Martin Puchner and the Drama of Ideas

martin-puchnerMartin Puchner has a track record of border crossings – in life as much as in his prolific academic career. Born and raised in Germany, he exchanged his undergraduate student life at the University of Konstanz for the University of Bologna and later the University of California at St. Barbara and Irvine. Having studied literature, history and philosophy, he ultimately earned his PhD in Comparative Literature at Harvard University in 1998. Puchner first taught at Columbia University, and since 2010 has been the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University.

His scholarship is wide-ranging and striking in the originality of its approach – be it to world literature, dramatic theory, or the nexus between philosophy and theater.  His three books The Drama of Ideas, Poetry of the Revolution and Stage Fright share a common concern: they approach their subject from beyond its disciplinary borders and seek to explode internally upheld categorizations. Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama approaches drama through its other – literature. The closet dramas of Yeats, Stein or Beckett are exceptional here not because of their embrace but their resistance and indeed suspicion of the theatrical situation. Ultimately, antitheatricality turns into the mode that offers new impulses for the stage. In Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestoes, and the Avant-Gardes, Puchner explores the border between aesthetic genre and political action by reading the manifesto’s power as based on its literary qualities. The manifesto becomes a testing case for how literature may insert itself and perform in the world. The book was the winner of the James Russell Lowell Award.

Puchner’s Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theatre and Philosophy again reads two archenemies together: theatre and philosophy. Plato’s dialogues turn into dramatic pieces that embody the deep involvement of the two disciplines with one another. The drama of ideas that Puchner sketches here is ultimately not geared towards the sphere of corporeality but rather reveals the possibility of staging thought rather than action. For the new discipline of performance philosophy, Puchner’s book is a groundbreaking work because it opens up new avenues for thinking philosophy through the theatre. The Drama of Ideas was awarded the Walter Cabott Channing Prize as well as the Joe A. Callaway Prize for the Best Book on Drama or Theatre in 2012, and described by the jury as „a work of exceptional literary power and disciplinary consequence.“Puchner’s interventions continue to question and redefine disciplinary frames. He is at the forefront of thinking about theories of the theatre – and at yet another border: that of performance and philosophy.

Martin Puchner is also the Director of the Mellon School of Theatre and Performance Research at Harvard University, which offers emerging scholars from around the globe a forum for exploring and contributing to the future of the discipline. His output of edited volumes and sourcebooks is wide-ranging and reinforces the interdisciplinary scope of his expertise, whether in political theory, modernist aesthetics, metatheatre or, most recently, world literature.

Selected bibliography:

  •  Puchner, Martin. Norton Anthology of World Literature. General Editor, with Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Wiebke Denecke et. al.  (New York: Norton, 2012)
  • Puchner, Martin. The Drama of Ideas. Platonic Provocations in Theatre and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)
  • Puchner, Martin. Norton Anthology of Drama. 2 vols. General Editor, with J. Ellen Gainor and Stanton Garner, Jr. (New York: Norton: Norton, 2009)
  • Puchner, Martin. Modern Drama: Critical Concepts. Editor, 4-volume anthology of critical writing (New York: Routledge, 2008)
  • Puchner, Martin. Against Theatre: Creative Destructions on the Modernist Stage. Editor, with Alan Ackerman (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)
  • Puchner, Martin. Poetry of the Revolution. Marx, Manifestoes and the Avant-Gardes. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)
  • Puchner, Martin. Introduction to Tragedy and Metatheatre: Essays on Dramatic Form, by Lionel Abel. (New York: Holmes and Meier, 2003)
  • Puchner, Martin. Stagefright. Modernism, Anti-Theatricality and Drama. (London and Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002)

[Written by: Ramona Mosse]

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A propos de l'auteur : Anna Street

Anna Street est doctorante en cotutelle à l’Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne et à l’Université du Kent à Canterbury. Sa thèse étudie le rapport des développements philosophiques au théâtre européen de l’après-guerre, en examinant comment l’effondrement des idéologies a transformé non seulement les scènes de théâtre, mais aussi l’écriture de la philosophie. Membre de VALE et du Labo LAPS, elle est fondatrice du groupe Tragedy and Comedy: Genres of Dramatic Thought au sein de Performance Philosophy,