Philippine Contemporary Theater, 1946-1985: A Materialist Analysis

Legasto, Priscelina Patajo (1988) Philippine Contemporary Theater, 1946-1985: A Materialist Analysis. Doctoral thesis, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

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The problematique of this dissertation—contemporary Philippine Theater, 1946–1985 as material practice—is inserted within the parameters of a broader theoretical and practical agenda that seeks to restate the relations between cultural texts, ideology and history. Chapter 1 starts with descriptions of approaches to the study of Philippine Drama and Theater and identifies the dominant approaches in the Philippine critical establishment—formalist (Russian formalists, New Critics and Neo-Aristotelians), sociological (i.e., the variety popularized by Hippolyte Taine and Madame de Stael) and traditional Marxist criticism (i.e. orthodox Russian and Lukacsian). In the discussion of these strategies, including how they connect with larger theories of art and literature, their isolationist/universalist (for the first approach), positivist (for the second), economistic and essentialist underpinnings (for the third) are foregrounded. Such a foregrounding is the precondition for the introduction of a materialist conception of ideology (i.e., art, literature and theater, etc.) for in the critical practice of Filipino historians and critics of culture, there is this tendency to exclude a presentation of conceptual framework or to treat cultural texts as transparent. What follows from such notions are the following views on the tasks of criticism, among others: to understand a work, one merely has to abstract the meaning already imbedded in it without bringing in outside referents (for the formalists); second, to show how the work succeeds or not in mirroring the society from which it emerged (for the reductionist sociologists of literature); and third, to analyze the “essence”—i.e. the class struggle—of the “real and verifiable social and historical process” reflected in art/literature (for the essentialist/idealist Marxists). After discussing these dominant concepts of culture, their attendant textual strategies and their limitations, the dissertation then puts forward an alternative approach to the study of theater informed by the ideas of Louis Althusser, Pierre Macherey and Terry Eagleton. Based on their materialist framework, cultural texts are seen as products of the ideological practice of a particular social formation. Practice here is defined as the determinate process whereby raw materials are made into products through the application of human labor on the forces of production. Furthermore, in every social formation, there are three distinct but related levels of practice—i.e., the economic, the political and the ideological. For this dissertation the categories introduced by Eagleton in Criticism and Ideology were adapted in order to illustrate how theater practices and texts are produced by the complex articulation of interrelated structures like the general mode of production, the theater mode of production and the various ideologies (i.e., the general, the aesthetic, the authorial and textual ideologies) during a specific historical juncture. Chapter II to V applies the materialist framework to an analysis of Contemporary Philippine Theater from 1946 to 1985 (from the emergence of the Philippines as a Republic to the closing years of the era of authoritarianism) with special emphasis on theater in Manila. The word Manila here refers not only to a particular geographic space but also to a construct that connotes a center or locus of power, a concentration of resources. These chapters trace the transformations in post-war Philippine Theater: from a monolithic bourgeois theater in English (1949–1964) to a decentred theater (1973–1985) in Pilipino and other vernacular languages after a brief transition period that saw the emergence of a theater of social concern (1965–1968) and a revolutionary theater (1969–1972). Chapter V asserts that especially with the emergence of the people’s theater in the later seventies, Philippine Theater has experienced a “prefigurement”; Philippine Theater has developed alternative theater structures (both forces as well as relations) in spite of the relative lack of significant change in the economic mode of production. After an examination of the determinations of theater practice and texts during each of the four periods identified, one representative text per period is scrutinized to demonstrate different ways of applying and adapting the materialist approach to single texts. The final chapter, Chapter VI, encapsulates the main assertions regarding developments in Contemporary Philippine Theater and reiterates the problematique of this dissertation by stating what its specific contribution to Philippine cultural studies is. This claim will be made on the basis of two counts: firstly, the larger explanatory value of the materialist approach in terms of the number of items (hitherto not included in previous analyses of Philippine Drama Theater) that it has brought to the surface; and secondly, the enlargement of the parameters of the debate on the nature of the relationship between society and its cultural expressions or, to put it another way, the polemics on the nature of the relationship between the base and the superstructure. With regards to the latter, the dissertation has tried to validate, through a study of a particular material practice, more recent articulations of the base-superstructure formulation that is the centerpiece of Marxist thought. Through these Althusserian and post-Althusserian theoretical and critical studies, there is this palpable reinscription of Marx’s dialectical method in deciphering the relations between the economic mode of production and the other modes of social practice—albeit, the political and the ideological (to which literature, art and theater belong). Such a project which began among western Marxists in the sixties was a response to the impasse that western Marxism experienced due to the stultifying influence of the Russian Marxist orthodoxy (e.g., Stalin and some Marxists of the Second International). The influence of these orthodox/reductionist approaches in addition to idealist Marxist perspectives have also circumscribed Philippine critical practice. Some Filipino Marxist critics have tended to valorize certain textual strategies especially those that privilege “ideological content” analyses and the social realist mode a la Plekhanov and Lukacs. Therefore, a kind of renaissance, an openness to experiment with a plurality of Marxist approaches in order to prevent any kind of closure or hegemony in culture studies in the Philippines, should be welcomed by all those seeking to make their social investigations/interventions meaningful to a society in the throes of a painful transition to freedom.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: contemporary theatre, theatre, theatre criticism
Depositing User: Repo Admin
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2017 15:51
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2017 04:05

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