- Ludics in Surrealist Theatre and Beyond by Vassiliki Rapti
The surrealist adventure has been international; so is the field of its academic investigation. Especially since the 1990s, there has been an increased interest in various aspects of surrealist activities outside Europe. Playwriting and performance—an admittedly neglected field in surrealist studies due to Breton’s controversial attitude towards theater—is one of them. The incompatibility of surrealism with the stage and the confusion of surrealist theater with the absurd, avant-garde, and experimental playwriting are issues that only marginally have been addressed by scholarly works on either theater or surrealist poetics.
Vassiliki Rapti’s book on the Ludics in Surrealist Theatre and Beyond covers the above area in a historically accurate and analytical way. Rapti’s aim to construct surrealist dramatic ludics is pursued by looking at surrealist drama through the lenses of both Johan Huizinga’s theory of play and games as irrational, sacred, and language-centered and Roger Caillois’s account of the four distinctive categories of play (agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx). Yet the main protagonist in the poetics of play is the surrealist game of “one-into-another” (7–8), a playful interpretation of metaphor, analogy, and image—an enigma, in other words, which has to be cracked by the players.
Rapti’s departure point for investigating that enigma is Nadja, André Breton’s second novel of a mysterious, “mad” young woman, who invites her interlocutor to engage in a game with her (Breton 1960, 136). Nadja’s play, a ludic cryptogram made up of images, reflects Breton’s ideas about surrealist language, imagery, and the stage. The first chapter of Ludics presents the idealized and revelatory version of theater that kept the founder of surrealism away from its mimetic character. By her “convulsive” beauty (Breton 1960, 160) and limitless transformations, Nadja turns Breton against the imitative principle of theater. Her “freeplay” par excellence (21) blurs the limits between narrator and author, as “one is inhabiting the other” (22). Her voice and his voice, dialogue and monologue, performance and experience, questions and answers, the imaginary and the real are combined with the ultimate hope to reach the point where contradictions cease to exist, the “extreme limit,” in Breton’s words, “of the surrealist aspiration, its furthest determinant” (Breton 1960, 74).
In the second chapter, Rapti examines the staging of Roger Vitrac’s Les Mystères de l’amour (The Mysteries of Love) by Antonin Artaud in 1927 and Nanos Valaoritis’s L’Hôtel de la nuit qui tombe (The Nightfall Hotel), which was modeled after Artraud’s staging thirty years later. Written about “mad love” (17), both plays are structured after Breton’s surrealist dialogue game, bringing the matter of language into play. Breton, according to Rapti, had been very hesitant about the ability of theater to explore the realm of surreality due to the limited technical potential of theatrical practices in his time. In contrast, the ex-members of the movement, Vitrac and Artaud, put surrealist ludics into practice. Valaoritis’s play, originally written in French, was staged in 1959. A prolific and prestigious poet and novelist today, Valaoritis was a member of Breton’s surrealist circle between 1954 and 1960, after his introduction to the world of surrealism by Odysseas Elytis, Nikos Gatsos, Tony Del Renzio (the leader of the British Surrealist Group), and Nicolas Calas. In the 1950s, Valaoritis envisioned a “new writing of the stage,” one which was faithful to the “speech-act” alchemy of the word [End Page 417] and where action was transposed to the level of “talking” as opposed to “acting” (75). In the later collections of his essays, Για μια θεωρία της γραφής (Toward a theory of writing; Valaoritis 1990 and 2006), Valaoritis gave his own account of the reception of Breton’s ludic ideas. The Nightfall Hotel aspired to eliminate the distance between the metaphorical and the literal uses of words, thus criticizing the bourgeoisie’s lack of linguistic imagination. The unpublished play comprised 14 scenes with many variants for each scene...