A Painter of the Absurd: Reading Through and Beyond Eugène Ionesco's Humanism
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The Theatre of the Absurd often has been considered the reflection of a deconstructionist gesture, a negation of the existent theatrical norms, therefore an end in itself without any prospect of possible alternatives or remedies. While this may be partially true, the entropy inherent to the absurd does not adhere to a mechanically formal posture; rather, the "purposeless wandering", in Eugène Ionesco's case, points, through humor (Ce formidable bordel), toward a longing for meaning, deeply rooted in the human being. This very longing is the crux of Ionesco's humanism. For him suffering (Le Roi se meurt), as the offshoot of the human being's finite condition and the affect that bonds the community, is intertwined with an unexplained feeling of wonderment--an opening to contemplation of the infinite. The merging of suffering and wonderment that suffuses Ionesco's textual and visual works presents the field in which his vision of a metaphysical humanism must find form. Art, in Ionesco's perspective, as the expression of being and the witness of its time (Rhinocéros), can be understood as a redemptive medium, a hope for humanism. Through the interplay of text (plays, reflections and short stories), image (drawings, gouaches and lithographs) and performance, this dissertation explores themes, imagery and structures that reflect Ionesco's paradoxical view on humanism. Thus, in light of interdisciplinary readings, I identify archetypal images recurrent in Ionesco's works and his subversive interpretation of these images as revelatory of the author-painter's inner search for meaning. This quest, which is the unifying principle throughout Ionesco's work, is revealed in themes spanning from the entropy of language (La Cantatrice chauve, Les Chaises) to the sacrificial act of substituting for the other (Maximilien Kolbe). In this ultimate act of testimony, Ionesco depicts Emmanuel Lévinas' ethics wherein the self becomes a "hostage" of the other, vulnerable at the encounter with the other. My analysis of Ionesco's humanism continues beyond his works with a reading of the historicized absurd and humanism in the works of two contemporary diasporic playwrights: Matéi Visniec and Saviana Stanescu.