Fuction of Education

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Angels and Dionysos


I. Introduction


The great significance of Tony Kushner¡¯s Angels in America Millennium Approaches is that it not only solves the big problem in artistic creation which was put forward by Nietzsche, that is, how to combine the Apollonian image and the Dionysiac spirit on the dramatic stage, but more importantly, it implies a possible solution to the social problems by reviving the long-lost spirit of Dionyos and bringing the sublime and divine back onto the stage. Thus by solving the artistic problem and implying the solution to the realistic problems, this work suggests the close relationship between the artistic world and the realistic world. It reflects that the importance of art lies in that it is not only an imitation of the reality, but it also can transcend the reality and its catharsis and healing power can give the audience greatest relaxation from the misery of daily life. However, Kusher makes his play more significant by suggesting a new mode of existence and society other than the existing one by calling back the Dionysiac spirit.


In Angels in America, to present the social reality in the eighties in America, Kushner uses method of Brecht¡¯s epic theatre. By using some epic techniques such as split scenes, epic acting and historicazation in this play, Kushner give the audience a new perspective to observe their own society by distancing the stage from the audience, to look at the social problems of AIDS epidemic, homosexual, religion and politics in the present America, to look at the prevailing social mentality of terror of death, both corporally and spiritually, and the sharp contrast between what the government flaunts about ¡°the truth¡± and people¡¯s feeling of emptiness in heart. Being distanced from the present social reality, the audience can make a cold clear observation of their society in which they live and take their own critical attitude and judgment toward it.


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In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche pointed out the dichotomy of artistic creation, the two kinds of artistic creative tendency that are represented by two Greek deities, Apollo and Dionysos. It is the illuminating power and reason that Apollo stands for. Dionysos, which is the opposite of Apollo, is the ecstatic power of mysterious and is more primitive and universal. Nietzsche argues the whole system of the western philosophy is wrong because it is solely based on the Apollonian reason since the time of Euripedes in 00 BC. The contradiction between the great development of material production and scientific progress and the long lost state of the Dionlysiac spirit is becoming sharper and sharper. The death of Dionysiac spirit is the main cause of people¡¯s loss of belief and the spiritual death they are facing. In the play Kushner uses the Apollonian epic techniques to present the spiritual crisis that the western people are facing and the death of Dionysos in the modern society on the stage.


However, Epic theatre, as product of the age of science and reason, is an embodiment of the Apollonian spirit. Kushner sees the limitation of Brecht¡¯s epic theatre, that is, artistically, it cannot bring the audience an aesthetic empathy because it solely emphasizes the function of reason during the process of actors¡¯ playing and audience¡¯s appreciating; and realistically, it is based on the Apollonian reason, the foundation of western culture and ideology, which is proved to be problematic since Nietzsche, thus Brecht¡¯s claim of improving and reforming the society through the didacticism of epic theatre is limited in this sense.


Therefore, Kushner is not content with just presenting a misery picture of the social reality before the audience. To response to the people¡¯s and time¡¯s aspiring for the coming back of the Dionysiac spirit, Kushner revives the Dionysiac spirit artistically on the stage, which gives the audience the feeling of hope. He uses various ways of repetition to represent the existence of the Dionysiac spirit. People¡¯s repetitive mentions of the past imply that the Dionysiac spirit still lives in their heart. The nature imageries repetitively used on the stage and characters¡¯ talking endow the play the poetic and metaphoric sense. And the repetitive appearance of magic moments and miracles is mysterious to the audience and beyond their imagination. These elements that Kushner uses proves the existence of the Dionysos and its attribute of invisibility. To let Dionysos appear on the stage before the audience, Kushner presents the Apollonian image of the Angel as the incarnation of the Dionysos spirit to the audience at the end of the play. So the play is pushed to the climax by overwhelming power of the Dionysiac power to the domination of the Apollonian spirit both on the stage and in the audience and endowing the Angel a sense of sublime and divine. Thus, the play attains its highest artist goal and resolves the issue put forward by Nietzsche, that is, how to combine the Apollonian image and the Dionysiac spirit in art, and points out a possible solution to the serious problems of human existence that people are facing today, that is, to return, or more exactly to move forward to the past golden age, to find what we have lost and to become the Dionysiac men and women.


So I develop my discussion about this issue mainly in two opposite aspects, one is the epic theatricality as the representation of the Apollonian spirit in this play and, the other is the Angel and other elements as the representation of the Dionysiac spirit. In the first part I talk about the significance of Kushner¡¯s use of Brecht¡¯s epic theatre and some specific epic theatric techniques used in this play. In the second part, I discuss the death of Dionysos in the modern western society and how this problem is represented in the play. Then I talk about the limitation of the epic theatricality. And to make the Dionysiac spirit reappear on the stage, Kushner creates some different ways from those of epic theatre to represent the Dionysiac spirit, and at the end pushes the whole play to the climax by bringing back the Dionysiac spirit on the stage with the Apollonian image¡ªthe Angel. Thus the problem put forward by Nietzsche is solved and a possible way is given for the future society.


II. Epic Theatricality and Apollonian Spirit


As a whole, the theatrical techniques of epic theatre are extensively used in this play. In this play the author adopted new subject matters, such as some social problems as AIDS epidemic, homosexual and politics in the present America, and the new complicated relationship between American citizens, for instance


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