Although not explicitly stated, it is easy to deduce that 36 Views is set in the modern era and, most likely, in a large, culturally rich area. The last half of the twentieth century up to the present has been a tumultuous time in art. Art movements, as they were typically understood, began to recess. It was as though the artists who created movements were being replaced by the decisions of dealers and critics. In response to the current conundrum of modern art, Robert Hughes states in his book The Shock of the New, ‘‘The year 1900 seemed to promise a renewed world, but there can be few who watch the approach of the year 2000 with anything but scepticism and dread. Our ancestors saw expanding cultural horizons, we see shrinking ones.’’ Iizuka must share a similar reproach. The play 36 Views constantly and diligently questions the fabric of the contemporary art world.
From the early 1900s up to the 1970s, art was hinged to the aesthetic. Artists believed in progress and the future. They worked to deny the past in order to create new movements and a renewal of a world rich with art. Art, as it progressed, was seen to convey spirituality and transcendence. It was rich with response to social and political events. Modern artists worked to separate art from craft. Art, as history, was presented as a single narrative. The modernists saw art as a progressive change that could be viewed historically. The modernists promoted a pure appreciation of art and saw art as a great asset to society. It was reasonable and justifiable to be trained in the universals of art, in terms of a pure sense of style and technique, just as a doctor is trained in the universals of medicine. The appreciation and understanding of contemporary art soared during these years.
However, modern art...
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Melding Styles for the Audience
Iizuka’s 36 Views is written in such a way that the people who come to see the production will have an experience which melds Western and non-Western forms. She has successfully created a contemporary play set in a modern, metropolitan city that has strong elements of traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre.
Monologues as Interludes and as Effective Foreshadowing
Repeatedly, Iizuka enlists her characters to do the voice-over as another character reads from the transcript of the fabricated pillow book. Throughout the play, the monologues break up the characters’ dialogue. The discussions frequently revolve around arguments of authenticity and how it relates to art and the state of being. The monologues are delicately written, beautiful and poetic. The dialogue is frequently intellectual, focused, and sometimes derisive. The interplay between monologue from the pillow book and the dialogue of the characters creates a cadence that ensnares and makes the audience wonder about the significance of the pillow book. In a play heavy with questions about what is real, Iizuka effectively builds tension and highlights the importance of the pillow book by interrupting the dialogue with the readings from it.
The Manipulation of Verisimilitude
Verisimilitude, in literature and drama, refers to aspects of a work that are perceived as true to a reader or audience. In 36 Views,...
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Topics for Further Study
• The blending of Western and non-Western styles is important in 36 Views. One example of this blend is the use of wooden clappers throughout the play. Research non-Western styles of drama, such as Kabuki, a traditional Japanese popular drama performed with highly stylized singing and dancing, and try to find and explain other examples of non-Western elements in 36 Views.
• Darius Wheeler believes that art should be about beauty, not ideas. Wheeler’s understanding of art shares much with David Hume’s philosophy in The Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Read ‘‘Section II—Of the Origin of Ideas’’ and use Hume’s definitions of ideas and impressions to determine whether Wheeler’s understanding of art makes sense, or if his dependence on beauty leaves him devoid of something crucial to human understanding.
• The question of authenticity is rampant in 36 Views. Whether it is from degradation and restoration or simply from pure fabrication, the truth of objects is constantly under question in the play. What other things change with time? Think of how things age and break down, whether wine or carbon molecules, for example, and try to examine the concept of aging and how it correlates to value.
• The play’s namesake, 36 Views of Mount Fuji by the artist Hokusai, actually consists of forty-six different prints of Mount Fuji. Research Hokusai and try to...
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What Do I Read Next?
• Out of the Fringe (1999) is a collection of eclectic plays that contains Iizuka’s play Skin. Iizuka, as a Japanese American of Spanish descent, is included in this collection of contemporary Latina/Latino Theatre and Performance.
• Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories (1999) is a play that melds Ovid’s Metamorphoses with the subculture of homeless youth.
• The Laramie Project (2001), by Moises Kaufman, is a play documenting the aftermath of the savage murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man. It is an innovative theatrical composition in that the play has no scenes, only ‘‘moments.’’
• How I Learned to Drive (1999), a play by Paula Vogel, examines the destructive and incestuous relationship between Li’l Bit and her uncle. It is written with frank language and straightforward honesty that create a remarkably candid view of a dysfunctional family.
• The Waverly Gallery (2000), written by Kenneth Lonergan, is an impressive and frequently hilarious story about the last years of a fiery, talkative grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
• History of Modern Art (2003, 5th ed.), by H. H. Arnason, is an authoritative and brilliant examination of art from the mid-nineteenth century to today’s diverse artistic movements.
• Art in Theory 1900–2000 (2002, 2d ed.), by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, provides...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Hughes, Robert, The Shock of the New, Alfred A. Knopf, 1991, p. 425.
Hume, David, ‘‘Selections from Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,’’ in Eighteenth-Century Philosophy, edited by Lewis White Beck, Free Press, 1966, pp. 94–96.
Iizuka, Naomi, 36 Views, Overlook Press, 2003.
Weber, Bruce, ‘‘When Things Aren’t What They Seem (Are They?),’’ in the New York Times, March 29, 2002, p. E3.
Japan Playwrights Association Staff, Half a Century of Japanese Theater, Kinokuniya Shoten Shuppanbu, 2000. This book contains a series of contemporary Japanese plays that have been translated into...
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