Article Title

The Death of Representation and the Representation of Death: Ionesco, Beckett, and Stoppard


The crisis of representation as a feature of late modernist art in general, diagnosed by T.W. Adorno in Aesthetic Theory, found its most striking expression in the field of drama in Eugène Ionesco’s and Samuel Beckett’s plays. This crisis results from the contradiction hidden in the late modernist poetical demand to represent the unrepresentable, which threatens to destroy the means of representation. Drama that follows this demand holds out, either on account of the ineradicable representational capacity of language and theatrical conventions, or via its evolution into metadrama. Ultimately, however, the demand to represent the unrepresentable brings drama to self-annihilation qua genre. In the first part of this article, the author examines the unfolding of this process in Ionesco’s and Beckett’s plays, and afterwards, interprets Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead as an implicit answer to the crisis of theatrical representation brought about by late modernist radicalism.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.