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REVIEWS Arthur Ganz, Realm s of the Self: Variations on a Them e in M odem Drama. New York: New York University Press, 1981. Pp. xvi + 240. 18.00 (paper, $9.00). Realm s of the Self offers us a new thematic study of the post-romantic consciousness in modem drama. Arthur Ganz’s concern is with the defini­ tion of modernism in the theater and his particular attention is addressed to those playwrights who have developed a central dramatic conflict between the self and the world. “Variations” in this study look backward to romanticism for a seminal theme of visionary fulfillment. Much is made, then, of terms like “private self,” “transcending the boundaries of the real world,” “romantic ideal,” and “the limited world of reality”: Our dream of reshaping or finding this world and realizing the self within its sheltering borders is . . . part of our romantic inheritance. That to some degree we all share it is the sign of its post-romantic modernity. . . . Few of us have not heard at least echoes of that demand, have not felt that the world should so arrange itself as to make the fulfillment of our ideal selves possible, even as the surprise at its failure to do so has steadily decreased. Such generalizations are highly romantic in themselves and though they approach the lofty statements frequently found in studies of Wallace Stevens (not Pound), such universalism disguises the fact that many of us—and many twentieth-century playwrights—may not feel that way at all. Why, for example, is Brecht not included in this study? Or Beckett, who is far too summarily treated in the introduction as “part of a larger metaphysic” informing the work of Harold Pinter? Can we deal with modernism in drama in any convincing way without some discussion of two of its most notable practitioners? Ganz has therefore been highly selective in the playwrights he chooses to discuss and perhaps even more selective in what he has chosen to say about them. The major problem of Realm s of the Self is its too close attachment to theme as opposed to the special features of style, tone, and structure. This is unfortunate, for at those moments when Ganz turns his attention from the former to the latter, he knows exactly what he is talking about. Rarely does one see these days such entirely sensitive readings of playwrights like Chekhov and Tennessee Williams. Although Ganz misses the comedy in Chekhov, he knows all about the symbols of romantic longing we find so attractive in the sea gull, Astrov’s forests in Uncle Vanya, Moscow in The Three Sisters, and in the cherry orchard itself. He also makes a fine point about the “arrivals and departures” which make the complex texture of these plays so compelling in pro­ duction. A world characterized by “lassitude and defeat” suddenly comes 180 Reviews 181 alive with the entrance of catalyst figures like Arkadina and Trigorin in The Seagull, Yelena and Serebryakov in Uncle Vanya, Vershinin in Three Sisters, and Madame Ranevsky in The Cherry Orchard. In Chekhov these characters, as in Synge, perform symbolic journeys “with arrivals and departures that always delineate the limits of the action.” Ganz is less convincing on Shaw (a tough character to place in any version of roman­ ticism), but he picks up very nicely on the romantic texture of Ibsen’s titanic figures. When he turns his attention to the “desperate morality” of Williams, Ganz recovers his poise, for here he presents an overview of an artist creating in his work a metaphysical world that “would be shelter for the self against the assaults of a hostile reality.” How Arthur Miller’s work can be made to sustain the same definition is not at all clear, and Lillian Heilman, of course, is totally missing from this study. But on Williams Ganz has much to say: the world of his plays is “essentially an inner world dominated by certain overpowering obses­ sions: fear, loneliness, death, sexuality, and above all innocence and guilt. In this special world the self struggles to affirm its innocence, but over and over again it is adjudged guilty.” Ganz, editor of an important collection...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 180-181
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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