Ionesco, Eugène (Vol. 6)

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Last Updated on July 28, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11770

Ionesco, Eugène 1912–

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Ionesco, a Rumanian-French dramatist, has also published essays, a novel, short stories, and two volumes of his journal. Ionesco's work has earned him one of the most outstanding international literary reputations of our century and his plays are frequently produced in most of the world's major languages. Death, the meaninglessness of life, the relativity of truth, and the universality of contradiction are Ionesco's great themes. His favorite dramatic device is the platitude, with which he demonstrates the futility of communication in basically humorous plays which are, at the same time, profoundly and ineradicably pessimistic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Ionesco's plays, which some commentators have tried to dismiss as mere extravaganzas born of the author's dreams and anxieties, are a response to the demands of a given personal situation in history. His feelings are those of a man of his time, plunged in the agony of his century. As he says …: "The creator himself is the only valid witness to his own time, he discovers it in himself, he alone, mysteriously and freely, expresses it." We must therefore understand the very impulses, desires and nightmares which he projects on the stage as constituting his testimony on the present condition of man, in no way inferior to any moral or political preaching. In case we wonder what evidence he intends to give, Madeleine is most explicit in Victims of Duty: "There are always things to say. Since the modern world is in a state of decomposition, you can be a witness to decomposition." If Ionesco's works appear at first so strange and disconcerting and seem so fond of the weird and the monstrous, it is not because they are immured within the universe of dream or delirium, but precisely because they open out into our world.

The aim of a theater of decomposition will be the decomposition of the theater. If the central theme of literature during the last twenty years is the absurdity of a world where man is left alone to fill in the void of God, give a name and a meaning to things and freely, but unjustifiably, create his own values, literary expression, it must be admitted, up to Beckett and Ionesco, had trailed far behind philosophical intent. In the same manner as Pascal strove to ruin reason in the eyes of the libertine by virtue of a rational dialectics, Sartre and Camus, in the exploring of absurdity which they undertook in Nausea or The Myth of Sisyphus, use an admirably logical language to express the illogical, the internal necessity of their sentences to convey the total contingency of the world, and resort to literature in order to negate literature. A genuine experience of the absurd, however, will invent its own language and create forms that are not those of rational discourse…. The traditional theater was coherent because the human beings it presented were coherent. In this respect, even writers of the absurd, like Sartre or Camus, remain, in their plays as well as in their style, very conservative. Sartre's plays especially are exemplars of the "well-made" play and Les Mains Sales is a masterpiece of what Ionesco would call the "police" type of drama. The reason for this is that man as the source of "Sinngebung," as a universal dispenser of meaning and the measure of all things, is intact. Although he is like a sickness of being, that sick man retains both his cohesion and his coherence. An authentic rendering of absurdity will demand a double disintegration, that of personality and that of language. (pp. 11-12)

Ionesco's is an ontological theater. He seems to be one of the first playwrights to have taken seriously the philosophical assertion that thought is not a region of being, but, on the contrary, a nothingness in the plenum of the world. In spite of...

(The entire section contains 11770 words.)

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