Re-reading Madame Bovary

I have just finished reading Lydia Davis's new and thrilling translation of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, published by Flaubert in 1856 in six installments in La Revue de Paris. I first read Madame Bovary many years ago, maybe twenty. I no longer have the book and probably didn't then, having, in all likelihood, read a library copy, so I don't know which translation I read. What I do recall is that, for me then, it was unremarkable.

This time around I am dazzled. While the translation is of paramount importance, in my own case, I suspect that there is something about reading and having grown as a reader that is relevant to my new appreciation. And, since Madame Bovary is in fact in many ways, about reading, what could be more appropriate. There is more to reading than learning to recognize words. Or, to quote (and then revise) a Latin phrase that the pharmacist Homais uses, Fabricando fit faber, age quod agis. Davis provides a note about this phrase as follows: "Practice makes perfect." or, more literally, "It is by making that you become a maker, whatever it is that you do." It is by reading that one becomes a reader.

Madame Bovary (MB) begins with the first person plural pronoun: "We were in Study Hall, when the Headmaster entered, followed by a new boy dressed in regular clothes and a school servant carrying a large desk." This mysterious "we" soon disappears into the third person, but is one of  the many contributing strangenesses of the novel, the oddities that make it difficult to locate the source(s) of narration. It begins with Charles Bovary's childhood, a childhood unlike Emma's. While at school, Charles "work[s] conscientiously, looking up all the words in the dictionary and tak[es] great pains" though "he had almost no elegance in  his constructions" (5). While Emma read novels at home and religious texts at the convent where she also listened to sermons, Charles' grew up in a household with a father who "little concerned with literature, said it was not worth the trouble!" (7).   Emma, on the other hand, 'had read Paul and Virginia" and Balzac and George Sand, and at the convent, "the metaphors of betrothed, spouse, heavenly lover, and marriage everlasting that recur in sermons stirred unexpectedly sweet sensations in the depths of her soul" (31). Emma is a reader; Charles is not, though we read that as a student he sometimes picked up the Anacharsis; Davis writes that this is possibly Jean Jacques Barthelemy's The Travels of Anacharsis the Younger in Greece, "a learned imaginary travel journal and one of the first historical novels." Instead of considering Emma's reading as a weakness, a liability, the source of her trouble, perhaps it is worth wondering what Charles might have understood or imagined had he read more....

When Emma and Léon meet for the first time, the discussion turns to reading:
"My wife doesn't take much interest in that [gardening]," said Charles. "Even though she has been told she ought to exercise, she'd rather stay in her room all the time and read."

"Like me," replied Léon; "what could be better, really, than to sit by the fire in the evening with a book, while the wind beats against the windowpanes, and the lamp burns?..."

"Oh, yes," she said, her great, dark wide-open eyes fixed on him." (72)

For Léon, Emma "was the beloved of every novel, the heroine of every drama, the vague she of every volume of poetry" (235).

Later, at Emma's deathbed, Homais and the curé argue about religion, largely through reference to various texts:

"'Read Voltaire!' one was saying; 'read d'Holbach, read the Encyclopeida!'"

"'Read the Letters of Some Portuguese Jews!' the other was saying; 'read The Proof of Christianity, by the former magistrate Nicholas!'" (294)

Madame Bovary is constructed around disparate understandings of words, reading, and the world, but enmeshed in all of this, too, are the strange and mobile materials of gender. Famously , there is Flaubert's claim, "Je suis Madame Bovary!" Of course, it was Charles Baudelaire who first identified Emma Bovary's strange androgyny in his review of the book. He wrote:

Il ne restait plus à l'auteur, pour accomplir le tour de force dans son entier, que de se dépouiller (autant que possible) de son sexe et de se faire femme. Il en est résulté une merveille ; c'est que, malgré tout son zèle de comédien, il n'a pas pu ne pas infuser un sang viril dans les veines de sa créature, et que madame Bovary, pour ce qu'il y a en elle de plus énergique et de plus ambitieux, et aussi de plus rêveur, madame Bovary est restée un homme. Comme la Pallas armée, sortie du cerveau de Zeus, ce bizarre androgyne a gardé toutes les séductions d'une âme virile dans un charmant corps féminin.

You can read Baudelaire's review here.  There is much to say about the way gender structures and unravels distinctions between characters, the project of the novel and its deployment of narrativity. But, for now, these little observances:

"Charles was not a wit by nature, he had not been brilliant during the wedding festivities....the next day, however, he seemed another man. It was he whom one would have taken for the virgin the day before..." (26).

"Then, a hundred steps further on, she stopped again; and through her veil, which fell obliquely from her man's hat down over her hips, her face could be seen in bluish transparency, as though she were swimming under azure waves" (139).

Later, it is Léon who seems to be Emma's mistress: "She wanted him to dress all in black and grow a little pointed beard on his chin so that he would resemble the portraits of Louis XIII. She wanted to see his rooms....She asked for verses, verses composed for her....He did not question her ideas; he accepted all her tastes; he was becoming her mistress more than she was his" (246).

There are also various markers of race: what Tisa Bryant calls unexplained presences:

"She had read Paul and Virginia, and she had dreamed of the little bamboo house, the Negro Domingo, the dog Faithful, but most of all of the sweet friendship of a good little brother who goes off to fetch red fruit for you from great trees taller than church steeples, or runs barefoot over the sand, bringing you a bird's nest" (30).
"But not being very well versed in these matters once they were beyond certain bounds, he wrote to Monsieur Boulard, Monseigneur's bookseller, to send him something particularly good for a female of high intelligence. The bookseller,with as much indifference as if he were dispatching cheap trinkets to black Africans, packaged up a hodgepodge of everything then current in the religious book trade" (188).

Check out this passage in which the church in Rouen is figured by Leon's active, romantic imagination, as a gigantic boudoir:

"Leon, with a sober step, was walking close to the walls. Never had life seemed so good to him. Any minute now she would appear, charming, agitated, glancing behind her at the eyes that were following her,--in her flounced dress, her gold lorgnette, her thin little boots, all kinds of elegant refinements he had never had a taste of before, and with all the ineffable seductiveness of virtue yielding. The church, like a gigantic boudoir, was arranging itself around her; the vaults were leaning down to gather  up, in the shadows, the confession of her love; the windows shone resplendent to illuminate her face; and the censers burned so that she might appear like an angel, amid clouds of perfume" (213).

I borrowed Davis's Madame Bovary from the library, but it is a book, really, one wants to own. Enjoy.


Fiona Templeton: "Medea sings a skin of language"

What: Small Press Traffic hosted a reading by Fiona Templeton

The Setting: The Graduate Writing Studio of the California College of Arts on De Haro in San Francisco. Saturday night, December 18th, 2010. Darkish. Wind-swept. Moody. Japanese maples trembling outside the glass doors in front of which the petite Fiona Templeton stood, in black, her auburn hair pulled back, glasses on her head. Beginning with breathing. The small contemplative pond outside a black sheen. Inside: expectancy.

Thus began The Medead, Templeton's long performance piece about Medea; she called it a recuperation of the many Medeas that exist in literature and history. For example, Fiona noted that she had visited Georgia and that there Medea is associated with medicine. She skipped the reductive infanticide.

"It is a journey of the figure, not a person," Templeton told us. 

How can I tell you about how the room seemed to breathe along with Templeton, how her language split and soared, whispered, squawked, joked. Hers is a Shakespearean inventiveness. Syntax reorganized. Words uncloaked, uncorked and cast out anew, "a winding tongue." 

Here's how Templeton's web site describes The Medead:

*as a very different figure to the evil foreign woman shown by the Greeks, including little-known versions from her origin at the east of the Black Sea.

*Me Dead: a journey down into the language and action of dream and the subconscious.

*Me Dead: not myself.

*Me Dead: the price of war.

*Medea: measure, mother, mindfulness

*Medea: nobody (in the feminine)

*Medea: the genitals.

*The Medead: a night and day, a life, a journey of culture through history.

Some of the many lines that caught my attention, demanded notation follow; any mishearings and misquotations are mine own ears'.  And of course, what line breaks there are here are heard or intuited and will  need correcting once the text can be seen/read.Templeton is going to let xpoetics put up some of The Medead and I am looking forward to it and offering it up to all of you. So, stay-tuned. In the meantime, you can find out more about it on Fiona's web site here: FionaTempleton.

"Medea sings a skin language"

"restored to pieces
hung in trees"

"birds birds birds
the word birds flies around
look at you
look at you"

"singing danger meat"

"prosody arrays what wheat
we have"

"how the nightingale orphaned
of her tongue"

"words come up but
she's taken the genital idea"

"Let's ram away"

"tails spread like a fan of knives"

"whose thicket
whose thicket"

"let go your breath
and aching things"

"choral ardor
coming up from air"

Templeton's reading was one of the highlights of Small Press Traffic's recent season. Check out the forthcoming Spring season here: Small Press Traffic


Rob Halpern: "Becoming a Patient of History"

Saturday night, December 11, 2010, San Francisco welcomed home Rob Halpern at the Unitarian Center in San Francisco where Rob gave the Poetry Center's 27th George Oppen Memorial Lecture, entitled "Becoming a Patient of History: George Oppen's Domesticity and the Relocation of Politics." The room was full to capacity.

Rob's talk was thrilling and offered much to ponder.

Locating his fascination with Oppen's work in the way the poems "refused to settle into difficulty or transparence," Rob noted his coming to Oppen's poetry during the late 90s, a time of "terminal cynicism" when a number of Bay Area writers found themselves between crises, the devastation of AIDS, the flowering of neo-liberalism, and the emergence of the dot com boom. Rob suggested that he and other young writers found themselves "living melancholic lives," characterized by a sense of loss and "terminal belatedness." It is in this context of disaffection that Rob and a number others--David Buuck, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Yedda Morrison, Dana Teen Lomax, and others--found themselves reading Oppen's poetry and Selected Letters.

About reading Oppen's letters and having noted the phrase “cries havoc in a small voice” from one of the letters, Rob said that:

there remains something so appealing in those words together: “cry” “small” and “havoc”— something vulnerable and adamant, uncertain, and committed to what might seem entirely unclear. It was as if there were potential dangers everywhere, dangers which the language at one’s immediate disposal often seems inadequate to name. This appealed to my own uncertainty and doubt as well as my desire for something other than what seemed at the time to be a terminal cynicism....We were “between crises” as one might speak of being between wars, but there is never really any such “between”—just the spell of an interregnum when everyone is holding breath, and waiting, and pretending to adapt to a set of conditions that seem entirely fake and everyone’s just going through the motions of being ok, while living interminably melancholic lives, having identified, on the one hand, with too many personal losses—losses I myself had not yet learned how to mourn; and on the other, with a feeling of terminal belatedness, when it didn’t seem possible to believe in anything long enough to respond to it.

Rob talked about the complex array of feelings, sincerity and ambivalence, that one finds throughout Oppen's Selected Letters. He noted that,

the [Oppen] letters provided a whole catalog of what Sianne Ngai would call weak affects, which work to register or resist the ideological saturation of social space, as well as the distortions in relation and perception that Oppen was confronting in the 1960s. But Oppen’s feelings seemed anachronistically to offer a response to the disaffection that was so infectious during the late 90s. Any one of Oppen’s weak affects seemed to offer an antidote: but the whole gamut was like an arsenal. 

With this, Rob set the stage for discussing gender in Oppen's work,

...This question concerning gender has since opened many unexpected avenues of inquiry, and has led me to believe that one can feel the work of Oppen’s middle period thinking sensually through the many submerged contours and tensions of an intensified post-war biopolitics, that is, the form politics assumes when the human condition itself, its biological and psychic substrata—from atoms and plasma, to desire and subjectivity—become the terrain of conflict, work, and investment. My sense here is that these contours and tensions become the material of Oppen’s work, from The Materials through Of Being Numerous, as they find themselves mediated—muted and amplified, clarified and distorted—through the longing and remorse of a very particular lyric subject. All this ends up making certain historical conditions of the moment audible, as Oppen himself emphasizes in his poem “Route:” “The purity of the materials, not theology, but to present the circumstances […] The context is history / Moving toward the light of conscious.” To present the circumstances and the history means to make conditions and struggles legible—and these, of course, are never pure—and I believe Oppen’s poetry was very much a part these struggles, against the grain of his repeated insistence on making his writing politically unavailable. These are biopolitical struggles: organized around the production and administration, the transformation and destruction of subjectivity and life, and they underscore what Hannah Arendt refers to as the confounding of the household and the polis in The Human Condition—a work published in 1958, the same year as Oppen returned to poetry in earnest after a notorious 25 year hiatus, during which time he sought exile, avoiding HUAC in Mexico where he raised a family. Arendt’s work echoes Oppen’s concerns, sometimes with uncanny precision. For her, the erosion of the public realm, or the common, at mid-century has everything to do with the wholesale absorption of “the household and housekeeping activities” into a sphere of social activity once referred to as politics. Arendt goes on to elaborate how the unstable border between the political life—organization of the common—and the household—care of family and self, basic necessity, survival—conditions the corporate management of so-called private interest, which then emerges as the most public of all concerns. And it is this instability I believe that one can feel in Oppen’s mid-century writing: in the “new structure of space” the work creates, conceptually and syntactically, through all its hesitations and declarations, its opacities and lacunae, its contradictions and impossibilities, all its conflicting affects and emotions. As Oppen pressures, worries, and amplifies what he refers to as his political non-availability, the work, as a sensory organ capable of cognizing material we otherwise can’t access discursively, registers precisely what he was refusing: the whole shifting terrain of what one might think to call “politics.”

Rob explained that he had developed an "indexical key" and that he is "using the archivist’s finding aid as a model, or maybe it’s more like one of Roland Barthes’s alphabetized books, or the convolutes of Benjamin’s Arcades Project" as a structure. Here is a list of his table of contents for the larger Oppen project he is working on:

Anemones, Antigone, Arendt, Bad Things I’ll Never See, Baldwin, Baudelaire, Biopower, Black Nationalism, Caregiving, Chaos (Chance, Contingency), Clarity, Common Grave, Common Place, Common Sense, Community Histories, Containment, Disclosure, Dolphins, Domestic Dysphoria, Enemy, Eternity, Experience of The The, Failure, Feminine Distances, Feminine Light, Fiddling Again, Frances, From Disaster, From the Polis to the Household, Future Anterior, Hamlet, History (or What Is Not Autonomous In Us), Homecoming, Housing Crisis, Human Capital, Human Condition, “I Could Not See To See,” Incorporating Private Interest, Know Yourself, Mallarmé, Mauvais Vitrier, Natural History, The Neo-Liberal Imagination, Not a Dialectic, Not Some Manly Toughness, Note to Myself, Nothing, Of Ethics, Outside Light, Pathos of Distance, Patiency, Pedigree, Penetration, Popular Front, Preponderance of Objects, Post-historicism, Realism, Riot, Self-Possession, State of Exception, That Women Have No History, The Difference Was What Love Was, The Little Hole, Undead, Violence, Vision, Zed.

Unfurling a few of these meditative, critical, poetic inquiries (Domestic Dysphoria, Paitency, From Disaster, Failure, Penetration, What does it mean to see Nothing), Rob laid out a complex array of large and expansive arenas for thinking anew Oppen's work; here's a small bit from Domestic Dysphoria:

...a certain gender trouble that haunts the poetry of Oppen’s middle period, and it may be inseparable from the deepest concerns moving through the work itself—concerns about nature and history, time and politics, what it means to act in the world, and what it means to be acted upon. The dysphoria registers a crisis in masculinity, if not a catastrophe in the very idea of historical agency.

He continues:

“I can see nothing at all,” Oppen writes in a Daybook, “except that one encounters the thing. And, it is impossible not to say, encounters oneself.”

“I can see nothing at all,” can almost be taken as a positive assertion, an achievement. And while this statement in itself is not an unusual one for Oppen, what follows is quite unusual: 

“And encounters in himself the passion of logic which, like the young man’s desire to sleep with the latest movie star, is unlikely to be satisfied, but can lead to crimes of violence.” (142) 

Now that’s an unusual comment, and it isn’t just a random squib that Oppen cribbed in a less than heady moment: but something he entertained and rewrote on another occasion, replacing the phrase “the latest movie star” with the proper name “Debbie Reynolds” only to continue: “Tho I am not altogether opposed to crimes of violence […] since I am not altogether pleased with the idea of standing still.” (143)

The image—of a woman, of the latest movie star, of Debbie Reynolds—displaces and haunts the thing one encounters, or longs to encounter, if only in order to know oneself. This note in the daybooks reads like the back story of “Of Being Numerous:” The whole technique of the self Oppen seems to promote—self-knowledge—would be a masculinist prerogative that finds its negative resolve in the image of a woman, the latest movie star, encountered by any young man: and because this encounter is nothing more than an occlusion of sense on a collision course with a passion of logic it can lead to a crime of violence.

As serendipity would have it, earlier in the day I had been reading Rachel Blau DuPlessis's article, "Manhood and its Poetic Projects: The Construction of Masculinity in the Counter Cultural Poetry of the U.S. 1950s" in Jacket Magazine. DuPlessis reads the work of Creeley, Olson and Ginsberg, exploring the reconstruction of masculinity performed in the poetry of these poets. Pointing out that it is masculinity only that is undone, to use a Judith Butler term, and not the binary construction of gender, DuPlessis notes that,

Further, one might see the manhood they were collectively, and differently inventing as an imperial expansiveness in the counter-cultural mode. Allegorically speaking, the center claims the goods of the periphery but ignores the periphery’s co-equality and right to power. Thus, to “gender” Edward Said’s work on culture and imperialism and construct a mechanism for feminist reception, we could say that these male poets “deconstructed and demystified” the male “center” but neglected to continue the critique by inventing “a new system of mobile relationships” to change power relationships between center and periphery that might moot those terms entirely (DuPlessis quoting Said 274-75).

Rob’s work on Oppen shares something in common with DuPlessis here.

In a portion of Domestic Dysphoria that Rob did not read Saturday night but which he has graciously sent me, he references DuPlessis's article:

In her essay "The Construction of Masculinity in the Counter-Cultural Poetry of the U.S. 1950s," Rachel Blau DuPlessis draws attention to the way "certain elements of stereotypical feminine compliance were, at least in theory, necessary to normal men in the 1950s" (Jacket 31 October 2006, 11). While specifically treating Allen Ginsberg's "orgasmic homosexuality," Robert Creeley'as "hyper-scrupulous male self-consciousness," and Charles Olson's "hyper masculine heroes" as three ways male poets found to negotiate gender, DuPlessis questions the ways these poets challenge dominant masculinities, while simultaneously preserving a regime of unequal sexual difference (37)." DuPlessis is quiet on the question of Oppen and gender, perhaps because of her particular closeness to Oppen's work. My sense is that while Oppen's "case" is implicated in these historically situated negotiations, his gender difficulty can't be matched point for point with these other poets' interventions into the social organization of sexual difference at mid-century. What complicates the specificity of Oppen's gender troublein contrast to say Olson's, Creeley's and Ginsberg's is his actual role in the historical events that conditioned the mid-century transformation of masculinity.

I look forward to seeing how Rob unfolds Oppen's difference from these other three mid-century male poets, particularly because I sense all kinds of prickly gender problematics in Oppen's work and in fact just for that very reason, among others, a couple of years ago I started work on an as yet uncompleted series of poems that enter into Oppen's poetry, writing through them. But this is all another matter.

For now there is this question: if it is historical circumstance that produces too this failure in Oppen (I don't think Rob is arguing that there is such a failure, but rather something quite to the contrary), what significance does this failure have for the undoing that Oppen does attempt? If hegemonic masculinity is critiqued, shifted, but within an unchanging binary structure, might this actually preserve (with a terrible vengeance, and thus the violent crime of ) a binary gender construction and hierarchy? In "What does it mean to see Nothing," Rob writes,

World historical agency returns here, but in the form of collective participation in unacknowledged events, or events whose form of consensual acknowledgement—the image—keeps us from acknowledging anything at all. And this may be the terrible meaning of being numerous.

There is too much in Rob's amazing and provocative talk to begin to parse. I look forward to reading more of his always capacious and generous work.  Rob closed the evening with this section:

This is how Oppen links the lyric ‘I’ and its vision to the conditions of possibility of the war crime itself. And this is “all we have made of the universe by looking at it.”

“Occurrence, a part / Of an infinite series, // The sad marvels;” but one can’t see them with clarity, because they cohabitate with every thing we see; they may even create the light by which we see these things. 

The worldly light Oppen needs to see by is so easily confounded with the bright light of encounter itself. And he’s on guard not to be among those of Rimbaud’s “Cities” in the Illuminations: “where savage gentlemen seek distraction beneath the light they made.”

One might seek simple things to see, instead, things that are uncontaminated by these occurrences, uncompromised by the light they generate, outside the world they made. One might seek things like sea, sky, hill, house, girder, street. One might seek these things while avowing the risk that one might fail, that one might not see them, or that one might succeed in seeing them, and in doing so, see nothing. One might seek these things in order to reassure oneself that one is here, too. But one can’t see the thing for the feedback, and everything feeds back. So then one seeks the stone, the mineral fact, the “nothing place,” but even these quaver in the glare. Nothing can reassure one in the way one needs to be reassured. Nothing can -- for the circumstances may not be credible. 

Still, one might be pierced by the things one can see, and touched by the things one can’t.

Here are some excerpts from Oppen's Of Being Numerous that Rob quoted and provided on a handout at the talk:

(from section 1)

There are things
We live among 'and to see them
Is to know ourselves.'

Occurrence, a part
Of an infinite series.



So spoke of the existence of things,
An unmanageable pantheon

Absolute, but they say

A city of the corporations

In dreams

And images--

And the pure joy
Of the mineral fact

Tho it is impenetrable

As the world, if it is matter
Is impenetrable.


Events: Scalapino, Hejinian & Harryman, and Halpern

E   V   E   N   T   S
Some that are coming:

Saturday, December 11th
2010 7:30 pm @ the Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin (at Geary), San Francisco, $10

Rob Halpern will be presenting the Poetry Center's George Oppen Memorial Lecture :  "Becoming a Patient of History: George Oppen's Domesticity and the Relocation of Politics."

Rob Halpern has written several books of poetry, including Rumored Place (Krupskaya 2004), Imaginary Politics (Tap Root Editions 2008), and Disaster Suites (Palm Press 2009). Music for Porn is forthcoming (Nightboat Books, 2011). With Taylor Brady, he also co-authored the book length poem Snow Sensitive Skin (Atticus/Finch 2007), which has just been reissued by Displaced Press.

Currently, he’s co-editing, together with Kathleen Fraser, the poems of the late Frances Jaffer, and translating the early essays of Georges Perec, the second of which, “Commitment or the Crisis of Language,” recently appeared in the Review of Contemporary Fiction with an essay of his own on Perec.

An active participant in the Nonsite Collective, Rob lives in San Francisco and Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he teaches English and Creative Writing (Poetry Center).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 7:30 pm


The Wide Road: Lyn Hejinian and Carla Harryman

Here's what Belladonna has to say about the book and reading:
Belladonna Series is beside itself tickled to release The Wide Road, the long awaited masterpiece collaboration of two of our heroes Lyn Hejinian and Carla Harryman. Self-described as a “picaresque buddy being,” The Wide Road is a reveling revelatory investigation of the female body, female friendship, writing, community, activism, travel and the nature and possibility of human thinking. Please join us in celebration of this wonderful book and partnership.

Lyn Hejinian was born in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1941. Poet, essayist, and translator, she is also the author or co-author of several books of poetry, including Saga/Circus (Omnidawn Publishing, 2008), The Fatalist (2003), My Life in the Nineties (Shark, 2003), and A Border Comedy (2001). She lives in Berkeley, California.

Carla Harryman is the author of twelve books of poetry, prose plays, and essays, most recently the Essay Press publication Adorno’s Noise, two experimental novels, Gardener of Stars (2001) and The Words: after Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories and Jean-Paul Sartre (1999). Harryman teaches in the Department of English at Eastern Michigan University and is on the faculty of the Milton Avery School of the Arts Graduate Program at Bard College.
Location: Dixon Place: 161 Chrystie Street; New York, NY ; Admission: $6

You can order your copy through Belladonna here.

E  V  E  N  T  S

And one that has been:

Taylor Brady, Tom Committa and Ben Furstenberg as the three Orpheus characters

Saturday, December 4th, Small Press Traffic hosted a Memorial for Leslie Scalapino in the form of the production of the play Scalapino wrote with Kevin Killian in 1996: Stone Marmalade. Here's the info about the play provided on the Small Press Traffic website:

Stone Marmalade, directed by Kevin Killian

Visuals by Wayne Smith with a cast including Lindsey Boldt, Karla Milosevich, Brent Cunningham, Taylor Brady, Laurie Reid, Erin Morrill, Tom Comitta, Craig Goodman, Jocelyn Saidenberg, David Brazil, and others.

Stone Marmalade retells the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, as seen through the theoretical writings of Giorgio Agamben. Scalapino and Killian attended Agamben’s lectures at UC Berkeley 15 years ago, and misunderstood the philosopher’s thick Italian accent so thoroughly that they got quite a lot wrong in their script.

When the Nazis inducted prisoners into the death camps, they first took away their passports and stripped them of their former nationality. Agamben said that doing so reduced the prisoners to “mere birth-life,” but we thought he was saying “bird-life,” and so a lot of our play is bird oriented. It takes place in Hell, where Eurydice, the Queen of Hell, operates a duty-free shop (another Agamben notion about the extra-juridical status shared by duty-free shops and by the death camps) assisted by an easy-going PA, Kathy.

The women find themselves in a double triangle, both of them variously attracted ti Orpheus and to the visiting Giorgio Agamben. But the play doesn’t really begin until Kathy gets pregnant and will give birth to a bird unless Eurydice allows her to have a human baby, and also, the gates of hell part and Julia Roberts has come to make a film there, or to die there, no one is sure which. Over the past 15 years we have put on various scenes, but this will be the first time the play has ever been seen in its entirety (Small Press Traffic)

My favorite part of this play was Brent Cunningham as Agamben. He had both a Marlon Brando godfather accent, complete with a mouthful of someth'n, and a Texas twang that his character has been hiding.

Here's what Leslie wrote in the 1996 intro to this play:

In seeing  Kevin Killian's plays performed, read on-book rather than memorized, sometimes as many as twenty actors  entering and passing through again in strands of plot in a loose structure as if a skit as sequence, I've had the sense of a timing as rhythm of action--which focusing on exact relations and being 'occasional' (sometimes his plays are like dramatizing movie magazine gossip as opposed to the movies themselves) particularized to the extent of loosening/freeing both the representation of character and its occurrence. He finds a rhythm  that cuts it loose from dead weight.

We share the characteristic (although expressed by different personalities) of using overtly self-conscious play-acting (either high or low style, or both at the same time) which isn't conventional narrative.

I thought it would be interesting to collaborate by writing a play in the manner of Exquisite Corpse experiments where we would each add to the body and change it in our own scenes without having to agree (agreement, as in forced decision by the producer, would be more the method of a format Hollywood film).

We made up our own form (as doubles; my scenes also have two Eurydices); and it may be top or bottom heavy left there deliberately, have no compensation for our differences--and therefore, it is hoped might have the possibility in each of our scenes of being able to bring in the existing anarchy, ridiculous by being both bathetic and lovely at the same time. (Scalapino. no page #s but page 2 of intro).