Review Response #2

Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph says,"I entered the theatre expecting to be bored rigid, for theatrical absurdism often amounts to little more than trite mechanical parables ... By the end, only the scruffy, drink-befuddled Berenger, entirely surrounded by hostile rhinoceroses, is left to deliver the play's predictable moral: ‘Woe betide the man who refuses to conform.' I distrust art whose meaning can be summed up in a single sentence."

I get where Spencer is coming from but I must say that I'm somewhat distrustful of people who distrust art whose meaning can be summed up in a single sentence.  I've heard this before: if art can be boiled down to a moral then it's preachy, over-simplified and an insult to the audience's intelligence-good art asks questions rather than provides answers.  One the one hand, I agree with this: good art should open minds, not shut them down.  On the other hand, I feel like shouting ALL GOOD ART SAYS SOMETHING.  If it didn't say anything then we wouldn't connect with it because it wouldn't be reflecting life in a way that makes us say, "Yeah-that's totally the way it is, even though I never saw it like that!"  So what if it's one small moral we need to be reminded of or one little lesson we need to learn?  The emphasis should not be on the degree of cleverness or novelty of the message but whether it changes us or not.  Each work of art I see can be summed up into a single sentence; perhaps the depth of the work is determined in part by how many different "single sentences" it evokes.  But even then: if the work in question evokes the same single sentence in 10,000 people but each person is changed in some way, does it really matter if that's all it's got to give?  Sometimes less is more; sometimes there is beauty in simplicity.

Rhinoceros can be summed up in several different sentences: "Be true to yourself," or "Find beauty in the masses," or "Atavism is where it's at," or "Resist the bourgeoisie," or...others, I'm sure.  None of these ideas may be terribly novel or complex but I think they're all worth a chew.  Perhaps the problem here is that Ionesco spells out his meaning too clearly; but I think that's the trap: it's Berenger who sums up his experience in that fateful final phrase, not Ionesco and we have to remember that what a character believes is not necessarily congruent with what his creator believes.  And even if Ionesco does share Berenger's outlook, it's still up to us as the audience to bring our own experiences to the work and dig deeper.  But now I'm sounding preachy...and I think I'm rambling and, um, I can't seem to find a single sentence to sum up all that I've said, so I'll just say: until next time!

Last updated Oct. 8th, 2008 at 10:32am by Jared Crossley