“It’s our grief”: Re-membering Blanche beyond Pity and Fear
“It’s our grief”: Re-membering Blanche beyond Pity and FearKim, MijeongThis paper attempts to re-read Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desirefrom a non-Aristotelian perspective, particularly focusing on the audienceperformativity. In Chapter 6 of the Poetics, Aristotle says that tragedy has a finalpurpose or end (telos) and that is to inspire a catharsis (literally “purification”)of pity and fear by means of representation and to give pleasure from experiencingtheir relief. However, a dramatic theoretician Augusto Boal argues that Aristoteliancatharsis is not to get rid of pity and fear through their vehement discharge; rather,the basic function of catharsis is the purging of antisocial elements from the socialbody and the restoration of order because catharsis occurs when the spectator,terrified by the spectacle of the catastrophe, is purified of his “hamartia” whichlooks similar to the tragic flaw of the hero in the play. Thus, Boal asserts thatAristotle's coercive system of tragedy manipulates the emotions of the passivespectator.
By contrast, in non-Aristotelian aesthetics, tragedy functions not as legitimationfor a particular political configuration but as the performance of ethical acts―throughwhich all the participants, including not only the actors but also the audience,communicate more actively about practical problems and actively work in orderto make sense of themselves, others, and society. Here, the audience is requiredto restore and reinforce his/her capacity to think and to act; thus, an unquestioning,passive, indifferent attitude is not allowed.
In these contexts, this paper explores how Tennessee William's A StreetcarNamed Desire involves the audience in the responsibility for what occurs on thestage, in order to urge the audience's ethical judgements and responsible acts.
This paper argues that what this play asks of us is not catharsis, the purgingof pity and fear, but empathy toward the other's pain, beyond pity and fear, tocarry out our responsibility of sharing in and caring for the other's suffering.
That is to say that it will be an ethical way to “re-member” Blanche DuBoi―theiconic Williams victim “dis-membered” by traumatic memories and open woundsand is thus unable to complete her grieving and mourning―as one of us, notas the other. It will be the only way to remember right regarding her tragedy.