In Sam Shepard's play Action a character asks, "What's a community?" only to find that no one really knows. Rooms with a View attempts to chart the development of communal concepts through the discourse of dramatic modernism, defining a coherent pattern that illustrates and anticipates innovations in modern and postmodern social theory. To clarify the commonplace notion that audiences actively participate in dramatic art, the intro-ductory chapter theorizes a performance community, which audience, actors, and other backstage actants (such as playwrights and directors) provisionally form in the theater. Connecting psychological, sociological, and aesthetic insights ranging from Freud to Kohut, from Simmel to Nancy, and from Artaud and Brecht to Arnheim and Jellicoe, Richard Barr shows how modernist thinkers are repeatedly drawn to the ideal of communion. The distinctive structure of this collective inquiry helps untangle the roots and routes of modern drama and social thought.
Barr analyzes the social and aesthetic theory of four in-fluential dramatists. Ibsen and Strindberg, he claims, explore ways of acknowledging the integrity of individual viewpoints while maintaining collective coherence. Pirandello and, in more radical ways, Beckett, conclude that conflict and division are not simply inevitable but invaluable in organizing alternative perspectives. By analyzing the ways playwrights variously conceive and achieve the complicated unity called community, Rooms with a View produces the rich paradox that difference may make the most difference in creative communal consensus.
Richard L. Barr holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and has taught English at Rutgers University. He is currently a specialist in intersubjective relations, practicing in New Jersey and Switzerland.