop a character properly; it lacked luster. Conversely Puchner discovered that these closet dramas were sometimes not enacted because most of the writers in the eighteenth century were women and they were not allowed to write plays and consequently hid behind closet dramas. They were also marked the beginning of a movement, a revolution, which would later on change the way in which scripts were dramatized on stage. This led him to research more and accumulate a wealth of details and information from the closet dramas that answer many age old questions about the aforementioned period.
He also focuses on modernism in the theatre especially in most of his writings where he rejects the notion of the enlightenment age and advocates for people to accept changes in the society as a result of changes in time. He rejects realism because it employs the incorporation of past experiences to come up with a future. He believes that art can be used to propel the society to a better and more advanced future through freedom of expression and teaching one another. He also advocates for literacy manifesto which can be used as a philosophical declaration of one’s personality and how his strong attributes can be used to better the world of art and drama. He focuses on previously written literature that was an art manifestos that were meant to awaken the mind and have a revolutionary effect. These manifestos would address wide and yet personal issues like religion and it role in the society, capitalism versus communism and gender dominance and role. They would also focus on the challenges and problems people faced as a product of their misgivings and lack of being assertive. He also focuses on manifestos by renowned revolutionists that were known to express their ideas and fight for their rights regardless of the position taken by the society or the cultural norms.
In 2005 he wrote on Karl Marx: the Communist Manifesto and other writings where he does a comparative analysis between what was written by Marx in the eighteenth century and how it seems like a prophesy yet it was just an analysis of capitalism that has been proven right. He focuses on the need to have social classes that require there to be those that have, termed as bourgeoisie by Karl Marx, and the have nots, known as the proletariats. Marx stated that the bourgeoisie will always seek to oppress the proletariats by ensuring that the wages are kept low and that the means of production are not easy to get. This explains the reason as why the elites in the society are few while those struggling are more.
Marx advocates for communism and states that capitalism has a seed of its own destruction as the workers will rise and take charge; this is evident from the constant strikes and riots that workers engage in as a way of defending their rights and speaking against oppression. Even though communism failed in the former USSR and led to the collapse of the union, capitalism is not successful either and Puncher focuses on how the contemporary has dismantled the roots of capitalism and the need to change is being felt globally. With increase in technology and new needs arising, ownership of means of production is not the only thing one requires to be a bourgeoisie, information and proper network is equally significant.
During the time when Karl Marx wrote on capitalism versus communism, it was during the industrial revolution when the people employed in the industries were oppressed and made to work under very questionable working conditions. Marx saw that the people had accepted to suffer because they had been brain washed that the industries was the best they can ever get (Puchner, 2002: pg4). The revolutionary writings of Marx opened the eyes of very many people to seek to find their own “means of production and not be over-dependent on the bourgeoisie”. Puchner focuses on the times and what was being experienced and concludes that it’s the same problem that the current employees are facing today; conversely he notes that the current employees have an added advantage of improved technology.
During the time when Karl Marx wrote on capitalism, the failure of communism was not evident and it is understandable that the option of communism seemed as the sole solution to the evils of capitalism. It is also understandable that Karl Marx believed that people would riot, rise and take over the means of production from the bourgeoisie; however he does not put into consideration the aspect of law and order.
Puncher in his book, Stage Fright: Modernism, anti-theatricality and drama, he focuses on the differences between the avant-garde theatre and the modernism theatre. The avant-garde theatre was a form of rebellion from the bourgeoisie theatre that strictly practiced opera music (Puchner: Poetry of the Revolution). There was need to have more action on stage and interaction with the audience, the avant-garde was consequently an experimental theatre. Conversely with time there was need to change the ways of the experimental theater to a modernized theatre. The rift between the two, led to the emergence of closet theatre meant not be recited and not dramatized (Puchner, 2005: pg67). Puchner terms it as the beginning of difference in creativity in the world of theatre, and this was consequently followed by a revolution that led to changes in performances in theaters as from the mid-19th Century.
The changes in theater performance and dramatizing are well captured by Puchner, where he illustrates the struggles that script writers had to go through in the 18th C just to get their work looked at. The bureaucracy limited the level of creativity to be revealed on stage. During the time, the theater was not for entertainment but for teaching people and thus the script had to relevant to the specific audience it targeted (Puchner1, 2002: pg 76). Anti-theatrical movements were meant to ensure that rules did not limit the growth of talent, conversely the theatre was too rigid to acceptance of changes and this led to a decline in scripts and closet dramas emerged. This was a way of rejecting the then theatre by the artists and seeking for alternative ways to showcase their talent (Puchner,2 2002). If it wasn’t for the actions of the artists in the early 19th C, the current theatre would not be what is now; it was a product of assertive actions, sacrifice and consistency in seeking to have what the artists believed was right.
In conclusion, Puchner can be considered as a 21st C revolutionist as he uses the experiences from his predecessors like Karl Marx and the closet script writers to create a movement that will advance the role of drama, theatricals and modernism in the theatre. In his book, he asserts that stage fright is not a real fear but a precondition that was trying to be set in the minds of artists that were going against the norms and they would in turn fail to perform. The theatre comes alive when creativity is allowed to flow without; it is a place where expression should be allowed and a source of entertainment as well as a tool for teaching.