This thesis studies the relations between modernism, mass culture and visual media. Using the dramatic form of the ”dream play” as focal point, it compares the drama of August Strindberg with the television series of Dennis Potter, and the theories of Walter Benjamin with those of Raymond Williams. The purpose is to elucidate how categories of high and low operate within different cultural fields (avant-garde theatre and quality television), and different strands of cultural theory (the Frankfurt school and Cultural Studies).
Strindberg’s dreamplays, in particular To Damascus (1898) and A Dreamplay (1901), are introduced by using models from the field theory of Pierre Bourdieu. The genesis and reception of the dreamplays are thus related to oppositions between commercial and independent production in the Swedish cultural field, and how these tensions are refracted in the form and themes of the plays.
Attention then turns to Benjamin’s and Williams’ early work on drama. Benjamin’s analysis of allegory is related to his conception of mass culture as dream world. William’s analysis of naturalism to his conception of television as technology and cultural form. Their allusions to Strindberg’s dreamplays are used to raise specific questions about the media: how does modern art anticipate new technologies? How has 20th century cultural theory been affected by film and television?
Potter’s work, in particular The Singing Detective (1986), is finally considered in the light of these themes. The characteristics of Potter’s drama (non-naturalism, interior drama) are compared to Strindberg’s, and to analytical concepts developed by Williams (flow, the enclosed room). Benjamin’s interpretations of allegory and mass culture are compared to Potter’s use of popular songs and detective conventions. Potter’s position in relation to the opposition between commercial and public service television, and the conception of high and low in Potter’s texts, are related to the logic of cultural fields.