Mythology: From Ancient to Post-Modern

By Jürgen Kleist; Bruce A. Butterfield | Go to book overview

Pascale Perraudin


The Modern "Myth of Incommunicability" in Ionesco's Theater: The Chairs and The Bald Soprano

The Theater of the Absurd is often associated with the Theater of Non-communication, and Ionesco's one-act plays The Bald Soprano ( 1949) and The Chairs ( 1951) are often quoted as examples of the latter. Playwright of the Absurd, a movement deeply rooted in the malaise that followed World War II, Ionesco strives to depict the picturesque nothingness and absurdity of the human condition.

The Bald Soprano and The Chairs provide Ionesco with a pretext to maximize the senseless and perplexing reality of incommunicability in our ordinary existence, a pretext once called a "truly heroic attempt to break through the barriers of human communication."1 The metaphorical perspective Ionesco offers in these two plays mirrors this unavoidable deadlock of language and enables us to find in them the "modern myth of incommunicability."

Rather than a fable or an allegory in the classical sense, "the myth of incommunicability" is a notion accepted by many people of the twentieth century, and in particular of our own generation, who mistakenly assume that lack of communication is a modern phenomenon.

One might wonder, therefore, why Ionesco tackles incommunicability on the stage, knowing that the very essence of theater is speech? Why does he choose theater to express the inadequacy of language, this incommunicability between individuals?

Before answering this question, it is necessary to discuss the issue of the myth. It is quite surprising that Ionesco did not use a traditional Greek or Oriental myth. Ionesco could have taken advantage of the myth that is, as Vernant points out, an organized and coherent system of references with historical and transhistorical factors.2

Dealing with incommunicability as the human condition, he could

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