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Mimetic Disillusion

Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and U.S. Dramatic Realism

Written by Anne Fleche

Publication Year: 1997

Mimetic Disillusion reevaluates the history of modern U.S. drama, showing that at mid-century it turned in the direction of a poststructuralist "disillusionment with mimesis" or mimicry.

This volume focuses on two major writers of the 1930s and 1940s--Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams--one whose writing career was just ending and the other whose career was just beginning. In new readings of their major works from this period, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire, Fleche develops connections to the writings of Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, and Michel Foucault, among others, and discusses poststructuralism in the light of modern writers such as Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, and Walter Benjamin. Fleche also extends this discussion to the work of two contemporary playwrights, Adrienne Kennedy and Tony Kushner. The aim of Mimetic Disillusion is not to reject "mimetic" and "realistic" readings but to explore the rich complexities of these two ideas and the fruit of their ongoing relevance to U.S. theatre.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I want to thank the people who read drafts of some or all of these chapters and offered their helpful suggestions: Thomas Van Laan, Thomas Edwards, Celeste Goodridge, Robin Lydenberg, and Eileen Sweeney. Scott Curtis and Lisa Cuklanz located the cover still. Elin Diamond has been my mimetic model, if not my icon; ...

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1. Introduction: Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and US. Dramatic Theory, 1935–1947

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pp. 1-24

This exchange, from The Night of the Iguana (1961), by boldly undercutting its own illusionism as dialogue, imitates the very problem it appears to discuss. The disillusionment of Shannon, a former minister reduced to giving guided tours, presents him with the dilemma of the real/fantastic, ...

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2. Long Day's Journey into Night: The Seen and the Unseen

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pp. 25-42

The characters in Long Days Journey into Night find themselves creating a new kind of religion, in which they experience, not sin without guilt, but guilt without sin—the habit of belief without its antecedent. In the circular strategy of the play, the characters revise their pasts to fit their own truths. ...

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3. The Iceman Cometh: Buying Time

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pp. 43-64

In realistic drama, there is the illusion that the present can be dramatized. This assumption is based upon an idea of "history" that rationalizes the movement of time on "natural" or biological models. Ironically, then, realism finds itself needing to emphasize past time. ...

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4. The Glass Menagerie: Loss and Space

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pp. 65-88

In his film version of The Glass Menagerie Paul Newman's camera moves effortlessly through the Wingfield apartment, along corridors with doors opening at the end of them into little rooms that seem to keep changing their places, out onto the landing of a fire escape. ...

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5. A Streetcar Named Desire: Spatial Violation and Sexual Violence

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pp. 89-106

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams confronts directly the violence implicit in The Glass Menagerie. Once again he experiments with space, but in Streetcar he examines meaning in its relation to desire, that structure of inside and outside, of image and object, that produces the subject ...

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pp. 107-112

"To begin with, I turn back time." Here I want to make a contradictory move similar to Tom Wingfield's in The Glass Menagerie: to end by looking forward to the playwrights whom O'Neill and Williams anticipate and so to ask where left-wing u.s. drama has gone since the crisis of the thirties and forties. ...


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pp. 1113-124


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pp. 125-130


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pp. 131-135

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381851
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817308384

Publication Year: 1997

OCLC Number: 609839893
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mimetic Disillusion

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Subject Headings

  • American drama -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • O'Neill, Eugene, -- 1888-1953 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Williams, Tennessee, -- 1911-1983 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Realism in literature.
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