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The Dramatics of Time

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Art has as many definitions as it has practitioners, but one function of art is to help us understand the human experience, regardless of how our definitions of that experience differ. And since time is experience, art is particularly well-suited to treat it. Along with space, time, as a basic category of human experience, is, therefore, a basic category of artistic inquiry. Space is the primary focus of the visual arts, whereas music is an art form in time. Literature, however, always deals with both, and nowhere is this more apparent than in drama, where the time and space of the literary text are realized in the real time and real space of the performed text. Yet despite the widespread interest in time in much twentieth-century literary theory, the unique potential for the investigation of experiential time in drama has gone largely ignored. The purpose of this article is to address that curious absence, first by looking at the ways existing theories approach literary time (and largely fail to approach dramatic time), and then by discussing the generic and performative characteristics of drama (especially Russian drama, since that is the tradition with which I am most familiar) that make it in many ways the ideal art form in which to investigate time.


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