Creativity and the Cathartic Moment: Chaos Theory and the Art of Theatre [thesis]

Robert Brooks
This dissertation investigates the potential applications of the scientific paradigm known as "chaos theory" in the examination of dramatic theory. By illuminating the limitations of traditional Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry, chaos theory conveys philosophical implications that transcend the scientific and provide suitable tools for describing cultural and artistic phenomena. These implications include emphases on unpredictability, interaction and feedback, qualitative rather than
more » ... ntitative analyses, and a nonlinear, continuous, even holistic perspective of systems traditionally viewed as dichotomous (such as order and disorder or part and whole). This study examines several standard works of dramatic theory, concentrating on the relationship of the formal to the spontaneous in the creation of theatrical art and how chaos theory may provide a vocabulary for discussing intangible experiences (such as catharsis). Specific attention is given to Aristotle's Poetics. Dryden's "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," Coleridge's Bioctraphia Literaria, and Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double. The conclusions include an analysis of Richard Foreman's theatrical art and theories in the contexts of poststructuralism and postmodernism. The respective theoretical writings of the figures discussed in this dissertation each display attempts to i v Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. describe some sort of an ineffable, chaotic moment involving theatrical experience and/or creativity. This point alone brings no new insight to the works of these theorists. When examined through a framework of chaos theory, however, such emphasis on these moments reveals the central roles they play in the theorists' accounts of the creation and experience of the theatre event. In this light, the traditional distinctions between the theories of these four individuals collapse, revealing underlying commonalities in their analyses of the processes and effects of theatrical art. Chaos theory, therefore, promises to offer a common foundation for speaking about the creation and reception of theatrical art. Although each theorist will experience a different perception of "nature," they will nevertheless observe the same similar patterns and chaotic moments of creation at work underneath it all. The same will be true in creation and perception of art, thus overcoming the poststructuralist lack of foundation and the postmodern impasse to meaning that limits contemporary theory. v Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. Chapter One: Introduction to Chaos Theory and Its Implications for the Art of Theatre Since Aristotle, dramatic theorists in the Western tradition have derived formal systems which seek to account for the perfect theatrical moment. This moment has been approached from various vantage points and described in sometimes conflicting terms; theorists have invoked a wide range of phenomena (i.e., catharsis, communitas, intellectual insight, various affective experiences, etc.) in their attempts at explanation. Indeed, this moment has proven to be the fascination of theorists through the ages. It has also proven something of an irritant, however, by causing thinkers much consternation in their efforts to determine and in some measure qualify the often elusive aspects of such a moment. A central problem theorists have encountered in their attempts to understand the experience of the theatre event stems from the basically mimetic orientation of Western theatre, which seeks to represent nature, especially human nature, onstage by appealing to an unchangeable order. Rooted in the linear, reductionist constructions of figures such as Aristotle, Descartes, and Newton, theorists have often praised those systems, rules, and styles which codify human experience and construct nature through fixed operations and principles of regularity. At the same time, many of these theorists have also 1 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. acknowledged the presence (and even necessity) of certain intangible elements which defy calibration, whether it be the genius or inspiration of the creative artist or the catharsis or revelation of the spectator. Such elements, which may not be evoked with consistency or accounted for by systematic formulation, have also been relegated to the domain of nature--natural talent, natural reaction, gut instinct, intuition, etc.--though this sort of nature implies another set of qualities and characteristics. In essence, Western intellectuals have long grappled with two very different views of nature: 1) the nature of consistency, which conforms to the physical, aesthetic, and moral schema constructed by human will and logic, and 2) the nature that occasionally (sometimes often) confounds systematic interpretation, apparently behaving according to its own mysterious and seemingly arbitrary rules. The problem in art and philosophy, therefore, arises in attempts to reconcile these two views of nature. Systems of the former view of nature have thus far failed consistently to account for and, especially, predict the observable phenomena of the latter type of nature. Does the perfect system remain to be discovered, or must these two views of nature fail to converge through their very definitions? This study will address the constantly changing relationship between the formal and the natural, the tangible and the intangible in the art of theatre, 2 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. employing the scientific paradigm known as "chaos theory" as a tool for examination and comparison. Not surprisingly, scientific views of nature have led to problems quite analogous to those inherent in the views of nature propounded by art and philosophy. Euclidean geometry, Cartesian coordinates, and Newtonian dynamics provide methods for describing the ideal realms of triangles, parabolas, and closed systems, but fail to account for the shapes and motions of mountains, trees, and waterfalls. Although the above examples again imply two different views of nature, scientists prior to the twentieth century dismissed apparent conflicts between the two as "noise" resulting from either experimental error or the non-ideal (non-laboratory) conditions of the "real" world. With the turn of the twentieth century, however, developments such as relativity and quantum mechanics began to expose the limitations of the essentially linear and mechanistic scientific view of nature often referred to today as the Newtonian paradigm. Even more recently, with the advent of computer technology and the mercuric ability to perform lengthy reiterative calculations that would take a lifetime to complete by hand, the nonlinear aspects of nature formerly dismissed as noise were shown to have their own underlying characteristics and laws, or more accurately, order. Such revelations, among numerous others, formed the basis of the current scientific Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 4) The word "deterministic" is employed to describe mathematically simple systems. Such systems contain only a few differential equations that do not directly suggest chaotic behavior. In addition, all of the mathematical terms of the equations are known, or "determined." Although more complex systems also behave according to chaos theory, the discovery that apparently simple, ordered systems exhibit complexity and unpredictability provided one of the revelations that has made this field so exciting to modern researchers. In fact, Edward Lorenz's discovery that the simple, "deterministic" equations that govern the behavior of the weather could yield instability resulted in his coining of the term: "the butterfly effect" (Kellert 10-12). 5) Nonlinear dynamical systems are sets of mathematical differential equations that describe how a system changes through time and contain one or more nonlinear terms. The time-dependent (dynamical) equations employed by Lorenz in his modeling of the weather contain nonlinear terms. The presence of nonlinear terms often means that the equations may not be solved numerically, but, as mentioned above, other often more illuminating, information may be obtained through qualitative approaches. The discovery that a great number of mathematically ordered systems display unpredictable behavior has resulted in a parallel revelation that much more of the 6 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. universe operates according to the laws of chaos and complexity than was previously believed. The more linear, mechanized, and essentially causal view of science advocated by the Newtonian paradigm actually proves to be the exception, rather than the rule, when gazing through the lens of chaos theory. James Gleick describes the impact of this relatively new mode of observation in the prologue to his book, Chaos: Now that science is looking, chaos seems to be everywhere. A rising column of cigarette smoke breaks into wild swirls. A flag snaps back and forth in the wind. A dripping facet goes from a steady pattern to a random one. Chaos appears in the behavior of the weather, the behavior of an airplane in flight, the behavior of cars clustering on an expressway, the behavior of oil flowing in underground pipes. No matter what the medium, the behavior obeys the same newly discovered laws. That realization has begun to change the way business executives make decisions about insurance, the way astronomers look at the solar system, the way political theorists talk about the stresses leading to armed conflict. ( 5 ) Because of the diversity of its potential applications, Gleick views chaos theory as an holistic approach that will ultimately lead to a unification of the various scientific disciplines. But what do the disparate phenomena cited by Gleick share in common, besides the unpredictability which inherently results from Kellert's definition of chaos theory? An answer to this question lies in still another of the revolutionary discoveries that may be attributed to chaos theory concerning systems which behave Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
doi:10.31390/gradschool_disstheses.6721 fatcat:zgusu57affaobnggqlw5cmmdae