Ionesco, Eugène November
Eugène Ionesco November 26, 1909–March 28, 1994
Romanian-born French playwright, essayist, novelist, autobiographer, and critic.
For further information on Ionesco's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 4, 6, 9, 11, 15, and 41.
A key innovator along with Samuel Beckett and Jean Genêt in creating the "Theater of the Absurd," Ionesco produced darkly comic portraits of the human condition by exploring such themes as alienation, the impossibility of communication between human beings, and the destructive forces of modern society. Born in Romania, he spent his first thirteen years in France, then lived in Romania for fourteen years before settling in Paris. Ionesco wrote primarily in French, and such critics as John Lahr contend that "[Ionesco's] estrangement from his native tongue gave him a feeling for the confusion created by language and its inadequacy to make sense of reality." The problematic nature of language and communication is a dominant theme in Ionesco's early works. In La cantatrice chauve (1950; The Bald Soprano), for instance, the dialogue among the characters disintegrates from clichés to meaningless sounds. To address the absurdity of life, alienation, and the loss of identity experienced by people in the twentieth century, Ionesco often employed the metaphor of multiplying objects; for example, in Les chaises (1952; The Chairs) an old man's desperate belief in reason and rationality is mocked by the play's setting—a room that becomes increasingly filled with empty chairs. Beginning in the late 1950s, he wrote four plays centering on Bérenger, a modern-day Everyman. In Rhinocéros (1959; Rhinoceros), in which everyone except Bérenger becomes a rhinoceros, Ionesco attacked mindless conformity and mob mentality. Death also became an overriding concern in many of Ionesco's later works. His last play, Voyages chez les morts (1980; Journeys among the Dead), for example, features protagonists that engage in conversations with the deceased. Ionesco quit writing plays in 1980 and subsequently devoted his time to painting and autobiography. Commenting on Ionesco's significance to contemporary theater and his innovative techniques, Edward Albee has argued that "we would diminish Ionesco … were we to suggest he was little more than a bag of tricks. His concerns with individual freedom, identity and rationalism place him higher than that. He was a major force in shaping nontraditional drama in the second half of the 20th century."
Non [Non] (criticism) 1934
La cantatrice chauve [The Bald Soprano] (drama) 1950
La leçon [The Lesson] (drama) 1951
Les chaises [The Chairs] (drama) 1952
Victimes du devoir [Victims of Duty] (drama) 1953
Amédée; ou, comment s'en débarrasser [Amédée; or, How to Get Rid of It] (drama) 1954
Jacques; ou, la soumission [Jack; or, The Submission] (drama) 1955
Le nouveau locataire [The New Tenant] (drama) 1957
Tueur sans gages [The Killer] (drama) 1958
Rhinocéros [Rhinoceros] (drama) 1959
Notes et contre-notes [Notes and Counter-notes] (essays, addresses, and lectures) 1962
Le piéton de l'air [A Stroll in the Air] (drama) 1962
Le roi se meurt [Exit the King] (drama) 1962
La soif et la faim [Hunger and Thirst] (drama) 1964
Présent passé, passé présent [Present Past, Past Present] (autobiography) 1968
Jeux de massacre [The Killing Game] (drama) 1970
Le solitaire [The Hermit] (novel) 1972
L'homme aux valises [Man with Bags] (drama) 1975
Voyages chex les morts: Thèmes et variations [Journeys among the Dead] (drama) 1980
La quête intermittente (autobiography) 1988
Théâtre complet (dramas) 1992
(The entire section is 163 words.)
Obituaries And Tributes
Mel Gussow (obituary date 29 March 1994)
SOURCE: An obituary in The New York Times, March 29, 1994, pp. A1, D21.
[Gussow is an American editor, educator, biographer, and critic. In the following obituary, he provides an overview of Ionesco's life and works.]
Eugène Ionesco, whose wildly innovative plays, among them Rhinoceros, The Bald Soprano and The Chairs, overturned conventions of contemporary theater and had a profound effect on a new generation of playwrights, died yesterday in Paris, where he lived. He was 84.
His death was announced by the French Cultural Ministry. The cause was not reported.
Mr. Ionesco's "anti-plays" satirized modern society while discovering new uses of language and theatrical techniques. Inspired by silent film clowns and vaudeville, he was a playful playwright, clownish in his own personality as well as in his work onstage. With outrageous comedy, he attacked the most serious subjects: blind conformity and totalitarianism, despair and death. Repeatedly he challenged—and accosted—the audience and his critics. As he said, "The human drama is as absurd as it is painful."
Along with Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet, he was one of a trinity of pioneering experimental playwrights who lived and worked in Paris. Although there were thematic bridges among the three, Mr. Ionesco's...
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Reviews Of Ionesco's Recent Works
Virgil Nemoianu (review date 6 February 1987)
SOURCE: "Intuitions and Subversions," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4375, February 6, 1987, p. 141.
[Nemoianu is a Romanian-born American educator and critic. In the review below, he comments on Ionesco's concerns and literary method in Non.]
Those who have marvelled at Ionesco's radical experimentalism may not realize that his mature work was actually a toning-down of the much more ferocious radicalism of his youth. At twenty-two he was still in Bucharest. He had read widely, but unsystematically. His intuitions and emotions were surprisingly deep, varied and precise for such a young man, and he had an incredible self-confidence and capacity for challenging whatever was accepted. His first book was called simply No [Non] and more than half of it is a calm and relentless demolition of some of Romania's greatest living writers. These (Arghezi, Barbu, Camil Petrescu) were not venerable traditionalists, but the shining lights of the Modernist wave, often resented for their novelty. Yet in 1934 Ionesco saw in their works the outlines of an emergent canon, and immediately set about subverting it. In the book he is paradoxical, violent and unjust, but also brilliant and amusing, and above all right on the broader issues, even when he is being prejudiced on specific ones.
To repair some of these local...
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