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Cycnos | Volume 28 n° Spécial

Oleanna ou pourquoi refuser les avances d’un professeur d’université

In his play Oleanna, written in 1992, David Mamet deals with the dangerous border between sexual harassment and courtship. After being accused by a student of having promised her a grade « A » for her exam if she agrees to have an affair with him, a university teacher adamantly denies the charge. But his career is ruined all the same. Who is the real victim? Who is the culprit? Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? The play rests on ambiguity, there is no way to lift it and to give a definite answer to these questions. The play offers an original insight into the concept of ambiguity. Grounded on a basis that is simultaneously psychological and political, ambiguity turns out to be the opposite, not of clarity, but of refusal. Concomitantly, refusal is not opposed to assent but precisely to ambiguity. A man, whose self-assurance stems from his power, uses an ambiguous language and attitude because he undergoes a crisis of identity. Facing him, a young woman, who is exploited at work and failing in her studies, rebels and offers a form of political refusal of the oppression of women. To her mind, there is no mistaking the enemy: it is ambiguity, which enables the mighty to retain their power. When the male character becomes a victim in his turn, he is also led to make the same choice of refusal, thereby confirming the fact that the dialectic of ambiguity and refusal is an inevitable consequence of any oppressive, patriarchal or hierarchical system. An evolution towards an egalitarian system between men and women may attenuate the warlike aspect of the gender struggle.

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