which is the only gateway
to the incomprehensible”
This is what my friend Ana wrote on the back of a post card she brought me from Paris, where she spent some of her holidays. Ana is Romanian and Ionesco is dear in her heart. This event lead me to write this post, remembering the great writer and man.
Ionesco’s first play is “The Bald Soprano”, which he wrote when he was learning English.
In ”The Bald Soprano,” which the author labels ”an anti-play,” he assails the craze for conformity that he found ingrained in our society. As he made clear, the play is intended not as a satire on bourgeois English life, but as a play about language and ”a parody of human behavior and therefore a parody of theater, too.” It is also, the author said, ”a completely unserious play.” In that respect, Ionesco was, of course, being ingenuous.
Though the surface is light spirited, the play has a cosmic awareness of how man debases – and defeats -himself, often through his choice of words. The play has not aged. One might even suggest that we have caught up with ”The Bald Soprano,” living, as we do, in a computerized world where information is byte-sized and news becomes photogenic.
(NY Times Theater Review)
Ionesco himself reminisces:
“A strange phenomenon took place. I don’t know how—the text began imperceptibly to change before my eyes. The very simple, luminously clear statements I had copied so diligently into my notebook, left to themselves, fermented after a while, lost their original identity, expanded and overflowed. The clichés and truisms of the conversation primer, which had once made sense […] gave way to pseudo-clichés and pseudo-truisms; these disintegrated into wild caricature and parody, and in the end language disintegrated into disjointed fragments of words.“
Before the Bald Soprano, which appeared in 1950, we had the Absurd expressed in literature by the existentialists
Nausea by JP Sartre
The Outsider by Albert Camus
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
”Who Needs Theater Anymore?” – Mr. Ionesco’s answer is simple: ”Tout le monde.”
”People have needed the theater for thousands of years,” he said. ”There’s no reason for this to change.” But why do they need theater? ”For nothing,” he said. ”The theater is useless, but its uselessness is indispensable. Why do people need football? What purpose is there?”
”Theater doesn’t exist at the moment,” he said, through a translator, in his suite at a midtown hotel. ”It’s bad everywhere. Between 1950 and 1960 it was good. Beckett, Genet, Adamov, moi. It was theater where you posed a problem, the most important problem of all: the problem of the existential condition of man – his despair, the tragedy of his destiny, the ridiculousness of his destiny, the absurdity of his destiny. Another interesting problem is the existence of a God, a divinity, as Beckett writes about in ‘Waiting for Godot.’ Man without God, without the metaphysical, without transcendence, is lost.” ‘Everything Is Invention’
Mr. Ionesco has long criticized the American realistic, or naturalistic, theater as naive and simple-minded. ”Realism does not exist,” he said. ”Everything is invention. Even realism is invented. Reality is not realistic. It’s another school of theater, a style.”
He paused and smiled. ”What is real, after all?” he said. ”Ask one of the most important geniuses of science, physics or mathematics. He will not be able to give a definition of real. The only reality is that which comes from inside – the unconscious, the irrational, our thoughts, images, symbols. They are all truer than the truth, than realism.”
(NY Times Article: Eugen Ionesco in Defense of the Absurd, 1988)
alienation, paranoia, absurd, double origin, proliferation
Ionesco’s Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, France
The inscription reads:
“Pray to the I do not know Who
I hope Jesus Christ”