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Figuring Figuration by Deborah Knight


This dissertation is copyright © Deborah Knight 2001 and is reproduced on the site with the kind permission of the author.  This version of the dissertation includes changes by the author.  The details of the dissertation are:

Author Deborah Knight
Short title Figuring Figuration
Full title

From the libido to identity
Figuring Figuration
the Works of
Steven Berkoff

´legendary actor, director, playwright, author´

Location and Date Geneva, 7 August 2001
Revised June 2002
Faculty University of Geneva
Faculty of Letters
English Department
Director Professor Kaspar
Second reader Ms Saba Bahar




1.1 Figure and figuration in Steven Berkoff’s fictional writings
1.2 Berkoff’s multiple modes of self-expression
II Defining Figure and Figuration
2.1 Language and perception
2.2 Figura: from describing the form to giving the form
An interpolation on behalf of the writer



III Figuring the Fiction of Fact
3.1 The fiction of fact in literary genre
3.2 The fiction of the reality of autobiographical characters
IV Figuring the `Legendary Actor, Director, Playwright, Writer´
4.1 Figuring the fiction of identity
4.2 Figuratively bound
V Figuring the Essence of the Person
5.1 The elliptical identity
5.2 The wordless libido



VI Elevated and Bathetic Tropes
6.1 The sublimation of the libido into ´civilized´ tropes
6.2 Berkoff´s anti-establishment ´make love not war´
VII Social Discourse in Literature
7.1 The ´socializing´ effects of gender related discourses
7.2 Canonizing rape
VIII Conclusion
8.1 ´Berkoff´s´ criticism of woman´s culturally figured sexual identity
8.2 The omnipresent libido in Berkoff´s writings
Appendix, Bibliography, References



philosopher and skull

Primary Sources

Berkoff, Steven 1996 Free Association: An Autobiography London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1989 A Prisoner in Rio London: Hutchinson
Berkoff, Steven 1989 Coriolanus in Deutschland Oxford: Amber Lane Press
Berkoff, Steven 1992 I am Hamlet London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1995 Meditations on 'Metamorphosis' London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Theatre Adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe
Berkoff, Steven 1990 ´The Fall of the House of Usher`

In Agamemnon /The Fall of the House of Usher Oxford: Amber Lane Press

Original Plays
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´Decadence` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 2
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´East` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 1
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´Greek` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 1
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´Harry’s Christmas` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 2
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´Lunch` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 1
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´Massage` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 1
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´Sink the Belgrano` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 1
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Berkoff, Steven 1994 ´West` In Steven Berkoff: Plays 1
London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Short Stories
Berkoff, Steven 1993 Gross Intrusion and other short stories London: Quartet Books
Berkoff, Steven 1998 Graft: Tales of an Actor London: Oberon Books
Live Performances of Berkoff’s Writings
Greek: A la grecque Trans. French by A. Monad and G. Dyson. Festival du Théâtre de Nyon, July 1999
Berkoff’s Women

One woman show of extracts from Steven Berkoff’s plays and stories.
Performed by Linda Marlowe.
New Ambassador’s Theatre, London. Feb. 2001


One man show of a selection of Berkoff’s short stories.
Performed by George Dillon.
King’s Head Theatre, London. Feb. 2001

1993 Decadence Berkoff, Steven, writer and director
Performed by Steven Berkoff and Joan Collins. Curzon Video
2000 East Berkoff, Steven, writer and director.
Live recording at the Vaudeville Theatre, London. East Productions Ltd.
2000 Oscar Wilde’s Salome Berkoff, Steven, director.
Performed by Steven Berkoff.
Televised at the Seiyo Theatre in 1995 by Japanese NHK TV. East Productions Ltd.
Secondary Sources
Abrams, M. H. 1969 A Glossary of Literary Terms Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Publishers
Auerbach, Eric 1944 ´Figura` In Scenes from the Drama of European Literature.
Trans. Ralph Manheim, Gloucester, Mass: Meridian Books 1973
Artaud, Antonin 1970 The Theatre and its Double Montreuil: Calder
Atwood, Margaret ´Pornography`

In Daughters of the Revolution: Classic Essays by Women. Ilinois: NTC Publishing Group 1996

Ayto, John 1998 Oxford Dictionary of Slang Oxford: Oxford University Press
Bataille, Georges 1985 Visions of Excess Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Blake, William 1966 Blake: Complete Writings Oxford: Oxford University Press
Burgess, Anthony 1962 A Clockwork Orange London: Penguin Books
1988 The Collins Concise Dictionary of the English Language 2nd ed. London: Collins
Childers, Joseph and Gary Hentzi, eds. 1995

The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism

New York: Columbia University Press
Currant, Paul Brian, Ph.D. 1991 Dissertation: The Theatre of Steven Berkoff University of Georgia
Dromgoole, Dominic 2000 The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting London: Metheun
Elam, Keir 1980 The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama London: Routledge
Franklyn, Julian 1960 A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang London: Routledge
Gardner Associates 1994 Who’s Who in the Bible Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
Gray, Martin 1992 A Dictionary of Literary Terms Singapore: Longman York Press
Greer, Germaine 1970 The Female Eunuch Great Britain: Flamingo
Gulland, Daphne M. and David G. Hinds-Howell 1986 The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms

London: Penguin Books

Lass, Abraham H., David Kiremidjian and Ruth M. Goldstein 1994

The Wordsworth Dictionary of Classical & Literary Allusion

New York: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
Sierz, Aleks 2001 In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today London: Faber and Faber
Smith, Joan 1989 Misogynies London: Faber and Faber
Stefanova, Kalina 2000 Who Keeps the Score on the London Stages? Amsterdam: Harwood
Swift, Jonathon 1976 ´A Voyage to Laputa` in Gulliver’s Travels and Other Writings London: Oxford University
Weiss, Allen S. 1989 The Aesthetics of Excess Albany: State University of New York Press
Williams, Tennessee 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire New York: Signet
Reviews from www.east-productions.demon.co.uk/eastrevs.htm
Robbins, Dave 1977 Review of East The Times 18 Aug
Gardner, Lyn 1999 Review of the 25th anniversary West End production of East The Guardian 15 Sept
Pugliano, Francesco 1999 Asti Festival at the Palazzo del Colleggio 21 June
Marmion, Patrick 1999 Review of East The Times 17 Sept
Nightingale, Benedict 1999 Review of East The Daily Mail 16 Sept





Chapter Nr Reference
Intro 0-01 Most especially those in the volume entitled Gross Intrusion and other Stories
  0-02 As found in Terence´s Eunuchus more than a century before Christ
0-03 By Lucretius
Autobiographical 1-01 I am assuming the narrator is a ´he´on the grounds of context
  1-02 When commenting on one of the stories, “Master of Café Society”, Berkoff writes: ‘It’s my most autobiographical of them all and so familiar’ (Free Association 193)
  1-03 I hope the reader is following my metaphorical interpretation of Blanche’s efforts to retain a place in a patriarchal world as maintaining a fictional position, while Stanley’s physicality (or libido) is seen to stand for the assertion of fact
  1-04 ‘In his theory of the anxiety of influence, Harold Bloom is expressly anti-poststructural in his insistence on the centrality of the human author in effecting what is distinctive in any literary work and is vehemently opposed to what he describes as the “dehumanisation” of literature by deconstruction and other current theories of signification. Nevertheless, he shares with poststructuralists… the denial that any literary work is invested with specific and determinable meanings or formal features.’ (A Glossary of Literary Terms 261)
  1-05 I extrapolate this date on the basis of the date of copyright for Coriolanus in Deutschland. Berkoff himself never gives us the year in which he directed this play in Germany, only the dates of the days. No doubt, if I were a truly dedicated detective I would seek to use these clues in order to ascertain the exact year, but that I do not must alert the reader to the fact that my curiosity only runs along certain scents that predetermine the trail of inquiry
  1-06 On page 137 and 138
  1-07 On page 126
  1-08 Suspecting a young man of feasting on the contents of his nose he has seen him pick out, Berkoff imagines Clara transmitting her disapproval with a humorous ‘”send me a postcard when you get there”’ (138)
1-09 In context, this ‘we’ applies to everybody on the plane
1-10 He realizes on page 125 that he has run roughshod over some of the scenes he has been directing: ‘My mind was probably leaping on hot coals in Blighty and I had holes in the work in hand’
1-50 By this I am speaking of how Blanche is obviously attracted to Stanley’s physicality, and yet obliged by social nicety to consider herself repelled, leading her to intermittently fight and flirt with him
1-51 ‘Somehow I put more of my spirit into my short stories, which appeared under the title Gross Intrusion and which John Calder bravely published when no other publisher would go near me.’ (190) The volume of short stories Graft had not yet been published when he made this statement in Free Association
The Plays 2-01 Bathos is Greek for ‘depth’. In his parody of the Greek Longinus’ famous essay On the Sublime, Alexander Pope wrote in his essay On Bathos: Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry that he would undertake to lead his readers ‘by the hand… the gentle down-hill way to Bathos; the bottom, the end, the central point, the non plus ultra, of true Modern Poesy!’ Although the word has ever since been used for ‘an unintentional descent in literature when, straining to be pathetic or passionate or elevated, the writer overshoots the mark and drops into the trivial or the ridiculous’, I am using the word in my essay in Pope’s sense: that is to say, as indicating the figurative polar opposite to elevation. (Taken from A Glossary of Literary Terms.)
  2-02 These lines were left out in the 1999 video of the play.
‘Sweat of hands’ is left out of the 2001 edition of Steven Berkoff: Plays Volume 1
  2-03 As explained in the quoted passage from Free Association in footnote 2-07 below
  2-04 ‘Seems rather trite now, but in those days it was a formidable hurdle to say this word in front of a mixed audience and not just to say it, but to say it over and over again until the word is pummelled to death and the shock has worn off and by a process of overkill the taboo power is reduced. Then the audience have the power and do not have to be assaulted, the men throwing anxious glances at their wives… I was very nervous the first night and gritted my teeth and said it. During rehearsals even the cast would slip away as they couldn’t bear the embarrassment and let me get on with it… But on the next night, when I had got over the first fear of the première, I relaxed and there was a little giggling as I tried to endow each cunt with a character and act it out. The third night I was a little more confident from the previous evening’s response that they at least could find some humour in it, and I was emboldened on one of the many descriptions of that particular organ to look at the space in front of me as if standing before me was this gigantic pudendum from some lost world… I paused and looked up and then down and there was a visible response from the audience, so I carried on. The next night, thus even more emboldened – and this goes to show you how the courage is added layer by layer and when you see it after a couple of months you are watching the accumulated courage of sixty or more performances – the following night at the same point I took my vertical glance up and down and then very gingerly I parted what looked like a pair of curtains, oh ever so little, and this of course grew until it became a monster whose giant maw I was parting to step inside with my flashlight and wander around. For a while this became one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. The whole audience would crack up and be on the floor while I was trapped inside this enormous vulva, like a fly inside one of those insect-eating plants’ (Free Association 49)
  2-05 a rug-rat: American slang for a child. (Oxford dictionary of Slang 50)
  2-06 From Oxford Dictionary of Slang 7
  2-07 This is a Berkoffian theatrical peculiarity, one of his ‘trademarks’, that I will comment on in the conclusion
  2-08 bundle is slang for to fight. From the Glossary of Slang at the end of the play 42.
to go a bundle on is slang for to be extremely fond of. From the Collins Concise 144
2-09 charvers is slang for sexual intercourse. From the Glossary of Slang at the end of the play 42
  2-10 ´With dribble down their loathsome mouths they leered and lusted for our broken and cold steel to start the channels gouging in our white and precious cheeks´ (8)
  2-11 When asked why he is risking his life for England a sailor on the Conqueror shows his soldierly unquestioning obedience through his dumb quoting of the time-worn cliché: ´To make an omelette you gotta break some yolks´  (Sink the Belgrano   153)
  2-12 holy ghost is rhyming Cockney slang for toast: from A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang 77
  2-13 rosy lee is rhyming Cockney slang for tea: from A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang 116
  2-14 to milk is slang for to swindle or cheat: from The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms 157
  2-15 Stage directions in the play
  2-16 The ‘Holy Spirit’ is seen to be evoked in his religious faith. ‘In Paul’s writings, the foundation of a moral life is the Holy Spirit, for Christians are admonished to “walk by the Spirit”’ (Who’s Who in the Bible 155). ‘A Christian’s body could therefore be spoken of as “a temple of the Holy Spirit”’ (155)
  2-17 a banshee: a female spirit in Irish folklore whose wailing warns of impending death. (From The Collins Concise)
  2-18 ‘from black marias’ seems to indicate the sirens on the police cars of the same name metaphorically come from sterile, dried out seas: Mare, marias – dry plains on the moon, visible as dark markings and once thought to be seas
2-19 ‘I could mash thee into and ooze’ (East 16)
  2-20 In ‘Wife in Berkoff’s Women
  2-21 Eddy to his adopted father: ‘you opened a right box there didn’t you, you picked up a stone that was best left with all those runny black and horrid things intact and not nibbling in my brain’ (137)
2-22 Mike to Sylv before she gives in: ‘Oh, you’re the spring time after fierce winter… buds sprout… opening… little whisper in the hawthorn… oh! I thought thy planet shook then, caught thee then a word did it… Pandora’s Box teases open’ (17)
The Plays
2-50 Slovakia was formerly a part of Hungary before becoming the Slovak Socialist Republic, a part of Czechoslovakia. It is now independent, lying between Czechoslovakia and Hungary, nowhere near Sudetenland!
  2-51 Sudetenland was an area of Bohemia (a former Slavonic kingdom which fell under Austrian rule and later became a province of Czechoslovakia) adjacent to the German border. It was allocated to the new State of Czechoslovakia after the First World War, despite the presence of three million German-speaking inhabitants. It became the first object of German expansionist policies after the Nazis came to power and was ceded to Germany in 1938, only to be returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945. The German inhabitants were expelled and replaced by Czechs
  2-52 From In-Yer-Face Theatre 16
  2-53 My personal experience of how it felt to be on the receiving end of the actors’ monologues in Greek: A la Greque at the Theatre Festival of Nyon in 1999
  2-54 to clock: to see ‘orig US: perhaps from the notion of observing someone in order to time their actions’ (from Oxford Dictionary of Slang)
  2-55 Boat race is rhyming Cockney slang for face
  2-56 Elysium (Elysian fields): ‘A blessed and happy land at the world’s end… Here a select few favoured by the gods come to a kind of paradise where “life is easiest for men”’. The purified souls of those who had led an upright life ‘spent their time joyously in a region of eternal spring and sunlight’.  (From A Dictionary of Classical & Literary Allusion 70)
  2-57 Although Sylv’s description of herself as ‘sheer unadultered pure filth’ as quoted previously indicates she is underage
  2-58 J. Arthur (Rank) is rhyming Cockney slang for wank (from the ‘Glossary of Slang’ at the end of the play.)
2-59 Les: Donate a snout, Mike?
Mike: Ok I’ll bung thee a snout, Les.
Mike and Les: Now you know our names.’ (7)
This opening passage is repeated at the end of the play with the sole difference that they exchange their words, with Mike asking Les for a snout`
  2-60 This monologue stretches from page 207 to 211
  2-61 As in Blake’s poem ‘To my inward eye/ an old man grey/ to my outward eye / a thistle across the way’
  2-62 The founding story of the republic of Rome: ‘According to Roman legend, Sextus, son of King Tarquinius Superbus (c.500 B.C), violated Lucretia, wife of Tarquinius Collatinus, as she slept. She committed suicide and the Tarquins were expelled from Rome, which became a republic.’ (From the notes in Clarissa p.1,520)
  2-63 To my knowledge this short story has never been enacted on stage and by rights should not appear in this section. However, I feel justified in including it here for both its valuable insights in relation to my argument and because of Berkoff’s personal evaluation of it as being ‘one of the most tender’ (Free Association 190) things he ever wrote
Conclusion 3-01 Author´s note to ´East´ 
  3-02 His words in an e-mail to me explaining why the original publicity shots for his ´Graft: Tales of an Actor´ showed him holding a white comedian´s mask in front of his face that was covered in blood and gore. He later changed these pictures for a 'goofy face' to foreground the comic aspects of the show
  3-03 Both George Dillon and Linda Marlowe's programmes explicitly state that it was by Steven Berkoff's own suggestion that they have used his writings as the basis for their respective shows
  3-04 The opening lines of the short story 'From My Point of View'


© Deborah Knight 2001









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