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On the Origins of Theater


Mirosław Kocur

This book presents an interdisciplinary investigation into the emergence of the actor and theater. Scholarship helps us to realize how we have evolved to who we are today and to understand the transformative power of performance. The author proposes to boost and advance theater studies by reviewing new research in anthropology, archaeology, paleoanthropology, classics, ethnography, physics, cognitive science, neuroscience, theater anthropology and performance studies. Referring to his fieldwork in Bali and Tibet, and to his professional experience in theater, the author explains the role of bipedality, toolmaking and trance in the evolution of the performer, examines the performativity of space and writing, and argues that ancient culture emerged from dance.
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Chapter 4: The Theater of Writing


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Chapter 4:  The Theater of Writing

It is well known that writing has played a fundamental role in the development of theater in Europe. But what were the actual connections of writing with performative practices? From its beginnings, the art of writing, at its heart a performative activity, inspired very different performances. In Mesopotamia, writing ordered and organized a secular reality; in Egypt, it bestowed prestige and fulfilled a key role in rites after death; in China, it predicted the future; in Mesoamerica, it helped to make up calendars. Early writing systems were also instruments of power, at first zealously guarded by priests and rulers. Cuneiform writing stimulated and made possible the development of cities and trade. Egyptian hieroglyphics were used to record sacred performances, self-acting-performances, ones that did not require a reader. It was hard learning to write these hieroglyphics; it was necessary to know 600–700 symbols and complex ways of encoding meaning. Texts recorded in hieroglyphic or cuneiform script recall codes; in order to read them aloud, it is necessary first to decode them. No one in Mesopotamia read for pleasure (Charpin 2010: 67).

Quite early, phonetic elements appeared in various writing systems. Recent research indicates that a simplified cuneiform script, useful in accounting, ceased to be restricted to narrow elites in the ancient Babylonian state, at the beginning of the second millennium BCE (Wilcke 2000; Charpin 2004). Western Semitic people’s discovery of phonetic writing in the form of...

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