Conflicting Scripts: Ideology, Statism, and Rhetoric in E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel
|Author(s)||by Jamal Assadi|
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Ideology (“the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group,”) statism (“the principle or policy of concentrating extensive economic, political, and related controls in the state at the cost of individual liberty,”) and rhetoric, the art of using fine language, all have roots in acting (Dictionary.com.). They all play a crucial role in shaping the individual through language and make assertions concerning reality for purposes of persuading an audience. Like the state, which through ideology exploits its immense power over the citizens to have a prosperous country, the playwright through the manuscript precisely outlines the actors lines to produce a consistent, booming act. And vice versa, both the citizen and the actor follow the roles assigned to them. Still, they believe they freely choose their roles when in fact they function under the impositions of well-observed guidelines. Likewise, the structuralists approach reconfirms the solidties between signifier and signified in a dictatorial manner forcing all discourse into one meaning dictated by language, which precedes every single utterance. Hence, the writers or the readers experience do not influence the meaning and the moment of the text’s production or its reception are not important. Rhetoric, however, concentrates on the free ability of the individual, i. e. playwright-actor to use language effectively to bring about a change in the audience’s positions. This notion is similar to the philosophy directing reader-oriented theories, which gives the readers the freedom to take their pleasure of a text with disregard for the authors "intention" or a signified "meaning." Rhetoric then allows the modern state citizen to interpret the doctrines as he wishes and even to write new ones. Similarly, the actor can choose his roles freely and be a playwright who directs and writes his own script as he goes, according to the emerging need in exactly the same manner as improvisation in the theater. These propositions are particularly ancillary to understanding The Book of Daniel, Doctorow’s first novel, which is pregnant with acting imagery. In this paper, I will discuss a few major issues: what Doctorow tries to discover through the medium of acting; how it is reflected in his treatment of the main themes and characters; and how it affects the narrative point of view.
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