Introduction to Reception Studies in Indian Classical Arts with Reference to Kathakali
Saturday, June 21, 2014 - 09:44
(Jyotsna Krishnan is a research scholar of cultural studies at Kerala Kalamandalam.)
This paper tries to analyse the scope and importance of Reception Studies in various fields of discipline that focus on Indian classical arts. The aesthetics of reception/reader response is one of those new approaches that emphasizes on audience and the readers for the first time with a methodological concept. Reception as theory sees a text differently from the existing theories. The involvement of audience in theatrical events is undoubtedly complex. The spectator plays a major role in all stages of theatrical development. Theorists who analyse media through reception studies are concerned with the experience of cinema and television viewing for spectators, and how meaning is created through this experience. Kathakali as is a thauryatrika of music, dance and rhythm. The audience and an appreciator needs to understand all these factors involved while viewing the staging of Kathakali. Reception Theory’s revolutionary approach to the role of the reader with concern to the notion of interpretation was one of the most important contributions to the history of literature, and its new perspective on the literary experience established a new paradigm for writers and theorists. Reception Theory, thus, turned out to be one of the most relevant and important level of aesthetic approach and this analyses this fact through the exploration of different methodological ideas.
“Spectator ship is not a passivity; that must be turned into an activity” quotes Jaques Ranciere, a French philosopher while discussing on the relevance of audience in a performance. The concept of spectator-ship came from the human tendency to arrive at one’s own meanings. The meanings are arrived at through the active involvement into the performance which results in comprehension. The origin of the discussion of audience/spectators can be viewed in two phases: the first is only as mere reference in the works of various critics and the second as a theory and criticism. Both try to focus that Audiences are not a single separable entity who are to be considered apart from the performances. They have active involvement in making successful performances. “The spectator is born in the vanishing point generated by perspective, is summoned into hypothetical existence by the visual structure” (Aaron: 10). It is not a simple act of watching something but it is pleasure making activity which pulses experience.
The word audience/spectator generally means the assembled people at a public event. It can be viewers or listeners who come to enjoy the event. Bordwell defines the spectating as “an activity undertaken by the individuals of wide range, perhaps, united by their capacity for active perception” (Mayne: 55). The literary and critical discussions was lighted up with the aesthetic concepts of Aristotle in the Western scenario. He entered the intellectual dais of Athens rejecting Platonian notions. He turned out as a good spectator of his teacher’s perceptions thereby going beyond it. Aristotle’s Poetics occupies a significant and prominent position in the critical methodologies of western literary criticism. Aristotle introduced his concept on the spectators while discussing tragedy in his Poetics. The concept of katharsis focussed on the audience response of the tragedy. Pity and fear are the two emotions that come out of a spectator’s mind while seeing tragedy. Spectacle plays a major role in the elements of tragedy mentioned by Aristotle. But he defines spectacle as less artistic method that is dependent on the good actor.
Wordsworth in his advertisement of Lyrical Ballads mentions the necessity and concept of readers. He discusses on readers of superior judgement and common readers. He defines poet as man speaking to men. The ‘men’ he meant was audiences/spectators. The discussions on audience were not much important in the later ages of English criticism. There were a lot of discussions on poet as he/she was the superior to a work of art. The assumption of God was stumbled with the Darwinian Theory of Evolution. This notion made the people to think in a different perspective. The modern theories extended the scope of reader/audience with a different perspective. With the coming of formalist and structuralist tendencies, the author began to be unimportant and the text gained relevance. The famous essay of Roland Barthes ‘The Death of the Author’, the concepts of practical criticism of I. A. Richards expresses this notion of textual criticism. The new critical theorists William Wimsatt and Beardsley explain the concept of Affective Fallacy which “is a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does)” (Davis: 92). The effect that is formed is viewed as an error according to them. As a post structuralist tendency, the text- oriented criticism extended its scope to a reader- centred notion of looking at the work of art.
The aesthetics of reception/reader response is one of those new approaches that concentrated on audience/readers for the first time with a methodological concept. Reception as theory sees a text differently from the existing theories. “Reception Theory posed once more the problems of defining the work by its effect, of the dialectic of effect and reception, of canon formation and restructuring and of dialogic understanding through the distance of time” (Collier: 53). It focused mainly on the effect that reader/audience has on the text. The aesthetic experience began to be seen as a productive, receptive and communicative activity and readers/audience are the media for the activity. It was only an inactive process before. Reading was considered a submissive act which does not annex the interpretative quality. They are influenced by culture, nationality, genre, age, experiential background, aesthetic tastes and education in their approach towards a text. Every reader/audience reads with his/her own beliefs, attitudes and personal biases. Reception studies, therefore is not concerned with individual texts and their relationship with one another but also with broader cultural processes which shape and make up those relationship. It also stresses the receiver’s knowledge of the source and how it is obtained.