Perestroika: Reflections on the Theory of Power
In his celebrated discussion of tragedy Aristotle develops what can be seen as a general theory of spectatorship. This theory c^n have important implications for thinking about our relation with history, especially about events with which we cither relate deliberately, or have no choice but of relating. The events going on in the Sovet Union now bear both types of relations with us. We cannot help thinking about them as citizens of the world as some would put it rhetorically. But I am sure we relate to those events more intimately as citizens of the idea of socialism. We relate to them as Aristotelian spectators.
Tragedy creates a narrative community. By admitting the audience into its theatrical space the theatre recognises a moral community between the characters and the audience. The spectators have acknowledged this community by coming to the tragedy. The tragedy acknowledges this reciprocally by lowering its 'fourth wall' towards them. The spectacle the tragedy is is not for the whole world indifferently, but for those who share its moral order, and therefore can share in the suffering of its infringement. Others can see this only as political behaviour, not as moral action. The tragedy speaks to its audience therefore in a tone of sharing, of confidentiality. As we share our moral world with the Soviets, we are spectators of its recent history. Its fourth wall is lowered for us to enter, to share in its meanings, sufferings, triumphs and defeats. We acknowledge this by our interest, by seeing this as part of our common destiny, and they acknowledge this by extending the hospitality of explaining their history—what they are trying to do to their social form—to the rest of the communist movement. We form despite all differences a narrative community of the history of the socialist idea.
Yet Aristotle's theory draws an ineradicable line of division between characters and spectators which is equally important. Characters do of course have their plans, designs and their own knowledge of the world and its ways. They know often the fate towards which they are moving. But there is a difference between what the characters know and the spectators. There are some things
* Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.