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The Theatrical Illusion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


Otakar Zich (1879–1934) is a striking figure in modern czech aesthetics and art theory. A gifted librettist and opera composer and a professor at Charles University in Prague, his place in the history of aesthetics is still controversial. His Aesthetics of Dramatic Art (Estetika dramatického umění [1931]) came out at a time of paradigmatic change in the humanities (the emergence in the 1930s of functional structuralism through the Prague linguistic circle). Also, it was only in the 1930s that the Czech theatrical avant-garde got into full swing. Zich's work apparently “fell short” both of the new scientific paradigm, imposed by the tandem of Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) and Jan Mukařovský (1891–1975), and of the expectations of the students of theater coming from Mukařovský's seminars, some of them already distinguished avant-garde directors (Veltruský 67). Zich's untimely death precluded the development of his project, as well as fruitful debate about it. Mukařovský, as Zich'fs protégé, felt obliged to address the work of his mentor, but his early semiotic reading was avowedly partial and tentative and barely concealed his puzzlement. This marginal inclusion in the new paradigm without real assimilation left Zich's complex and comprehensive undertaking out in the cold.

Criticism in Translation
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2019

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