Shepard’s Challenge to the Modernist Myths of Origin and Originality: Angel City and True West

  • Sheila Rabillard

Abstract

When ‘Picasso’ enters the dialogue of True West the audience is perhaps as startled by this apparent example of staring irrelevance as the two auditors on stage. The mother of Austin and Lee has just returned unexpectedly from her vacation trip to Alaska because, she says, she started missing all her plants. She discovers her kitchen a shambles and mysteriously full of toasters. Her son, Austin, who was supposedly minding the house while he wrote a screenplay in solitude, is taking dictation at his typewriter from his shirtless and beer-soaked ne’er-do-well brother Lee who, she is informed, has improbably sold his own story idea to a producer. The solid citizen Austin announces his intention of scavenging a living with Lee in the desert — not the desert where his derelict father subsists, but another one. And the beloved plants are dead of neglect. At this final discovery Mom remarks, ‘Oh well, one less thing to take care of I guess, (turns toward the brothers) Oh, that reminds me — You boys will probably never guess who’s in town. Try and guess’ (54). Peculiar as this shift of topic may be, ‘Picasso’ isn’t a minor digression merely illustrative of Mom’s mild dottiness. I take him as the point of departure for this paper because Picasso seems to me to serve as a lightly sketched but telling contrast for the challenges to modernist myths of authorial originality presented by True West.

Keywords

Lime Mane Neon Alan Metaphor 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Sam Shepard, True West in Sam Shepard: Seven Plays (New York: Bantam, 1981), pp. 54–55. All quotations are from this edition; page numbers are given in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rosalind Krauss, for one, presents a compelling argument against reading Picasso’s collages as examples of the modernist tendency to objectify the constituents of a medium and make these the formal origins of the object of vision; see her essay ‘In the Name of Picasso’, in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), pp. 23–41.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage, 1963), p. 320.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Suggesting that Picasso’s name evokes (even if perhaps undeservedly) a popular paradigm of modernism and its attendant myths of origin risks the censure of a number of critics who have justifiably protested against facile categorizations of modernism and whatever might be considered post-, subsequent, or opposed to it. Among the warnings, Susan Suleiman’s is perhaps most helpful in reminding us that ‘modernism’ conceived of as singular, canonical, and something against which to rebel, is for the most part Anglo-American and largely the product of academic influence. ‘It is only in the Anglo-American context that literary Modernism came to be seen as a solidified, monolithic tradition against which reactions or “renovations” needed to be played off’. Suleiman, ‘Naming and Difference’, in Approaching Postmodernism, ed. Douwe Fokkema and Hans Bertens (Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1986), p. 265.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Michel Foucault, ‘What is an Author?’ in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, trans. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 138.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays (London: Oxford University Press, 1916), p. 12.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Denis Donoghue, The Third Voice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 136–37.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Émile Zola, Preface to Thérèse Raquin, in Oeuvres Complètes, Théâtre 1 (Paris: Fasquelle Editeurs, 1969) 33, p. 51. ‘J’ai la conviction profonde ... que l’esprit experimental et scientifique du siècle va ganger le théâtre.’Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Herbert Blau, The Audience (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), p. 327.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Patrice Pavis, ‘The Classical Heritage of Modern Drama: The Case of Postmodern Theatre’, Modern Drama 29 (1986), 8.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    See Patrice Pavis, ‘Le jeu de l’avant-garde théâtrale et la sémiologie’, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 7 (1982), 40.Google Scholar
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    Sam Shepard, Angel City in Fool for Love and Other Plays (New York: Bantam, 1984), p. 71. All quotations are from this edition; page numbers are given in the text.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Sam Shepard, ‘Metaphors, Mad Dogs, and Old Time Cowboys’, interview with Kenneth Chubb and the editors of Theatre Quarterly (1974), in ed. Bonnie Marranca, American Dreams: The Intagination of Sam Shepard (New York: Performing Arts Journal, 1981), p. 208.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Fredric Jameson, ‘“In the Destructive Element Immerse”’, October 17 (Summer 1981), 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 17.
    See Leonard Wilcox, ‘Modernism vs. Postmodernism: Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime and the Discourses of Popular Culture’, Modern Drama 30 (1987), 560–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 18.
    Jacques Derrida, ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’, in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 235.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Jean-François Lyotard, ‘What is Postmodernism?’ in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 78.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Luigi Pirandello, Preface to Six characters in search of an author in Naked Masks, ed. Eric Bentley (New York: Dutton, 1952), p. 209.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Ibid., p. 367.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    Ibid., p. 265.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    Ibid., p. 261.Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    Ibid., p. 213.Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets (London: Faber and Faber, 1944), p. 19.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Gay Gibson Cima, ‘Shifting Perspectives: Combining Shepard and Rauschenberg’, Theatre Journal 38 (March 1986), 80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 30.
    Florence Falk, ‘The Role of Performance in Sam Shepard’s Plays’, Theatre Journal 33 (1981), 195.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sheila Rabillard

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