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  • Le Scandale au théâtre des années 1940 aux années 1960 by Delphine Aebi
  • Julia Dobson
Le Scandale au théâtre des années 1940 aux années 1960. Par Delphine Aebi. (Littérature de notre siècle, 63.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 421 pp.

The Introduction of Delphine Aebi's detailed and wide-ranging volume asserts privileged connections between theatre and scandal, claiming France as a national 'terrain de prédilection' for scandal (p. 16). The book addresses an extensive corpus of plays written between 1940 and 1970, and presents an at times overwhelming breadth of thematic manifestations of scandal that move swiftly across chains of connections and across authors. Whilst there is some brief engagement with the work of Michel Corvin and Natalie Heinich on scandal (see Corvin and others, Genet (Paris: Verdier, 2006) and Heinich, 'The Art of Scandal: Aesthetic Indignation and Sociology of Values', Politix, 71 (2005), 121–36), Aebi's approach resists specific definitions of scandal as either negative moral discourse or as necessary component of modernity. The three parts of the book focus respectively on the authors' use of scandal as a means of provoking a response from an audience, scandal as accommodating narratives of conflict between author and audience, and scandal as a regulatory force in the face of societal instability. The chapters include welcome analyses of plays by relatively neglected authors of this period, including Fernando Arrabal, Marcel Aymé, Michel de Ghelderode, and Henry de Montherlant. Given the historical period addressed it is surprising nevertheless to find little consideration of the scandal created by the multiple challenges of the nouveau théâtre and its legacies to the formal and narrative conventions of theatre and performance, with limited space allocated to Beckett, Artaud, and Brecht. Genet's work and authorial identity is present in discussion throughout and read largely through Sartre on Genet. The careful analysis seems at times to suggest an unmediated relationship between author (as exceptional figure) and audience that privileges the written text, yet this is mitigated by Aebi's detailed and coherent presentation of the critical reception of the plays discussed. The book's diverse thematic foci remain impressive even as the number of areas covered within chapters sometimes precludes detailed contextualization of the specific socio-political contexts in which these scandals are generated. Nor is there critique of the presentation of a form or trope (for example, dance, jazz, and prostitution) as inherently subversive or scandalous. The book delivers engaging and illuminating analysis of the frameworks of censorship in play in this period and a pertinent exposition of the ever-present potential for the social and institutional recuperation of oppositional discourse. It includes compelling analysis of scandal as spatial transgression, of the presence of contestatory voices within the plays and of the texts' own mise en abyme of their anticipated, scandalized reception. The Conclusion asserts the study's open 'pensée en cheminement' (p. 395) in relation to the definition and function of scandal in theatre, yet makes the provocative proposal that the critique of power present in the works of the authors discussed in the volume can be seen as the last example to date of original political theatre. [End Page 467]

Julia Dobson
University of Sheffield


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