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Memory, Mimesis, Tragedy: The Scene Before Philosophy
Paul A. Kottman
“Life is the non-representable origin of representation.” —Jacques Derrida

The historical complicity of Greek tragedy with the emergence of the Athenian polis has interested political thinkers and classicists alike for some time.1 Among classicists, this interest has tended to manifest itself either in an analysis of particular dramatists;2 or certain thematic, conceptual, or linguistic patterns within individual tragic works.3 In short, the political stakes of the theatre have derived from the exegetical analysis of the theatrical works themselves in relation to their context of origin.4 The predominance that this sort of exegesis continues to enjoy is due not only to the philological care and attention with which classicists, especially, tend to proceed but also to a tendency to understand the dramatic work itself (both the textual artifact, and whatever the archives retain of its context of origin) as the repository of political or social meaning. And this means, consequently, that the political nature of tragedy is implicitly regarded by such a methodology as an effect of the mimetic character of the

Paul A. Kottman is Assistant Professor of English at SUNY Albany, and Adjunct Professor of Performance Studies at New York University. He is currently revising his first book, tentatively entitled Between Actors and Witnesses: A Politics of the Scene. His recent publications include the Introduction to Relating Narratives, by Adriana Cavarero, and articles on Shakespeare and literary theory that have appeared in Shakespeare Studies and The Oxford Literary Review.

1 See, as a start, Karen Hermassi, Polity and Theater in Historical Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), and J. Peter Euben, ed., Greek Tragedy and Political Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), and The Tragedy of Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); some of the essays in John Winkler and Froma Zeitlin, ed., Nothing to Do With Dionysus?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). 2 See, for example, Charles Segal’s work on Euripides. I will return to Segal later in this article. 3 One might think, for example, of the various political readings of Antigone over the past thirty years or of Froma Zeitlin’s and Nicole Loraux’s work on gender, myth, and ritual in the Greek context. 4 For a good account of the German roots of this philological methodology, as well as its relation to more archaeological approaches to interpretations of Greek tragedy, see Simon Goldhill, “Modern Critical Approaches to Greek Tragedy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy, ed. P. E. Easterling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 324–48. Even the most philosophically inclined classicists tend to insist upon the exegetical character of their labor. Notably, Jean-Pierre Vernant has offered a number of eloquent and convincing defenses of careful contextual analysis of classical Greek works. See especially Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Greek Tragedy: Problems of Interpretation,” in The Structuralist Controversy, ed. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1970), 273–95.

Theatre Journal 55 (2003) 81–97 © 2003 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

25. it was precisely in order to assert a political sense for tragedy—over and against Plato’s banishment of the tragedians in the Republic—that Aristotle defined tragedy in the Poetics as mimeseos praxis. from Arendt’s perspective. it may be helpful to recall that already with Aristotle. for it is precisely the interaction that adheres in speaking and action among a plurality that opens the space of the polis. the terms mimesis and mimetic can hardly be Hannah Arendt. what makes the theatre political. 188. see Jacques Taminiaux. 8 Arendt. as Jacques Taminiaux has demonstrated. tran.” in The Thracian Maid and the Professional Thinker (Albany: State University of New York Press. Hannah Arendt. rather it is the fact that tragedy “imitates” “man in his relation to others. 9 See Aristotle. 89– 121. 1998). 179–89. 7 Hannah Arendt. only there is the political sphere of human life transposed into art. declared that “the theater is the political art par excellence. poetic work. “From Aristotle to Bios Theoretikos and Tragic Theoria. as the philosophical tradition since Plato defines it? Before addressing these questions myself. for Plato. 1449b. I take the phrase “pre-philosophical” from Hannah Arendt’s The Life of Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace.9 For unlike the mimeseos en ontos which. one is thus left to wonder: does the political essence of the theatre arise from a pre-philosophical theatrical experience as such? Or. the political essence of the theatre arises from its “pre-philosophical” presentation of human affairs. Poetics. The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. For this reason. 1997). The Human Condition. 188.7 Thus.’’ Arendt simply means that the theatre is an experience of speech and action as pure actuality. The Human Condition.”5 For Arendt. or does it adhere in the scene of action?—is a problem that is inscribed in Aristotle’s agon with Plato over the term mimesis itself. Stephen Halliwell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. For an excellent discussion of Arendt’s views on action and the theatre. in an exemplary and influential discussion of the origins of tragedy. 129–40.6 By “pre-philosophical. The determination of tragedy as first and foremost a mimetic work in turn reduces the political essence of tragedy to the legible features of this or that production. the theatre—like the praxis it imitates—is also prepolitical.10 It is therefore important to note that the debate over how to account for the political essence of tragedy—is it a function of the mimetic. 6 5 . Indeed. Among political thinkers. one finds significant resistance to the Platonic definition of tragedy as poetic production (poiesis) or mimeseos en ontos. Given these seemingly contradictory approaches to the problem. based on mere appearances that lead its audience astray from the onto-theological order of Ideas—Aristotle sought to orient the theatre toward praxis. does the political nature of theatrical experience come from the mimetic or imitative quality of the dramatic work. Indeed. 10 See note 5. and others. Arendt’s take on tragedy might be read as a partial recuperation of Aristotle’s rejoinder to Plato. 1971). made the theatre a poetic production or work. Kottman dramatic work. 1958).”8 Put simply. the situation is perhaps more complex. it is the relationality of the scene that lends the theater its political sense. in Arendt’s view. is not the imitative or mimetic quality of the work as such.82 / Paul A. This is why. through which each actor reveals “who” s/he is by speaking and acting among others.

“Problems of Early Greek Tragedy. 14 See Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones. so unsettled were the Athenians by what they saw that they were reduced to weeping. 230–33. . emphasis mine. as far as is known. having outlined the problem of how to relate the theatre to politics in a broad—albeit cursory—fashion. 67. The Histories. for when Phrynichus produced his Fall of Miletus. 352. 109–38. Aubrey de Selincourt (New York: Penguin Books. for it may become clear along the way that the parameters of the ancient debate itself can be shifted. showed their profound distress at the loss of Miletus in a number of ways. It is not my intention here to rehearse Aristotle’s riposte to his teacher in any detail. Plato and Aristotle on Poetry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. which I would like to bear in mind throughout this essay. or distant legend.” in The Academic Papers of Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press. not simply imitative or representational) political essence of theatrical experience—one which would be irreducible to the mimetic work. and the author was fined a thousand drachmae for reminding them of a disaster which touched them so closely [hos anamnesanta oikeia kaka]. but in none so clearly than in their reception of Phrynichus’ play. I would like to consider another way in which to articulate a “pre-philosophical” (i. I have in mind primarily Plato’s use of mimesis in Republic X.14 Rather. Aristotle’s Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 331–36. it has already been the topic of numerous studies. 1987). and adhere in the living scene as such—by returning to an ancient anecdote. one can hardly hope to offer anything like a final solution. 13 See William Ridgeway. and Stephen Halliwell. 15 Herodotus. 74–88. 1966). Around 493 BCE one of the very first works of Greek tragedy—The Fall of Miletus by the tragic poet Phrynichus—was staged in Athens only two years after the events with which it dealt actually occurred. Malcolm Heath. 1986). 1986).” Eranos 86 (1988): 15–16.11 Nor am I interested in taking sides in order to simply privilege Aristotle’s views over those of Plato. The timeline at the end of Easterling’s The Cambridge Companion lists Phyrnichus’ Fall of Miletus as the first tragedy on record.e. 66. where I use them in what follows. See also. the audience in the theater burst into tears. 366. 12 For more on the date. The Fall of Miletus was certainly 11 Two good places to start are: Gerald Else. Indeed. 1966). “On Phrynichos’ Sack of Miletus and Phoinissai. the first surviving report of the earliest performance of a tragedy of which we are informed. Instead. and in so doing both brought about and confirmed this living recollection.12 No script of the play is extant. The Poetics of Greek Tragedy (London: Duckworth. Given the history and character of the problem. I would like to approach it from another perspective.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 83 used in any univocal way. A law was subsequently passed forbidding anybody ever to put the play on stage again. In this spirit. The Origin of Tragedy (New York: Benjamin Bloom. 1990). . see Joseph Roisman.15 While this account is.13 The play was therefore received not as a representation of a familiar myth. . Herodotus provides the following account of the audience’s reaction to the performance: The Athenians . the play presented something that the audience members themselves remembered. tran. but it appears to have been a theatrical representation of a military defeat that the Milesians suffered at the hands of the Persians.

17 Thus. or instilled some moral. .16 Phrynichus himself returned to historical material about fifteen years later with The Phoenician Women (476?) and Aeschylus’ The Persians (472). according to Herodotus. Joseph Roisman has suggested that this “interpretation of the Phrynichus affair in terms of the politics of the time has proved unsatisfactory . the term katharsis would require a more lengthy interpretation than can be provided here. hardly surprising to find an audience weeping at the close of a tragedy.or anti. ed. additionally. 350–57. nor do the tears seem to result primarily from the mimetic force of Phrynichus’ play. is the specific interaction of the scene as such. is the way in which the tears described by Herodotus do not appear to be a manifestation of katharsis. that the audience wept because they were simply affected emotionally by what they saw. The obvious difference between The Fall of Miletus and these later historical plays. Aristotle’s Poetics. between the Athenians’ memory of the catastrophe and their tears. they may have been anything but spontaneous.” 233–38). while the ban came later. also see Jonathan Lear’s contribution to Essays on Aristotle’s Poetics. Rather. nothing was learned from Phrynichus’ play. . since the act of weeping spontaneously occurred on the scene itself. it seems that their lamentation was the result of a shared recollection of a suffering that was theirs—oikeia 16 For more on the authority of Herodotus’ account. of course. is the fact that the latter did not (as far as is known) lead to this sort of weeping. For a good overview of the problem.” 16– 17. 18 Obviously. the oldest extant work of tragedy. it didn’t appear to have educated.Persian in tone and message” (“On Phrynichos’ Sack. ed. Evidently the lamentation was not kathartic. nothing is known of the play to indicate whether it was pro. for the tears that resulted from the performance of The Fall of Miletus are not reducible solely to the effect of its “imitation of action” let alone to the plot or script of Phrynichus’ play. 315–40. Although it is true that Herodotus says that this reminder then led to the ban and fine. This may seem a counter-intuitive way to proceed.” 16). I would like to focus on the scene of the actual performance that Herodotus describes: namely. Kottman not the only play of its time to represent historical events within living memory. “On Phrynichos’ Sack. 109–32. 17 Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones has suggested that the ban and fine were imposed because of “an event connecting Phrynichus with the archon Themistocles. Andrew Ford. Indeed. however. portrayed the defeat of the Persians at Salamis in 484. I would like to focus instead upon the more immediate connection. 7. of course. Parker and Eve Sedgwick (New York: Routledge Press. My interest here. the way a contemporary audience might be affected by a play about the Second World War. see Stephen Halliwell. according to Herodotus. Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (Princeton: Princeton University Press. In any event. already a certain revision of Aristotle’s account of tragedy in the Poetics is in order. given how little we know about the actual motives for the fine and the ban. rather. It is. A. see Joseph Roisman. I shall be more concerned in what follows with the weeping of the Athenians than with the fine and the ban that were subsequently imposed.84 / Paul A. 1992). What is striking.18 Nor does it seem. However.” who wanted the Athenians to prepare for war against the Persians (“Problems. instructed. . the performance of The Fall of Miletus and the tears produced by the reminder of catastrophe. 1995).” in Performativity and Performance. the ban and fine—like most acts of censorship—may likely have had motives that extend far beyond the performance of Phyrnichus’ play itself. The fine came next. given that the ban and the fine have received the most attention from readers of Herodotus’ account. especially n. “Katharsis: The Ancient Problem. their authors were not fined and the plays were not banned. for the moment. manifested on the scene described by Herodotus.

19 But then.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 85 kaka. by relying upon Herodotus’ testimony we can see clearly that the scene itself— the actual enactment of the play and spontaneous weeping that followed—is ultimately irreducible to the work that was performed. finite relation of the spectatorship—for it is this shared memory that. This is not simply due to the fact that such historical tragedies gained wider acceptance among the Athenians. Moreover I would like to suggest that this makes possible an analytical distinction. The memory in question is. we ourselves might hesitate before blaming the tears exclusively on the play or dramatic work itself. Indeed. it is possible to glimpse an effect of tragedy that differs markedly from the way in which theatrical experience gets described by Plato and Aristotle more than a century later. “after a perhaps tactful interval of fifteen years or so” and after the defeat of the Persians themselves in 480–479. Apparently the tears were the manifestation of a lived recollection of a traumatic event. What is decisive in Herodotus’ account is not the work by the poet Phrynichus. descriptions which have characterized thinking about the theatre ever since. or even one hundred years after Phrynichus’ death. before a different group of spectators. not result in an identical reaction were it performed elsewhere. But this “imitation of action” in and of itself would. That is to say. the tears had to do precisely with the uniqueness of that audience. not an individual or private recollection of a psychic injury or trauma—but rather a shared. therefore.19 Rather. unrepeatable and un-representable—and therefore “pre-philosophical” scene—the features of which are irreducible to the work that is performed. The Cambridge Companion. Phyrnichus. Clearly. the play “reminded them” [anamnesanta] of what they already remembered. distinguishes them from all other potential audiences of the play. At the very dawn of the Western theatrical tradition. The term “memory” therefore needs to be understood in this context as designating an essential part of the singular. Were Phrynichus’ play performed today. That is to say. a memory that of course died with the people who bore it. Thus. although Phrynichus was fined and the play censored. 24–25. according to Herodotus’ account. to any archival content or remnant that could survive the lives of those on the scene. Herodotus is describing a highly unusual scene. but rather the scene of its singular performance as it is recounted by the historian. “something bad that touched home”. Phrynichus’ production no doubt “imitated a complete action” (to use Aristotle’s definition) that called to mind something that those Athenians who saw it wished to forget. the point here is not simply that Phrynichus or the archon Themistocles failed to make the material palatable to the audience—although it is true that. or at another time. and then Aeschylus were able to stage historical dramas successfully. public. which I will try to elaborate in what follows.” in Easterling. between the scene and the work. what Herodotus’ description of the scene makes clear above all else is the singularity of this relation among witnesses. what would explain the fact that “no known Greek tragedy after Aeschylus’ Persians dealt with a contemporary theme centered on historical events”? See Paul Cartledge. “‘Deep Plays’: Theatre as Process in Greek Life. nor the form or content of the theatrical oeuvre. weeping from a shared memory would be an unlikely result. it may be possible to discern a singular. . again. in large part. mortal memory of a “catastrophe” [kaka]. of course.

nor shall I attempt to analyze the particular mode of its performance. I cannot hope to offer an account of Herodotus’ testimony that would derive from our current understanding of Greek tragedy in its context. a unique polity—or potential community. I would want to proceed with a methodology that differs somewhat from that of classicists who interpret Greek drama based upon textual traces from the period and the philological or social contexts of the plays themselves. provides a certain window of opportunity. Their shared remembrance of the capture of Miletus itself is what distinguishes them from any other potential audience and what makes their reaction so singular. the occasion for a critical and methodological purchase. to consider the theatrical experience of the scene itself. De legibus I. or. in that they collectively recalled the events recounted by Phrynichus’ play upon seeing it performed. Kottman In this spirit. This singularity is in fact what Herodotus’ account of the scene leads us to consider. the “father. the memory was already in the hearts of those Athenians well before they attended that ill-fated performance. . or text. and not the spectacle. I shall not begin with an exegesis of Phrynichus’ play itself. in this case. prior to the performance. Or. is possible. according to Cicero. It may seem somewhat disingenuous to take advantage of that fact. 1995. for example. rather than simply imparting facts or focusing on the events themselves. For. Indeed.86 / Paul A. The Fall of Miletus was what we might call a reminder that triggered this remembrance—but it was not itself fully responsible for it. for the context of the memory of the original battle is illegible and irretrievable. While this paucity of information might generate some frustration. 55. De oratore II. C. since.21 It is the spectatorship. We do not learn how Phrynichus’ play was performed. which is decisive here. it is here something of a bonus. 20 Obviously. it produces a state of affairs in which one is forced. As a result. as it were. even if the play were extant. That is to say. better. Berkeley in the Fall. interestingly. Herodotus’ narration stands. rather. or what in the actors’ speech or gesture would have been particularly unwelcome to the Athenians. after all. the fact that there is no extant script of Phyrnichus’ play gives me an excuse to “refuse” to read it. Rather. But in this case. as distinct from the play or work. creates memorable scenes through sophisticated narrative techniques. we are not reading the play itself—but rather trying to come to terms with Herodotus’ testimony regarding one particular scene. for it becomes clear that the tears of those Athenians confirmed their collective recollection of the original battle. In fact. for it is of those who constituted a community of witnesses. White suggested that Herodotus. Of course. one would hardly like to rejoice in the loss or destruction of a play. For my purposes the point is not to debate the extent to which a comprehensive reading of a play by Sophocles. 21 Cicero. one might begin to look for ways in which the possibility of such understanding is perhaps put into question by the anecdote Herodotus provides.20 Such an analysis would be impossible anyway. through Herodotus’ testimony. it is that particular spectatorship which is decisive. Herodotus himself gives us little to go on. I take my cue here as well from a lecture on Herodotus given by Hayden White at U. Rather. but rather with the reaction of the Athenians. since no copy of the play’s script is extant. in contrast to the sort of historical discourse of which he is. the very lack of the work. it is as if Herodotus intuitively grasped that the significance of the scene lay not in the performance as such. the fact that an audience today would most likely not react in the same manner means that those Athenians were already. Nevertheless. 5.” since his focus is not so much on what happened but rather on the lived scene of that happening. I would simply note that—in the case of Herodotus’ account of Phrynichus.

Aeschylus’ The Persians.” 26 Such differences could be characterized in any number of ways. which makes Rosenbloom’s argument all the more pertinent for the passage in question here (“On Phrynichos’ Sack. class. extant example of a tragedy whose subject matter was within the living memory of its audience? In a sense. 23 Roisman.26 This is. 198. to the content or the form of Phrynichus’ work—and that Aeschlyus’ play succeeded. Vernant. “the relation between the inside and the outside of the city. in the period in question (478–456 BCE). at the very least. “Myth. The Human Condition. History and Hegemony in Aeschylus. 25 It has been suggested that the Athenians wept not just out of memory. 102.” 18–19. which is an entire. “On Phrynichos’ Sack. therefore. there is no evidence to support such a view. In fact. again. at some level. On the contrary.” in History. it could be objected that my choice of Phrynichus’ The Fall of Miletus is somewhat disingenuous. but rather to focus on the scene of one particular performance. what “one’s own” means here is very much in question. Indeed pursuing these questions presupposes that the tears produced by The Fall of Miletus can be attributed. as “a kind of organized remembrance. 22 See David Rosenbloom. 24 Arendt. Now. what defines their relationship is not something that could be abstracted from. the very fact that the Athenians could identify themselves so strongly with the Milesians. this is borne out of a close reading of Herodotus’ own account—in which the nature of the recollection itself (hos anamnesanta oikeia kaka) hinges upon how one reads oikeia kaka. And admittedly.25 Or better. “their own catastrophe. “On Phrynichos’ Sack. rather. the polis emerges here. Barbara Goff (Austin: University of Texas Press. but in anticipation of a similar disaster. ed. it arises from the living confirmation—the actual relation—of a shared remembrance made possible by the scene.23 Rather.”24 Put simply. What about.” 17–18). See. again. 1995). Theory. Roiseman. any comparison of the two ought to begin by asking why the earlier work was banned and its author fined. or blood-ties. such that the Milesians’ catastrophe (kaka) refers “to the Athenians’ own troubles and misfortunes. precisely. I would like to refrain from pursuing them here since my aim is not to analyze the works themselves. while the later work won first prize at the festival? What was it that made The Fall of Miletus so disagreeable in comparison to the well-received Persians? Interesting as they are.” As David Rosenbloom points out. what defines and distinguishes that spectatorship of Athenians from all other potential (or actual) spectatorship of the play is the remembrance they shared. or that is foreign to. with a scene wherein the political identity of the participants is not simply defined through a pre-existing membership. to borrow Arendt’s phrase. Tragedy. however. However. or national affiliation—although those attributes clearly play a role here—nor through anything that they might have in common outside remembering the fall of Miletus and witnessing its theatrical representation. that the conflation of memory and political belonging are very much at stake here.” underscores the extent to which the polity—in its emergent form—is defined not by fixed borders. given both its peculiar content and the fact that the text did not survive. between oikeia and allotria” was undergoing a kind of transformation. the scene itself. allegiances. as it were. because of some discernable difference between the works themselves. they make a natural pair.22 Indeed. Roisman points out that oikeia is “patently contrasted” with allotria throughout Herodotus. in contrast to their . suggests that the events presented by Aeschylus were not regarded by the Athenians. for example. and their ability to confirm that remembrance to one another.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 87 We are dealing. a close reading of Herodotus’ own text appears to suggest.

one of Samuel Beckett’s enigmatic short works? One might safely assume that Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Luigi Pirandello’s Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore does not actively recount actual events that any potential spectator could remember as part of their own lived experience. form. Obviously. it does not matter whether a play is pure fiction (Beckett) or a history play (Shakespeare’s Richard III or Henry V). in the case of a legend like Oedipus. Kottman precisely the presupposition that I wish to challenge. Consequently. What is decisive is the relation that is brought into being by the scene— through the action and speech of those present. and the fact that this is the focus of Herodotus’ account of the scene. is that whatever differences one traces. Admittedly. The genre of the work it is not essential reaction to The Fall of Miletus. of a rigorous distinction between historical works (like The Fall of Miletus or The Persians) and manifestly fictional works? What I would like to argue is that the political sense of the theatre is not to be found in the distinction of any genre. then. This disavowal. Myth and Tragedy. nor even in any possible referential relation between the play and an outside reality or history upon which it is closely or loosely based. I am interested instead in the fact that they wept. the relation between the artwork and reality. while The Persians was lauded. from my perspective. could be said—from the position proposed in this essay—about the political or communal significance of a performance of a purely fictional work? Does it even make sense to speak. 245).88 / Paul A. Put simply. while it may recount a familiar story. My point. its possible confusion. 27 Symptomatically. Rather than compare the two plays. 1990]. By focusing on Herodotus’ narrative about a non-extant play—as opposed to reading The Persians—I would like to strip bare some of our assumptions about locating the political sense of tragedy in the legible features of any given work. motion pictures produced in the United States still make disavowals of this sort by claming that any relation between the characters and events of the film and actual persons or events are coincidental.27 What. or a morality play like Everyman. tran. is not finally to determine why the Athenians wept at seeing The Fall of Miletus. or content of the work. it seems to me that a certain analytical purchase can be gained by insisting here on the difference between a singular scene. Janet Lloyd [New York: Zone Books. does not correspond to anyone’s living memory. is not decisive. therefore. or through the performed affirmation of a shared recollection. for instance. Nor for that matter. or between discourse and its outside. and a particular work like The Persians. as “their own” (Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet. the story that Herodotus provides is hardly the most typical sort of theatrical experience. Indeed I might imagine an ulterior objection to my guiding example: What is the political sense when what is performed. or for that matter. politically. of course. like the one to which Herodotus draws our attention. however. it is not always (though it is sometimes) the case that the performance of a dramatic work stages something that corresponds so recognizably to the lived memory of the spectators. . is Aeschlyus’ The Persians. any explanation would be speculation anyway. As far as the political essence of tragedy is concerned. or responding to. seeks in principle to affirm (or hide behind) a rigorous distinction between fiction and truth—while at the same time admitting. Given how little we know about the former. the fact remains that the singular scene recounted by Herodotus is not reducible to any describable features of Phrynichus’ work. The point.

It is clear. or imitative quality of Phrynichus’ The Fall of Miletus. verbally. the relation that is inaugurated by a shared remembrance of the original scene is the theatrical scene that Herodotus describes—quite apart from any consideration of the artistry. etc. well beyond the lives of those who were there. given the fact that we tend to think of a scene as that which is representable or repeatable by definition. the French Revolution. nor is the dramatic work itself. it could even be said that a scene becomes a work or an artifice precisely when it is abandoned to repetition or re-presentation—the work being in some sense the consequence or effect of this “iterability” or continual re-staging. opsis. it is nevertheless the singular unrepresentability of the scene that distinguishes it from the work or the artifice. which obscures the mortality and fragility of the political relation. living (and therefore potentially utterable) memory—which constitutes the scene as such. the political value and significance of that peculiar early performance of Phrynichus’ play lay in the relation among those gathered. the relation of those on the scene is mortal and cannot be archived. the Trojan war. Derek Attridge’s interview with Derrida in Acts of Literature (New York: Routledge Press. imitation. I wish to argue. For this reason. lexis) can be archived. recorded.) or the historical meaning of the capture of Miletus. or the killings in Jenin) can be re-staged or represented (theatrically. 1992). both the battle itself and its ill-fated theatrical resurrection—like any singular scene worthy of the name—are not reducible to representation. in a potentially infinite way. See. Indeed. what happens in a historical or journalistic sense ought not to be the final place for contemporary political meaning. for instance. the lived relation of those on the scene—which results from the actions themselves. that the scenes recounted by Herodotus. a 28 Here and throughout this discussion. the lives. In the same way. after all. prior to any consideration of its form or content. rather than in the Aristotelian elements of the performance itself (mythos. . or artistry. particularly as in regards to the literary work. Back to the place of theatre in all this. at least in Herodotus’ view. while any word or deed (praxis. or even re-enacted (visibly. for that matter. Put formulaically. In other words.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 89 here. audibly) well beyond the time and place of the event itself. while the events of the battle of Miletus (or. a political account of theatrical experience ought to begin not so much with an analysis of what is performed (whether the play is fictional or historical)—but rather with an understanding of the relational aspect of the scene itself. which are at stake. it could be said that the performance of a fictional play or theatrical work—as witnessed by this or that spectatorship—is also first and foremost itself an actual event that is immediately political regardless of its form or content. For the Athenians. and the shared memory they leave behind—absolutely resists representation or repetition beyond their life span. I have in mind Jacques Derrida’s work regarding the constitutive nature of repetition or representation. While this may seem counterintuitive. It resists representation. for it is precisely the reduction of politics to the representable content of this or that event. or through a shared. it is the relation—always unique. televisually) ad infinitum.28 In contrast. In short. Indeed. lexis. and is the most essential condition for any political sense. representation. each time brought into being either through words and deeds.

according to tradition. especially to and for another who also bears that memory. this is a distinction whose emergence is contemporaneous. tran. as it developed especially in the works of Euripides and Sophocles. Whereas a work or representation survives through its radical indifference to the lives of the witnesses. in my view. Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow (Durham: Duke University Press. the subsequent testimony is the scene’s most essential trait. there remains ex post facto more than one person who can speak together in memory of having been on the scene with others.31 29 Koinon achos is a phrase taken from the chorus at the end of Euripides’ Hippolytus. For. of course. for instance. Kottman theatrical performance—like any combination of action and speech—is political only if. for in order to be what it is a scene requires—without any prior guarantee—that someone speak in its memory. . lies in the fact that Phrynichus’ play did not (as far as we know) stage this common grief within the performance itself. such as collective grieving. means to return to the relation that is brought about by the shared. the staging of “rituals of lamentation” marks the emergence of a polis that recognizes and confirms itself through the theatrical performance of communal practices. 30 See Charles Segal. which occurred alongside the birth of tragedy. no matter how much time passes between scene and testimony. at first glance it might appear that the sort of “common grief” (koinon achos) provoked by Phrynichus’ play resembles the sort of public weeping that has come to be understood as one of the defining characteristics of Greek tragedy. therefore. but always at some distance from it.30 The difference between this sort of performance and the scene recounted by Herodotus. I would like now to situate that anomalous performance recounted by Herodotus within the distinction between scene and work that I am elaborating. rather the performance actually produced it spontaneously among those gathered. living memory of what is collectively witnessed— a memory that is. 1462. fit within this history? Is there something within the logic of the scene Herodotus describes that resists the conventional wisdom regarding the bond between tragedy and the polis? Let me first give a brief summary of the dominant view. Rather. In this sense. and insofar as. In other words. over and against the sociality of life—in tension with life. Where does the performance of Phrynichus’ play. this subsequent testimony—the speech that follows action—is not ontologically separate from the scene. 1973). Tragedy is born. the response of the audience is itself part of the action of the scene. precisely when the work breaks with the living scene and appears to stand alone as mimetic. With all of this in mind. through a paradoxical temporality which will need to be explored. Rober Bagg (Oxford: Oxford University Press. both historically and conceptually. over and beyond the unpredictable character of the performance itself. constitutive of the scene itself. 31 Again. with the birth of tragedy in the traditional sense. even as it appears to be merely its consequence. Now. Unpredictability and mortality are in fact constitutive of the scene. 1993). To return to the essentiality of the scene. there was no artifice.29 According to Charles Segal. the scene is nothing other than a lived relation that is—like the words and deeds from which it springs—absolutely mortal and contingent.90 / Paul A. Therefore. no ritualistic character to their grief. this is why we are more interested in analyzing the singular scene that Herodotus describes than we are in interpreting the particular character of Phrynichus’ work.

Easterling’s response to Segal’s piece in the same collection. . rituals. E. Segal suggests. The connection most frequently drawn among modern scholars between the evolution of tragedy and the theatrical appropriation or representation of communal life begins from the fact that a number of Greek tragedies appear self-consciously to appropriate communal rites of lamentation. the shift in Hippolytus from the private grief of Phaedra that opens the play to the “common grief” with which the play closes seems to suggest. Nicole Loraux. Silk [Oxford: Clarendon Press. was imitated in order to “reflect on the ways in which Greek society represents itself through such collective expressions as myth. In this latter piece. S. Audience and Closure.” in Sophocles’ Tragic World (Cambridge. “Catharsis.” in Tragedy and the Tragic. Segal seeks to understand the participatory nature of lamentation as something that opens up katharsis beyond the individual’s experience of pity and fear. 1966). Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman (Cambridge. 149–72). Segal seeks to expand Aristotle’s notion of katharsis by giving “greater emphasis to the collective . MA: Harvard University Press.” 120. 213–41. S. 34 Segal. that “personal grief is lifted from the level of individual response to the level of self-consciously communal reaction. 127. Charles Segal. the perspective I am 32 As a start see Charles Segal. what is important for our purposes is not so much Segal’s ostensible focus on rituals of lamentation or the fact that the Greeks represented their own rituals to themselves through the performance of tragedies. Ritual commemoration or suffering. Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elizabeth Bronfen (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. M. communal experience. or burial. MA: Harvard University Press. which often contain scenes that explicitly perform or imitate acts of communal lamentation. 1987).” 157. ed. M. 1993). “Lament and Closure in Antigone. 33 Charles Segal has written about the cues within both Antigone and Hippolytus that call the audience to respond with pity and fear at appropriate moments in the play (“Lament and Closure.” That is. Euripides. he argues. for example. it is worth pausing briefly to consider the difference between Herodotus’ account of Phrynichus’ play and more contemporary accounts of subsequent works of Greek tragedy.32 In Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Hippolytus.”35 Now. that the chorus at the close of Hippolytus reveals that “koinon achos is the emotion proper to a theater that has become conscious of itself as a uniquely communal form. ed. as Segal argues convincingly. an awareness that only emerged through the work of tragic representation. This will help make clearer the difference I am trying to articulate between what I am calling the scene and the work to which it remains irreducible. See also Segal. Again.” in Death and Representation.33 To tarry with the example offered a moment ago. “Euripides’ Alcestis: How to Die a Normal Death in Greek Tragedy. In Euripides’ play. See also P.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 91 Nevertheless. .” in Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond. ed. 1996]. the performance of “rituals of lamentation” can be regarded as characterizing and reflecting an emerging polis that is “conscious” of itself as a community and cognizant of the theatre as an artifice through which that community is both represented and constituted. . for instance. festivals. 119–37. and “Catharsis. 1995).” Indeed. Silk (Oxford: Clarendon Press. “Catharsis.”34 What Segal wants to underscore is the fact that tragedy represents an important moment in the formation of the polis’s own self-awareness. 35 Segal. we might briefly recall Segal’s analysis of Euripides’ Hippolytus. examined by Aristotle in the Poetics. Audience and Closure. we find climactic scenes in which lamentation is both performed within the drama and implicitly elicited from the audience as well. 157. as Segal puts it.

Donald NicholsonSmith (New York: Zone Books. Myth and Tragedy.39 In other words. and in fact to constitute itself through. this self-representation is more than a mere self-reflection. rather tragedy was the putting-into-question of the polis itself. tragedy did not simply offer an uncritical mirror of the polis. it ought to be understood as implicitly discursive as well. a shift away from a community that was constituted through the spontaneity of lived ritual as such. with the birth of tragedy. the order of representation. The Society of the Spectacle. a shift that is manifested especially in the city’s nascent reflection upon itself through tragic representation. 1995). or how the polis represented itself to itself through dramatic works. Of course. Segal’s analysis leads us to conclude that the emergence of Greek tragedy marks a fundamental shift in the formation of community. and second. Debord claims that “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation. this order of representation is manifestly spectacular or dramatic.92 / Paul A. Myth and Tragedy. the very fact that Greek tragedy develops through a self-conscious appropriation of the communal experience of lamentation signals. the phenomenon of Greek tragedy already brings about the expropriation of lived community that Guy Debord postulates as the mark of contemporary society. At the beginning of his treatise. See Vernant and VidalNaquet. it is important to recognize simply that Segal’s thesis presupposes that the polis found itself—that is.37 With the birth of tragedy the community of spectators begins to find itself in. Rather than focusing on what was represented. at city-sponsored competitions and festivals. Put simply. according to Jean-Pierre Vernant. paradoxically by maintaining an essential distance from. 37 It is true that. Kottman proposing is neither anthropological nor hermeneutical. 39 Vernant and others have shown that the very form of Greek tragedy.” Is this not also the very shift that defines the emergence of Greek tragedy. insofar as the dramatic representation itself could be seen as taking on a life of its own. The peculiarity of tragedy. 33. However. especially where the question of mimetic representation is concerned. See Aristotle Poetics. 38 Vernant and Vidal-Naquet. and Domenico Pesce’s excellent introductory essay to the Italian translation of Aristotle’s Poetics (Milan: Bompiani.36 Or put another way. 36 For this reason. the work of a shared self-representation. for instance the lexical difference between the chorus and the protagonists. for instance as it is traced in the work of Jean-Pierre Vernant? See Guy Debord. Indeed. the order of tragic representation played a constitutive role in the organization of social life. is that it emerges as a communal experience in which the communal itself is ex-propriated by the dramatic work or spectacle. or indifference to. 2000). Indeed. and henceforth subjected to. 128. towards a community that gathers around a shared representation of the act of mourning. it seems to have accomplished a certain self-identification and organization—through whatever was represented to it. Aristotle’s. That is to say. for Segal. depicts the structural distance between the social life of the polis and the dramatic representation that is essential to tragedy. . For the Greeks. chapter 3. in the context we are discussing. tragedy “depicted the city rent and divided against itself” in at least two senses38: first. tran. insofar as the tragedies themselves—in both form and content—presented the polis undergoing various crises. Halliwill. from this perspective. that living reality. Aristotle himself is already disposed toward considering the dramatic or theatrical as reducible to discourse (lexis). 26. even as that representation also played a crucial role in the social life of the polis. quite apart from the lives of the spectators. 12. communal life itself appears to have been given over. 29–48 and passim.

242–43.46 40 Although tragedy “appears rooted in social reality. for example. the theatrical scene determines the mode of its philosophical emergence. Indeed. Vernant sees the polis itself as emerging like a sort of stage whereupon the cultural phenomenon of tragedy served to open the city up for debate. while it is impossible unconditionally to locate the origin of tragedy in a nascent “consciousness of fiction.”43 The tragic performance is therefore regarded as in some way both familiar to and distant from the spectatorship—familiar enough to allow for identification and distant enough to allow for reflection. In this way. legendary events that enables the poet to look far beyond the passions and anxieties of the present moment” (Euripides. 44 Vernant and Vidal-Naquet.”45 That is to say. to an invisible beyond. “Myth and Tragedy.”40 Like Arendt. “it does not merely reflect that reality. were afforded at once a phenomenal reality and a fictitious status. it is nevertheless impossible to dissociate fully the former from the latter. but calls it into question. But this self-finding now has the paradoxical character of a “putting into crisis. as opposed to relying upon verbal narration. writes Vernant.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 93 Vernant has offered perhaps the most articulate account of this phenomenon. before the eyes of the spectator.42 First of all.” he writes.41 Noting. Amelie O. 41 Ibid.” or vice-versa. According to Vernant. theatrical experience turns out to be prior. 243. the polis acquires its democratic form precisely at the moment in which it learns to find itself through what it represents to itself.” in Essays on Aristotle’s Poetics. Vernant notes that this “new experience afforded by the tragic spectacle” (ibid. by setting the heroic or tragic figure on stage. 43 Ibid. but instead as a problem or subject of debate. Rorty (Princeton: Princeton University Press. of course. Tragedy does this. critique.. too. 42 Vernant and Vidal-Naquet. It speaks to the assembled citizens of the polis in the here and now of a time full of crises. 242) was most likely a decisive impetus behind the theory of mimesis-as-imitation articulated by Plato and Aristotle. and subsequent discussion. regarding the origins of Greek tragedy.. For him. so to speak.” For that which is found is now at once the most familiar and intimate being of the community and its ex-propriated representation. Segal makes a similar claim: “Tragedy combines the distancing effects of myth and fiction. Thus. 5). or Aristotle for that matter. dangers and conflicts. indeed. 36. although at the same time they are portrayed as figures who cannot possibly be there since they belong to somewhere else. ed. 23–29 and passim. one that remained “essential to the dramatic spectacle. . at the same time putting itself “into question. characters truly there. 46 As if to drive this point home. Myth and Tragedy.” See Jean-Pierre Vernant.” Vernant emphasizes that tragedy presents the hero not as a model. like in epic. 1992). Not surprisingly. to the conceptual determination of mimesis-as-imitation.. before the eyes of the public. Each appears as the condition for the birth of the other. with the agonistic model of debate and conflict. a certain “consciousness of fiction” emerged in fifth-century Athens. Vernant claims that the newly democratic polis “turned itself into a theater” through the performance of tragedy in festivals or contests. 244. tragedy “played a decisive role in man’s apprehension of ‘fiction. the tragic heroes “are made to seem present. that Greek tragedy “takes heroic legend as its material. Myth and Tragedy.’”44 for the characters that were presented on stage.” such that “it seems to be both its condition and its product. but it uses a frame of remote. 45 Ibid.

246 and passim. especially 45–47. 12–19. repetition. Silk (Oxford: Oxford University Press. if we follow Vernant’s logic. 2000). In contrast to tragedy. 1990). For more on this. Vernant’s account leads to the following conclusion: the birth of tragedy lies in nothing other than the radical separation of work from scene. the following: Vernant and Vidal-Naquet. other scholars have argued that the chorus is even more democratic than the Athenian polis in that it included old men. MA: Harvard University Press. 1996). and foreigners. ed. S. Given the inevitable limits of scope. But Vernant’s analysis allows us to direct our attention beyond these more formal qualities of tragedy to the fact that theatrical experience exceeds myth and becomes a fictional representation (mimesis) only insofar as the events portrayed are. ed. 1986).94 / Paul A. 48 Vernant and Vidal-Naquet. John Gould. in short. see Eric Havelock. which has helped me to understand the stakes of Vernant’s analysis in ways I otherwise would not have seen. all of these things played a role in the becomingfiction of tragedy. and Simon Goldhill’s response to Gould’s piece in the same volume. “Tragedy and Collective Experience. what is decisive in Vernant’s analysis is the way in which tragedy works as an imitative reflection. of the polis” over and against the “otherness” of the tragic hero (ibid. as a start. women. 217–43. living remembrance. the chorus represents an ulterior and complex set of problems with regard to the relation between the emerging democracy and dramatic practices. . therefore. understood as “happening somewhere else” or belonging to a mythical past that is by now beyond the grasp of living remembrance. not just speech. Kottman Now. 1991). Vernant and Vidal-Naquet suggest that the chorus embodies “the collective truth . . it is in the light of this division that Vernant names Phrynichus’ The Fall of Miletus as somewhat anomalous. To be sure. an irreparable rift between the work as it appears before the community in dramatic representation. in my view. a priori. Myth and Tragedy. “The Theater of the Polis. it is precisely by becoming a work—giving itself over to representation.” in Nothing to Do with Dionysus?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context. 243). or self-conscious performance only insofar as it portrayed something that was already historically or temporally distant from the audience. Interestingly. however. Myth and Tragedy. The interested reader could see. fictitious. or mimetic quality of the play was not simply due to the technique of the production. or the fact that tragedy comprises spectacle. M. he suggests that the representational. and its emerging place as the problematic reflection of the polis. 1991) and The Singer of Tales (Cambridge. The Muse Learns to Write (New Haven: Yale University Press. In the terms of my argument here. the transmission of myth through epic was tantamount to the transmission of memory itself. Epic Singers and Oral Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. slaves. differentiates itself from the immediacy between living memory and communal life in which myth finds its home. .48 Put another way. 49 I am indebted here and throughout to Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of myth in The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. and reproduction—that tragedy simultaneously differentiates itself from myth. Especially relevant here is Nancy’s elaboration of the relation between myth and scene in the third chapter. Oddone Longo.49 The birth of tragedy signals. More recently. is absolutely essential to epic song.. especially 70–73. which is to say. I cannot include a discussion of the chorus here.” in Tragedy and the Tragic. Likewise. and the living memory of what is being represented. its break with epic. Albert Lord. the labor of the actor. While we know of other plays 47 An important exception to this account of tragedy is the chorus.47 Interestingly. John Winkler and Froma Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Vernant notes that this distance had less to do with the mere passage of time than with the fact that the events represented by Greek tragedy did not belong to the living memory of the Athenian spectators.

244. 52 Vernant. even while attempting to account for it. Indeed.” Although Vernant does not say so. the transposition that made it possible for feelings of pity or terror to be displaced into a different register. we have Phrynichus’ play. This view. which is recognizable in nearly every theory of performance that has its foundations in classical Greek philosophy. For a list of other non-extant tragedies that allegedly dealt with historical subjects. Malcolm Heath makes a similar assumption. the most essential feature of any artwork or discursive representation. see H.54 What made the play exceptional. we have the dominant tradition described by Segal. The play. History. .”52 Now. this is an exception that only serves to confirm the rule. Myth and Tragedy. Phrynichus’ is “the first tragedy of which we are informed. according to the philosophical and critical tradition to which we belong. mimesis has been the key to the question of the relation between artworks (especially dramatic works) and the world or nature. in his view. xvii. that is.51 Vernant’s and Segal’s analyses would belong to this tradition. which was “not a legendary” tragedy. but rather “a tragedy of contemporary events.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 95 whose subject was historical. The scene was too close to “real life.” Persae of Aeschylus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. to confirm the account of tragedy as commensurate with the distance between fiction and life. On the other hand. but immediately apprehended and understood as fiction.” which was in fact offended by a play that was too-close-to-the-bone. The Poetics of Greek Tragedy.” 102. the logic of his argument leads one to conclude that the scene Herodotus describes cannot properly be understood as an artwork or discursive representation. which establishes tragedy’s emergence as fiction or mimetic art through the appropriation of communal rituals or heroic legends that already belonged to an immemorial past. at least in the tradition of thought which this article attempts to analyze. “Myth. Vernant. for this mimetic distance is. 9. 51 In a sense.” See Heath. as Vernant notes. seems to have followed. reminding them of their own troubles. which did not meet the criteria for “fiction” or “mimesis” to which the Athenians were gradually becoming accustomed. Since Plato and Aristotle. They could even be said to be the very product of this tradition. Vernant concludes that the public condemnation of The Fall of Miletus resulted from the fact that the play portrayed events. it would seem. no longer experienced in the same way as in real life. Phrynichus’ play—perhaps because it lies at the beginning of the tradition—represents something like an alternative to the trajectory that Greek tragedy. was that it could not be received as mere fiction. claiming that Phrynichus’ play was censured “because the tears were shed over misfortunes that touched the audience too closely. and others. Broadhead. this claim calls for no justification. D. 50 David Rosenbloom.”50 For Vernant. tends to regard the development of theatrical experience as dependent upon a fundamental mimetic distance between the spectacle and the lives of the spectators. “did not allow for the distancing. which he says “were too close” to the lives of the spectators. of course. On the one hand.”53 Vernant thus imagines Phrynichus’ play to be an irregularity. “Introduction. 1960). For Vernant. And this distance is generally thought to be commensurate with its foreignness to the living memory of those who encounter the mimetic performance. 54 Ibid. for Vernant the censure of Phrynichus’ work was a consequence of an already accepted and established “consciousness of fiction. 53 Ibid. he writes.

understanding. It could even be said. after all. as Vernant himself claims. and all those who follow in Aristotle’s footsteps—which equates tragedy and the emergence of a formal theatrical consciousness with the contemplative apprehension of tragedy-asimitation—presupposes a prior recognition of fiction that may in fact be the consequence of a lived remembrance that distinguishes. That is. not historical events. First of all. And it is equally clear that this recognition of the play as an imitative performance was not the result of a formal convention or “consciousness of fiction. to paraphrase Arendt. this “consciousness of fiction” itself emerged partly as a consequence of the intensifying consumption of tragedy? What. After all.55 Indeed. characterizes theatrical experience. or coincide with. without a “conscious” apprehension of fiction. without thought or reflection. After all. the “fictional distance” that characterizes Aristotle’s definition of theatrical experience. Indeed.56 for Herodotus’ account presents us with a scene in which the conscious recognition of theatrical artifice fails to result in. “too close to 55 Aristotle underscores the way in which the pleasure of watching or hearing an imitation coincides with a sort of consciousness or knowledge regarding the imitative nature of the spectacle itself. this scene marks the dissociation of the apprehension of mimesis from the act of thoughtful debate.96 / Paul A. therefore. the apprehension of theatrical mimesis by the Athenians in the scene Herodotus describes is utterly foreign to the sort of theoretical contemplation that will come to characterize the philosopher’s noetic grasp of mimesis in Plato’s work a century later. according to Aristotle and Vernant. . Indeed. or collective wisdom (phronesis) that. they recognized the performance for what it was and quite naturally did not confuse it with the real capture of Miletus. this recognition is what was manifested in the play’s censure. it seems clear that those Athenians who banned Phrynichus’ play were aware that the play was not the same thing as the events that it portrayed. without exaggeration. that the recognition of Phrynichus’ play as an “imitation” of real events came to those Athenians without reflection.” Still less does the play’s reception seem to suggest that the performance of this tragedy signaled a questioning of the city or anything like Aristotle’s phronesis. Segal. Kottman But are things so clear? Given that Phrynichus’ play (494 BCE) is the first tragedy of which we have any record. one can only censure a work. it could be said axiomatically that theatrical experience in fact antedates the vita contemplativa presupposed by classical philosophy’s account of the theatre. 93. between the real and the imitation? Perhaps the scene described by Herodotus forces us to consider the living scene as a condition without which something like imitation or a consciousness of fiction would not emerge. the artifice presented “calamaties” that were. can it be certain that the censure of The Fall of Miletus after this early performance was a consequence of its failure to be “immediately apprehended and understood as fiction?” Particularly what if. Instead. See Poetics 1448b14–15. accounts for the appetite for fiction as opposed to real life that Vernant supposes to have existed? Why must the history of tragedy begin with the self-reflective apprehension of mimesis? Might it not be the case that the trajectory outlined by Vernant. 56 See Arendt’s discussion of Pythagoras in The Life of Mind. as Herodotus says.

but rather in the play’s function as a witness for events that the spectators had themselves seen. Rather. from which the political sense of the event (both the battle itself and its representation) arises. as Vernant supposes. and consequently of the relation between mimesis and politics as well. Thus. mythos. The problem lies in this: the political sense of mimesis—that which relates the theatrical experience of being on the scene to political life—cannot be fully grasped in terms of the fictional or artistic character of performance or work. and its relation to an outside reality. A radical politics of mimesis. Likewise. something like an alternative account of the origins of the theatrical scene. it is instead the singularity of the scene that comes to the fore here. and begin to take account of this correspondence. too close to allow the play to stand as a subject for debate. diction. It is as if the mimetic aspect of Phrynichus’ play lay not so much in the artifice of its theatrical manifestation. Revising Aristotle’s account of tragedy in the Poetics. deliberative reflection. The recognition of the play’s artifice. in sum. begins to emerge—an account whose origins lie at the very outset of the political and theatrical tradition that we inherit. therefore. The theatrical scene Herodotus describes is constituted most essentially through the very relation between living memory and mimetic performance that. rather than the result of the play’s distance from their living memory. or on the self-conscious representation of the polis in a dramatic work. or for the feelings that it inspired to mature into detached. Rather than focus on a nascent consciousness of fiction or imitation. determination of the relation between “art and nature” or “imitation and reality” often obscures the term’s own ambiguity. characterizes myth as opposed to tragedy. lexis). the habit of reducing the term mimesis to a general. or in the structure of the artistic work (plot. of what is represented. appears to be a result of the immediacy between the mimesis of Phrynichus’ play and the living remembrance of its spectators. according to tradition.THE SCENE BEFORE PHILOSOPHY / 97 home” (oikeia kaka). essentially Platonic. would therefore need to move beyond the centrality of representation. mimesis acquires its political sense in theatrical experience insofar as it corresponds to the living relation of the scene. . we could say that the mimetic character of the scene does not lie necessarily in the event of the performance (opsis).

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