The Increased Difficulty of Concentration Essay - Critical Essays

Vaclav Havel

Critical Context

The Increased Difficulty of Concentration is perhaps a more mainstream effort than Havel’s earlier, more biting satires. It shares with his Zahradní slavnost (pr., pb. 1963; The Garden Party, 1969) and his Vyrozumní (pr. 1965, pb. 1966; The Memorandum, 1967) a satirical reflection of a society made almost unbearable by its “scientific” modern age. The encroachment of scientific methods upon human behavior in order to achieve efficiency and understanding is mocked in all of his plays as social and political inhumanity. In The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, however, the result is not so much persecution as absurd chaos. The tone is somewhat lighter; the bureaucracy-imposed technology is less of a problem than it is in the two earlier works.

The Memorandum, which takes place in a translation center in which an official new language is installed, focuses on the resulting havoc in the operation of the institute. The madness of bureaucracy and the intrusions of officialdom are satirized so brilliantly in The Memorandum that many took the play to be a microcosm of communist-run Czechoslovakia. It achieved worldwide popularity, though it caused Havel some political difficulty at home.

The Increased Difficulty of Concentration does suggest that the same disorders result from pseudoscientific attempts at management of one’s fellow citizen. It reflects the Theater of the Absurd’s central notions of the basic inability to communicate, the absurdity of humans’ belief in and desire for individuality, and the jargon and gobbledygook that pass for contemporary language. It is more personal in its comic reflections on human selfishness and the inability to relate honestly to one another. As such, it seems more humane and less of a philosophical dead end than the absurdist drama, and less clearly on the attack than Havel’s earlier plays.

Havel was clearly the best-known and most respected Czech playwright of the period from 1965 to 1990. During the 1980’s, he was jailed for leading antigovernment protests in Czechoslovakia and became an international cause célèbre. In 1989 he became president of Czechoslovakia and retained his office when the Czech Republic split from Slovakia in 1993.