Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Exposing the Malleability of Language: Recreating the Bible in Shaffer's Equus

      Lyotard defines postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives" (356).  He explains that from the postmodern view "[t]he grand narrative has lost it credibility" (359).   According to Lyotard, "[t]he social subject itself seems to dissolve in this dissemination of language games. The social bond is linguistic, but is not woven with a single thread. It is a fabric formed by the intersection of at least two (and in reality an indeterminate number) of language games, obeying different rules" (360).  Essentially, Lyotard describes the condition of language, within postmodern perspective, as dynamic, mutable and malleable.  Lyotard also expresses that intertextuality is part of the postmodern condition and that it is a concept that exposes the malleability of language because postmodernism's master assumption is that everything is dialogic and thus, language achieves meaning (if meaning is even possible) through playful intertextual relationships. 
     In Equus, Shaffer illustrates how language games are played.  With an intertextual reference to the Bible, Shaffer executes a revision of biblical language and ideology through its perversion by the character Alan Strang.  Alan creates his own religion worshiping a horse god he names Equus.  While there is a seemingly pagan implication in this god, the rituals Alan dedicates to Equus is Judeo-Christian based.  This is specifically evident in the language of the worship as Alan recites the genealogy of Equus ending with the statement "Behold - I give you Equus, my only begotten son!" (Shaffer 46).  This statement is reminiscent of, if not imitates, John 3:16 in the Bible.  Alan even imitates the rites of the Last Supper before riding out on "Equus."  What Alan essentially exemplifies is the conflation of the Christian religion his mother taught him with his own affinity and fascination for horses.  More importantly, however, Alan's rewriting of biblical language illustrates how anything based on language, especially narratives like religion, are easily manipulated and cannot be viewed as completely credible.  Moreover, the intertextuality exemplified by Alan's religion with Christianity shows how meaning is dialogic because for readers and audiences like us, we understand Alan's rites as it refers to the Christian Bible and our knowledge of that language.  That is, Alan's perverted religion is only meaningful to the extent that we can decipher it through its play with biblical language.  Simultaneously, Alan's religion as a means to question the dominance of Christianity becomes obvious as we recognize how Christian rites are perverted.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The PostModern Condition. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Rivkin and
     Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 355-364. Print.

Shaffer, Peter. Equus. 1973. New York: Scribner, 2005. Print.