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Zola, Therese Raquin, and Naturalism's "sociological imagination"

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James McKinnon

on 11 March 2013

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Transcript of Zola, Therese Raquin, and Naturalism's "sociological imagination"

and Emergent
Culture Beliefs, practices, etc. of the majority and/or ruling classes (e.g. capitalism). Beliefs and practices that were once part of dominant culture and still retain powerful influence (e.g. sexism, racism). Beliefs & practices that oppose dominant culture (i.e. not simply new forms of the dominant. All dominant culture was once emergent...
but not all emergent culture becomes dominant!

Dominant culture sees emergent culture as "wrong" Raymond Williams, 1977. “dull, uninteresting ... formless, objectless, pointless ... essay on heredity and ... disease and ... incest ... not a play at all”

“an open drain, a loathsome sore unbandaged, a dirty act done publicly, a lazar-house with all its doors and windows open.” Reception of Naturalist Theatre “a monstrous school … that gathers the diseased together and invites us to admire their blemishes” English reviews of Ibsen's Ghosts (1881) Response to Therese Raquin Zola wants theatre to reflect the emergence of materialist epistemology. I.e. the idea that we can know what is true ONLY by studying the material world, since it is the thing we have direct access to (aka "positivism"). Zola was inspired by Auguste Comte, a founding father of the social sciences... Auguste Comte (1798 -1857) Comte's model of social development:
Science triumphs over Superstition Theological, or fictitious Metaphysical, or abstract Scientific, or positive Humans believe all phenomena are explained by supernatural causes: gods, fairies, Santa, etc. Humans believe all phenomena can be explained by reason. Humans embrace empirical observation; global peace and prosperity ensue. Unlike Williams's model, Comte's is "TELEOLOGICAL":

it imagines that society reaches perfection & stops changing. Zola combines Comte and Taine ... and Hippolyte Taine. Hippolye Taine (1828 -1893) Is art a product of individual "genius"? A B C D Can you put these paintings in chronological order? Theological, or fictitious Metaphysical, or abstract Scientific, or positive = classical drama. = romantic drama. = Naturalism! Celebrates values of church & monarchy
Based on Greek mythology
Believes in & represents divine order
Represents world based on classical ideals ("the toga")
Defined by rigid rules (unity of time, place, and action; decorum, etc.) "Classicists are like snobs who think music achieved perfection with Mozart and everything since then is garbage." Reaction against classical/rational values
Based on medieval mythology & legend
Embraces the grotesque and the sublime
Represents romantic ideals ("the chainmail and doublet")
Rejects neoclassical ideals, but adopts others "Romantics are like classic rock fans who think music achieved perfection in 1974 and everything since then is garbage."
Thus, Naturalism will reveal...
...how human behaviour is shaped by environment and heredity
...the material causes of all social problems -- and their material solutions
How does Therese Raquin do these things? Why didn't dramatic evolution stop here? Therese Raquin, Naturalism, and Cultural Theory Learn a theory that helps explain creative (r)evolution
Use it to explain Zola's idea for a Naturalistic drama
... and use it to understand Therese Raquin, then & now Objectives: Or a reflection of the artist's "race, milieu, and moment"? Therefore: to learn about society, we should study its art! Hippolyte Taine Claude Monet, 1885 Vassily Kandinsky, 1923 J-L David, 1784 Cole Thomas, 1836 This means that art reflects cultural context, not just individual talent! Question:
Who made Therese Raquin? Who makes art? Raymond Williams Zola's contemporaries considered Naturalism shocking and obscene! An artist, or a culture? “The residual has been formed in the past, but is still active in [present culture] ... the archaic is completely part of the past [no longer acting on the present]." (Williams, 122) Residual Archaic Residual vs. Archaic Racism (e.g., the belief that there are distinct races that are more or less advanced/sophisticated/human) Phrenology (e.g, the belief that your personality, intelligence, moral character, etc. can be inferred from the shape of your skull) But why? What is "Naturalist Drama"? Use prose, not verse. Focus on the particular details of daily life. Banish stage conventions in favour of "natural" behaviour. Represent the world as we see it Compare Zola's "natural" prose to Chekhov's or Mamet's i.e., not sensational or idealistic subjects No asides, tirades, "passions," etc. In real time, in local, real-looking (e.g. 3D) settings But why? "Scientific method reveals the truth about SOCIAL reality as well as physical reality!" "If you want to understand a society, study its ART!" + = Epochs of Social & Dramatic Evolution Social development over time Taine's Theory of Historicism Emile Zola "Naturalism will reject ALL phony conventions and ideals in favour of the TRUTH as perceived by our senses!" Theatre will become for sociology what the microscope is for biology! Zola hopes Naturalism will transform theatre from a relic of the past to a cutting edge scientific instrument: Now you can use Raymond Williams' theory... to see Naturalism as "emergent" culture ca. 1880
to examine dominant & residual values around you
to connect theatre to the culture it shapes
to discuss "who made/makes Therese Raquin?"
(because it sees itself as THE culture, not just "dominant" culture)
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