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Five women portray different fragments of Ophelia


… says she hears
There’s tricks i’ the world, and hems, and beats her heart,
Spurns enviously at straws, speaks things in doubt
That carry but half sense. Her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collection; they yawn at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts,
Which, as her winks and nods and gestures yield them,
Indeed would make one think there might be thought,
Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily. (Hamlet 4.5.4)

The word “nothing” appears thirty-one times in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The etymology of “nothing” is from nan or “not one” and “thing.” Shakespeare teased out the irony of the word endlessly in his plays: “this nothing’s more than matter.” Ophelia, for instance, verbally spars with Hamlet in a bawdy exchange just before the dumb play:

HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?
OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord
HAMLET: That’s fair thought to lie between maids’ legs. (3.2.110)

Shakespeare’s Norton Oxford Edition explains that “rustic doings” or “country” is a well-known pun on the word “cunt” and the wordplay continues in the following lines when the word “nothing” suggests a woman’s genitals which is often linked to the shape of “0” or zero (a ubiquitous Shakespearean trope), or “No Thing:” the “thing” here representing male genitals and to have “No Thing” (3.2.109) as Hamlet rejoins, is to have a vagina.  The female body is, from antiquity, linked to madness.

But why does this matter?

“Matter,” from Middle English, or matere from Anglo-French and Latin materia is “matter” as a physical substance, as well as mater, or mother; matter is also “something to be proved in law” or “the indeterminate subject of reality … [and] the formless substratum of all things which exists only potentially and upon which form acts to produce realities” (Merriam 1).

So this “nothing” is more than some thing; more than physical substance; more than material being; more than what we know, see, and hear and is the uncontainable and unpredictable action (and their potential meanings) witnessed by Laertes, and the court, upon seeing his sister Ophelia in the midst of her mad-songs. Ophelia is saying more that what appears to be just no sense. Ophelia is in the open court.  She is public. She will not be silenced as a no thing but instead engages in a counter discourse among the powers of the court and weaves the crimes, tricks, and transgressions that the sovereign(s) have committed: but you have to listen closely.

What are the implications if the (mater) as feminine, instead of being denoted as vulnerable and ineffectual, is to be coded as powerful in a mode of counter conduct; not solely as a resistance to her subjugation but asserting the self within and putting pressure inside the field of multiple forces and varying agents which include the pater? Ophelia’s immobilized self contained in the misogynistic court is now mobile, and unwieldy:  “… it [madness] is also the most rigorously necessary form of the qui pro quo in the dramatic economy, for it needs no external element to reach a true resolution.  It has merely to carry its illusion to the point of truth” (Foucault, “Madness” 34).

“Indeed would make one think there might be thought.” (Hamlet 4.5)

Elaine Showalter explains that during the late nineteenth century Dr. Charles Bucknill, president of the Medico-Psychological Association, remarked “Ophelia is the very type of class of cases by no means uncommon. Every mental physician of moderately extensive experience must have seen many Ophelias. It is a copy from nature, after the fashion of Pre-Raphaelite School” (86). Ophelia’s body is reduced to object for cultural, social and economic reproduction or to what Lacan calls “the object Ophelia” enabling sovereign control and further patriarchal, totalitarian agendas (Showalter, “Representing” 77).


[sings] By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do’t, if they come to‘t;
By Cock, they are to blame,
Quoth she, ‘Before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed’ (4.5.58)

Ophelia uses, for example, “By Gis” instead of Christ, and “By Cock instead of God; her linguist hybridism turns words into seemingly incoherent sequences while they do the work to replicate the chaos and hypocrisy within her castle’s and society’s stone walls – a proto-feminist move that turns Ophelia’s hysteria into counter conduct. She is not adhering to patriarchal syntactic language structures – she is creating her own lexicon. She speaks of betrayal – on all counts. Ophelia also breaks the contract with the King as his “pretty lady” (4.5.40) by answering him with the reclamation of her body: “Nay, pray you, mark” (4.5.28).

Nancy Fraser identifies, in her epistemological description, of how the space that Ophelia is addressing is gendered: “the republicans drew on classical traditions that cast femininity and publicity as oxymoron; the depth of such traditions can be gauged in the etymological connection between ‘public’ and ‘pubic,’ a graphic trace of the fact that in the ancient world possession of a penis was a requirement for speaking in public (a similar link is preserved, incidentally in the etymological connection between ‘testimony’ and ‘testicle,’ as well as ‘dissemination’)” (114). A new reading could examine the apparatus of court conduct and identify Ophelia’s “madness” as a counter conduct, an autonomy and power to speak that which cannot be spoken, do that which cannot be done.  Ophelia, then, as a sovereign body and bare life, is able to act above and outside the law (see Agamben) and is unrestrained, an independent rogue state and therefore represented through the King’s sovereign-lens as mad.

c. 1485, Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc appears in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part I, and her depiction, depending through which lens she is viewed, is either a holy maid from God or transgressing whore from hell.  England lost the war, largely due to the might and military intelligence of Joan, and therefore Shakespeare depicts the French warrior as a witch and a hysterical “fallen woman” who is deservedly burned at the stake:  “Strumpet, the words condemn thy brat and thee” (5.6.84).

The English respond to this powerful but disarmingly down-to-earth peasant girl by calling her a witch and a whore.  Much of their language concerning Joan is filled with bawdy double meanings, beginning with their play on the word pucelle, meaning “maid” or “virgin” in French, but sounding like”puzzel,” English slang for “whore.” From the first time he meets her in battle, Talbot assumes that Joan’s powers can come only from witchcraft, rather than from a heavenly or merely human source.  Joan’s circumstances invite this kind of denigration.  She is an unmarried woman who has turned soldier and assumed the garments of a man.  In the early modern period, to dress like a man was often read as a violation of woman’s assigned place in the gender hierarchy and … such women were easily assumed to be sexually transgressive, as well as vulnerable to the temptations of the devil. (293).

Shakespeare effectively changes Joan of Arc from a powerful French female warrior into a frightened and ineffectual practitioner of witchcraft who is hunted by fiends: an effective portrayal to stage a spectacle to bolster English pride with military propaganda. Nice job.

An authentic portrait of Jeanne d’Arc does not exist today – nothing.

If  Shakespeare’s “nothing” is to be read, at best, only as a silenced and contained object, Ophelia, Joan of Arc, and all those who activated modes of counter conduct, remain at most in the state of feminized hysteria and epitomize, as the result of a sovereign’s authority (and its literary agents), “nothing,” zero, and remain as tragic icons to be burned or drowned: “this structure is one of neither drama nor knowledge; it is the point where history is immobilized in the tragic category which both establishes and impugns it” (Foucault “Madness” xii).

Let’s instead listen (and read) closely to what is, and is not being said beyond the silent static images because “this nothing is indeed more than matter.”


What happens when I read Giorgio Agamben and Jezebel On-line Gossip Zine simultaneously?

I finished reading Giorgio Agamben’s What is an Apparatus? His argument stems from how “Living Beings” are captured by “The Apparatus,” a Foucauldian term that Foucault doesn’t really define, but that too is Foucauldian, right? Anyway, the origin of The Apparatus, according to Agamben, is from a handful of second century C.E. Fathers of the Church who brainstormed about how oikonomia (Greek for the administration of the home) could operate theologically.  Said another way, they were trying to figure out how the Church might control every non-being and every being in the world.  God, they surmised could be the CEO who would entrusts his Son with the economy of man (a Gnostic reference) while God would maintain a powerful unity in the management of Western human history.

Oikonomia, as Agamben asserts, merges with the notion of Providence and begins to indicate the redemptive governance of the world and human history. Now, what is the translation of this fundamental Greek term in the writings of the Latin Father? Dispositio. // The Latin term dispositif, or apparatus, derives, comes therefore to take on the complex semantic sphere of the theological oikonomia. The “dispositifs” about which Foucault speaks are somehow linked to this theological legacy (11).

But how does this go from blueprint to live?  Agamben contends that Living Beings are captured by The Apparatus  (which comprises education, prisons, governments, laws, language, religion, military, etc) and within this “capture” there is a continual struggle; it is through this struggle that the Living Being is processed as a subject; in other words, the subjectification of us.  Objects are used to create a continuum of desires to keep the Living Beings captured and serviced conveniently through capitalism and include everything from the internet, microwaves, forks, mortgages, porn, cars, Jersey Shore, pencils, sex, IMacs, music, Facebook, bathroom tiles, cars, hot dogs, soy milk, Ritalin, etc … you get the picture.  These objects of desire are the power of The Apparatus.  The subjectified subject then uses their acquired objects and never-ending desires to masquerade in an assumed “identity” and environment – or this is “I” (who then goes through another division but that’s for another blog).

20th century icon of the fathers of the first ecumenical council in Nicaea (325 CE). (courtesy: Orthodox Church in America)

So is it possible to escape a machine designed by well-bearded robed and haloed church patriarchs who wanted world domination and were basically afraid of sex?  Uhm, no.  However, Agamben does suggest a way to contend within this model:  “Profanation” … but this I’ll leave for another entry.

And this is where I stopped reading Agamben and opened the link to Jezebel, the on-line gossip website that has a tendency to subvert mainstream media and interrogate the very apparatus from which it sprung and through which it is maintained.  I wondered if I could apply Agamben to the “process” of subjectification in the discourse of gossip?  The etymology of “gossip” is from Old English godsibb or “godparent,” (God + sib relative) or the sponsor of a subject at their baptism.  Here, I quickly realized, the subjectification of a Living Being is clearly within The Apparatus’ blueprint and through time and mincing and dicing the word “gossip” became known as the “talk idly about the affairs of others with friends usually by women.”  In the very gendered etymology of gossip, the audience and conveyers are agents for “a God” infused Apparatus who enforce codes of morality.  Therefore if you gossip with moral indignation, with mean spiritedness, and with ill intentions you are a cog in the process of subjectifying Living Beings into something they are not in order to acquire your own denied desires to be used to construct your identity all of which is driven by capitalism.  There are, of course, “good” forms of gossip and anthropologists have also suggested that gossip is a method of survival to gain knowledge of others or for a subject to critically and constructively address their own subjectification; however; bottom-line, if the third party does not have an opportunity to speak, verify, and be understood the “gossip,” spoken over tea, takes its malicious course. Agamben writes about “friends,” how they are within the very word “philosophy,” and how, because friends share environments, is an entry point into politics.  More on this later …



Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.  ~H.G. Wells

The Penny Press of the mid nineteenth century introduced gossip columns, educational agendas, pages for religion and advertising, human interest stories, etc to the mainstream media as an alternative to papers with only political themes that were running a bit dry. The low cost for Penny Press production and for consumers served a massive demographic that was experiencing a rise in literacy. Which brings me to Jezebel, a name/symbol that is not without a biblical reference.  The story of Jezebel is told in 1st and 2nd Kings and has been over-subjectified through gossip, rumour, defamation, religious codes of conduct, patriarchy, institutionalization of the domestic, categorizing public and private, to name a few. Jezebel is a symbol, a trope, cemented into a vernacular as a fallen woman, manipulator, controller, promiscuous, immoral, false prophet masquerading her identity as a servant to a God.  Of course Jezebel’s side of the story, in keeping with the process of gossip and subjectification, is never told, never heard – the Apparatus and its players are not interested because the creation of “the other” (as a form of subjectification) is a prerequisite in the fabrication of their “moral” identities.  Jezebel was thrown to the dogs.  No, really … she was thrown to the dogs.

Jezebel, queen of Israel and priestess of Baal; King Ahab and the prophet Elijah

Gossip therefore has nothing really to do with the subject who is being scrutinized and subjectified whether it be Lohen in rehab, Lady Gaga’s footwear, Madonna’s take on masturbation, or the woman you don’t even know yet loathe, but has everything to do with one’s own struggle with power.  Jezebel, the woman, was constructed as a subject by religion and continually used as a figure in gossip, a symbol that is not only to be feared but perhaps the very figure you desire yourself to be. Demoralization, humiliation, slander, false accusations, and straight up lies toward “the other” become a means to reconstruct and uphold your own temporal “moral” identity, an elusive masquerade of an assumed self, who is manufactured because your Living Being is lost to you.

No wonder you’re so insecure.  I think that’s exactly what the second century beards had in mind.  Maybe you should think about whom you are actually working for the next time you gossip?

As Lisa, from The Simpsons, says:  No one even plays four square anymore, they just gossip.

“Augustine” is not her name:  she was named by the institution. At 15, Augustine was left at the Salpêtrière asylum in Paris in 1875 by her mother; she had already endured the brutality of sexual abuse throughout her young life. Augustine’s “hysterical attacks” had begun at the age of thirteen when, according to her testimony, she had been raped by her employer, a man who was also her mother’s lover.  When admitting her to Dr. Jean Martin Charcot’s “care,” Augustine stated that her perpetrator had threatened her with a razor (De Marneffe 88).

Musée de la civilisation, bibliothèque du Séminaire de Québec, fonds ancien.

I found Augustine in an essay by Elaine Showalter. She was mentioned briefly as an example of the cultural (re)production of the Shakespearean figure of Ophelia. Instead of reading through the passage, I paused to ask a simple, and as it turns out complex, question:  who are you?  Reading Augustine as a victim would have been possible; however, it would then not have allowed me to extend how I might begin to understand or hear what she might have been saying.  Her documented “hysterical” outbursts in her household were her objections to domestic violence, and her contained, managed and documented hysteria in response to the brutality and humilation she endured, along with 5,000 other girls and women, within another institution (the asylum),  I read as a discourse of resistance.

The project came to life as Tatiana and I walked home one winter’s night in Montreal:  we were talking about, oddly enough, hysteria.  We began to imagine, as the snow fell, three vertical frames that would be projected onto a wall and represent a figure’s response to Charcot’s violent reinvention of hysteria while he was director at the Salpêtrière asylum for  women in France. The figure inside each of the projected border-frames depicts the intra-activity, enfolding, and struggle with object, other, and self.

"Invention of Hysteria" by George Didi-Huberman

Our preoccupation with hysteria and how, as an ideology, it is associated with the body through varying forms of social and medical performances, could be combined through the disciplines of theatre and video art to explore the scenographic and the spatial, among others, and their relationships to power and agency.  What does hysteria mean?  How is it possible to represent hysteria when we have come to know it only through representations?  How can we translate the untranslatable? How could theatre provide a space to articulate the struggle held within these questions and potentially open “the word” for further inquiry?  These are the questions we continue to ask.

“The sign,” as Jacques Derrida asserts, “represents the present in its absence … .When we cannot grasp or show the thing, state the present, the being-present, when the present cannot be presented, we signify, we go through the detour of the sign ….The sign, in this sense, is deferred presence” (9).  In a similar way, Artaud speaks about the struggle of language when deciphering life:  “When we speak the word ‘life,’ it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but to that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach” (13).  A young girl named Augustine, therefore, is both Derrida’s “deferred” and Artaud’s “fluctuating center.”  For the installation, we are exploring, in different ways, the language found in theatre or, as Artaud suggests, “that which is half-way between gesture and thought” (89). As an iconic image of hysteria, Augustine was entered into medical discourse through Shakespeare, theatre and images, and those symbols still feed into how we come understand the “signs” that detour us from that which can never be reached – the being of hysteria, resistance and ourselves.

Charcot used patients like Augustine to represent hysteria to international audiences including physicians, writers, artists, scientists, and scholars.  All patient interviews were transcribed.  It is in Charcot’s transcriptions of Augustine, where he represents her in his “theatre of medicine” as Ophelia-like, that her uncontained silence reveals her explicit resistance to his scientific model of hysteria.  This is where I heard Augustine’s resistance: in her found monologue, a young woman resisting the institution of medicine:

"Je Suis Augustine" by Sorouja Moll and Tatiana Koroleva (actor: Myriam Suchet)

What do you know about medicine? … I don’t want to feel you near me!

Augustine’s hysteria was a disruption of a patriarchal and institutionalized force that unified a discoursive structure which continues to govern how the female body is represented.  The video installation is an attempt to open the opportunity to discuss how the intra-disciplinary practice of theatre and video art, as well as its historical and contemporary architecture could be disrupted to a/effect space, location, geography on character/actor/identity; how historical locations remains spatially present; how borders, borderlands, and liminality in theatre/performance is a process of resistance against the violence of institutional geography, history, religion, borders, and ultimately leads to, when recognized, the (re) construction of sovereign forces and engagement among the performing present absent body and space.

"Je Suis Augustine" by Sorouja Moll and Tatiana Koroleva (actor: Myriam Suchet)

I won’t uncross my legs! … Oh! You really did hurt me ….

No, you won’t manage! … Help! … Camel! Lout! Good-for-nothing! …

Pardon me!  Pardon me, Monsieur!  Leave me alone …. It’s impossible! …

(IPS, 11:146-146) [1]

"Je Suis Augustine" by Sorouja Moll and Tatiana Koroleva (actor: Myriam Suchet)

After years of being held against her will by Charcot and after her many attempts to escape the institution, one morning Augustine dressed herself as a man and walked out of the front doors of the asylum into the streets of Paris.

[1] Didi-Huberman, Georges. Translated by Alisa Hartz. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere. Massachusetts: MIT, 1982. 83.

Rihanna and Christina Aguilera are just too sexy for The X Factor and their respective performances have raised quite the stir, at least for over 2,000 viewers who have launched complaints to Ofcom (UK communications regulators) about the two “scantily-clad” pop stars in what some reports have classified as “raunchy.”

This of course brings to mind the 2004 television spectacle in which Justine Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime bonanza set CBS into a tailspin because Jackson had the audacity to let her breast be “exposed.” The upshot:  Jackson and Timberlake were threatened with being turfed from the 2004 Grammy Awards if they did not apologize for their bawdy high jinks. Timberlake apologized for the “wardrobe malfunction” – a phrase that was appropriated immediately into the pop culture vernacular.

But what exactly is it about women’s bodies that create this social anxiety?  Just exactly where is this magical mystery sex line drawn between what is appropriately “sexy” and what becomes straight up “dirty.” And why is “dirty” bad?  Or is it in its very “badness” that makes it good … perhaps too good? As Foucault argues, “to deal with sex, power employs nothing more than a law of prohibition” (History of Sexuality 84).

Perhaps what is being dealt with here is not just the material body, but rather a woman’s prerogative to control it.  The moment women take that perilous stiletto-step across the boundary away from “proper conduct” she is castigated into the realm of raunch.

The questions beg for comparisons:  How does this outrage compare with other images of women that don’t draw the same ire?  Not a peep, for example, was heard when 18-year old Aisha was featured on the cover of Time with half of her face brutally cut off?  Similarly, no complaints were launched when Nicole Brown Simpson‘s beaten face was displayed on magazine covers in grocery store line ups. It’s worth noting that along with the publication of Brown’s battered face, Demi Moore appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair. Moore posed naked while pregnant. Shock ensued. Sobeys pulled the copies from the shelves.  Brown’s image remained next to confection items without notice.

As reported by Jennifer Peltz in the Associated Press concerning the Time magazine cover:

If the response proves it’s still possible for pictures to provoke a visually saturated culture, it also shows how much viewers have come to accept graphic images. Time braced for an outcry — even consulting psychologists about how the photo might affect children — but relatively little of the ensuing discussion has centered on the graphic nature of the image.

So why do certain images make people complain (women asserting power through their sexuality) while some images do not (women brutalized by violence)?

Judith Butler’s theory on the subject of sex, gender, and desire locates “gender in  the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that conceals over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (44).  The fetch of history is indeed long and we see a particular sex line in the sand being drawn in 1484.

The Malleus Maleficarum, Latin for “The Hammer of Witches,” or “Der Hexenhammer” was written to inscribe that there are in fact witches,  most of whom are women; here are the steps to find them; here’s what you do when you do.  It is a nasty bit of literature that demonizes women and was taken up in the 19th century by Dr. Jean Martin Charcot when inventing his iconography of hysteria, a gendered template that continues to a/effect women’s sexuality, their bodies, and most certainly their agency.  (This is material for other entry).  Shall we recall Britney’s Spears and her bout with hysteria?  And why did Jackson have to apologize?

"Ripping Her Hair Out," "Talking to Herself," "Plus her Sex Obsession."

As outlined in The Hammer of Witches:

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

A woman asserting her sexuality transgresses the standardized behaviours and ultimately disrupts what must be controlled, among others – the domestic/the family (which is tied implicitly to the economy).  Again, I’ll leave this for another day; however, it is worth mentioning that in the UK’s Metro’s reporting on the Rihanna and Christina Aguilera’s “scandal,” it was stressed that “children must be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.”

This form is the law of transgression and punishment, with its interplay of licit and illicit. Whether one attributes to it the form of prince who formulates rights, of the father who forbids, of the censor who enforces silence, or of the master who states the law, in any case one schematizes power in a juridical form, and one defines its effects as obedience” (Foucault, History of Sexuality 84).

Rhianna and Christina are indeed disobedient in a social system that demands women to perform under certain codes of conduct and in a system in which punishment against those who are defiant is normalized.

… there is a clementine, a cup of green jasmine tea, two cats, and the word Trauerspiel. From this odd catalogue, I’d like to begin with the “mourning play” because, well, I think it is as good a place as any to begin.  In “The Origin of German Tragic Drama,” Walter Benjamin describes Trauerspiel as being unlike Tragedy which is rooted in myth, and instead finds its difference by being grounded in history (16).  But what exactly is the work that needs to be done to separate the mythical out from the historical or the transcendental from the material?  This blog is not necessarily rooted in the 19th century, but it is a site of rupture from which oranges, tea, and the feral, as well as other possible tangents might emerge…

“The drama, more than any other literary form, needs a resonance of history” (48)

And don’t get me wrong, I agree that this would seem, at first glance,  a rather morose way to send off a blog on its initial voyage:  “go and play in sorrow and stuff!”  But of course there’s more going on here.  Benjamin insists that Tragedy is performed in silence whereas the Baroque Trauerspiel is anything but that : it’s rather noisy.  Tragedy does not need an audience.  Trauerspiel demands one.  What happens when the silence sewn up in Tragedy is ripped open to reveal all the historical threads?  More directly:  to hear them:  “For how justified are we in accepting that what people describe as tragic as tragic” (38). What happens to Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar when they are read through this Baroque lens, as Benjamin suggests? And further, what happens when these plays and their ubiquitous themes (power, betrayal, and love) are adapted into 19th century media, People magazine, in trial and state execution transcripts, and detention sites, etc; what happens when the sovereign and beast are no longer dichotomized but are one?  What does the Trauerspiel, in its very “primal leap” into being or Ursprung, give us access to?

Indeed this is where the task of the investigator begins, for [they] cannot regard such a fact as certain until its innermost structure appears to be so essential as to reveal it as an origin (46).

And for Benjamin, as for Foucault, Dilthey, Derrida, Spivak, and for all curious and questioning beings:  this is an endless task …