Socialist Allegory of the Absurd: An Examination of Four East European Plays


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

"There exist no words in any human language which can comfort guinea pigs who do not know the cause of their death." This thought, expressed by a survivor of the atomic explosion at Hiroshima,1 helps us grasp the magnitude of the problem facing the contemporary writer. Put in very simple terms, the problem involves the creation of an artistic language or structure that could describe the physical as well as the metaphysical anguish of man in post-atomic society. Complicated enough under ordinary circumstances, artistic communication becomes even more complex when subjected to ideological censorship. No wonder then that some critics consider the drama to be the most dynamic art form of socialist Eastern Europe. For art, as Lévi-Strauss has pointed out, has retained the archetypal element of "savage thought."2 And the ruthless visual metaphors of contemporary absurdist drama have created an allegorical structure that expresses the agony of human guinea pigs better than could be achieved by ordinary verbal language. Artaud was of course not the only one who articulated such an aesthetic, but his words have become classic: "In our present state of degeneration it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter our minds."3 The language of absurd visual images seems ideally suited for the construction of socialist allegories-and we shall examine four such plays in this paper-for, as Martin Esslin has observed,4 absurd images enable East European playwrights to communicate their views on man and the totalitarian state without arousing the wrath of the censor.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.