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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Modernism V

Chekhov was the first dramatist to realize that, on stage and in life, what is not said explicitly is often the decisive dramatic ingredient. In The Cherry Orchard, Lopahkin fails to declare his love for Vanya by getting himself tied up in a redundant conversation about lost galoshes.

Scene fromThe Cherry Orchard

But it was the job of the German Expressionist playwrights to remind us that people often do not listen to each other at all, and that in real life there can be a complete absence of dialogue, leaving us with mere monologues running along side by side.

To watch characters talking to each other when they are not communicating at all can be an unbearable experience. For us as an audience it quickly becomes apparent that all opportunities of establishing a relationship, or of solving a problem are being tragically missed.

Brecht and the other Modernist dramatists were determined to stage what they saw as contemporary reality. They understood that a photographic reproduction of the external lives of individuals could do no justice to the complexity of the social, economic and political factors which determined modern existence. In the West civilization was now over-organized and individuals had to relate to their own experience and to each other in highly structured societies.

These dramatists wanted their actors to step outside of their roles and to show the audience if they approved or disapproved of the characters they were embodying. They wanted to bring an end to the pretence of the theatre as the real world seen through a missing fourth wall.

They wanted the stage to be treated as a stage.

5 Responses to “Modernism V”

  1. Lee says:

    What are your favourite examples of not-listening from fiction, i.e. novels or short stories?

  2. john baker says:

    I’d like to hear this from others. But I’m immediately flooded by examples. Faulkner’s Absalome Absalome, Rose Tremain’s The Colour, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, Kafka, Nabakov, Fitzgerald, Iris Murdoch, DH Lawrence, Borges. One of my favourites is Richard Yates and his Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade are two novels where the characters don’t listen to each other and miss the real facts of the others existence. And one shouldn’t forget Annie Proulx.

  3. Cathy @ 3 at 1 Copying says:

    Very interesting post.

  4. Amanda | Branded Calendars says:

    I have not been to the theater in years really have to make a plan to go again soon, lovely post thanks for sharing.

  5. Goran Web says:

    Well this is a true indication of life. We go by day by day not listening to anything. After all they are analysing us.