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Alasdair MacIntyre


(Spring 1962)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.8, Spring 1962, p.33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Richard Coe
Oliver and Boyd. 3s. 6d.

Mr Martin: I have a flat on the first floor, flat Number 8, dear lady.

Mrs Martin: How very extraordinary! oh goodness gracious, how very amazing and what a strange coincidence! I too live on the fifth floor, Sir, in Flat Number 8.

Mr Martin (thoughtfully): How very extraordinary, how very extraordinary, how very extraordinary, and what a strange coincidence ...

In Ionesco’s plays memory does not function normally, experience is no guide to the future, conversation is not communication, ordinary distinction between animals and men break down, and characters do not have distinct identities; hence the surreal, apparently crazy, world of the plays. But, as Richard Coe brings out in this extremely lucid and perceptive book, all this throws more light on the real world than any naturalistic drama ever could. Ionesco comments on the play from which I quote by saying that

‘The Smiths and Martins have forgotten how to talk because they have forgotten how to think; and they have forgotten how to think because they have forgotten the meaning of emotion, because they are devoid of passions; they have forgotten how to be, and therefore can “become” anyone, anything, for, since they are not in themselves, they are nothing but the people, they belong to an impersonal world, they are interchangeable.’

Themes such as depersonalisation, loneliness and alienation haunt Ionesco. The extremism of his plays, their lack of any obvious moral, therein is the moral.

‘The theatre, like all art, must serve no utilitarian purpose; the theatre is not engagement, but dégagement: nonetheless, this “disengagement”, this alienation, this forgetfulness of self, this violent separation from the utilitarian world, is a usefulness without which we cannot live ...’

Dr Coe has produced one of the most interesting contributions to Oliver and Boyd’s Writers and Critics series by letting Ionesco speak for himself, and providing a modest, but penetrating commentary.

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Last updated: 11 March 2010