Of course, for all that, the writing did not stop. Hofmannsthal turned his attention away from lyric poetry and towards the theatre (and the six operas he wrote with Richard Strauss), Adorno’s work in its collected German edition reaches to 20 volumes, and in 1949 Beckett was just starting on the most important and productive phase of his career. And though Adorno famously proclaimed that after Auschwitz it was impossible to write lyric poetry, Paul Celan demonstrated that it was not only possible but necessary.
But the dramatist remains caught in anxiety between the compulsion to express and the impossibility of doing so — of going a little further along the same old dreary road. The point is that the moment the tip of the pen touches the blank page, the failure is already evident. This may be especially true of the drama — the written form of theatre, which is incomplete until staged. It should be a crime, in this our noise-ridden age, to contribute further to the growing pile of unnecessary and redundant expression. The dramatist is caught further in the vortex of time: with each day that passes, there is that much less time left.
In the 21st century the dramatist sympathetic to and compelled by the conception of tragic drama and theatre may well be obsolete, for the Culture Industry has continued its all-enveloping authority over every dimension of public and private life. As Thomas Bernhard noted, all the fairy tales are over and Europe is dead. (The present writer is American by birth, European by inclination.) Howard Barker has created a new dramatic language through sheer force of will, but he may be the last in his line; he certainly is inimitable; and though he said in Arguments for a Theatre that it is never too late to forestall the death of Europe, clearly Bernhard disagrees.
Why write? Why, this late in the game, criticize? And especially, why write drama, if the form itself is obsolete? If language, dramatic language especially, has remained inadequate to the expression of the artist’s experience of the world — if indeed it has become even more inadequate, if that is possible?
Because modernism itself focuses on the experience of the individual consciousness in constructing a world from meaningless fragments, skeptical of character and narrative, theatre, a necessarily collective endeavor, has remained pre-modern, with a few notable exceptions (the Austrian and German Expressionists, Beckett, Barker, Richard Foreman). The dramatist who resists the collective to protect the integrity of his vision (the collective is already hostile to that individual vision) and his self is more firmly entrenched in that anxiety born of modernity than ever before. For the modern dramatist, no collective (and certainly no community, however necessary for theatre or anything else); for the collective, no modern dramatist. And, for the modern dramatist, no sanctuary.