Adrian Boteanu / Sun Staff Photographer

Panelists discussed the intersectionality of literature and drama and relevance of performance media as an artform in the current “fractured culture” of society.

March 9, 2017

Cornell Literary Society Panel Discusses Universality, Cultural Power of Plays

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We are living in a “fractured culture” and playwriting is a means of reparation, according to award-winning playwright Neil Wechsler, who spoke in a panel Wednesday in Goldwin Smith Hall.

“For me, everything is literary drama,” said Wechsler, the executive director of a Buffalo-based playwriting organization called Against the Grain Theater Festival. “Everything is a play.”

Wechsler was joined by Prof. Aoise Stratford and Prof. Bruce Levitt, performance and media arts. The panelists discussed a variety of topics relating to the intersectionality of literature and drama. Levitt explored the historical tradition of drama as a means of expression.

“Plays and storytelling are really the original form of literature,” he said. “It all started around the campfire with cave paintings and illustrated stories. Drama occupies a kind of unique space within world literature.”

Stratford argued that the distinction between literature and drama was a bit more nuanced. Something that is literary, she added, is intended to be consumed as art.

“It is a difficult distinction to make,” she said. “Lots of things can be considered art or considered literature, but it depends a bit on the intention.”

The panelists all agreed that literature and drama are critical in understanding world history and exploring current events. Because literature is often applied to the reader, it can also be applied to an audience in a performance-based setting. Even when plays retain their historical intent, they can still be enjoyed and learned from.

“These texts are about presentation just as much as they are about preservation,” Stratford said.

Wechsler noted the relevance of performance media as an artform in the current “fractured culture” of society.

“Literature has become very marginalized,” he said. “Plays have become very marginalized. And they shouldn’t be. The reason why I enjoy teaching non-theatre students playwriting is because I like making it for everyone. Part of the teaching process is to show that this is for me as much as it is for you. It is for everyone.”

Rachel Whalen ’19, secretary of the Cornell Literary Society and Sun news editor, spoke to the panel’s presence in emphasizing art on campus.

“We share a vision that the humanities and playwriting are so critical,” she said. “Especially now more than ever, we need the humanities. Part of what the Society is here for is to preserve the humanities, to emphasize their importance, and to explore all aspects of the humanities and literature in all different ways.”