Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The unfinished art of theater: Avant-garde intellectuals and mass publics in Mexico and Brazil
by Townsend, Sarah J., Ph.D., New York University, 2010, 300; 3428051
Abstract (Summary)

Studies of Latin American theater often lament the fragmentary, “failed” nature of theater projects during the 1920s and 30s, a critical period of national integration; critics of the vanguardias and Brazilian modernismo, too, dismiss theater by noting that most pieces written for the stage were never performed. In The Unfinished Art of Theater I argue that the unfinished form of theater lay at the contentious intersection of mass culture, the consolidation of the modern state, and the rise of an international avant-garde. My readings reveal that precisely because it lacked a clear institutional identity, theater became a key site for intellectuals to reimagine art’s role in relation to an emerging mass public. I draw on a rich array of archival sources discovered during research trips to São Paulo and Mexico City: judicial proceedings, performance reviews, memos and proposals by avant-garde bureaucrats, and reports by police informants that reveal why other pieces remained “unfinished.”

Chapter one begins with a critical genealogy of the ensayo (an essay, but also a rehearsal or sketch) and offers a novel interpretation of José Vasconcelos’s theory of the cosmic race through the lens of his play Prometeo vencedor and the “theater-stadium” he built as director of the Secretaría de Educación Pública. Chapter two focuses on the Semana de Arte Moderna, Brazilian modernismo’s foundational event. It draws out the queer performativity of Mário de Andrade and its connections to opera, theorizing both in relation to Roberto Schwarz’s notion of liberalism in Brazil as an idea “out of place.” In chapter three I explore the afterlife of the ephemeral estridentista movement and illuminate tensions in the Communist Left’s practice of avant-garde pedagogy by tracing connections between radio and puppetry in the thirties. I end by taking issue with total theater, a discourse that has driven the belated canonization of Oswald de Andrade’s plays. Through a reading of his 1933 “spectacle in nine tableaux” and the events surrounding its non-performance, I point toward an alternative model of envisioning the Latin American avant-gardes—one that illuminates their role in political and economic processes that played out across the globe.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Taylor, Diana
Commitee: Harries, Martin, Lane, Jill, Pratt, Mary
School: New York University
Department: Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Latin American literature, Theater, Mass communications
Keywords: Andrade, Mario de, Andrade, Oswald de, Avant-garde, Brazil, Mexico, Performance, Puppetry, Radio, Vasconcelos, Jose
Publication Number: 3428051
ISBN: 9781124332918
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