Unreal Nature

October 16, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:01 am

… An acrobat overcomes space with a leap … just as Orestes overcomes love for his mother in the name of rage for his father.

This is from Knight’s Move by Viktor Shklovsky (2005):

… Every art has its structure — that which transforms its material into something artistically experienced.

This structure finds its expression in various compositional devices: in rhythm, phonetics, syntax and plot. A device is something that transforms non-aesthetic material, imbuing it with form, into a work of art.

As far as the circus is concerned, things are going rather strangely. Its performances can be divided as follows: first, the farcical-theatrical section (with clowns); second, the acrobatic section; third, animal performances — artistically structured only in its first section.

Neither the snake man nor the strong man lifting heavy objects nor the bicyclist looping the loop, nor the animal trainer putting his well-pomaded head into the lion’s jaws, nor the trainer’s smile not the lion’s physiognomy — none of this is art and yet we perceive the circus as art, as no different from Annenkov’s heroic theater.

… But in circus action there is always something common: circus action is difficult.

It is difficult to lift weights; it is difficult to bend like a snake; it is horrible, that is, also difficult, to put your head in a lion’s jaws.

Without difficulty there is no circus; therefore, in the circus the artistic work of the acrobats under a dome is more artistic than the work of those acrobats in the parterre, though their movements were both in the first and in the second instances absolutely identical.

… Making it difficult — that is the circus device. Therefore, [even] if in the theater artificial things — cardboard chains and balls — were routine, the spectator at the circus would be justifiably indignant if it turned out that the weights being lifted by the strong man weighed less than what was written of on the poster. Theater has other devices at its disposal than simple difficulty; therefore it can get along without it.

… One of the types of difficulty connected in literature with plot-breaking occurs when the hero, for example, gets himself into difficult situations through the struggle between the feeling of love and duty. An acrobat overcomes space with a leap, the animal trainer overcomes a wild beast with a glance, the weightlifter overcomes weight with strength, just as Orestes overcomes love for his mother in the name of rage for his father. And in this lies the kinship between heroic theater and the circus.

Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879 [detail]

My most recent previous post from Shklovsky’s book is here.




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