Get the Guests: Psychoanalysis, Modern American Drama, and the Audience

Through a detailed reading of five great modern American plays — The Iceman Cometh, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Long Day's Journey into Night, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf — Walter A. Davis calls for a more penetrating look at drama and its psychological impact on the audience. Establishing connections between literary criticism and psychoanalysis, he challenges ruling assumptions of both disciplines. Unconventional and original, his theory demonstrates how the theater, as a potential threat to social order, expresses the secrets and discontents of its audience.

Book cover: “Get the Guests”“In its ability to integrate the knowledgeable interests of a literary critic and theorist of broad disciplinary expertise with the experience and practical knowhow of a man of the theater, Get the Guests is unparalleled.”

Frank Lentricchia, Duke University

“What is so exciting about this book is the way it goes against so much conventional wisdom on modern drama and the current American theater scene…and against so many second-hand ideas about psychoanalytic criticism and academic interpretation. . . . Davis practically demolishes the ritual-based readings of theater, and shows them to be a way of avoiding the kind of individual introspection and ruthless honesty about our psyches that only a tragic outlook can satisfy.”

Timothy Wiles, Indiana University

“There's nothing else on American drama anything like it. The demystifiers of current 'discourse' won't know what to do with the violent honesty of your hermeneutic mission, nor are the incessantly proclaimed wish-fulfilling transgression of cultural studies anything like the violations you have in mind as you press without quarter on the nerve-ends of a text. Given the creative aggression of your book, and the existential plenitude of its undeterrable passion, rare on the current scene, I can only salute your commitment to the true business of criticism — the attempt to 'get the guests' by stripping away all defences and complacencies. This is a deep and complex book, a real challenge to engaged thinking.”

Herbert Blau, Artistic Director of experimental theatre group KRAKEN; author of Take Up the Bodies, The Audience, and numerous other works on theatre, culture, and postmodern theory; Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor of the Humanities, The University of Washington

Additional Information:

Purchase details:

ISBN Hardcover: 0-299-14150-0; ISBN Softcover: 0-299-14154-3
University of Wisconsin Press
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Chapter Five: “The Academic Festival Overture: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments  xv
A Methodological Notexvii
Prologue: In the Theatre xix
Introduction: The Medusa and the Shield   3
1. Souls on Ice: The Iceman Cometh  13
2. The Perfect Couple: A Streetcar Named Desire  60
3. All in the Family: Death of a Salesman 103
4. Drug of Choice: Long Day's Journey into Night 147
5. The Academic Festival Overture: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 209
Epilogue: Entering the Crypt – Beyond Reparation and the Symbolic Order    263
Notes 267
Index 279