Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eugene O'Neill

I'm re-reading a play by Eugene O'Neill, which I first read over a decade ago. It's called Lazarus Laughed. I remembered thinking it was a strange play and it is. This post is not about that play. (There is a high likelihood of one at a later date.)

This blog post is about the introduction to the book wherein I found the play. The book is Nine Plays by Eugene O'Neill. I picked it up in a used bookstore somewhere (in Nebraska, I think), and appears to have been published around 1932, so well before O'Neill died (in 1953), well before he wrote the posthumously produced (and perhaps most personal and successful of his plays) Long Day's Journey Into Night. So this is O'Neill mid-career-ish.

The introduction is by Joseph Wood Krutch, whose name I did not recognize. He was apparently in personal contact with O'Neill and this piece caught my eye:

" . . . I find my mind going constantly back to a remark which he once let fall in conversation. 'Most modern plays,' he said, 'are concerned with the relation between man and man, but that does not interest me at all. I am interested only in the relationship between man and God.'"

Krutch then goes on to make a case for why this was true of O'Neill's body of work to that point. Which is also not the subject of this blog post.

The idea that a body of creative work---in this case, dramatic literature---is about the relationship between humanity and God has me thinking. In my own creative work (which, of course, will never been mentioned anywhere else with the same breath as Eugene O'Neill anywhere else but here), I've acknowledged that "God stuff" was at it's center, almost always, pretty explicitly so. And I've been wondering if that work---and the work I'm most attracted too---is also about the relationship between humanity and God.

And I'm not sure I can say that. I mean, I'm absolutely drawn to work that is explicitly full of God-stuff. Marilynne Robinson's Gilead comes immediately to mind. But I'm not sure it's the relationship between humanity and God that is what attracts me in that case. Or in my work.

If I had to state what my interest in God stuff is, I would say---once you're in relationship with God, what are you gonna do? Which, I guess, can get to be about relationships between people, with God stuff layered onto those interpersonal relationships.

I have a draft of a novella. I'm going through it, making corrections, adjustments---your basic edits. I've been saying that it's about different ways we try to be faithful---not just to God but to each other. There are judgments and promises made between people because they have a relationship with God. I'm interested in how we treat each other, often in the name of remaining faithful to God.

Eugene O'Neill is going to be looking over my shoulder as I continue to work on this novella, or at least the mid-career O'Neill is. Krutch goes on to quote a letter by O'Neill to another person:

"The playwright today must dig at the roots of the sickness of today as he feels it---the death of the old God and the failure of science and materialism to give any satisfying new one . . . to comfort its fears of death with. . . . It seems to me that anyone trying to do big work nowadays must have this big subject behind all the little subjects of his plays or novels, or he is simply scribbling around the surface of things and has no more real status than a parlor entertainer."

I'll just let that sit there. I have nothing more to say. Tonight.

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