Beyond Praxis Contemporary to 1929
There are certainly
gaps in the existing theorising of radio drama practice in 1929 which
were not provided to the aspiring writer nor identified as a key recognition
of narratological and dramatic potential in the new medium.
There are no references
to Aristotle's 'Poetics' nor the key points made by Plato and Horace
on the role of story telling in civilised society. Furthermore there
is clearly a poverty of imagination and philosophy about the potential
of sound drama in the context of a developing modernist world.
A fundamental flaw
in all the writings available to us from 1929 is the absence of any
references to irony as the writer's most powerful tool and the listener's
location for independence of thought and cultural and political resistance.
Irony is a location for understanding or applying Mikhail Bakhtin's
theory of double voiced heteroglossia. No theorists have successfully
articulated the bridge between Bakhtin's definition of the entry of
differentiated everyday languages into literary texts and the 'texts'
of radio drama. Bakhtin's concept of Dialogism creates roots and chains
for mutli-voiced expression in the vocabulary of character and narrators,
the relationship between author and character and the links of communication
and understanding between listener, characters and authors. How is the
chain of culture represented by the intertextuality of radio drama texts?
The body of theoretical
discourse on novel prose writing and drama created in the 20th century
as well as influential texts from antiquity raise a number of key questions
To take the tradition
of Greek Tragedy as critiqued by Aristotle in Poetics, how does the
radio drama production combine the elements of plot, character and 'imaginative
spectacle' to produce 'pity and fear' and to what extent is the 'successful'
radio drama production determined by a counterpoint of 'pity and fear'?
Can it be argued that
the radio drama phenomenon of creation, performance and reception generates
a special 'pleasure' in exploring and experiencing the emotional and
psychological pain of 'pity and fear'?
Where is the location
for mimesis (imitation), harmartia (error) and catharsis in radio drama?
What engagement has
there been in the history of radio drama where Plato's belief that 'poetics'
in storytelling which generate an excess of emotion should be suppressed
whereas Aristotle argues that it is appropriate to feel the right degree
of emotion in the right circumstances? How can the catharsis of fear
and pity be defined in the process of radio drama and identified as
events or process in its history?
Where can we identify
a merging of poetics and rhetoric in radio drama and how does the technique
of radio drama promote a better and proper understanding of the human
How do we predicate
and evaluate radio drama's role in offering a technique which goes beyond
the art of persuasion to become a faculty of discovering the available
means of persuasion in any particular case?
How does the radio
dramatist and producer combine the techniques of audience psychology,
human emotions and character, and virtues of clarity and appropriateness?
In the end the Aristotelian
issue for radio drama is the interface between a skill dedicated to
persuading an audience through rhetoric and the art of poetry which
is an imitative art that seeks to produce a particular pleasure.
How has the history
and practice of radio drama demonstrated the establishment of Haracian
'organic unity' emphasizing that 'every part and every aspect of that
work must be appropriate to the nature of the work as a whole: the choice
of subject in relation to the chosen genre, the characterisation, the
form, the expression, the metre, the style and the tone'? (pxl Murray,
P (2000) Classical Literary Criticism, London, New York: Penguin Classics.)
This clearly has an
echo that reverberates with the Gestaltian theory in human psychology.
(p 159, Crook, T (1999) Radio Drama, Theory and Practice, London, New
There have been elements
of these classical principles present in the debate about successful
elements in the idea of the microphone play in the articles published
in the Radio Times during 1929. Gielgud, Young and Mackenzie counsel
against mixing genres and emphasise the value of dramatic characters
which are true to life and avoiding characters which lack verisimilitude.
These are key principles
in Horace's 'Art of Poetry'. They do not disagree with his homily that
'the skilled imitator should look to human life and character for his
models, and from there derive a language that is true to life.' (317-18-
p 107 Horace, Art of Poetry, (2000) Classical Literary Criticism, London,
New York: Penguin Classics.)
To what extent does
Longinus 'On the Sublime' give radio drama the opportunity for analysing
itself. Does it fall into his three style of classifying oratory:
grand for rousing
plain for setting
intermediate for giving
Longinus offers an
opportunity to define radio drama as a sublime medium of storytelling
and poetic drama. He says that sublimity is marked by an ability to
amaze and transport the audience (listener) and overwhelm with its irresistible
power. Furthermore he breaks away from the position of Plato, Aristotle
and Horace by fusing the nature of poetry and prose and radio drama
offers the ideal location for removing the distinction. Longinus offers
some comfort to the writer who struggles to maintain an eternity of
fame throughout an entire play. As Longinus says no writer can be expected
to maintain an unbroken level of sublimity.
and influential texts on modern literary criticism during the 20th Century.
How are they relevant to a discourse on Radio Drama? What points did
the 1929 theorist/practitioners in radio drama not cover?
The coverage of narrative
theory in radio drama in 1929 was generally built around unreferenced
allusions and respect to classical Greek writers who populated the ambiance
of British Imperial education for the sons and daughters of the elite
through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Whilst narrative was understood
as a combination of story and plot, there was no awareness of the move
in Russia to establish a distinction between Syuzhet and Fabula. These
Russian terms were coined by Victor Shklovsky: Fabula meant fable. Syuzhet
meant subject. It has been recognised that narrative theory can be applied
to both communication of fiction and reality. The opening phrase 'Once
upon a time’ is reminiscent of the fairy/folk tale. Most stories relate
to the past. Live commentary relates to the present. Tense and mood
Asa Berger says the
phrase 'Once Upon a time 'situates the story in the past and suggests
that it takes place in a different world, one far removed from that
of the teller, listener, or reader’. It is a narrative agent on space
and time. Mikhail Bakhtin discoursed the concept of 'chronotope' which
in terms of its Greek roots means 'chronos' - time and 'topos' space.
Bakhtin argued that time-space is inseparable and therefore a consideration
of the shifting locations of time-space provide a key to understanding
the philosophical geography of prose. The relationship of time and space
is therefore relevant in literary criticism. It can be argued that it
is fundamentally relevant to any criticism, or theorising on radio drama.
How does storytelling
in radio drama dislocate reality? And how do mathematical and scientific
theories of relativity and gravity apply?
In addition to Bakhtin's
essays published as 'The Dialogic Imagination,' other influential texts
on the theory of storytelling which could be worth engaging with the
art of radio drama are Vladimir Propp's 'Morphology of the Russian Folktale',
Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press)
and The Typology of Detective Fiction in Modern Criticism and Theory:
a Reader (New York: Longman White Plains.) Roland Barthes's S/Z published
in Oxford by Blackwell is another potentially relevant text.
When the opening phrase
'Once upon a time' is considered further it is possible to recognise
its practical purpose. In the context of radio drama does it grab and
hold the attention of the listener who for the purposes of the subject
of radio drama is 'the receiver of text? Practically speaking it operates
as a narrative hook, leading us into a narrative world, setting up the
puzzle/enigma, and asking the question.
The theorists cited
agree that the audience reads the meaning at different levels. Those
levels could be cultural, conscious, subconscious, and political.
Barthes said 'art
is a system which is pure, no unit ever goes wasted, however long, however
loose, however tenuous may be the thread connecting it to one of the
levels of the story. (p 89-90 Barthes, R, (1990) S/Z, Oxford: Blackwell)
contain seeds of the themes, setting up the dynamic of predictability
and orientating the audience so that the following questions arising
in the mind of the listener could be typical:
1. Who is the hero
and villain? (containing binary code of conflict.)
2. What is the setting?
3. What is the style?
4. Is this going to
be satisfying the cultural consensus of convention in storytelling?
structure appears to be predicated on the idea of cause plus effect
The nature of genre
tends to settle the context of story. This locks into the cultural memory
of the audience to engage their ready made framework of understanding
the meaning. Non-genre texts raise more enigmatic openings.
There is also the
technique of narrative masking. This is where one genre is disguised
by another. Reading the text through an invisible genre window sets
up a kaleidoscope of conscious and unconscious reading. This is perhaps
obvious when it is realised that the opening of the plot or the text
is not the same as the beginning or opening of the story/fabula.
The word narrative
is rooted from the Latin verb 'narare' which is to make known. Narrative
could be defined as the presentation of information as a connected sequence
of events. Generally the motion is linear and is punctuated or linked
by logical causation. One event causes another or the next. This concept
is underpinned by linguistics which recognises the grammar of narrative
as two clauses. Narrative could be defined as the grammar of development.
Plot is everything
that the text explicitly presents. But the story has inferred events
within the plot known as ‘back-story’. All this is diegesis. Events
and knowledge known to the characters within the plot and story are
diegetic. Therefore characters only perceive diegetic material. Audience
can perceive everything a text has to offer - including non-diegetic
material. The significant space for non-diegetic material which only
the audience/receivers know provides the key location for irony. This
means to use Bakhtin's terms the polyphonic nature of character's voices
a dialogic with the non-diegetic knowledge of the listeners/audience.
Non diegetic material
can be part of the plot, but not part of the story for the characters.
The narrative world is the diegesis which is also the Greek word for
story and plot: ‘the story is what has happened in life, the plot is
the way the author presents it to us. The story corresponds to the reality
evoked... the plot to the book itself, the narrative, to the literary
devices the author employs.’ Further definitions of the nature of plot
are that it is the narrative as it is read, seen or heard from the first
to the last word or image; that it is, like a signifier - what the reader
perceives. Story is the narrative in chronological order, the abstract
order of events as they follow each other. That is, like a signified
story is what the reader conceives or understands, thereby creating
the semiotic sign:- The narrative of the text.
Many narrative theorists
emphasise the need for diegetic coherency. It is advised that the writer
should avoid discontinuities and illogicalities, should respect the
internal and external logic of the play. They need to be consistent.
This means that a
temporal plot should proceed from A to D.
An example of a non
temporal plot would be Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
Film Studies theorists
Bordwell and Thompson define 3 types of temporal durations:
Plot - time covered
by the plot.
Story - time covered
by the story.
to show the film or broadcast the radio play.(1993) Film Art, 4th edn
(New York: McGraw-Hill)
has been somewhat belittled into the theory of the beginning, middle,
end and this has been somewhat satirised by the Hollywood screenwriter
Lew Hunter who explained the process as
'In the first act
you get your hero up a tree. The second act, you throw rocks at him.
For the third act you let him down.
the idea of causal transformation.
1. Problem disrupts
2. Resolution of the
3. Reinstatement of
equilibrium or initial situation which changes to the world or character.
Todorov went further
to set out 5 stages:
1. a state of equilibrium
at the outset.
2. a disruption of
the equilibrium by some action.
3. a recognition that
there has been a disruption.
4. an attempt to repair
5. a reinstatement
of the equilibrium.
It is worth considering
the observation of Branigan: ‘...changes create an overall pattern or
‘transformation’ whereby his third stage is seen as the ‘inverse’ of
the first and fifth stages, and the fourth stage the ‘inverse’ of the
second (since it attempts to reverse the effects of the disruption).
Branigan. E (1992) Narrative Comprehension and Film (London and New
Todorov's five stages
may be symbolised as follows: A, B, -A, -B, A.
The mistake of writers
resolving a narrative problem in a somewhat unbelievable way - in a
way that can only happen normally in a dream is equivalent to deus ex
machina (an act of God).
Radio Drama certainly
played its part in moving the concept of storytelling seriality in a
capitalist market economic society. Seriality as one overarching narrative
which runs through all the episodes was established in the 19th century
through magazine publication. Dickens was a master as were thousands
of other writers of the technique of the cliffhanger pause or end.
The hero has an immediate
problem that must be overcome. Radio successfully created 'a lack' for
its audience so it was driven or compelled to listen to the next episode
in order to reach the ultimate resolution. Umberto Eco argues that Capitalism
has exploited seriality. Audiences are encouraged to find out about
the following episodes in order to increase audience. Eco argues seriality
generates industralisation of the arts and culture. This is because
seriality mimics the production line. Examples would be the increasing
phenomenon in the film industry of The Retake, the Sequel, the Prequel
and The Remake. The remaking and interpreting of previous texts swamps
and crowds out the opportunity to provide space for new texts. The Saga
Series exemplified by following the story of families over and across
generations creates an agency for confirming and proselytising a cultural
consensus. The concept of 'seriality' is not present in the radio drama
of 1929, but it would be developed first through adaptation of classical
novels during the 1930s. The licence fee funding may have been the politico-economic
distancing factor between funding and audience which applied a brake
on the capitalist dynamic of narrative seriality as explained by Eco.
Narrative links with
musical theory in considering the process of an essential factor as
the key scheme, the creation of tension by modulation away from the
tonal and the resolution of tension by returning to the tonic. Symmetrical
structures are common in music and so is the perception of Gestalt patterns
which appear to require the restoration of the equilibrium. It is not
unusual to interpret in music the process of
exposition Disruption: development. Resolution: recapitulation.
Further points made
by Todorov were that everything within a text should be intended to
contribute towards narrative development. Redundancy should be avoided
and he argued that all narrative texts effectively deal with the following
1. the quest.
2. the redemption.
3. journey to another
4. the beast transformed
5. the solving of
6. the biter-bit
7: the rise and fall.
of the Russian Folktale was originally written and published in 1928
but not introduced to western readers and academics through translation
until 1958. It has become an influential text on defining and explaining
the ‘shape’ of narrative or storytelling. The object for analysis was
Russian folktales so it would be wise not to use his approach as a straightjacket
for all kinds or forms of storytelling. He has made a major contribution
on the structure of narratives and the function of characters within
Rather than concentrating
on the motivation and internal psychological ‘ticking’ of a character,
Propp was more concerned about the function of characterisation in the
narrative. His approach could be explained in this way:
1: Actions of Character
in the Story.
2: Consequences of
these Actions for the Story.
Propp identified a
range of storytelling functions in folktales. He said that not all these
functions had to be present. He said that several functions could be
grouped together to form a set of ‘Moves’. For example he defined the
first 7 functions as ‘Preparation’ and that many ‘plot/narratives’ actually
began at function 8 where the disruption or crisis manifests itself.
Some writers have convincingly argued that Propp’s approach equates
to that of Todorov in the following way:
Todorov 1: Propp 0
to 7/ a state of equilibrium at the outset.
Todorov 2: Propp at
8/ a disruption of the equilibrium by some action.
Todorov 3: Propp at
9/ a recognition that there has been a disruption.
Todorov 4: Propp 10
to 17/ an attempt to repair the disruption.
Todorov 5. Propp 18
to 31/ a reinstatement of the equilibrium.
0 INITIAL SITUATION.
members of the family are introduced; hero is introduced.
1 ABSENTATION. One
of the members of the family absents himself or herself.
2 INTERDICTION. Interdiction
addressed to hero (can be reversed)
3. VIOLATION. Interdiction
Villain makes attempt to get information.
5. DELIVERY. Villain
gets information about victim.
6. TRICKERY. Villain
tries to deceive victim.
7. COMPLICITY. Victim
8. VILLAINY. Villain
causes harm to a member of the family; or lack. Member of the family
lacks something, desires something.
9. MEDIATION. Misfortune
made known; hero is dispatched.
Hero (seeker) agrees to counteraction.
11. DEPARTURE. Hero
12: FIRST DONOR FUNCTION.
Hero tested, receives magical agent or helper.
13: HERO’S REACTION.
Hero reacts to agent or donor.
14. RECEIPT OF AGENT.
Hero acquires use of magical agent.
15. SPATIAL CHANGE.
Hero led to object of search.
16. STRUGGLE. Hero
and villain join in direct combat.
17. BRANDING. Hero
18. VICTORY. Villain
19. LIQUIDATION. Initial
misfortune or lack is liquidated.
20. RETURN. Hero returns.
21. PURSUIT, CHASE.
Hero is pursued.
22. RESCUE. Hero is
rescued from pursuit.
23. UNRECOGNISED ARRIVAL.
Hero, unrecognised, arrives home or elsewhere.
24. UNFOUNDED CLAIMS.
False hero presents unfounded claims.
25. DIFFICULT TASK.
Difficult task is proposed to hero.
26. SOLUTION. Task
is proposed to hero.
27. RECOGNITION. Hero
28. EXPOSURE. False
hero or villain is exposed.
Hero is given a new appearance.
30. PUNISHMENT. Villain
31. WEDDING. Hero
is married, ascends the throne.
A SUMMARY OF PROPP’S
Propp advanced the
idea that there are 7 spheres of action, or narrative functions which
are advanced by certain categories of character:
1. The Villain who
creates the narrative complication.
2. The Donor who gives
the hero something which aids in the process and resolution of narrative.
3. The Helper who
supports the hero in the struggle to restore the equilibrium.
4. The Princess -
The character most threatened by the villain and who has to be saved
by the hero. ( The father usually gives the princess away in the role
of King at the end of the plot).
5. The Dispatcher
sends or launches the hero on his or her 'holy grail' or 'journey'.
6. The Hero/Heroine
is the characterisation force who restores the narrative equilibrium
- usually through searching and saving the princess. Propp subdivides
the hero/heroine into Victim Hero - the object of villain's malice and
subterfuge. Seeker Hero - the character who help others who are victims
of the villain. The hero is often the central character and plot protagonist.
7. False Hero. Facade
of goodness but is revealed as the wolf in sheep's clothing.
can overlap. Propp and Todorov defined general and conventional narrative
structures. Hollywood and most popular forms of entertainment embrace
them. However, not all narratives end in resolutions and the restoration
of equilibrium. Propp and Todorov really belong to a structuralist tradition
where narrative codes and functions are really signs with meaning derived
from context (syntagmatic dimension) and that context tends to be binary
oppositions. It is a system of differences. French structural anthropologist
Claude Levi-Strauss argued that binary oppositions are at the heart
of people's attempts to come to terms with reality. They do this by
creating myths through storytelling. Myth is an anxiety-reducing mechanism
that deals with unresolvable contradictions in a culture and imaginative
ways of living with them. The heart of conflict in storytelling proves
this point. Binary oppositions include: Heroes to Villains. Helpers
to Henchmen. Princesses (love objects) to Sirens (sexual objects) Magicians
(good/white magic) to Sorcerers (evil/black magic) Donors of magic objects
to Preventers/hinderers of donors. Dispatchers of heroes to Captors
of heroes. Seekers to Avoiders. Seeming Villains who turn out to be
good to False Heroes who turn out to be bad.
These binary forces
have been categorised as bipolar oppositions by a narrative theorist
Asa Berger in 'Narratives in Popular Culture, Media and Everyday Life'
published by Sage in 1997.
Good/White Force Bad/Black
Cooperate versus Compete.
Help v Hinder.
Escape v Imprison.
Defend v Attack.
Initiate v Respond.
Uncover v Disguise.
Reveal v Pretend.
Love v Hate and lust.
Unravel v Mystify.
Pursue v Evade.
Search for v Evade.
Tell Truth v Lie.
Allow v Prohibit.
Question v Answer.
Rescue v Endanger.
Protect v Threaten.
Punish v Suffer.
Dispatch v Summon.
Allow v Interdict.
Retain v Lose.
represent a process of privileging factors and setting up hierarchies.
Normally the hero represents the triumph of what society holds to be
good. The guarantee of success is part of the function of entertainment.
Media narratives are delusionary. When in life good often fails, storytelling
serves to reassure us about the uncertainties and injustices of life.
How do we judge the ideological direction of a narrative?
It could be argued
that a writer should answer these four key questions:
1. What has changed
in the world of the story?
2. What has been transformed?
3. What has been added
or lost in the process/plot development?
4. How have the characters'
relative positions and status or their hierarchy changed?
It could be argued
that a process of answering these questions helps provide writers with
the interrogative tool to understand their own ideological objectives
Roland Barthes set up
an inter-relational nexus of narrative codes through the complex study
he did of Balzac’s short story Sarrasine which was published as ‘S/Z’.
Barthes aligns himself closely with Bertolt Brecht’s view of the bourgeois
conceit in the pretence of ‘reality’ in dramatic entertainment and communication.
The ‘realist’ text is in fact a braid or interweaving of different narrative
codes. The importance is in the way that they are combined to provide
‘an impression or representation of reality.’
A drama or text has
its own internal logic of combined narrative codes and references to
other existing storytelling/communication texts. This reference to other
texts is known as ‘intertextuality’.
Barthes believed that
the audience becomes a ‘writer/reader’ which coincides with the theory
of the radio listener engaging with a fifth dimension stream or direction
of narrative understanding - the Imaginative Spectacle of the Listener
- a combination of mind’s eye and powerful human emotions. (pp 53-69)
Crook, T (1999) Radio Drama-Theory & Practice, London, New York:
1. Hermeneutic Code
or Enigma Code. These are the questions raised in the mind of the listener/audience.
When the answer is delayed there is an enigma and the internal logic
of the play requires a solution. The narratives capture the audience
by making them want to know what is going to happen next. The delay
between proposition and resolution of this code motivates ‘reading’.
It is the Motor of the Narrative. Hermeneutics is a Greek term which
relates to the philosophy of interpreting texts.
2. Semic Code. The
way characters, objects and settings take on particular meanings. This
equates with Propp’s spheres of action.
3. Symbolic Code.
Signs which signify binary oppositions e.g. good/bad youth/adult etc.
This code provides a map of the antitheses in the play and how these
reflect cultural aspect or society. They appear natural enough in the
‘realistic’ setting. It is a code which sets out a narrative of oppositions.
4. Proarietic or Action
Code. These are action tags. Things are done, normally at the end of
scenes to predict what is likely to happen next. It’s a shorthand way
of advancing the action. These codes determine whether it is acceptable
to show certain kinds of action and serve the interests of censorship
by implying or being implicit without being explicit or presentational.
You get a throwahead of intimacy or sexual relations but are not actually
shown what happens in detail.
5. Cultural or Referential
Codes. This does not belong to the actual narrative of the radio play
or text but belongs Outside the text. It is one step beyond diegetic
engagement because although not part of the play’s language it is present
in the understanding, interpretation by the audience. It lies with the
meaning experienced by the audience and depends on the common stock
of politics, art, ethics, history and psychology of the listeners. It
can be argued that the Semic and Cultural Codes amount to the same thing.
Barthes called units of meaning lexias. The illusion of realism is founded
on the integrated functioning of these five levels of codes. They all
combine together to create meaning. It has been argued that storytelling
is a psychological and cultural mechanism to perpetuate mental equilibrium,
self actualisation and social harmony.
The power and value
of irony in writing, construction and interpretation of meaning on the
part of the audience was not explored at all by published radio drama
theorists in 1929 and tends to be an understated factor in the synergy
of dramatic writing and audio drama production.
The subtlety of engagement
and appreciation provides an exquisite bonding between writer, performers
Irony can be located
on a number of dimensions:
1. Coincidence recognised
by characters and/or audience.
2. Understanding and
knowledge restricted to audience so that the characters have an unwitting
and symbolic journey.
3. Understanding and
knowledge located between audience and a restricted character or number
of characters within the syuzhet.
4. The idea that the
exact opposite is happening and being meant but remains oblivious to
one or more characters in the syuzhet.
5. Irony offers a
dimension for hypocrisy, self realisation, self deception on the part
6. It is the striking
of a note of wry humour/comedy. Irony works well in dialogue and action
and when it is multi-layered because the playing tends to be against
the cultural/constructed meaning by audience.
The engagement of
theoretical concepts of The Dialogic Imagination by Mikhail
Bakhtin provide a rich source of definition of ironic spaciality in
radio drama. The principles of Dialogism, Polyphony, The Chronotope,
and Heteroglossia are potentially interfacial and interleaving in ironic
reality and expressionism in radio drama. Bakhtin writes:
individuals are only surface upheavals of the untamed elements in social
heteroglossia, surface manifestations of those elements that play on
such individual oppositions, make them contradictory'
(p326, Bakhtin, M,
M (1981) Discourse in the Novel in The Dialogic Imagination, Texas,
USA: University of Texas Press.)
If radio drama can
be recognised as a rich territory for utterance then it is the arena
for struggle over consciousness, time and place and multi-voiced characterisation
as well as the construction of meaning for listeners who in their own
memory and imagination resonate chains of cultural identity.
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