Article Title

Eugene O'Neill and the Cruelty of Theater


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The division between signifying written language and intoxicating spoken language opens up a gulf in the solid massif of verbal meaning and forces the gaze into the depths of language. Walter Bemjamin The Origin of German Tragic Drama1


O'Neill's influence, as hypnotic as the rhythm of decomposition that marks one of his plays in the form of a drumbeat (The Emperor Jones), has abated little in the years since his death. The negativity of his judgments on human life and possibility, seemingly the very insignia of courage and sincerity, easily reconcile themselves in the mind of theater-goer and critic alike with an intoxicatingly rich "theatrical experience." Possessor of an almost violent stylistic fecundity, a fecundity whose origin in the positing of a noumenal "reality" which can only be death itself as one of his late plays tell us,2 a fecundity we simply enjoy without questioning the price we are expected to pay on its behalf: O'Neill and his heirs continue to hold sway over the American stage. Ruthless critics though they are proclaimed, their popularity seems hardly to have suffered for it.

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