Academic journal article American Drama

'A Word by Which You Will Be Revealed': The Problem of Language in Will Eno's Monologues

Academic journal article American Drama

'A Word by Which You Will Be Revealed': The Problem of Language in Will Eno's Monologues

Article excerpt

In Will Eno's monologue Lady Grey (in ever-lower light), .the eponymous narrator asks, "Does this ever happen to you? (Brief pause.) You're looking for something, a word ... by which you will be revealed, expressed. Wondering what the story of yourself is, and, how to tell it" (50). Lady Grey's search for such a word--a word possessing the power to effect an almost Heideggerian unconcealment of being--confronts her with the problem Hannah Arendt finds inherent in philosophical discourse, especially the discourse of the Western metaphysical tradition. For Arendt, in such discourse, who someone is, that singularity Lady Grey seeks to reveal, "retains a curious intangibility that confounds all efforts toward unequivocal verbal expression ... The very moment we want to say who someone is our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is" (181). "What" describes everything but the essential--the fundamental being and concrete uniqueness, i.e., the "who" of the speaker.

If the inability to define the singularity of the "who" marks the limit of philosophical discourse, the transformation, hence erasure, of the "who" into the "what," for Louis Althusser defines the linguistic cultural codes through which the various ideological discourses interpellate social subjects: "Ideology 'acts' or 'functions' in such a way that it 'recruits' subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or 'transforms' the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all)" (174). Althusser seems to point to a moment when the individual, standing outside ideology, precedes the subject, and still retains its "whoness"; still maintains, like Lady Grey, the possibility of allowing its existential truth to pass into a word that would re-present its ontology of uniqueness. However, Althusser goes on to say that he has recourse to the category of "individuals" only "for the convenience and clarity of" his description of ideological interpellation (175). The individual remains a necessary descriptive fiction, when in fact each of us is "always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by {our} specific familial ideological configuration ... once {we have} been conceived" (176).

Lacan, whose theory of the mirror stage stands behind Althusser's account of ideology, will go even further. For him, the issue is neither the failure of philosophical language to express concrete singularity nor the power of ideological discourse to foreclose singularity, but the rupture that any act of speaking introduces between the subject and the real, the absolute incommensurability between being and signification. When considering what it means that humans are speaking beings, Lacan asserts that "the dominant factor here is the unity of signification, which proves never to be resolved into a pure indication of the real" (Lacan, Ecrits 126). Language and the symbolic order it forms mark the subject's radical alienation from the real, the realm of being, and thus language itself becomes the obstacle to Lady Grey's search for the word that will reveal and express being.

Indeed, for Lacan, to speak means to "become engaged in an ever-growing dispossession of ... being" (Lacan, Ecrits 42), and it is the struggle to resist this "dispossession," to find the self-revelatory word that will not compound the lack and sense of loss from which they suffer, that drives the figures in Will Eno's monologues, Lady Grey and Thom Pain, narrator of Thorn Pain (based on nothing). If there exists, however, such an unbridgeable chasm between being and signification, the ontological real(ity) of the "who" and the linguistic order of the "what," then the utopian word Eno's characters seek would necessarily become a dystopian signifier of the speaker's lack-of-being, expressing the absence of "who" and reducing the subject from a "what" to a whatever. Thom Pain asks his audience, "You know who I suddenly don't need? ... No, I don't, either. No bother. Or--to employ the popular phrase we use today to express . …

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