La Leçon, by Eugène Ionesco

I have an odd memory of studying Eugène Ionesco’s La Leçon at school.

Why I say it’s odd, is that this contradicts another recollection I have, which is that, although I was taught French from the age of 7 to 16, never at any point did I actually study any French literature. This: because the only possible use my school could envisage for learning French, was to be able to use it while wandering around a town as a tourist, unable to locate specific buildings. If I’d known at the time that you could also use it to read literature, I’d have applied myself a bit more (and not given it up the moment I could – because I really didn’t like languages I had to speak, hence specialising in Latin and Greek).

Of course, La Leçon is also an ideal text to teach to school-children, so the memory remains plausible. For a start, it’s about school (or at least, it’s about a teacher and a pupil) and, at the same time, it’s completely absurd. It views all teaching and learning as complete nonsense, which no doubt fits in very well with the ideas of school-children. And it’s very amusing, at least to me as an adult (I imagine, as a school-child, I’d have been too cynical to find it at all funny). I particularly liked the Professor’s paradoxical belief that all languages are exactly the same. My favourite line in the whole play though is when the Professor says “C’est possible…” (I suppose it might help if I gave a bit more context. – Also, he says it about a cat, which usually prejudices me). – And also, of course, the French is very easy (in the main).

I have another recollection of watching a school production of Ubu Roi (though whether in French or not I don’t know), which seems now just as implausible. (Ionesco though is much, much better than Jarry. – I don’t think you even want my views on Jarry).



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