Diptych: Gesture as Hieroglyph

Diptych: Gesture as Hieroglyph

In Diptych, blog contributor Timothy Barr juxtaposes two quotes from distant historical periods. Their “family resemblance” suggests a hidden genealogy of a modern thought.

Every movement is a hieroglyph, with its own peculiar meaning. The theater should employ only those movements which are immediately decipherable. Everything else is superfluous.
— Vsevolod Emilyevich Meyerhold, 1922
And as for gestures, they are as transitory hieroglyphics, and are to hieroglyphics as words spoken are to words written, in that they abide not; but they have evermore, as well as the other, an affinity with the things signified.
— Sir Francis Bacon, in The Advacement of Learning, 1605

V. S. Meyerhold is best-known as one of the progenitors of the modernist theater and the founder of the philosophy and practice of acting known as biomechanics. He polemicized against the naturalistic theater and its techniques, such as the famous “Method” of his teacher, Stanislavski.

In his The Advancement of Learning, Francis Bacon discussed gesture as part of “transitive” knowledge, or “tradition,” that concerns “ the expressing or transferring our knowledge to others.” Gesture is part of the “organ of tradition” that communicates not through convention but by similitude or affinity with what it signifies. Bacon notes that he found the study of this “part of knowledge” was “not inquired [into], but deficient.”

What might it mean to see Meyerhold’s theory of biomechanics as taking up the “deficient” inquiry into gesture. the “transient hieroglyph,” as an “organ of tradition”?

The Antimodern Modern

The Antimodern Modern

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