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  • Resisting Neoliberalism and Patriarchy:Marina Carr's On Raftery's Hill and Lola Arias's La escuálida familia
  • Noelia Diaz (bio)

If we look at a possibly speculative dystopic world in which all that remains is a single family invested in self-destruction through violence and incest, can we see a critique of the patriarchal narratives that have perpetuated discrimination and abuse in turn of the current century society? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe what we've got is just a story of one dysfunctional family at the end of time. But take two such contemporaneous plays from the dawn of the millennium that each recreate that same horrifying premise, one from Ireland, one from Argentina, and the viability of such a premise deepens.

In the final sentiment of Lola Arias's play La escuálida familia (2001), Luba says,

They say that sibling-love engenders idiot-children. Then we'll start a family of idiots and we'll live happily ever after at the end of the snow. We'll have one, two, a thousand idiot children and we'll let them run, love, die. They'll get together, they'll have more idiots, and so on and so forth…1

Similarly, in Marina Carr's play On Raftery's Hill (2000), Dinah tells her father, "Granny was talkin about gorillas earlier. Thah's whah we are, gorillas in clothes pretendin to be human."2 Each of these statements suggests a society in which humanity has all but vanished, largely—but not entirely—because of incest and the savage behavior of the families. In one case, the idiots will take over the future; in the other, humans have regressed into gorillas, walking backwards from civilization into the wilderness. The plays examine how, in the absence of moral behavior, violence leads to havoc, rendering individuals powerless to own their destinies since their lives are marked by physical, spiritual, and emotional deprivation. Both plays are largely preoccupied with how to create [End Page 43] communities that are moral and satisfying to all their members. Thus, in spite of an exhibited postmodern aesthetic, both writers seem to be operating from a deep ethical concern, reflecting on the conditions that might lead to the bleak scenarios portrayed in La escuálida familia and On Raftery's Hill.

In the face of drastic social change taking place in Argentina and Ireland at the time of these plays' staging, Arias and Carr seem to seek a path toward re/consideration and resistance, and to examine how patriarchal social structures contribute to the disenfranchising of many. Carr's and Arias's plays offer, in due concordance with postmodern aesthetics, not solutions but rather openings from which to rethink the failures of their respective nation-states: the failure to provide fundamental human rights (the right to safety, work, adequate food, health, housing provisions). The political stance of both plays is delivered, then, through a postmodern aesthetic. This postmodern aesthetic, which Lola Proaño-Gómez defines as "an aesthetic of uncertainty" and which others like Jorge Dubatti and Osvaldo Pelletieri have respectively described as "el canón de la multiplicidad" or "teatro de la desintegración," takes into account the fragmentation of master narratives in the postmodern era.3 Nevertheless, Proaño-Gómez finds in the postmodern plays of her study a "modern ethic."4 This modern ethic is implicated in questions of human solidarity, the difficulty of creating community under the pressures of globalization, and the role history and language play in creating individuals' perceptions of themselves within a given time.

The same structure of "modern" ethical content and postmodern form infuse the plays of my study. Both La escuálida familia and On Raftery's Hill fall under what Richard Kearney has postulated as a postmodern imagination that is both ethical and poetical.5 According to Kearney, the collapse of the ethical via deconstruction has resulted in a dilemma for postmodernism, one in which the other has become just an image without substance. His solution is to allow the postmodern imagination to play and deconstruct, to critique, but not to become nihilistic in the process. The postmodern imagination must remain ethical to allow the...


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