Eugène Ionesco

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No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa.

Eugène Ionesco (26 November 190929 March 1994), born Eugen Ionescu, was a French-Romanian playwright and dramatist, one of the foremost playwrights of Theatre of the Absurd.

Quotes[edit]

We are all Victims of Duty.
The absence of ideology in a work does not mean an absence of ideas; on the contrary it fertilizes them.
Good men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunately.
Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me.
Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.
  • That's not it. That's not it at all. You always have a tendency to add. But one must be able to subtract too. It's not enough to integrate, you must also disintegrate. That's the way life is. That's philosophy. That's science. That's progress, civilization.
  • There are now many invisible people on stage.
  • All the plays that have ever been written, from ancient Greece to the present day, have never really been anything but thrillers...
    Drama's always been realistic and there's always been a detective about...
    Every play's an investigation brought to a successful conclusion.
  • We are all Victims of Duty.
    • Victimes du Devoir [Victims of Duty] (1953)
  • I believe that what separates us all from one another is simply society itself, or, if you like, politics. This is what raises barriers between men, this is what creates misunderstanding.
    If I may be allowed to express myself paradoxically, I should say that the truest society, the authentic human community, is extra-social — a wider, deeper society, that which is revealed by our common anxieties, our desires, our secret nostalgias. The whole history of the world has been governed by nostalgias and anxieties, which political action does no more than reflect and interpret, very imperfectly. No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa.
    • "A Reply to Kenneth Tynan: The Playwright's Role" in The Observer (29 June 1958)
  • Every work of art (unless it is a psuedo-intellectualist work, a work already comprised in some ideology that it merely illustrates, as with Brecht) is outside ideology, is not reducible to ideology. Ideology circumscribes without penetrating it. The absence of ideology in a work does not mean an absence of ideas; on the contrary it fertilizes them.
    • "A Reply to Kenneth Tynan: The Playwright's Role" in The Observer (29 June 1958)
  • Logician: A cat has four paws.
    Old Gentleman: My dog had four paws.
    Logician: Then it's a cat.
    Old Gentleman: So my dog is a cat?
    Logician: And the contrary is also true.
  • Good men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunately.
    • Berenger from Rhinoceros (1959)
  • I am not capitulating.
    • Berenger's last sentence from Rhinoceros (1959)
  • I have no ideas before I write a play. I have them when I have finished it ... I believe that aritistic creation is spontaneous. It is for me.
    • Notes and Counter-Notes (1964), as translated by Donald Watson, p. 33
  • I am told, in a dream ... you can only get the answer to all your questions through a dream. So in my dream, I fall asleep, and I dream, in my dream, that I'm having that absolute, revealing dream.
    • Speaking of a dream not fully remembered, in Fragments of a Journal (1966)
  • It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.
    • Découvertes (1970), as quoted in Choosing the Future : The Power of Strategic Thinking (1997) by Stuart Wells, p. 15
  • But History was against me. History is right, objectively speaking. I'm just a historical dead end. I hope at least that my fate will serve as an example to you all and to posterity.
  • I thought that it was strange to assume that it was abnormal for anyone to be forever asking questions about the nature of the universe, about what the human condition really was, my condition, what I was doing here, if there was really something to do. It seemed to me on the contrary that it was abnormal for people not to think about it, for them to allow themselves to live, as it were, unconsciously. Perhaps it's because everyone, all the others, are convinced in some unformulated, irrational way that one day everything will be made clear. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me.
    • The Hermit (1973)
  • It isn't what people think that's important, but the reason they think what they think.
    • As quoted in Peter's Quotations : Ideas for Our Time (1977) by Laurence J. Peter, p. 468; also in The Quantum Dice (1993) by Leonid Ivanovich Ponomarev, p. 50
  • Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers, I'd be a politician.
    • As quoted in The Writer's Quotation Book : A Literary Companion (1980) by James Charlton, p. 44
  • Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.
    • As quoted in Sunbeams : A Book of Quotations (1990) by Sy Safransky
  • It's not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it's mankind.
    • As quoted in Encyclopedia of World Biography (1998) edited by Suzanne Michele Bourgoin, Paula Kay Byers, Gale Research Inc, p. 132
  • God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself.
    • As quoted in Jewish American Literature : A Norton Anthology (2000) by Jules Chametzky, "Jewish Humor", p. 318
  • Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui
    J'espère : Jesus-Christ.
    • Pray to the I don't-know-who
      I hope : Jesus Christ.
      • Inscription on his tombstone.
    • Variant translation: Pray to the I don't-know-who: Jesus Christ, I hope.
      • As quoted in Parasuicidality and Paradox : Breaking Through the Medical Model (2007) by Ross D. Ellenhorn, p. 55
  • Everything that has been will be, everything that will be is, everything that will be has been.
    • Attributed in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross

The Paris Review interview (1984)[edit]

"Eugene Ionesco, The Art of Theater No. 6" interviewed by Shusha Guppy, in Paris Review (Fall 1984), No. 93
The Pataphysique is not dead. It lives on in the minds of certain men, even if they are not aware of it. It has gone into “occultation,” as we say, and will come back again one day.
When Rhinoceros was produced in Germany, it had fifty curtain calls. The next day the papers wrote, “Ionesco shows us how we became Nazis.” But in Moscow, they wanted me to rewrite it and make sure that it dealt with Nazism and not with their kind of totalitarianism.
  • We moved back to Romania when I was thirteen, and my world was shattered. I hated Bucharest, its society, and its mores — its anti-Semitism for example. I was not Jewish, but I pronounced my r’s as the French do and was often taken for a Jew, for which I was ruthlessly bullied.… It was the time of the rise of Nazism and everyone was becoming pro-Nazi — writers, teachers, biologists, historians … It was a plague! They despised France and England because they were yiddified and racially impure.
  • I remember one day there was a military parade. A lieutenant was marching in front of the palace guards. I can still see him carrying the flag. I was standing beside a peasant with a big fur hat who was watching the parade, absolutely wide-eyed. Suddenly the lieutenant broke rank, rushed toward us, and slapped the peasant, saying, “Take off your hat when you see the flag!” I was horrified. My thoughts were not yet organized or coherent at that age, but I had feelings, a certain nascent humanism, and I found these things inadmissible. The worst thing of all, for an adolescent, was to be different from everyone else. Could I be right and the whole country wrong?
  • It was quite fashionable to poke fun at Hugo. You remember Gide’s “Victor Hugo is the greatest French poet, alas!” or Cocteau’s “Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.” Anyway, I hated rhetoric and eloquence. I agreed with Verlaine, who said, “You have to get hold of eloquence and twist its neck off!” Nonetheless, it took some courage. Nowadays it is common to debunk great men, but it wasn’t then.
  • Beckett shows death; his people are in dustbins or waiting for God. (Beckett will be cross with me for mentioning God, but never mind.) Similarly, in my play The New Tenant, there is no speech, or rather, the speeches are given to the Janitor. The Tenant just suffocates beneath proliferating furniture and objects — which is a symbol of death. There were no longer words being spoken, but images being visualized. We achieved it above all by the dislocation of language. … Beckett destroys language with silence. I do it with too much language, with characters talking at random, and by inventing words.
  • None of us would have written as we do without surrealism and dadaism. By liberating the language, those movements paved the way for us.
  • The most implacable enemies of culture — Rimbaud, Lautréamont, dadaism, surrealism — end up being assimilated and absorbed by it. They all wanted to destroy culture, at least organized culture, and now they’re part of our heritage. It’s culture and not the bourgeoisie, as has been alleged, that is capable of absorbing everything for its own nourishment. As for the oneiric element, that is due partly to surrealism, but to a larger extent due to personal taste and to Romanian folklore — werewolves and magical practices. For example, when someone is dying, women surround him and chant, “Be careful! Don’t tarry on the way! Don’t be afraid of the wolf; it is not a real wolf!”—exactly as in Exit the King. They do that so the dead man won’t stay in infernal regions.
  • We exist on several different planes, and when we said nothing had any reason we were referring to the psychological and social plane.
  • The Pataphysique is not dead. It lives on in the minds of certain men, even if they are not aware of it. It has gone into “occultation,” as we say, and will come back again one day.
  • The theater chose me. As I said, I started with poetry, and I also wrote criticism and dialogue. But I realized that I was most successful at dialogue. Perhaps I abandoned criticism because I am full of contradictions, and when you write an essay you are not supposed to contradict yourself. But in the theater, by inventing various characters, you can. My characters are contradictory not only in their language, but in their behavior as well.
  • I found ancestors, like Shakespeare, who said, in Macbeth, that the world is full of sound and fury, a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Macbeth is a victim of fate. So is Oedipus. But what happens to them is not absurd in the eyes of destiny, because destiny, or fate, has its own norms, its own morality, its own laws, which cannot be flouted with impunity. Oedipus sleeps with his Mummy, kills his Daddy, and breaks the laws of fate. He must pay for it by suffering. It is tragic and absurd, but at the same time it’s reassuring and comforting, since the idea is that if we don’t break destiny’s laws, we should be all right. Not so with our characters. They have no metaphysics, no order, no law. They are miserable and they don’t know why. They are puppets, undone. In short, they represent modern man. Their situation is not tragic, since it has no relation to a higher order. Instead, it’s ridiculous, laughable, and derisory.
  • You can stay in society and be alone, as long as you can be detached from the world. This is why I don’t think I have ever gone for the easy option or done things that were expected of me.
  • The French Revolution liberated people from the power of the aristocrats. But the bourgeoisie that took over represented the exploitation of man by man, and had to be destroyed—as in the Russian Revolution, which then degenerated into totalitarianism, Stalinism, and genocide. The more you make revolutions, the worse it gets. Man is driven by evil instincts that are often stronger than moral laws … there is a higher order, but man can separate himself from it because he is free — which is what we have done. We have lost the sense of this higher order, and things will get worse and worse, culminating perhaps in a nuclear holocaust — the destruction predicted in the Apocalyptic texts. Only our apocalypse will be absurd and ridiculous because it will not be related to any transcendence. Modern man is a puppet, a jumping jack.
  • You know, the Cathars believed that the world was not created by God but by a demon who had stolen a few technological secrets from Him and made this world — which is why it doesn’t work. I don’t share this heresy. I’m too afraid! But I put it in a play called This Extraordinary Brothel, in which the protagonist doesn’t talk at all. There is a revolution, everybody kills everybody else, and he doesn’t understand. But at the very end, he speaks for the first time. He points his finger towards the sky and shakes it at God, saying, “You rogue! You little rogue!” and he bursts out laughing. He understands that the world is an enormous farce, a canular played by God against man, and that he has to play God’s game and laugh about it.
    • canular refers to hoaxes, humorous deceptions.
  • Béranger represents the modern man. He is a victim of totalitarianism — of both kinds of totalitarianism, of the Right and of the Left. When Rhinoceros was produced in Germany, it had fifty curtain calls. The next day the papers wrote, “Ionesco shows us how we became Nazis.” But in Moscow, they wanted me to rewrite it and make sure that it dealt with Nazism and not with their kind of totalitarianism. In Buenos Aires, the military government thought it was an attack on Perónism.
  • I have never been to the Right, nor have I been a Communist, because I have experienced, personally, both forms of totalitarianism. It is those who have never lived under tyranny who call me petit bourgeois.
  • People always try to find base motives behind every good action. We are afraid of pure goodness and of pure evil.
  • I let characters and symbols emerge from me, as if I were dreaming. I always use what remains of my dreams of the night before. Dreams are reality at its most profound, and what you invent is truth because invention, by its nature, can’t be a lie. Writers who try to prove something are unattractive to me, because there is nothing to prove and everything to imagine. So I let words and images emerge from within. If you do that, you might prove something in the process.
  • To introduce people to a different world, to encounter the miracle of being, that is important. When I write “The train arrives at the station,” it is banal, but at the same time sensational, because it is invented.
  • People who don’t read are brutes. It is better to write than to make war, isn’t it?
  • My work has been essentially a dialogue with death, asking him, “Why? Why?” So only death can silence me. Only death can close my lips.

Quotes about Ionesco[edit]

God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself.
  • Most people readily exchange their nightly dreams for what passes as reality in the morning papers. Not Eugéne Ionesco. The celebrated playwright of the absurd prefers to dwell on his own private late late shows.

External links[edit]

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