Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

`Perverse Mind': Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

`Perverse Mind': Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure

Article excerpt

`Perverse Mind': Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure. By Barbara Voglino. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses. 1999. 166 pp. 26 [pounds sterling].

In 1998 Donald Gallup published Eugene O'Neill and His Eleven-Play Cycle. `A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed' (New Haven: Yale University Press), a detailed chronological study of the playwright's abortive attempts to wrestle his epic, ever-expanding American chronicle into workable dramatic form. Assembled from innumerable textual fragments, facsimiles, diary entries, and other records of O'Neill's increasingly desperate search for structure, Gallup's book is an unforgettable insight into what appears in retrospect a self-constructed myth of Sisyphus, a testament to how O'Neill saw in his life and art the necessary, potentially exhilarating failure of a Nietzschean struggle against insurmountable odds.

This Beckettian side to O'Neill's drama is not lost on Barbara Voglino, who traces many continuities between his work and some of the plays of the `absurd'. Her highly promising premise, that a philosophy denying the possibility of successful closure generates paradoxical tensions when presented in dramatic form, is not, however, quite matched by the reading of O'Neill that it produces here. Voglino suggests that for much of O'Neill's career his `perverse mind' (his term) led him to create endings marked by implausible violence or rhetorical excess, before he finally discovered more satisfying forms of closure in the late plays. Few would disagree, and this is part of the problem: instead of exploring fully the conflict in O'Neill between an artistic desire for closure and a philosophical resistance to it, Voglino tends simply to restate standard evaluations of the relative merits of O'Neill's achievements at different stages of his career. Despite the biographical elements of the book, which mention the anxieties Gallup has now exposed to full glare, closure comes to be seen not as a process but as textual stuff to be unpacked by analysis. …

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