Identity Crises, Violence and Trauma. A Cultural and Psychoanalytical Approach to Post-War and Contemporary British Drama/Laura Monica Toma

How can literary critics write about poetry and poets in critical terms without betraying them? This question is probably the most difficult of modern criticism; it has received the least satisfactory answers. It is obvious that there is no definite methodology to approach poems or to penetrate the mysteries of poetic creation. Very often critics make a hesitant and deceptive discourse unable to decide between thematic exploration and stylistic discoveries. Almost in all cases, the poet has become like the Osiris of Egyptian theosophy: his members are dispersed; discouraged readers are only unhappy Horuses (Laurie Edson. Henri Michaux and the Poetics of Movement). Faced with this grim prospect, the literary critic may feel like a two-faced Janus. I would add another difficulty. How can one aspire to reveal the intricacies and peculiarities of a literary work without imposing his/her own interpretation as the only valid one or obscuring the intended message, if there is one? Then of course, I wrote a book on violence, trauma and identity issues, something which felt baffling at times and I faced challenges of all kinds. My purpose here is not to solve this old-age problem. I can only suggest ways of averting this danger, such us my taking into account various theories when doing research on a topic, always questioning my judgments and taking care to throw light over a subject and not obfuscate it. Literary criticism can feel sometimes like a Procrustean bed but there is nothing that a genuine passion for this field cannot solve. Drama, by its very nature, is a living organism capable of absorbing societal and cultural influences, and thus to vividly and faithfully capture the concerns, conflicts, the shifting moods and social mores of each historical epoch. Post-war and contemporary British drama is undoubtedly no exception. If one wants to get a glimpse on how people lived and most importantly how they felt in a certain historical period, one can read a play or watch a performance and may obtain a deep insight into human affairs. Drama, by probing into consciousness and intersubjectivity, succeeds in encompassing the full range of human experiences from passion, love, elation, to more violent ones, such as hatred, terror or you get into a universe peopled by Vladimir and Estragon, two individuals who have lost touch with their humanity. You get to see how frail we really are, how vain our aspirations are and we as well become “merely players”. In the end, drama addresses a very fundamental and basic problem: the problem of being human. It also responds to a very basic human need: that of communication. Sometimes we experience a cathartic release and feel joy when there is a happy ending and the villain is punished and hope that the same shall happen in real life. Drama shows us what is wrong with this world but it may also reveal to us what areas of our lives we must work on, because the plays often tackle themes which have a universal, almost timeless appeal, such as matters of the heart, revenge, social conflicts and family discord, among others. It also conveys emotions that are alien to us, engaging us in variegated, tumultuous crises, broadening our range of feelings and expanding our ability to experience intense, elusive, more exalted feelings. It may thwart our expectations; it may shake us from our apathy and most likely it will not leave us indifferent. On the contrary, we become intellectually and emotionally engaged, and maybe we even come to question our own attitudes towards certain topics. The best plays manage to do that.

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How can literary critics write about poetry and poets in critical terms without betraying them? This question is probably the most difficult of modern criticism; it has received the least satisfactory answers. It is obvious that there is no definite methodology to approach poems or to penetrate the mysteries of poetic creation. Very often critics make a hesitant and deceptive discourse unable to decide between thematic exploration and stylistic discoveries. Almost in all cases, the poet has become like the Osiris of Egyptian theosophy: his members are dispersed; discouraged readers are only unhappy Horuses (Laurie Edson. Henri Michaux and the Poetics of Movement). Faced with this grim prospect, the literary critic may feel like a two-faced Janus. I would add another difficulty. How can one aspire to reveal the intricacies and peculiarities of a literary work without imposing his/her own interpretation as the only valid one or obscuring the intended message, if there is one? Then of course, I wrote a book on violence, trauma and identity issues, something which felt baffling at times and I faced challenges of all kinds. My purpose here is not to solve this old-age problem. I can only suggest ways of averting this danger, such us my taking into account various theories when doing research on a topic, always questioning my judgments and taking care to throw light over a subject and not obfuscate it. Literary criticism can feel sometimes like a Procrustean bed but there is nothing that a genuine passion for this field cannot solve. Drama, by its very nature, is a living organism capable of absorbing societal and cultural influences, and thus to vividly and faithfully capture the concerns, conflicts, the shifting moods and social mores of each historical epoch. Post-war and contemporary British drama is undoubtedly no exception. If one wants to get a glimpse on how people lived and most importantly how they felt in a certain historical period, one can read a play or watch a performance and may obtain a deep insight into human affairs. Drama, by probing into consciousness and intersubjectivity, succeeds in encompassing the full range of human experiences from passion, love, elation, to more violent ones, such as hatred, terror or you get into a universe peopled by Vladimir and Estragon, two individuals who have lost touch with their humanity. You get to see how frail we really are, how vain our aspirations are and we as well become “merely players”. In the end, drama addresses a very fundamental and basic problem: the problem of being human. It also responds to a very basic human need: that of communication. Sometimes we experience a cathartic release and feel joy when there is a happy ending and the villain is punished and hope that the same shall happen in real life. Drama shows us what is wrong with this world but it may also reveal to us what areas of our lives we must work on, because the plays often tackle themes which have a universal, almost timeless appeal, such as matters of the heart, revenge, social conflicts and family discord, among others. It also conveys emotions that are alien to us, engaging us in variegated, tumultuous crises, broadening our range of feelings and expanding our ability to experience intense, elusive, more exalted feelings. It may thwart our expectations; it may shake us from our apathy and most likely it will not leave us indifferent. On the contrary, we become intellectually and emotionally engaged, and maybe we even come to question our own attitudes towards certain topics. The best plays manage to do that.

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