Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anton Chekhov @ Mt.

Chekhovian--similar to or evocative of the thrust of the plays and short stories of Anton Chekhov; materials linked by an underground or less visible causality than conventional drama; seemingly ambiguous narratives, informed by the emphasis on subtext and internal responses of a character; stories decidedly lacking the appearance of being plot-driven.

Chekhov is best known among writers for his assertion that a gun appearing conspicuously in Act 1 must be pointed and fired by Act 3, opening the door for discussions about foreshadowing and causality. It may also be regarded as a framework in which characters use the tools at hand. Many of Chekhov's stories deal with the inability of characters to communicate with one another until a) it is too late, b) a sudden insight emerges, and possibly c) the elephant in the living room becomes through previous events visible to one or more characters. This last possibility links James Joyce to Chekhov, just as Beethoven's fondness for Mozart linked those two in an apostolic succession that began with the admiration of each for Haydn.

Chekhov is apostolic and his major plays and later short stories invite investigation, particularly for such techniques as interior monologue, internal conflicts, and subtext. His work has inspired twentieth- and twenty-first century actors as well as writers, inspiring them to find non-verbal ways of expressing emotions and intent. If there were to be a literary equivalent of Mt. Rushmore, Chekhov would certainly qualify as an image along with Franz Kafka, and George Orwell, and with some debate, Miguel Cervantes. The names of all four have become adjectival forms in the literary language, Chekhovian associated with ambiguity, Kafkaesque with apparent conspiracy theory or dead-pan satire, Orwellian implying Big-Brother supervision, and Quixotic suggesting extravagant romanticism and idealism.

Hint: Major things to be learned from Chekhov: 1) let the reader work at the story to adduce its meaning, 2) give the reader sufficient but not extensive tools.

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