My photo

The blog is started only for "help." Many articles/posts are quoted/copied from different websites without mentioning the name or source--reason is, in early, the blog was started on for personal use only but now it is popular--so the problem of PLAGIARISM might occur (if someone find the source please let me know.)

Search This Blog

Be a Member of this BLOG

May 25, 2013

18 Century Novel

Rise of Novel in England
“Other great types of literature, like epic, poetry, the romance, and the drama were first produced by other nations; but the idea of the modern novel seems to have been worked out largely on English soil.” (History of English Literature, WJ Long)
Virginia Woolf writes, “A novel is a work of art” which according to Forster “should consist of about 50,000 words.” It has a remote origin in the medieval romance, a tale of love and adventure and the classical epic, for and the Renaissance, a prose tale was called a novella (“A short new thing”, “News”). It was developed by Giovanni Boccaccio who, in 1350 wrote a collection of love stories in prose, Decameron (1471).
Novel, according to French critic Abel Chevalley, “is a fiction in prose of a certain length,” so the history of English novel can be made with Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countless of Pembrooeke’s Arcadia, a complex prose romance of the ship-wrecked princess, beautiful princess, and chivalric adventure and remained popular until 18th century. John Lyly’s Ephesus (1578) and Ephesus and his England reduce story to a minimum but they are brilliant in discussion of manners, sentiments and moral reflection. Robert Greene’s Pondosto (1585) which Shakespeare used for The Winter’s Tale describes the “low” life of Elizabethan London—the thieves, the rogues, the drabs, their tricks and their victims.
Thomas Lodge tried friction both ways, with a story in Sydney’s manner, entitle Rosalynde (1590) and with realistic pamphlets. Thomas Deloney describes the work of craftsmen in his simple realistic narratives. The Gentleman Craft tells the whole story of the show-makers with some vivid and seemingly authentic scenes. Thomas Dekker successfully portrays the low life of London in Guls Horn Booke (1609). Thomas Nash made some progress in the direction of form in his realistic narratives. In Jack Wilton his rogue hero begins his carrier in the army of Henry VIII and in his travels meets a number of living people. Here is the nearest approach to the realistic novel which the 16th century has produced.
Clara Reeve describes the novel as a “picture of real life and manners, and of time in which it is written,” and in the second half of the 17th century, after the end of Civic Wars, writers were left with some leisure for prose fiction. Samuel Peppys and John Evelyn in their dairies created new atmosphere for fiction writing. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman combine allegory with narrative which is a realistic story, contemporary and authentic. The union on realism and spiritual experience is presented in The Abounding with all these earlier development of the novel it is left to the 18th C to consolidate fiction in a form of literature and from that time onwards these was no cessation in novel writing.
A beginning is made with an enthralling and mystical figure, Daniel Defoe. W.E. Williamson thinks, novel is “a long narrative in prose detailing the actions of fictitious people” and it is quite true with Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The story had its basis, in fact, in the adventure of Alexander Selkirk, the sailor who lived alone for years on the island of Juan Fernandez. Crusoe lands on an uninhabited island and somehow managers to live there for several years, until he is rescued from there by a lucky chance by a passing ship of his own country.
Another famous travelogue is Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. In this romance, Gulliver lands on several islands inhabited by such strange creatures as the Lilliputians, Houyhnhnms, Brobdingnags, and Yahoos.  However, Swift’s episodes in these adventures have a very pungent satire on contemporary political situations. Then follow the picaresque novels Captain Singleton with piracy and Africa in its background, a vivid tale, and the ‘female rogues’ Moll Flanders and more elegant Roxanoe , are among the most lively of his creation.
Henry Fielding maintains the novel as “a comic epic in prose” and his Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, and Jonathan Wild, and Smollett’s Adventures of the Roderick Random are its best example in the Picaresque Novels. The heroes or heroines of these novels are themselves bad characters. Four wheels wrote the first classic English novels and set high standards and models for this new form. In Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747–48), written in the form of letters exchanged between lovers, friends, and kinsmen, Richardson brought to a traditional theme of the older romances—a young woman's defense of her chastity—a psychological realism still unsurpassed. Fielding, in Joseph Andrews (1742), Tom Jones (1749), and Amelia (1751), depicted contemporary life and morals with a generosity combined with great classical learning, enabling him to write what he called “comic epic.” Smollett's Roderick Random (1748) followed a picaresque hero against a vivid panorama of lower-class society. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), also by Smollett, was gentler in its social criticism, but the comedy is merciless in its depiction of human foibles and vanities. Between 1760 and 1767 Sterne turned the novel inside out with his comic masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, in which the hero, who is the narrator, is not born until halfway through the book. Sterne had no real successors until James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, who investigated the relations between life on the one hand and literature and language on the other.
In novel the controversy between rules and taste continued but here, two factor made the controversy much less instance and lively than the controversy in poetry and drama criticism. Firstly, the novel had newly emerged and it had no theory or rules of its own available in any ancient or preceding period. Secondly, it emerged as literature of the middleclass, which was also new and without any tradition behind. Fielding along among the novelists of the age was a conscious artist who tried to forge a theory of the novel drawn from the existing models of epic and drama. The result was an episodic plot leaving large scope for a variety of incidents and characters, a mixed form allowing tragic endings with comic interludes as well as comic endings with tragic situations, and a middle style providing scope for serious contemplations as well as farcical flourishes.
Many critics divided the novel into two classes: stories and romance. The novels are otherwise divided into novels of personality like, The Vicar Wakefield and Silas Marner; historical novel, like Ivanhoe; the novel of romance like Lorna Donne; and the novel of purpose, like Oliver Twist, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. All such classifications are imperfect, and the best of them is to open the objections.
Many categories of the novel became recognizable in the 18th century, although they were rarely self-contained or mutually exclusive. One was the didactic novel, in which theories of education and politics were expressed. Most famous was the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau's Emile (1762). An English didactic novel was Caleb Williams (1794), by the political philosopher William Godwin; this work may also be seen as an example of the Gothic novel. The first Gothic novel was Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764). Later examples are Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796), and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein (1818).
One of the most enduring genres in the English novel is the comedy of manners, which is concerned with the clash, mirrored in speech and behavior, between characters formed by particular cultural and social conditions. Perhaps the first writer in the genre was Fanny Burney (Evelina, 1778; Cecilia, 1782), but the great exemplar was Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, 1813; Emma, 1816). Her abiding theme is ostensibly that of young women securing, or not securing, husbands; her underlying serious concern is with the attainment of self-knowledge. Such are Austen's wit, irony, and psychological perception, allied with her strict sense of correct social behavior, that she is the unchallenged genius of the genre.
Thus, Neo Classicism movement in English literature, which began under the influence of philosophic materialism, scientific empiricism, and literary classicism, and resulted in the production of the comic drama of manners, the poetry of wit, and the prose of common sense, gave way, at its end, to emerging philosophic transcendentalism, scientific associations, and literary romanticism, which resulted in the creation of poetic drama (more of a dramatic poem, in fact), the poetry of emotion, and the prose of sentiment. However the percept and epigram, the satire and the Mock-heroic (epic), of the age of Dryden and Pope, or the age of prose and reason, might have been discarded by the subsequent generations of the writers, its gift of essay and novel, to debate and criticism, continued long after the Neo-Classical movement had gone out of fashion, but before we take up literature of the Romantic period for discussion, we need to look into the literature that provided a transitional link between the Neo-Classical and the Romantic. This literature had appeared on the last quarter of the eighteenth century or thereabout is called “pre-Romantic literature.”
Since the flowering time of the novel in the second half of nineteenth century, the novel has displayed all other literary forms in popularity, and has replaced long verse narratives almost entirely. The novelistic art has received the devoted attention of some of the supreme craftsmen of modern literature—Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Thackeray, H.G. Wells, R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, And James Joyce. These great craftsmen have made the novel “a pocket theatre (Marion Crawford)” exhibiting the both “within and without of us”. It is the most effective medium for the portrayal of the human thought and action
“combining in itself the creation of poetry with the details of history and the generalized experience of philosophy, in a manner unattempted by any previous effort of human genius”. (Worsford)

May 18, 2013


source: Tom Cono
Saul Bellow (1915-2005), “the genius of portraiture,” straddled the modernism of early twentieth century literature and the postmodernism and detached irony of its middle and later years. In doing so, some would say he bestrode the American literary landscape. Just as many would disagree. For every Irving Malin (“Saul Bellow is the most important living American novelist”) there is a Norman Mailer (“I cannot take him seriously as a major novelist.”) Given that, during his career, Bellow frequently tilted against the windmills of both the literary and critical elites, it is unsurprising that he engendered so much feeling. He is a writer who makes the reader take a stance.

Nonetheless, Bellow did not see himself as being confrontational. “I am going against the stream,” he said. “That’s not an attitude. Attitudes are foolishness. It’s just that there’s no use doing anything else is there?” The stream he was swimming against was the culture of despair and alienation which was dominant in American literature, what Chirantan Kulshrestha describes as “the ideology of exaggerated wretchedness.” In reacting against false optimism, Bellow felt, writers had too often gone to the opposite extreme. Still in thrall to the modernists and their “legacy of pessimism,” still wallowing in wastelands, writers were acceding to the wider cultural expectation to “say no powerfully, ‘in the accent of thunder.’” Where, Bellow asked, was there real life, written realistically?

It is in the question of reality and art that Bellow moved further away from the accepted stance of the day. Kulshrestha perceives that Bellow had left behind early twentieth-century writers’ hostility to the reality of the present and, like mid-century writers, believed that art could not be a substitute for life. “Life or reality, for Bellow, is intractable and mysterious,” he notes. Because it stepped beyond intellectual systems it could not be exchanged for art. Art could, though, be a powerful means of interpreting reality, as seen in the works of many mid-century writers like Camus, Faulkner, Moravia et al. Bellow differed from them, too, however, because he refused to believe in a “lost paradise” or to accept a life-view tinged by a sense of loss. Instead, his fiction was, as Michael Glenday notes, “an effort to grasp a more authentic reality.” Bellow himself states that: “one of my themes is the American denial of real reality, our devices for evading it, our refusal to face what is all too obvious and palpable.” Glenday summarises this as a means for Bellow to expose “the inauthenticity of the everyday.” 

In fighting for realism, Bellow took a stance against what he saw as the macho destructiveness of the prevailing modernist mood, its relentless pessimism. “I don’t see that we need to call for the destruction of the world in hope of a phoenix,” he wrote. Instead, Bellow concentrated on examining the human condition. Writing of Him with his foot in his mouth, Cynthia Ozick states there is:
no romantic aping of archaisms or nostalgias; no restraints born out of theories of form or faddish tenets of experimentalism or ideological crypticness; no Neanderthal flatness in the name of cleanliness of prose, no gods of nihilism; no gods of subjectivity; no philosophy of parody.
Gloria Cronin summarises Bellow’s stance against the current orthodoxy most succinctly:
No other post WW11 American writer has analyzed so completely and so humanely the effects of American cultural anxiety with the age of technology and rationalism, existentialism and the legacy of high modernism.
Bellow’s objections to the orthodoxies of the day – be they modernist or post-modernist – were not superficial: rather, they go a long way to explain his extraordinary, rich, humane prose style. In an interview with Jo Brans, he declared that, unlike Joyce, he had no interest in writing for the literary intelligensia. Although he denied he was trying to teach people how to live, he did accept that he believed he had “something of importance to transmit.” He saw himself “as a historian. Every novelist is a historian.” And what do historians do but relate the story of people? Thus, character – or the representation of humanity – is an essential component of the Bellow ouevre. He concluded his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1976 by stating:
A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life. It tells us that for every human being there is a diversity of existences, that the single existence is itself an illusion in part, that these many existences signify something, tend to something, fulfill something; it promises us meaning, harmony and even justice.
This is what Joyce Carol Oates alludes to in her portrait of Bellow:
“big ideas”, though obsessively aired, aria-like indeed, seem to us pretexts to enable the author to display, and to admire, and to analyze, the phenomona he loves best: the haunting contours and textures of the physical world, and the mystery of human personality in its extraordinary variety.”
Bellow focused on the individual as a way of understanding the general. He was essentially an optimist who saw beauty in humanity, but who nonetheless deprecated the isolation felt by many in a society which crowded the individual. Christopher Taylor identifies one of Bellow’s great themes as “the fate of the individual in an age which, Bellow feels, doesn’t put a proper value on individualism.” Robert Baker describes the “two themes that pervade [Bellow’s] work – the horrible price of insularity… and, transcending this, the common humanity shared by all.” 

It is here that Bellow rebelled once more against contemporary rhetoric. In his Nobel speech, he quoted Alain Robbe-Grillet:
The novel of characters belongs entirely in the past… Individuals have been wiped out… The exclusive cult of the ‘human’ has given way to a larger consciousness, one that is less anthropocentric.
Bellow countered: “Can it be that human beings are at a dead end?” He rounded on the intellectual community – “another group of mummies” – which had “laid down the law”: “It amuses me that these serious essayists should be allowed to sign the death notices of literary forms… We must not make bosses of our intellectuals.” 

Although he conceded that “there is no reason why a novelist should not drop “character” if the strategy stimulates him,” Bellow was clear on the importance of character in his work:
A "character" has his own logic. He goes his way, one goes with him; he has some perceptions, one perceives them with him. You do him justice, you don't grind your axe. I have no axe to grind, one way or the other.
Thus, it can be said that character dominates Bellow’s work. It is through character that his novels and stories gain their narrative depth; it is through the detailing of minor, often contradictory truths – those weaknesses and foibles in all of us – that his voice is formed; it is through thought and belief – and the testing of belief in times of stress – that his vision of humanity emerges.

Therefore, it may be argued that Bellow’s narrative style is more straightforward than those of his predecessors and many of his contemporaries. By concentrating on character, he can reveal his truths through narrative. Glenday notes that: “Unlike Hemingway…or James… Bellow does not rely upon symbolical properties to give narrative depth.” 

This is not to say that he aimed to be straightforward or didactic. In his essay on the future of fiction, he stated:
we have developed in American fiction a strange combination of extreme naivete in the characters and of profundity implicit in the writing, in the techniques themselves and in the language, but the language of thought itself is banned, it is considered dangerous and destructive.
He cited as evidence Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea where the reader is offered:
a sort of Christian endurance… The attempt to represent ideas while sternly forbidding thought begins to look like a curious and highly sophisticated game. It shows a great skepticism of the strength of art.
There is no question that Bellow thought himself a novelist of ideas, and that he used his work to project his own, essentially optimistic, outlook on the world. However, for a man whose entire career was spent in pursuit of his own artistic goals, regardless of current literary tastes, it is unsurprising that there are dissenting voices. Bellow was clear that character led and narrative followed. Of Mr Sammler’s Planet, he wrote: “One doesn't arbitrarily invent these [character traits] in order to put anything across.” 

Allan Massie, however, notes that he was “more interested in ideas than in fiction, or rather interested in fiction chiefly as a vehicle for argument.” Further, he argues that far from being an acute chronicler of human behaviour, Bellow “has a deficient sense of how other people behave.” Sanford Pinsker, writing of Him With His Foot In His Mouth and Other Stories, notes that the collection “mercifully” doesn’t preach, as some of his recent novels had done. Sam Phipps writes that Bellow “has always loved the sound of his own literary voice too much to worry about reining himself in.” And David Galloway says:
The imaginative structure fails to provide adequate support for the intellectual structure, so that at crucial moments the author’s ideas fail to be embodied in character, action, or image.
Thus, the author who decried the didacticism of others stands charged with the same thing, while it is suggested that his characterisation, far from being integral to the narrative, is seen as unconvincing.

Who is right? The answer, as always, lies in the middle. Certainly, as he grew older Bellow’s novels became more preachy, less interesting, but it is in his shorter fiction that the qualities of his writing continue to shine. Massie suggests his novels will date and become “old hat” and – since, from Dangling Man onwards, they are undoubtedly products of their time – he may well be right. But in Bellow’s shorter fiction there is the thread of genius. It is in his short stories that character comes to the fore and can truly be said to be fundamental to the narrative drive, to lead the story naturally, to establish a voice and convey a vision which is fresh and original and the equal of any writing in the twentieth century.

May 12, 2013

The Satanic Verses

Revisiting The Satanic Verses: Rushdie’s Desacralizing Treatment of 
the Koran as a Literary Intertext
by Gregory J. RUBINSON
Early in The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie asks: “How does newness come into the world? […] Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made?” (8) Though the answers to these questions are pursued throughout the novel, one kind of answer is already posed by the question: newness is the product of “fusions, translations, conjoinings.” Similarly, we might apply this question to the creation of texts: How do new texts come into the world? And the answer is the same: from “fusions, translations, conjoinings.” Rushdie, ever the champion of such mixing or hybridity, clearly bases his aesthetic approach on textual mixing. The Satanic Verses, for example, features a startling cast of characters with hybrid identities in a narrative that is a startling fusion of genres including satire, magic realism, postmodern metafiction, and religious allegory. In contrast, its principle intertext, The Koran, is often treated as absolute and pure, a characteristic of sacred texts that Rushdie finds questionable and even dangerous: they allow no dialogue, no questioning, and therefore are rigid with regards to human development and history. One of the major things Rushdie was trying to do in The Satanic Verses was offer a challenge to that static purity of the sacred text.
  • 1  He is also, like Barnes especially, casting doubt on the reliability of commonly accepted historic (...)
  • 2  Daniel Pipes explains: “To doubt this is to deny the validity of Muhammad’s mission and to imply t (...)
2At the outset of the novel, Gibreel Farishta, one of the novel’s two main characters, has lost his faith. He is forced in a series of tormenting dreams to play the role of his namesake, the archangel Gabriel/Gibreel. As the angel, he interacts while dreaming with Muhammad (here called Mahound) in the desert at the time of the founding of Islam. It is the content of this dream that most inflamed many Muslims’ religious sensitivities. In the parts of the novel that deal with this dream, Rushdie, as his contemporaries Jeanette Winterson and Julian Barnes have done with the Old Testament story of Noah and the ark, is casting doubt on religious texts by treating them not as sacred and authoritative but as akin to fictional literature.1Therein lies the problem, for orthodox Muslims consider the Koran to be the direct and inviolable “Word of God,”2 whereas the Old and New Testaments are not generally treated as such.
  • 3  This scenario and the title phrase which describe it comes from an early story of questionable aut (...)
3Though much of the controversy around The Satanic Verses focused on the novel’s desacralizing portrait of Muhammad, the central focus of Rushdie’s manipulation and criticism is the text of the Koran itself. The eponymous issue of the “Satanic verses” arises when Abu Simbel, the crafty leader of the magical desert city Jahilia (Mecca), recognizes that Mahound and his one God represent the future. He tempts Mahound to accept just three of the city’s three hundred and sixty idol gods as “worthy of worship.” (105) The prophet consults Gibreel and returns, citing a set of verses from the Koran called “The Star” into which is inserted the declaration that Lat, Uzza, and Manat—the three most popular pagan idol gods—are “the exalted birds, and their intercession is desired indeed.” (114) In other words, God would appear to be allowing the worship of idols, which is one of the fundamental prohibitions of Islam. But in response to news that Abu Simbel may betray his pledge of loyalty to Allah, Mahound consults Gibreel again and returns with a disavowal of the previous verses as the product of Satan,3 and replaces them with a citation from the text of the Koran itself: “Shall He have daughters and you sons? […] That would be a fine division! These are but names you have dreamed of…Allah vests no authority in them.” (124)
4Gibreel, however, informs us that both the first revelation and its repudiation came from him, and in each case the words were somehow forced from him by Mahound. Reflecting on the process by which the “Satanic verses” were first revealed and then repealed, he explains: “[Mahound] did his old trick, forcing my mouth open and making the voice […] pour out of me. […] From my mouth, both the statement and the repudiation, verses and converses, universes and reverses, the whole thing, and we all know how my mouth got worked.” (123) The suggestion, then, is that the revelation of the Koran was not so much a recitation or citation of the Word of God—implying that Mahound was acting merely as the mouthpiece—but that Mahound was the origin of the text. The way in which all of this is dramatized is complex, but a sense emerges and begins to grow that Mahound’s “citations” were conveniently fabricated to suit whatever personal purpose he had at any given time. The disavowed “Satanic verses,” for example, helped him to convert the Jahilians to his new religion. Both the mytho-historical tale of the “Satanic verses” and Rushdie’s dramatic recreation of it conflate imaginative with “revealed” genres of literature, calling into question the putative “purity” and revelatory sanctity of the Koran.
5A second major challenge to the purity of the Koran occurs when Mahound’s scribe, Salman the Persian, begins to doubt the authenticity of Mahound’s recitations. Fleeing persecution in the desert city of Jahilia after the incident of “the Satanic verses,” the prophet and his followers go into the desert where Mahound, Salman recounts,
became obsessed by law. […] Gibreel appeared to the Prophet and found himself spouting rules, rules, rules, until the faithful could scarcely bear the prospect of any more revelation […] rules about every damn thing, if a man farts let him turn his face to the wind, a rule about which hand to use for the purpose of cleaning one’s behind. It was as if no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free. The revelation […] told the faithful how much to eat, how deeply they should sleep, and which sexual positions had received divine sanction. (363-4)
6The strictures Rushdie mocks are not verbatim from the Koran, although the Koran does at times seem highly concerned with the minutia of the mundane: there are, for example, long and detailed passages about how a man’s inheritance should be divided, who a man may and may not have sex with, the legalities of marriage and divorce, etc. Some of the other strictures Rushdie mentions come from the documented accounts (calledhadith) of Muhammad and his followers’ lives, and different Muslim sects follow different hadith (Asad 293). So Rushdie is invoking and conflating a variety of religious and legal texts for convenience, but the general goal of his irreverent mockery is to express skepticism about religious texts and their ideological underpinnings. The hadith are still reflective of rules-obsessed sacred texts. Rushdie suggests that religious texts are in large part early law books which dictate restrictions on human behavior that do not—cannot except through deliberate re-writing—change with changing social values.
7One of the most troublesome areas in this regard is religious, or more specifically in this instance Muslim, positions on women. The Koran validates the idea of men’s superiority over women and their right to abuse them:
Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. (Dawood, Koran 64)
  • 4  Some critics have argued that Rushdie’s characterizations of women involve patriarchal and/or sexi(...)
8In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie suggests that such strictures were a matter of Mahound’s personal sexism: Salman tells the satirical poet Baal that when the women of Yathrib (the desert oasis Mahound has fled to) begin to express their autonomy, “bang, out comes the rule book, the angel starts pouring out rules about what women mustn’t do, he starts forcing them back into the docile attitudes the Prophet prefers, docile or maternal, walking three steps behind or sitting at home being wise and waxing their chins.” (SV 367) Part of Rushdie’s challenge to the sacredness of the Koran, then, is a protest against its restrictive and abusive ideologies regarding women—ideologies which have been and still are a major problem in some societies because the separation of women is crucial to the fundamentalist ideal of cultural purity.4
  • 5  Like the instance of the “Satanic verses,” this event has an historical basis: Malise Ruthven expl (...)
9A challenge to the ideology of purity and absolutism enters the narrative in the form of textual subversion. Salman observes to Baal that Mahound started to lay down the law and then consult Gibreel to have it “confirmed.” In the hope of disproving his suspicions, Salman takes to interjecting his own modifications into the recitation to see if Mahound will notice. Even more directly than the Satanic verses incident, this act changes the genre of the text by interjecting artifice into putatively pure Divine revelation: “there I was, actually writing the Book, or re-writing anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language.” (367) When Mahound fails to notice this “pollution,” Salman is forced to conclude that the recitation—the Koran—is fabricated rather than God-given.5 From an Islamic point of view this is blasphemous, but from a secular point of view it is both a playful and serious desacralization of a religious text. This desacralizing does not defeat religious points of view; rather, Rushdie is suggesting that all faith is subject to doubt, even requires doubt. In an interview, Rushdie elaborates, proposing that doubt is an inescapable facet of postmodern society: “Doubt is the central condition of a human being in the 20th century. […] We cannot any longer have a fixed certain view of anything.” (Appignanesi 24)
  • 6  At one point, for example, Rushdie indirectly refers to Abraham as a “bastard” for leaving his son (...)
10Eventually Mahound does notice what Salman has done and confronts him: “Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven. Did you think I wouldn’t work it out? To set your words against the Words of God.” (374) Through the postmodern strategy of re-imagining, parodying, and subverting the recitation of the Koran, it is exactly this that Rushdie has attempted in The Satanic Verses. And while there is a great deal of material in these parts of the novel that is straight-forwardly irreverent (even “blasphemous” according to some sensibilities), entirely apart from the arguments about freedom of expression which dominated the Rushdie controversy, it should require no apology.6 The book offers all the “justification” or “defense” it needs; within its pages is the resounding manifesto for the social function of art: “A poet’s work,” says the satirical poet Baal, is to “name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.” (97) Though many may not find this notion comforting, this has been in many societies a presumed role for literature, and it is particularly foregrounded in Rushdie’s fiction. And this, of course, is why Baal, whose job it is to “point at frauds,” must be killed while Salman, who polluted the sacred text of the Koran, can be forgiven. The poet offers the more potent challenge to authority, an idea that I don’t think is exaggerated when we look at the effect that The Satanic Verses had in the world.
11Rushdie suggests that it is necessary always to have voices of challenge. Just before his execution, Baal says: “Whores and writers, Mahound. We are the people you can’t forgive,” and Mahound replies: “Writers and whores. I see no difference here.” (392) Mahound equates writers with whores because they are both profane to him: whores for obvious reasons, and writers because the mere act of writing words challenges the authority of the “Words of God” as written/revealed in the Koran. In fact, by having Mahound equate writers with whores, Rushdie is again invoking the text of the Koran itself, which explicitly condemns imaginative writers: “Poets are followed by erring men. Behold how aimlessly they rove in every valley, preaching what they never practise.” (Dawood 264) Writing, as Fadia Faqir asserts, “is considered by strict Muslims as an act of subversion.” (Appignanesi 226) At the very founding of Islam, then, Rushdie states in an interview, there was a “conflict between the sacred text and the profane text, between revealed literature and imagined literature” (Appignanesi 23), a conflict manifested by the fact that when Muhammad returned to Mecca he executed only five or six people, four of whom were writers or satirical actresses. In The Satanic Verses Rushdie replays this historical act, having Mahound execute Baal for representing a profane alternative to Islamic ideals. Sadly, it is the same intolerance of imaginative literature (because of its challenge to revealed literature) that contributed to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence on Rushdie.
  • 7  Daniel Pipes discusses a number of similar objections to the book (110-3) and comments that “many(...)
12A frequent assumption was that Rushdie was attempting to revise Muslim history. Syed Ali Ashraf, for example, assumes that Rushdie has taken the myth of the Satanic verses and treated it as true: “He has intentionally and deliberately distorted the history of the Blessed Prophet and his Companions.” (Appignanesi 19) Similarly, an article in the London Sunday Times reported that “The grand Sheikh of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old seat of Islamic theology, said […] the book […] contained ‘lies and figments of the imagination’ about Islam, which were ‘passed off as facts’.” (Appignanesi 27) Rushdie’s detractors received the novel as blasphemous propaganda and were noticeably unwilling to accept what he has called the “fictionality of fiction” (Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands 393).7
13Defending his novel, Rushdie draws attention to issues of genre to which I have already made reference:
I genuinely believed that my overt use of fabulation would make it clear to any reader that I was not attempting to falsify history, but to allow a fiction to take off from history. […] Fiction uses facts as a starting-place and then spirals away to explore its real concerns, which are only tangentially historical. Not to see this, to treat fiction as if it were fact, is to make a serious mistake of categories. The case of The Satanic Verses may be one of the biggest category mistakes in literary history. (Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands 408-409)
14While it is perhaps overstating things to suggest that the true concerns of fiction are only “tangentially” historical (a position I doubt Rushdie would really stand behind), he is correct to point out that some basic distinction between fiction and fact must be maintained. To do otherwise would be to submit to the dangerously radical philosophy that all versions of history are equally valid.
15Rushdie introduces the conflict between fact and fiction in the novel when Gibreel’s dreams become the raw material for a new series of “theological” genre movies. Billy Battuta, one of the film’s producers, describes the first of them, a film that will “recount the story of the encounter between a prophet and an archangel”: “‘It is a film […] about how newness enters the world.’—But would it not be seen as blasphemous […] ‘Certainly not. […] Fiction is fiction; facts are facts’.” (SV 272) While there is some truth to this—it is important not to mistake fiction for fact—it is also important not to accept “fact” without skepticism. Battuta’s remarks seem ironic given that the whole spirit of The Satanic Verses (and of Rushdie’s other works) belies the over-simplistic division between fact and fiction or reality and fantasy. Gibreel, for example, can not work out for himself what is real and what is the product of his own delusional mind. Even as readers with all of the clues that Rushdie gives us, it isn’t really possible for us to work out exactly what is to be read as literal truth and what as metaphorical truth. Here again the issue of genre, and in particular the genre of magic realism, is crucial to how one understands the text.
16Rushdie’s use of magic realism, which includes such fantastical tropes as Gibreel’s transformation into the Archangel Gabriel, collapses the categories of literal and metaphorical truth. This is one of the reasons why arguments over the book’s alleged blasphemy are so vexed: on the one hand, its defenders have wanted to read it as a novel which fictionally dramatizes the conflict between faith and doubt; on the other hand, those attacking it see it as a challenge to the literalness of Islamic history and revered historical/theological figures. It is both of these things, but it does not seek to suggest that its own vision of Islamic history supplant the “official” history, just as in Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children he doesn’t intend for us to literally believe Saleem Sinai’s version of Indian history. Rather, it is suggesting that no historical or religious text should be automatically accepted as purely “factual.” The point here is that fact and fiction are inextricable in all genres of representation whether they are recognized as religious, historical, literary, or other.
17What Rushdie is ultimately arguing for, then, is a different aesthetics of reception for religious texts. To the faithful, religious texts belong to the genres of law book, cautionary tale, and factual historical record. But the secular reader can turn to religious texts like they turn to other literary texts: not for admonitions, rules, and maxims but for, among other things, insights into human nature. By putting the Koran, literally and metaphorically, on the same “shelf” as other texts, Rushdie encourages readers to approach such texts from a literary/critical perspective so that they’re less likely to accept them at face value and be manipulated by those who claim the right of interpretation. This, of course, has implications for all sacred texts, not just the Koran.
18Even when it was understood that The Satanic Verses wasn’t trying to substitute its narrative for the Koran’s, it met with a pervasive prejudice against fantasy in writing. Peter Mullen, a Christian reverend sympathetic to the Muslims outraged by the novel, implies that only the strictest realism can be counted as “good writing”: “The further the art work departs from the real world, the more conjectural and abstract it becomes, the worse it is. […] Good writing, like the Old Testament, eschews contrivance and gives us the world as it is.” (Cohn-Sherbok 31) While Mullen’s assumption that the Old Testament harbors no “contrivance” is ludicrous, the same assumption about the Koran is nearly universal among believing Muslims. One of the troubling facets of religious orthodoxy is that it insists, as Mullen does, that the world can be described in the most literal terms. The Satanic Verses, along with other postmodern, fantastic, or magic realist works, suggests otherwise. As Bhikhu Parekh observes, magic realism has become popular genre: its conventions speak directly to that contemporary loss of the sense of reality as mundane.
19In the sense that magic realism is often a response to that which is inexplicable in everyday reality, then, the genre provides a similar social function to that of religious texts. By doing so, and by suggesting that miraculous events can happen without divine will, it implies a challenge to religious texts. The distinguishing conventions of magic realism—supernatural or miraculous events, apparitions, wish-fulfilling fantasies—can be seen in different kinds of literary texts and in religious texts as well, suggesting that religious and literary texts have generic similarities. Religious texts, like classic fantasy stories, are characterized by miraculous events: the flood, the parting of the Red Sea, guiding pillars of fire and smoke, manna from Heaven, the immaculate conception, resurrection, etc. Much of the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses, then, has to do with the fact that Rushdie depicts the Koran as a human contrivance. For Rushdie, its sanctity as scripture is culturally attributed and the divine origin of the revelations is dubious. Despite the fact that it is a text with great cultural and historical significance, Rushdie plays with the narrative of the Koran as if it were a literary or fictional intertext such as A Thousand and One Nights (a text which he alludes to throughout his work).
20In February of 1994, the fifth anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwaagainst Salman Rushdie, the French television network Arté devoted an entire evening of programming to discussing the fatwa and The Satanic Verses with Rushdie. During the interview, Rushdie spoke strongly in favor of the notion that religious texts must be treated as other kinds of texts—that they not have the kind of privileged status that forbids questioning. “There should be no separate rules for religious texts,” he said. “They should have to face the competition of other texts on their own.” With this statement, Rushdie pinpointed the basis of the problems which were a response to the publication of his novel. Scripture is generally granted a privileged status in societies, and for some they are unassailable, unquestionable, absolute. Nevertheless, such texts are always being mediated by those who have been privileged as their interpreters.
21Although Rushdie’s play with the Koran in the Mahound parts of the novel expresses a harsh skepticism about Islam, the novel is not aimed at invalidating Islamic faith. Instead, Rushdie wants to desacralize the Koran—at least in the sense of it as a God-given, unquestionable text—and open it and Islam as a whole to questioning. This idea of questioning scripture, as Carlos Fuentes notes in an article defending Rushdie, is inimical to the whole idea of sacred texts: “a sacred text is, by definition, a completed and exclusive text. You can add nothing to it. It does not converse with anyone.” (Appignanesi 241) Strictly speaking, this is not true of all sacred texts or of everyone’s approach to such texts: sacred texts are always being questioned, interpreted, and mediated. But it is true that for fundamentalists sacred texts are absolute, inflexible, and unchallengeable. Further, since the Koran more or less encompasses Islam, Rushdie’s manipulation of the text is perceived by believing Muslims as a challenge to their faith. Fuentes notes that “For the Ayatollahs reality is dogmatically defined once and for all in a sacred text.” (Appignanesi 241) The idea of questioning such texts is inherently blasphemous to Muslims and that is what made the conflict virtually impossible to resolve on a religious level. Syed Shahabuddin, an Indian MP who was one of the earliest figures to denounce The Satanic Verses, asserts that the novel “serves to define what has gone wrong with the Western civilization—it has lost all sense of distinction between the sacred and the profane.” (Appignanesi 38) But it is not the distinction between the sacred and the profane that poses a problem as much as the categories themselves: declaring certain kinds of writing sacred and others profane discourages meaningful interaction with both kinds—the sacred is beyond questioning while the profane is not worthy of serious attention. Through its own intertextual practices with The Koran, The Satanic Verses dissolves these categories to encourage questioning of and dialogue with religious texts.

Source: http://erea.revues.org/493


Anees, Munawar A. The Kiss of Judas: Affairs of a Brown Sahib. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Quill, 1989.
Appignanesi, Lisa and Sara Maitland, eds. The Rushdie File. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1990.
Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.
Cohn-Sherbok, Dan, ed. The Salman Rushdie Controversy in Interreligious Perspective. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Meelen, 1990.
Dawood, N. J., trans. The Koran. 1956. London: Penguin, 1995.
Ellerby, Janet Mason. “Narrative Imperialism in The Satanic Verses.”Multicultural Literatures through Feminist/Poststructuralist Lenses. Ed. Barbara Frey Waxman. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1993. 173-89.
Grewal, Inderpal. “Salman Rushdie: Marginality, Women, and Shame.”Genders 3 (Fall 1988): 24-42.
Kamra, Sukeshi. “Replacing the Colonial Gaze: Gender as Strategy in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction.”  Between the Lines: South Asians and Post-Coloniality. Eds. Deepika Bahri and Mary Vasudeva. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 1996. 237-49.
Lester, Toby. “What is the Koran?” The Atlantic Monthly 283.1 (January 1999): 43-56.
Pipes, Daniel. The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West. New York: Carol, 1990.
Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London: Granta, 1991.
––. Midnight’s Children. 1981. London: Picador, 1982.
––. Shame. 1983. New York: Vintage, 1989.
––. The Satanic Verses. 1988. New York: Viking, 1989.
Ruthven, Malise. A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam. London: Chatto and Windus, 1990.
Verman, Charu. “Padma’s Tragedy: A Feminist Deconstruction of Midnight’s Children.” Panjab University Research Bulletin (Arts) 20.2 (Oct. 1989): 59-65.
Haut de page


1  He is also, like Barnes especially, casting doubt on the reliability of commonly accepted historical narratives by re-writing the story of the founding of Islam.
2  Daniel Pipes explains: “To doubt this is to deny the validity of Muhammad’s mission and to imply that the entire Islamic faith is premised on a fraudulent base. […] [A] Muslim may not question the authenticity of the Qur’an. To do so is to raise doubts about the validity of the faith itself, and this is usually seen as an act of apostasy” (56). Nevertheless, the recent discovery in Yemen of a gravesite of seventh- and eighth-century copies of the Koran reveal aberrations from the standard text of the Koran, suggesting that the Koran is a text that has changed with history rather than the absolute and unchanging Word of God. The historicization of the Koran would undermine the most foundational Islamic belief (Lester).
3  This scenario and the title phrase which describe it comes from an early story of questionable authority about such “Satanic verses.” Malise Ruthven provides a detailed explanation in A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam (37-39), as does Daniel Pipes in The Rushdie Affair (57-59). For a Muslim perspective which argues that the incident of the “Satanic verses” is a false myth, see M. M. Ahsan, “The Orientalists’ ‘Satanic’ Verses” (Anees 6-10).
4  Some critics have argued that Rushdie’s characterizations of women involve patriarchal and/or sexist conventions (see, for example, Ellerby, Grewal, Kamra, Verma). While I do think there is a certain quality of androcentrism in many of Rushdie’s depictions, he uses a cartoonish, comic mode of representation with practically all of his characters, female and male. There are women who are villains (e.g. Abu Simbel’s wife Hind; the Widow in Midnight’s Children), women who haunt men (e.g. Rekha Merchant in The Satanic Verses); women treated with condescension (Padma in Midnight’s Children); and even women treated as monstrous destroyers of men (Sufiya Zinobia in Shame). But there are just as many, if not more, men treated at least as harshly. Further, some of his women characters, such as Zeeny Vakil, Alleluia Cone, and her mother, Alicja Cone, are clearly the most admirable personages in the novel, certainly more so that Gibreel or Saladin. And throughout Rushdie’s work he demonstrates an awareness of the difficulties of women living in an androcentric society, such as when he remarks of Hind Sufyan (Sufyan’s wife) that “she had sunk into the anonymity, the characterless plurality, of being merely one-of-the-women-like-her. This was history’s lesson: nothing for women-like-her to do but suffer, remember, and die” (Satanic Verses 250); or when Alicja Cone tells her daughter: “So a woman’s life-plans are being smothered by a man’s. […] So welcome to your gender” (348). Further, in his essay “In Good Faith,” Rushdie points out that part of his reason for portraying the “Satanic verses” incident was that he “thought it was at least worth pointing out that one of the reasons for rejecting these goddesses was that they were female” (Imaginary Homelands 399-400).
5  Like the instance of the “Satanic verses,” this event has an historical basis: Malise Ruthven explains in her contribution to The Rushdie File that, according to an historic account, one of Muhammad’s scribes lost his faith after “a deliberate mistake in his transcription of the divine text went unnoticed by the Prophet.” (187)
6  At one point, for example, Rushdie indirectly refers to Abraham as a “bastard” for leaving his son in the desert because it is God’s will. He comments: “From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.” (95) It is a common enough criticism of religious institutions, and part of the tradition of literature as social criticism.
7  Daniel Pipes discusses a number of similar objections to the book (110-3) and comments that “many Muslim critics complained that Rushdie had not told the truth, as though his highly elaborated account was intended exactly to recapitulate Islamic history.” (110) Pipes attempts to explain this misunderstanding as the product of a pervasive (though certainly not universal) Muslim unfamiliarity with the novel form: “The notion of the literary imagination proceeding into the hypothetical, where context shapes no less than words, remains alien to many Muslims, and fundamentalists reject this approach in its entirety.” (112)
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Gregory J. RUBINSON, « Revisiting The Satanic Verses: Rushdie’s Desacralizing Treatment of the Koran as a Literary Intertext », E-rea [En ligne], 2.1 | 2004, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2004, consulté le 12 mai 2013. URL : http://erea.revues.org/493 ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.493
Haut de page



University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)Greg Rubinson is a lecturer in the Writing Programs department of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He has published essays on British writers Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Julian Barnes, and now Salman Rushdie. A book on these writers, Point at Frauds: Genre and Desacralization in Contemporary British Literature, is forthcoming.

May 8, 2013

20 C. Drama


During the 20th cent., especially after World War I, Western drama became more internationally unified and less the product of separate national literary traditions. Throughout the century realism, naturalism, and symbolism (and various combinations of these) continued to inform important plays. Among the many 20th-century playwrights who have written what can be broadly termed naturalist dramas are Gerhart Hauptmann (German), John Galsworthy (English), John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey (Irish), and Eugene O'Neill, Clifford Odets, and Lillian Hellman (American).

An important movement in early 20th-century drama was expressionism. Expressionist playwrights tried to convey the dehumanizing aspects of 20th-century technological society through such devices as minimal scenery, telegraphic dialogue, talking machines, and characters portrayed as types rather than individuals. Notable playwrights who wrote expressionist dramas include Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser (German), Karel Čapek (Czech), and Elmer Rice and Eugene O'Neill (American). The 20th cent. also saw the attempted revival of drama in verse, but although such writers as William Butler Yeats, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, and MaxwellAnderson produced effective results, verse drama was no longer an important form in English. In Spanish, however, the poetic dramas of Federico García Lorca are placed among the great works of Spanish literature.

Three vital figures of 20th-century drama are the American Eugene O'Neill, the German Bertolt Brecht, and the Italian Luigi Pirandello. O'Neill's body of plays in many forms—naturalistic, expressionist, symbolic, psychological—won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936 and indicated the coming-of-age of American drama. Brecht wrote dramas of ideas, usually promulgating socialist or Marxist theory. In order to make his audience more intellectually receptive to his theses, he endeavored—by using expressionist techniques—to make them continually aware that they were watching a play, not vicariously experiencing reality. For Pirandello, too, it was paramount to fix an awareness of his plays as theater; indeed, the major philosophical concern of his dramas is the difficulty of differentiating between illusion and reality.

World War II and its attendant horrors produced a widespread sense of the utter meaninglessness of human existence. This sense is brilliantly expressed in the body of plays that have come to be known collectively as the theater of the absurd. By abandoning traditional devices of the drama, including logical plot development, meaningful dialogue, and intelligible characters, absurdist playwrights sought to convey modern humanity's feelings of bewilderment, alienation, and despair—the sense that reality is itself unreal. In their plays human beings often portrayed as dupes, clowns who, although not without dignity, are at the mercy of forces that are inscrutable.

Probably the most famous plays of the theater of the absurd are Eugene Ionesco's Bald Soprano (1950) and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1953). The sources of the theater of the absurd are diverse; they can be found in the tenets of surrealism, Dadaism (see Dada), and existentialism; in the traditions of the music hall,vaudeville, and burlesque; and in the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Playwrights whose works can be roughly classed as belonging to the theater of the absurd are Jean Genet (French), Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (Swiss), Fernando Arrabal (Spanish), and the early plays of Edward Albee (American). The pessimism and despair of the 20th cent. also found expression in the existentialist dramas of Jean-Paul Sartre, in the realistic and symbolic dramas of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Jean Anouilh, and in the surrealist plays of Jean Cocteau.

Somewhat similar to the theater of the absurd is the so-called theater of cruelty, derived from the ideas of Antonin Artaud, who, writing in the 1930s, foresaw a drama that would assault its audience with movement and sound, producing a visceral rather than an intellectual reaction. After the violence of World War II and the subsequent threat of the atomic bomb, his approach seemed particularly appropriate to many playwrights. Elements of the theater of cruelty can be found in the brilliantly abusive language of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), in the ritualistic aspects of some of Genet's plays, in the masked utterances and enigmatic silences of Harold Pinter's "comedies of menace," and in the orgiastic abandon of Julian Beck's Paradise Now! (1968); it was fully expressed in Peter Brooks's production of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade (1964).

During the last third of the 20th cent. a few continental European dramatists, such as Dario Fo in Italy and Heiner Müller in Germany, stand out in the theater world. However, for the most part, the countries of the continent saw an emphasis on creative trends in directing rather than a flowering of new plays. In the United States and England, however, many dramatists old and new continued to flourish, with numerous plays of the later decades of the 20th cent. (and the early 21st cent.) echoing the trends of the years preceding them.

Realism in a number of guises—psychological, social, and political—continued to be a force in such British works as David Storey's Home (1971), Sir Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy (1974), and David Hare's Amy's View (1998); in such Irish dramas as Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) and Martin McDonagh's 1990s Leenane trilogy; and in such American plays as Jason Miller's That Championship Season (1972), Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly (1979), and John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation (1990). In keeping with the tenor of the times, many of these and other works of the period were marked by elements of wit, irony, and satire.

A witty surrealism also characterized some of the late 20th cent.'s theater, particularly the brilliant wordplay and startling juxtapositions of the many plays of England's Tom Stoppard. In addition, two of late-20th-century America's most important dramatists, Sam Shepard and David Mamet (as well as their followers and imitators), explored American culture with a kind of hyper-realism mingled with echoes of the theater of cruelty in the former's Buried Child (1978), the latter's Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), and other works. While each exhibited his own very distinctive voice and vision, both playwrights achieved many of their effects through stark settings, austere language in spare dialog, meaningful silences, the projection of a powerful streak of menace, and outbursts of real or implied violence.

The late decades of the 20th century were also a time of considerable experiment and iconoclasm. Experimental dramas of the 1960s and 70s by such groups as Beck's Living Theater and Jerzy Grotowski's Polish Laboratory Theatre were followed by a mixing and merging of various kinds of media with aspects of postmodernism, improvisational techniques, performance art, and other kinds of avant-garde theater. Some of the era's more innovative efforts included productions by theater groups such as New York's La MaMa (1961–) and Mabou Mines (1970–) and Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Co. (1976–); the Canadian writer-director Robert Lepage's intricate, sometimes multilingual works, e.g. Tectonic Plates (1988); the inventive one-man shows of such monologuists as Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray, and John Leguizamo; the transgressive drag dramas of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater, e.g., The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984); and the operatic multimedia extravaganzas of Robert Wilson, e.g. White Raven (1999).

Thematically, the social upheavals of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s—particularly the civil rights and women's movements, gay liberation, and the AIDS crisis—provided impetus for new plays that explored the lives of minorities and women. Beginning with Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1959), drama by and about African Americans emerged as a significant theatrical trend. In the 1960s plays such as James Baldwin's Blues for Mr. Charley (1964), Amiri Baraka's searing Dutchman (1964), and Charles Gordone's No Place to Be Somebody (1967) explored black American life; writers including Ed Bullins (e.g., The Taking of Miss Janie, 1975), Ntozake Shange (e.g., For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, 1976) and Charles Fuller (e.g., A Soldier's Play, 1981) carried these themes into later decades. One of the most distinctive and prolific of the century's African-American playwrights, August Wilson, debuted on Broadway in 1984 with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and continued to define the black American experience in his ongoing dramatic cycle into the next century.

Feminist and other women-centered themes dramatized by contemporary female playwrights were plentiful in the 1970s and extended in the following decades. Significant figures included England's Caryl Churchill (e.g., the witty Top Girls, 1982), the Cuban-American experimentalist Maria Irene Forńes (e.g., Fefu and Her Friends,1977) and American realists including Beth Henley (e.g., Crimes of the Heart, 1978), Marsha Norman (e.g., 'Night Mother, 1982), and Wendy Wasserstein (e.g., The Heidi Chronicles, 1988). Skilled monologuists also provided provocative female-themed one-women shows such as Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues (1996) and various solo theatrical performances by Lily Tomlin, Karen Finley, Anna Deveare Smith, Sarah Jones, and others.

Gay themes (often in works by gay playwrights) also marked the later decades of the 20th cent. Homosexual characters had been treated sympathetically but in the context of pathology in such earlier 20th-century works as Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour (1934) and Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy (1953). Gay subjects were presented more explicitly during the 1960s, notably in the English farces of Joe Orton and Matt Crowley's witty but grim portrait of pre-Stonewall American gay life, The Boys in the Band (1968). In later years gay experience was explored more frequently and with greater variety and openness, notably in Britain in Martin Sherman'sBent (1979) and Peter Gill's Mean Tears (1987) and in the United States in Jane Chambers' Last Summer at Bluefish Cove (1980), Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy (1981), Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart (1986), David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly (1988), which also dealt with Asian identity, and Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey (1993). Tony Kushner's acclaimed two-part Angels in America (1991–92) is generally considered the century's most brilliant and innovative theatrical treatment of the contemporary gay world.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...