Book Review: Roger Bensky's Masque foudroyé


The last chapter, apart from the interesting appendix of first-hand sources, is entitled "Lavaudant/Hamlet : paroles proférées paroles tuées. Journal de bord à la Comédie-Française." Here we meet with a fascinating look at Lavaudant's scenography in Shakespeare's Hamlet. An extremely pertinent suite to the previous section, this chapter describes Bensky's separation of the efficient being, the existence, of the words of the ghost, Hamlet's dead father, and their presence. Bensky points out that in this production, the spectre is not in fact an immaterial presence, but a real physical entity. The meaning of this? Prince Hamlet, driven into a hallucination on the "mnemic reality and the unresolved enigma presented by this ghostly father," is in fact "killed," driven from life-in-the-world, by his father's words, and therefore, is "unable to attain the existential." In other words, Hamlet, through the unseemly existence of his dead father's command, like a poison in the ear of the son, is existentially neutralised, his "Dasein turned into a no-man's-land." This is an extremely new and interesting way to conceive Hamlet's resultant hesitating and loss of purpose, and coincides quite perfectly with an interpretation of his most famous soliloquy. This Bensky wryly interpolates with the existential question of the ghost's seeming realness: the author poses it as "(SP)E(C)TRE ou ne pas (SP)E(C)TRE?"

The final section of the book is an interesting collage of first-hand writings never made public before - including some of the author's correspondence with Lavaudant and Ionesco, a lengthy and interesting interview with the latter, and some short essays on Mesguich's Romeo and Juliet and theatrical noesis in Maldiney.

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Clearly, Bensky's understanding of Le Masque foudroyé is one which penetrates beyond that of the actor, being merely his portrayed role, and shatters the surface of the mask as illusory self-conception by and of the character himself. In this way the collection of studies goes straight to the heart of the enigmatic ontological question of identity and alterity, and their confounding admixture in a misleading fusion of materiality and immateriality becomes the central riddle which the theatre brings to fruition, without solution. This is a work which deserves considerable attention.
The only caveat we might wish to proffer is a matter of form. While an approach which seems to harmonise so well with Heidegger might well be expected to present some kind of rejection of Kant, we are nevertheless brought, by the wealth of loosely structured neologisms Bensky coins, to think of Kant's admonition against unnecessary lexical innovation in his preface to the Critique of Pure Reason. For while it is true that a certain recul allows us sometimes "to understand the great thinkers of yesteryear better than they themselves were able to explain their thinking," there is nevertheless a strong argument against "inventing new terms where existing ones, even in the dead languages, might serve us better." We therefore warn the reader ahead of time: the author of Le Masque foudroyé has created so many new words that some might find certain passages tiresome or confusing.
Nevertheless, there is a wealth of very interesting new conceptual material here. The work appears only this month - and as Anne Übersfeld said while we were discussing preparations for this issue some months ago, it often takes a decade or more for new ideas to "penetrate the minds" of the academic community. Bensky's latest ideas may take somewhat longer. Let us hope they do not.

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AS/SA Nº 3, Article 5 : Page 6 / 6

© 1997, AS/SA

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