Eugene Ionesco De L'Académie Française

"The founder of the Theater of the Absurd" (with The Bald Soprano, staged in 1950 by Nicolas Bataille at the Theatre des Noctambules in Paris, a play he had begun in the 40s while still in Romania under the title English without a Teacher), a member of the French Academy from 22 January 1970, a playwright whose plays were staged on five continents, translated into dozens of languages, and published from 1951 by Gallimard (which in 1990 also issued Ionesco's Théâtre Complet in the Pléiade collection), a "transcendant Satrape" of the Pataphysics College (1951-1973, with Boris Vian, Raymond Queneau, Marcel Duchamp, Michel Leiris), a writer who was awarded the medals of the cities of Monaco (1969), Paris, Saint-Etienne and Saint-Chamond (1987), the Grand Theater Award of France (1969), the Grand European Literature Prize (Vienna, 1970), the City of Jerusalem Prize (1973), the Max Reinhardt Medal (Salzburg, 1976), the Texas Tech Medal (1975), the German Order of Merit (1982), the International Contemporary Art Prize (Monte Carlo, 1985), the T. S. Eliot-Ingersoll Prize (Chicago, 1985), the Honorary Molière Prize (1990), an author whose texts have become classics in the curricula of admission exams to drama schools all over the world (especially the final monologue in Rhinoceros that matches Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov's monologues), the personality that in 1989 presided the Pen Club jury that would award Vaclav Havel the Freedom Prize – was born in 1909 on the 26th of November (13th by the Orthodox calendar) in Slatina, Romania, to Eugen Ionescu (b. 1881, Jassy), a lawyer who received his Ph.D. in Paris in 1915, and Tereza (Thérèse) Ipcar, of Sephardic extraction. In 1911 the family settled in Paris, and in 1917 his parents were divorced. His father returned to Romania with his new wife and became a subprefect and versatile politician. Tereza and the children returned to Bucharest only in 1922.In Bucharest, Eugen became "l'enfant terrible" of the Generation of 1927, constantly rebellious, histrionic, a hoax enthusiast, a champion of relativism with unpredictable reactions, an insurgent and a hedonist. After a booklet containing incredibly bland poems of filigreed infantilism, he outraged the literary circles with No (1934, the Royal Foundations Prize for young authors) which, besides the insolent treatment applied to great "literary legends" of the time, actually invalidated any notion of literary criticism or illusion of impartiality in esthetic judgments. In 1938, following his industrious activity in the literary press (most of his articles were included in the 600-odd pages of the anthology At War with Everybody, 2 vol., Humanitas, Bucharest, 1992), he was granted a doctorate scholarship by the French Institute in Bucharest to pursue his studies in France (the thesis was supposed to explore the theme of death and sin in post-Baudelaire French poetry, but it was never completed). In August 1940 he returned to Bucharest because of the war, but in May 1942 he went back to France; in June he was appointed press attaché and later – until 1 October 1945 – cultural secretary II of the Romanian diplomatic representation to the Vichy government. In October 1943 and in November 1945 he contributed to La Roumanie Libre, "organ of the Romanian National Front" in France, today considered a "Kominternist publication".Formed in the spirit of the recalcitrant authenticism and experientialism of the generation of Mircea Eliade and E. M. Cioran, Ionescu distanced himself from the totalitarian fascination that plagued all the layers of interwar "existentialism" (with "trăirism" as the Romanian version). A democratic, insubordinate character, structurally hostile to any form of ideological coercion, both antifascist and anticommunist, in brief an anti-dogmatic, Ionesco was nevertheless a familiar of the leftist circles of the French intelligentsia, as well as of some leaders of Bucharest communism such as Mihai Ralea (between 1942-1947). In any event, after 1947 it became clear that the playwright's place could never be in Romania, which was undergoing a massive process of Sovietization.After a few years of failed attempts, after the fiascos of the first performances of The Bald Soprano (1950), The Lesson (1951), The Chairs (1952), the year 1954 proved decisive in Ionesco's attainment of world fame: Gallimard published the first volume of the Theater-Ionesco series, and in 1958 (after ever greater success with Victims of Duty, Amédée, and Jacques or Submission) Ionesco became a reference name in England, owing to – among others – his polemic with Kenneth Tynan (see Notes et contre-notes). 1959 (The Killer) and 1960 (Rhinoceros) were the years that secured the glory of the playwright. There followed three decades of celebrity, until his death on 28 March 1994, when he was regarded as the living myth of European drama in the second half of the 20th century. His plays were staged uninterruptedly in Paris, thousands of times by major theaters worldwide, and served all kinds of stage-directing experiments.

by Dan C. Mihăilescu