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Ionesco, Eugène 1912–

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Ionesco is a French dramatist and major figure in the theater of the absurd. He creates a darkly comic portrait of the human condition, exposing man's tragic alienation, his obsession with violence and power, and the impossibility of true communication. In this world, the grotesque is exaggerated, the ordinary made surreal. To Ionesco, "theater is the projection on the stage of the world within." Though personal and dreamlike, this vision assumes universal proportions. An experimentalist, he has also written short stories, a novel, and a screenplay. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 6, 9, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Barry N. Schwartz

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 736

It is disconcerting to experience the world on the stage, but in The Killer, it is there all the same. The atmosphere hovers over the action, a metaphysical cloud in our midst; on the stage, the machinations of our humdrum, hurried world….

We are aware that the play is about the System, the Establishment, the State, and we feel good because we have labelled a part. There is security in labelling. We know that the play has characters representing the crowd, the bureaucrat—all those who have sacrificed individual will to functions. Fine! So far the world is familiar. Everybody is writing about those people. What begins to bother us is that at the point where his contemporaries instruct, Ionesco remains silent. Just where does he stand? His characters, except for Berenger, are all devoid of passion; they have no sympathy for each other; there is no human understanding or communication; rapport among individuals is impossible; no one shares interest in the affairs of others. Each is solely concerned with his individual function; love is unknown as is its meaning; human relationships are cold, blunt, and uncaring. These are not unique characteristics, but are found in the work of many artists. In fact, there is general agreement that modern man is alienated, selfless, loveless, etc. So why, we think, doesn't Ionesco come up with a new plan? (p. 224)

To begin with, Ionesco does not believe that we can change social conditions for the better by the techniques by which we normally manipulate them. What revolutions rule out is man's irrevocable subjection to the boundaries of the human condition…. "Is not man," Ionesco asks, "the sick animal?" It is the symptoms and the nature of this illness that comprise the body of Ionesco's work. What is wrong is not the weakness of this system or that, but the inevitable transformation of idealism into despotism…. Ionesco seeks commitment to the human condition as a whole. This is necessarily an artistic commitment. The human condition as a fact has always confronted man, and art is the record and testimony of their meeting. (pp. 224-25)

Ionesco, instead of rejecting one system for a better one, as we do, prefers to reject SYSTEM. His is not partisan rejection but a total negation of the power of manipulation regardless of who or what is pulling the strings. Ionesco questions the basic assumption of 20th Century society. One of the contributions of this era to the science of manipulation has been the introduction of lawlessness into language…. Ionesco, so often thought of as the writer of anti-theater, the distorting and rendering meaningless of language, prefers instead to restore language. Communication is not possible until language is reclaimed. "The problem is to get down to the source of our malady, to find the non-conventional language which is nothing but cliches, empty formulas and slogans." Ionesco attacks this problem in each of his plays. He formulated one of the crucial questions of our age, and well he knows the consequences of an answer. "If man...

(The entire section contains 3211 words.)

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Ionesco, Eugène (Vol. 11)


Ionesco, Eugene (Vol. 4)