Modern Classics Rhinoceros Chairs Lesson (Penguin Modern Classics) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2000/8/29
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These three great plays by one of the founding fathers of the theatre of the absurd, are alive and kicking with tragedy and humour, bleakness and farce. In Rhinoceros we are shown the innate brutality of people as everyone, except for Berenger, turn into clumsy, unthinking rhinoceroses. The Chairs depicts the futile struggle of two old people to convey the meaning of life to the rest of humanity, while The Lesson is a chilling, but anarchically funny drama of verbal domination. In these three 'antiplays' dream, nonsense and fantasy combine to create an unsettling, bizarre view of society.
Eugène Ionesco's first one-act “antiplay,” The Bald Soprano, inspired a revolution in dramatic techniques and helped inaugurate the Theatre of the Absurd. He followed it with other one-act plays in which illogical events create an atmosphere both comic and grotesque, including The Lesson. His most popular full-length play was Rhinoceros. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1970.
Ionesco wrote this play in his traditional style, that is, using humor and the idea of the ridiculous to develop satire. Rhinoceros is a commentary on Nazism and a result of Ionesco's experiences with fascism, yet it is extremely readable, if one remembers not to take it to seriously. That being said, the lessons it offers are serious, concerning groupthink, the absence of rational thought in humanity, and the slippery slope to an unconventional, self-destructive conclusion. And yes, this book does contain plenty of rhinoceros, in a small town, stampeding out of control. Cue the ridiculous: enjoy!
Finally, you can no longer ignore the increasing noise volume and you decide reluctantly to find out what is happening. Your supervisor's assistant is on the phone and you both make eye contact. You get up on your feet and slowly go out to check the premises (a long labyrinth of corridors and offices), quietly passing the chairman's office, while noticing that his assistant is also occupied on the phone and not to be disturbed.
A small cluster of colleagues are gathered near the water fountain and you hear the word 'kangaroo' - one large one is actually on your floor? While you are enchanted at first at such a wondrous impossibility, you also hear that this 'King Roo' is aggressive and has just damaged the faux marble wall behind the reception desk, before leaping off in the direction of the central copying room. A hoax? A prank of some kind? This kangaroo has been seen by quite a few witnesses by now and the buzzing has begun with validity. You are able to ascertain that the security people are missing and that Mr. Rizzoli, a senior management banker, is taking control of the situation at the peril of his new Armani suit. None the wiser, you decide to return to your office and cool it until further notice.
Unfortunately, your boss opens his door on your return and wants an explanation for this noise disruption. You are hardly going to tell him that apparently a large kangaroo is hopping around the 62nd floor in the office, or he may fire you for making childish jokes in the middle of a busy working day. What happens next is your guess or mine. And, actually this is known as second-guessing, usually not a good exercise at the best of times.
The late playwright Eugène Ionesco, the founder of the Theatre of the Absurd, wrote his famous 'Rhinoceros', introducing it to a French audience with great success after WWII. It was well received by those who were startled by his view of the absurdity of the human condition made tolerable by self-delusion. A subject matter that might engender a book discussion of some kind and the plausibility of the absurd.
The characters in Ionesco's play, which takes place in a small provincial town in France, after seeing a rhinoceros trample through their peaceful streets, first start falling ill and turn into rhinos, and then later on quite anxiously in order to 'move with the times'. There is only one last hold-out, Bérenger, a mild-mannered man with some strength of character, who having lost his young woman and friends to contagious rhinoceritis, proclaims: "I'm the last man left, and I'm staying that way until the end. I am not capitulating!". This decision comes at a cost.
While 'Rhinoceros' is now somewhat forgotten, it has been most described as a political parable, but this excellent short play can also be read as the struggle of an individual to maintain his integrity and identity in a world where many others have succumbed to the "beauty" of natural energy and mindlessness. One could adopt here the philosophy of 'whatever makes one happy', although the rhinos in the play have short tempers and are subject to loud mournful trumpeting.
This one for Anne, a classmate at school and now an eye-doctor, who used to astonish us with her family stories of how her brother was turning their family castle and grounds into an animal reservation to maintain the coffers of their estate. Today, in 2012, it is the largest one to be found in France. I may surprise her on a next visit to her neck-of-the woods for the pleasure of saying hello, especially if I start to see rhinos in New York, or pink elephants for that matter. Ionesco's classic holds up extremely well and remains both topical and contemporary as we go tramping on.
"Rhinoceros" was written by Ionesco in 1958, and has a strange plot. The main character is Berenger, a Frenchman who likes to drink a lot. Berenger doesn't seem to mind when a rhinoceros first appears running past his town square, while he is talking with his friend Jean. Everybody else is astounded, but they are truly horrified when the same rhinoceros (or maybe another one) returns and even kills a cat. Even that doesn't shake Berenger, unfortunately. The situation is almost dramatically altered later, when Berenger realizes that many of his acquaintances are turning into rhinoceros without apparent reason. The pertinent questions are quite a few, for instance: will rhinoceros ultimately prevail?. And can an average person resist to conformity, or is the temptation to be like everybody else to big?.
This book can be understood as a metaphore regarding nazism and its diffusion in Germany, and has a lot to do with Ionesco's experiences with the Nazis. However, its main theme is the rise of totalitarism, the kind of behaviour and relativism that takes a country to that, and the dehumanization of those that succumb to conformism (like the human beings that slowly turn into rhinoceros, almost indistinguishable from each other). Due to that, "Rhinoceros" was considered a dangerous play by more than one totalitarism. For instance, the play was to be produced in the URSS, but the government wouldn't allow it to be played if Ionesco didn't say that the rhinoceros were the Nazis and not them. As Ionesco refused to do so, "Rhinoceros" couldn't be played...
On the whole, I can say that I really liked this play. It is interesting, easy to read (yes, without overly difficult vocabulary!!) and has a deeper meaning that shouldn't be lost to us. That is, conformity isn't the answer when an stampede of "rhinoceros" tries to run over us...