Paul Woodruff’s new book — The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched — is a fascinating read because an argument is made that we learn how to become who we are by what we watch and we are tempered and tested by being watched.
Can a human life be that simple?
Here’s the Amazon blurp for the book:
Defining theater broadly, including sporting events and social rituals, he treats traditional theater as only one possibility in an art that–at its most powerful–can change lives and (as some peoples believe) bring a divine presence to earth.
The Necessity of Theater analyzes the unique power of theater by separating it into the twin arts of watching and being watched, practiced together in harmony by watchers and the watched. Whereas performers practice the art of being watched–making their actions worth watching, and paying attention to action, choice, plot, character, mimesis, and the sacredness of performance space–audiences practice the art of watching: paying close attention. A good audience is emotionally engaged as spectators; their engagement takes a form of empathy that can lead to a special kind of human wisdom. As Plato implied, theater cannot teach us transcendent truths, but it can teach us about ourselves.
Do you agree with Woodruff’s base argument that we become what we see and others watching us keep us that way?
Or are we more complex than just imitating the modeled behavior of others?
Do we in fact — find repulsion in and condemnation of — the behavior of others and vow to never become that sort of human being?
If we are active sieves and not just static vessels — what is that process of moral critique and values consideration that defines us?
Are we required to behave identically in public and in private?
Or does only the public persona define the real in us?