PJAS 12 Spring-13

Paulina Ambroży
Performance and Theatrical Awect in Steven Millhauser’s Short Story “The Knife-Thrower”
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 12 (Spring 2018) pp. 185-196


Audiences and performances figure prominently in Steven Millhauser’s short stories whose plots are often structured around some form of public entertainment (e.g. magic or freak shows, museum displays or automaton dramas). “The Knife Thrower,” “August Eschenberg,” “The New Automaton Theater” or “The Dream of the Consortium,” to name only a few of his numerous “theatrical” pieces, use performance to explore the relation between the figure of a charismatic artist and his spectators. As will be shown in close reading of “The Knife Thrower,” the writer’s representation of a magician’s performance is complexified through his choice of a plural narrative voice which creates a unique subject position for his fictional audiences. Another aspect of the theatrical mode in Millhauser’s story is that the narrative is informed by the tension between stage and offstage realities, with the dramas often “bleeding” into reality and contaminating the characters’ everyday lives. The aim of my inquiry is to look into the aesthetic and moral implications of Millhauser’s use and abuse of performative codes, with a special focus on the role of the collective narrator, the relation between production and reception of art and dramatizations of the porous boundaries between performance and life. The methodological angle adopted for the analysis derives from affective studies of theatrical experience.

Keywords: Steven Millhauser, American short story, performance, audience, theatrical feeling, plural narrator

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.12/1/2018.13

Full Article