Dialogue with Ionescu. Eugene Ionesco.


Do you know the “Rhinoceros”? That amazing play written by Ionesco?

The short version would be that in a French little town you have this public servant (Berenger) who is out trying to enjoy a drink (Pernod, if memory serves me right) in the afternoon with his colleague at a café; as they’re sitting at their table they’re disturbed by the sight of a rhinoceros!

The rhinoceroses are coming!

So everybody reacts with surprise and they start talking about whether it escaped from the zoo, coming up with various theories; after all, this is a huge event in their little lives because the rhinoceros is making a lot of noise, it’s breaking things, it’s destroying stuff.

Then there’s another rhinoceros, then there’s another one, and another one, and another one, and at some point the characters realise that people around them are turning into rhinoceroses.

This turns out to be very inconvenient, as you cannot live together with a rhinoceros in the house. Imagine all the destruction of property and stuff; they step on little cats; poor cat, somebody’s cat gets trampled, along with the shopping basket (of all things!).

The rhinoceroses are everywhere and then people realise that they themselves are turning into rhinoceroses; they look at themselves in the mirror and see the transformation as their skin becomes scaly and hard and they think

“This is beautiful, I’m a rhinoceros now”

Having a horn makes people think

“I don’t want to argue, to have dialogues, I just want to rush into the problem and smash it into smithereens”.

We can see the rhinoceros’s view of the world:

Butting everything aside, smashing everything in its path…

Maybe being a rhinoceros isn’t so bad, since we’re so powerful.

So more and more people become rhinoceroses, with the original character from the café assaulted by everybody and wondering what he’s going to do with everybody turning into rhinoceroses around him.



Now, abstract drama like this is remarkable through the fact that Ionesco himself lived this experience. I believe this is an urban legend (but it’s the sort of stuff that should be true even if it ain’t):

They say that Ionesco was coming out from the university where he had been teaching when he saw the Iron Guard (the Romanian fascist movement Garda de Fier) marching, and he started to shout at the top of his voice “the Rhinoceros, the Rhinoceros”…

That’s how strongly he felt about his play, about his art.

He saw the Rhinoceros everywhere marching “Get out of our way or we’ll smash you”.

This is why Ionesco is one of my favourite Romanians:

He could definitely look truth up in the face, even when it looked like a rhinoceros.

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