Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Stage as 'Der Spielraum Gottes

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Stage as 'Der Spielraum Gottes

Article excerpt

Gabor, Olivia G. The Stage as 'Der Spielraum Gottes/ Berne: Peter Lang, 2006. 254 pp. $49.95 paperback.

This study in 20th-century German-language drama sets out to show that von Hc if mannst hai 's Jeder m. mu , Borchert's Draußen vor der Tür, Brecht's Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, and Dürrenmatt's Ein Engel kommt nach Babylon display a stage where the divine can become present. The introductory chapter argues, through a negative theology, that "[t]he presence of God in modern German theater becomes evident when the limits of language are reached" (20). Gabor observes how modern literature questions its own linguistic medium and how it communicates this self-doubt indirectly by suspending the signifying function of language, thus exposing a lacuna of silence which ultimately can be filled by an intimation of the sacred. In this process, drama holds a special place, as it "is the only genre capable of suggesting the actual physical presence of the metaphysical" (212). Gabor sees the divine at times in specifically Christian terms, but more often as an indefinable force beyond all material reality; theater, at least in cases like the four plays under consideration, thus becomes for her the institution where art performs events that attack the rigid religious establishment.

Among the book's four particular studies, chapter 2 on Hofmannsthal's Jedermann (1911) is especially convincing: "By means of negation of the elements of language as bearers of meaning," and by shifting the function of language "from 'expressing' [. . .] to a 'naming" (60), the play uses "language to point behind it" (54) and eventually offers the spectator "an 'open " end in which he can now encounter the presence of the divine" (74) . According to chapter 3, Borchert's Draußen vorder Tür (1947) shows the traditional God to be powerless and thus stimulates the authence to listen for "a new voice" (86). But might it be just the interpreter's wish that "the motions in the text and the gestures of the characters [...] create an opening beyond which we experience the divine" (103)? Chapter 4, on Brecht's Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (1943), does not mount a forceful argument, but chapter 5, on Dürrenmatt's Ein Engel kommt nach Babylon (1953/57/80), not only includes stimulating references to Dürrenmatt's reflections on language and on theology, but also makes a plausible case for Gabor s claim that, "through 'Abweichung' from any represented reality of God, a divine presence that exposes the futility of a purely limited and restricted God appears on the stage of Dürrenmatt's Ein Engel. A complete distrust of the ironies and paradoxes of signifiers holds the potential to bring forth such a divine manifestation" (180). …

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