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  • Exorbitant Apparatus: On the Margins with Shaw, Beckett, and Joyce
  • Craig N. Owens (bio)

apparatus pl. (rare) –atus, -atuses. [a. L. apparatus, n. of state. f. apparare, adparare to make ready for, f. ad to + parare to make ready. Cf. the anglicized apparate.]

1. The work of preparing; preparation, preparatory arrangement, array. Obs.

2. The things collectively in which this preparation consist, and by which its processes are maintained; equipments, material, mechanism, machinery; material appendages or arrangements.

3.esp. a. The mechanical requisites employed in scientific experiments or investigations. b. The organs or means by which natural processes are carried on. c. Paleographic and critical materials prepared for the study of a document.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Bernard Shaw is famous for his writerly prolixity; and, despite his recognition as one of the most productive and produced playwrights in the English language, most of his output consists of essays, commentaries, letters, and other nondramatic prose. It is remarkable that a writer who produced so many remarks upon his oeuvre should have had time to produce an oeuvre upon which to remark in the first place. This observation, however, focuses our critical attention away from what might conventionally be called the “text” of Shaw’s plays and toward what Gérard Genette has called their “paratexts”: the commentaries, prefaces, postfaces, forewords, afterwords, and, in the case of fully staged productions of his work, even written stage directions. Shaw was often at pains to supply the critical apparatus according to which readers and performers were (and still are) meant to read, stage, and interpret his works for theater.1 Pygmalion (1913)—a play whose preface states that it “needs, not a preface, but a [End Page 191] sequel,” in which capacity several pages of explanation appended without title to Act V serve—appears not only unfinished but unbegun thanks to the sizable apparatus he provides.2 He uses his commentary on Mrs Warren’s Profession (1905) to moralize on the material conditions of poverty in Edwardian England, and frequently deploys such appendages to theorize such matters as the character of the New Woman in Ibsen’s work and his own. In short, Shaw’s commentary repeatedly props up and frames his dramatic writing. As an apparatus, this commentary is critical, both in the sense that it offers reflective analysis and in the sense that it is utterly and urgently necessary to the dramatic writing itself.

Shaw was neither the first nor last Irish writer writing about Irishness and the Irish to supply, often wryly, such apparatuses. Maria Edgeworth famously embedded footnotes, and in the second and subsequent editions, even a glossary, to her novel Castle Rackrent. Indeed, Daniel Hack has made much of the way this novel, both by means of its apparatus and in the text’s symbolic resistance to fixing meaning and identity, suggests an anxious but nevertheless distinct space for Anglo-Irish identity: neither independently Irish nor in complete and unproblematic union with the British crown, Castle Rackrent allows for an Anglo-Irish conception of national identity as neither Irish nor English, on the one hand, and as both Irish and English, on the other.3 It’s easy to see how the Anglo-Irish Edgeworth, immigrating to her family’s homeland as a young woman, might have found such a space to be more welcoming than the real space of Ireland, on the eve of Union, might have seemed.

For Shaw, the migratory trajectory is reversed: from Ireland, Shaw emigrated to England, where he claims to have “cut [his] way into” English theater at the “point of the pen.”4 As I argued in my essay “Bernard Shaw’s Weekly Supplément,” the rhetorical figure by means of which he did so remains fundamentally that of Edgeworth: the Derridean supplément, the figure of speech and writing, and indeed the effect of language as a system, that allows the displaced to construct and maintain a kind of bothness, an identity that oscillates between outside and inside. His reviews and essays of the 1890s, written for London’s The Saturday Review, show the critic, on the margins of theatrical and official literary culture, continually working his way toward...


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