returning to “anagnorisis”

I’m currently working on a proposal for a new journal, along with colleagues from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and the International Federation for Theatre Researchers. We need a name for this journal, which will exhibit the talent of international scholars interested in the intersection between theatre, religion, performance, and spirituality. I’ve been tasked with creating a first draft of the proposal, and this is what I’ve come up with for a suggested name and its explanation. Give it a read, and let me know what you think. We hope to submit the journal proposal very soon.

“Historically, religion/spirituality and theatre/performance have always gone hand in hand. Anagnorisis, as an international journal of religion, spirituality, performance and theatre, takes its name from the Greek term Aristotle used to describe the emotional-intellectual nexus of tragic drama. “Anagnorisis” has been variously translated as “recognition” or “discovery”. The Greek word is about knowledge; it specifically connotes action, a turning from ignorance to knowledge (“ana-”: upward, toward, + “gnorizein”: to make known). Aristotle argues that the best form of anagnorisis in tragedy coincides with the peripeteia, the reversal of an expected outcome for the protagonist (The Poetics, chapter 11). Tragedy truly “imitates” anagnorisis and peripeteia when it excites “pity and fear” from the audience. If tragedy is the poetic form that finds and tests the limits of not only what can be humanly endured, but of what is human, seeking the catalyzing moment where human potential stands on the precipice between exile or community, monstrosity or man, then pity and fear is the emotional combination necessary for simultaneous empathy and horror. Anagnorisis, new knowledge, is the discovery of likeness through the experience of difference, and the re-cognition of what has already been assumed, but again encountered with new clarity. The tragedian’s art is to hold the mirror up not to nature, but to the possibility of stark otherness in ourselves, to the possibility that we can look in the mirror and not recognize what we see, and that we may see ourselves in what seems impossibly other–others whom we can but little, or sometimes fail to, recognize as human.
Anagnorisis is the moment where fate hangs in the balance, and the gods watch carefully. We take our journal’s name from this word because we see the scholar’s work likewise inhabiting that pivot point between recognition and knowledge, especially when seeking understanding of the complex crossroads between religion, spirituality, performance, and theatre. Religion and spirituality speak to both our most intimate convictions and the mores of our cultural contexts, while performance and theatre demonstrate both self-reflexivity and the unspoken habitus of praxis, be that in everyday life or within our most sacred rites.”

4 thoughts on “returning to “anagnorisis”

  1. Claire, you might lead with the more narrative efforts that are currently toward the end of the paragraph. Right now the opening feels a bit much like a lesson. I’m also not a big fan of “religion/spirituality” and “theatre/performance,” though I see why you’re using the structure.

    But the last four sentences knock it out of the park for me. What if you led with what’s now the last sentence, reworked the transition into what’s now the start, etc.?

  2. Thank you, Jenni. That’s really helpful. I was feeling a little frustrated with the “dictionary definition” style of the opening, but also felt I had to set the conventional definition straight before turning to our more nuanced reading. I’ll try as you suggest and see how my fellow editors feel!

  3. I’m excited to find this post, having been searching blindly for anything talking about spirituality, religion, art, theater, and performance together. Not easy to find! I came here on a tangent from icon painting, but I also work in university theater, Yale and Fairfield University. It seems fortuitous to find your journal proposal, your explanation of the title opening up new avenues of investigation for me. I look forward to seeing its progress! Many thanks!

    1. Hi Linda! Thanks for your comment! Are you aware of the Religion and Theatre Focus Group through the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, or the Performance and Religion Working Group with the International Federation for Theatre Research? I am involved with both groups. I’d be happy to provide you with more information. Please feel free to email me at clairemariachambers@gmail.com. [PS: I also am really interested in icons!]

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