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Book Review: Roger-Daniel Bensky's Le masque foudroyé





Le masque foudroyé
Lecture traversière du théâtre français actuel


Roger-Daniel Bensky (1997) Paris : Nizet, 296 pp. ISBN 2-7078-1227-7


This new book by Georgetown University's Roger Bensky is an investigation of the hermeneutic enterprise as applied to theatrical, dramaturgical and ludic aspects of twentieth-century French theatre - Ionesco especially, but not solely - as Lavaudant, Bailly, Laou, Durif and Valletti are considered in turn. It is a series of studies by the author, and is structured rather like a garden of related vignettes. In the first part, Mythophanies, Bensky develops a mythical paradigm for understanding theatre, and then examines Bailly in terms of the playwright's own mythical imagery; next Laou is similarly treated. In the second part, Ludiographies, Valleti, Durif and Lavaudant are explored. The third part, an annex of previously unpublished documents, includes an interview between the author and Eugene Ionesco.

The approach Bensky takes is interesting and original - which is to say it at first appears methodologically somewhat quirky - but ultimately proves entirely fruitful : he begins by "re-reading" the Dionysus myth, seen as in Nietzsche as a classical account of the origins of theatre, and successfully reinterprets it as a paradigm for understanding the emergence of the mask and the ontological multiplicity it deliberately creates in the "trans-historic now" of the theatrical act. This paradigmatic imago then, throughout the book, illuminates the hermeneutic interpretation becoming transfiguration and thereby renewed creation in the reading of twentieth-century French theatre, and underpins the book's contribution to the philosophy of theatre as well. The complexity of the methods developed, however, make it difficult to abstract their essence in a form such as that of the book review. We therefore discuss the work in an arbitrary vivisection, and treat many elements with a regrettable brevity.
Let us first look at this clever "re-translation" of the myth of Dionysus, which begins with the section entitled "Naître en abîme" (Birth in the Abyss):

Situé au carrefour de nombreuses traditions mythiques, [...] Dionysos est le fils que Zeus, maître des dieux, conçoit avec Sémélé, petite-fille de Rhéa, l'aïeule des déesses de la Terre et l'épouse de Kronos, dieu du Temps.
Sémélé, [...] liée à la lune, portera Dionysos six mois dans son sein. Puis, cédant à une tentation d'Héra, épouse de Zeus, qui lui suggère que son amant divin est peut-être un démon sous forme humaine, Sémélé exige que Zeus se manifeste sans masque, c'est-à-dire dans son essence. Ce qui advient. Zeus paraissant dans sa toute-puissance insoutenable, Sémélé, foudroyée, est consumée par les flammes.
Dionysos-foetus est repris par Zeus, qui le portera à terme dans sa cuisse divine. A sa naissance Héra, toujours vigilante, enverra les Titans, puissances démoniaques, qui démembreront sans pitié le nouveau-né, dont le sang est répandu sur le sol. Mais Rhéa, l'aïeule, reconstituera son corps et le ranimera.


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AS/SA Nº 3, Article 5 : Page 1 / 6

© 1997, AS/SA

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1.5.1997