Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Memorandum is perhaps Havel’s most widely performed play, along with Private View. Again, it would not do Havel justice to view the play exclusively as a parody of Communist bureaucracy and its lingo; rather, it is about the dehumanizing effects and the tyranny of language in any system that causes the disintegration of human identity.
The twelve scenes are set in a deliberately “generic” large organization, the purpose of which, like that of any amorphous self-serving bureaucracy, is not plain. Josef Gross, the managing director, and the development of his personality from the introduction to the abolition of the artificial language Ptydepe are both central to the play. Gross cannot decipher a memorandum directed to him because it is written in Ptydepe, a new office language introduced apparently without his knowledge by deputy director Ballas and his cronies and taught in classes in which every employee seems to have enrolled.
Ptydepe is presumably rational and precise and therefore superior to “dilettantish” natural languages, with their vagueness and ambivalence. Its goal is to eliminate imprecision by limiting all similarity between words and thereby achieve the highest possible redundancy in language. The result is monstrously long words that are formed by the least probable combination of letters. This new doctrine is difficult and complex, so it can be mastered only by discipline and most of all by...
(The entire section is 555 words.)
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