Nonworded Words and Unmentionable Pharmaka in O'Neill and Valle-Inclàn


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

Since by critical consensus Eugene O'Neill is our leading dramatist and Long Day's Journey into Night his masterpiece, it is odd that Harold Bloom, when contemplating the play's nonverbal art, should be tempted to dismiss it summarily by reflecting that "insofar as O'Neill 's art is nonverbal it must also be nonexistent."1 Although Bloom then moves to amend this reflection by admitting that gestures "supplement language" and by noting O'Neill's "extraordinarily effective stage directions," strictly it is correct-since without the playwright's words there would be no play. What is overlooked by this uncompromising stance is not so much the nonverbal aspects of any stage performance as the characters' avoidance of words-by allusion, ellipsis, metalanguage, periphrastic gambits, and anacoluthon - which during their absence are as nonverbal as they are nonworded. To be sure, I have only replaced Bloom's tautology with an oxymoron ("nonworded words") but a useful one because it plays up the contrast between words of a text and words summoned by a text, between words uttered by actors and words that can only be imagined by audiences. When such nonworded words point to an emerging Leitmotif, to a primum mobile behind the plot, and to an essential trait of a leading character, the means of evoking them merit our scrutiny.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.