Ionesco is the man

Posted on March 27, 2011


Excerpts from Ionesco’s ‘Experience of the Theatre’ (Translated by Donald Watson) from The Modern Theatre by Robert W. Corrigan:


“ A theatrical performance had no magic for me. Everything seemed rather ridiculous, rather painful. For example, it was beyond me how anyone could dream of being an actor. It seemed to me that actors were doing something unacceptable and reprehensible. They gave up their own personalities, repudiated themselves, changed their own skins. How could they consent to being someone else and take on a character different from their own? For me, it was a kind of vulgar trick, transparent, inconceivable.” (826)


“Besides, an actor did not even become someone else, he just pretended, which was, I thought, far worse. I found this very distressing and in a way dishonest. “What a good actor,” the audience used to say. In my view, he was a bad actor, and acting was a Bad Thing.” (826)


“I am not opposed to make-believe. On the contrary, I have always considered imaginative truth to be more profound, more loaded with significance, than everyday reality. Realism, socialist or not, never looks beyond reality. It narrows it down, diminishes it, falsifies it, and leaves out of account the obsessive truths that are most fundamental to us: love, death and wonder. It presents man in a perspective that is narrow and alien; truth lies in our dreams, in our imagination: every moment of our life confirms this statement.” (826)


“By the dehumanization of the actor, as practiced by Piscator or Brecht, a disciple of Piscator, who turned the actor into a simple pawn in the chess game of drama, a lifeless tool, denied passion, participation or personal invention, this time to the advantage of the production, which now, in its turn, attracted all attention to itself – this priority given to organized unity exasperated me just as much and made me feel, quite literally, that something was being smothered: to squash the actor’s initiative, to kill the actor, is to kill both life and drama.”  (827)


“…I was not blind to the merits of Sophocles, Aeschylus or Shakespeare, nor a little later to some of the plays of Kleist or Buchner. Why? Because, I thought all these plays made extraordinary reading on account of their literary qualities, which may well not be specifically theatrical. In any case, after Shakespeare and Kleist, I do not think I have enjoyed reading a play. Strindberg seemed to me clumsy and inadequate. I was even bored by Moliere… I disliked his unmetaphysical mind.”


“On the other hand, the greatness of Shakespeare’s plays seemed to me diminished in performance. No Shakespearean production ever captivated me as much as my reading of Hamlet, Othello and Julius Caesar, etc. As I went so rarely to the theatre, perhaps I have never seen the best productions of Shakespeare’s drama? In any case, in performance I had the impression that the unendurable had been more endurable. It was an anguish tamed.”


“But the theatre is more than words: drama is a story that is lived and relived with each performance, and we can watch it live. The theatre appeals as much to the eye as to the ear. It is not a series of pictures, like the cinema, but architecture, a moving structure of scenic images.” (831)


“Nothing is barred in the theatre: characters may be brought to life, but the unseen presence of our inner fears can also be materialized. So the author is not only allowed, but recommended to make actors of his props, to bring objects to life, to animate the scenery and give symbols concrete form.” (831)


“Besides contemporaneity does not conflict with timelessness and universality: on the contrary, it is subservient.”


“…what I have just said is not a preconceived theory of dramatic art. It has not come before, but after my own personal experience of the theatre. Thinking about my own plays, good or bad, has provoked these few ideas. The reflections come afterward. I have no ideas before I write a play. I have them when I have finished it, or while I am not writing any thing at all. I believe that artistic creation is spontaneous. It is for me.”


“Once again, all this is chiefly valid for me; but if I could believe I had discovered instinctively in myself the basic framework and permanent character of the objective reality of drama, or thrown even a little light on what the essence of the theatre is, I should be very proud. All ideologies are derived from knowledge that is second-hand, indirect, devious and false; nothing borrowed from others is true for the artist. For an author nicknamed ‘avant-garde,’ I shall earn the reproach of having invented nothing. I believe that as one invents, one discovers, and that invention is discovery or rediscovery; and it is not my fault if I am taken for an avant-garde author. It is the critics who say so. It is of no importance. “


“A genuine avant-garde movement can only be of value if it is more than a fashion. It can only spring from intuitive discovery, followed by a reassessment of neglected models from the past, which require constant rediscovery and rejuvenation. I believe that in recent times we have forgotten what theatre is. And I am not excepting myself; I believe that, step by step, I have discovered it once more from myself, and what I have just described is simply my own experience of the theatre.” (834)


“Insofar as an artist has a personal apprehension of reality, he is a true philosopher… Art seems the best justification for belief in the possibility of a metaphysical liberalism.” (834)



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