Monday, July 6, 2009

THE STRONGER by August Strindberg

Strindberg's 6-page play The Stronger, a work that exerted an obvious influence on Ingmar Bergman's film Persona, is a smaller and considerably less complex work than that film, but it remains of interest because of the extreme psychological movement at its climax. When Mrs. X, the speaker, evokes her colonization by the silent Miss Y, she does so in imagery that is luridly sado-masochistic. This poetic vision of ultimate inauthenticity, probably the first and only few lucid seconds of the character's life, is immediately 'flipped' into a self-aggrandizing embrace of inauthenticity as ultimate superiority. The change comes fast enough to give readers and viewers a severe case of whiplash, and that's probably why it feels so compelling, so accurate. Defense mechanisms do tend to slip into place this quickly and efficiently, a fact that renders The Stronger a most chilling little play.

And what of Miss Y? She remains an unknown quantity, a silence upon which we can project our prejudices and call them interpretations. She may well be every bit as inauthentic as her Chatty Cathy companion. To be seduced by her silence into an overestimation of her character is to hear the sound of a Strindbergian trap closing around us.

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