Friday, March 13, 2009

Sacrificial Rites in Picasso and Stravinsky: Part 3 (Detachment)

Vollard Suite, Plate 57

The ritual of sacrifice as performance is also emphasized in both works. Picasso's suite contains an extraordinary number of spectator images, and this is one of its driving themes. In plate 57, for example, a couple watches serenely as a rampaging bull gores and tramples two horses. A closer inspection reveals that this wild scene is merely a sculpture in the studio, complete with its supporting base, rather like Oedipus' "living statues." Picasso firmly establishes the odd division between action and spectator. A ritual is a performance, and a sacrifice demands an audience. Classicism, emphasizing order and reason, prefers a philosophic, detached outlook, and the emotional disjunction between audience and enactment here well illustrates this stoic nature of classicism. Thus, in the Vollard Suite, it is very rare to find the onlookers in any degree of emotional excitement. The reaction, when it is not indifference, is more likely to be calm pondering. This concept of unemotional and removed performance is key to neoclassical expression. Picasso performs a ritual of his own in the creation of these pieces. Lisa Florman writes of Picasso's work that "the 'Blind Minotaur' series [is] less an illustration of a sacrifice than its performance or enactment. . . the Minotaur. . . [is] the equivalent of the 'sacrificed god' of mythology." The creation of Picasso's neoclassical art is in itself a ritual sacrifice.

In Oedipus, the role of the Speaker mediates the action for the audience in a similar manner, and causes the art to become similarly self-conscious. The Speaker has been compared to a dry sort of tour guide, reciting facts in a monotonous and detached manner rather than with a rush of poetic wordplay and visible emotion. After Jocasta commits suicide, the Speaker dryly says, "And now you will hear that famous monologue: 'The Divine Jocasta Is Dead.'" This neoclassical distance between action and reaction is realized in the Speaker's disinterested lecture. Ritual performance here, as in Picasso's listless onlookers, is emphasized, stressing classical impassiveness and aloofness. The drama is ritual and its creation involved a stylistic sacrifice on the part of Stravinsky.

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