Archive for the ‘Derrida’ Category

Are we witnessing in the twenty-first century Occupation of Space a sixteenth-century counter conduct palimpsest?

The opening line in Jean Bodin’s “On Sovereignty,” in his Six books of the Commonwealth, describes sovereignty as “that absolute and perpetual power vested in a commonwealth” (25). Bodin’s book was published in 1576, and similar to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), his tract was in response to the outbreak of civil war that plagued his country. Hobbes and Bodin, though their respective experiences occurred less than a century apart, had a distinct fear of anarchy and social division, both were resolute in their call for an absolute sovereign who under which all subjects would be controlled by the state through their complete submission to the sovereign’s authority. Bodin’s tract is comparable to Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince published in 1532 as a how-to manual, or a political pedagogy of sorts, for sovereign figures to effectively control the state. In circulation during Bodin’s writing, The Prince is considered to have had an influence in Bodin’s political notions of sovereignty.  Bodin, however, differs from Machiavelli’s manifesto in his insistence that even though the commonwealth must follow the sovereign’s ordering of natural and divine law, the sovereign’s power was not arbitrary and the sovereign should strive for amenity; in contrast, Machiavelli’s project was in the art of war and tailored for a more autonomous sovereign body. As Foucault points out, during “the sixteenth century we enter the age of forms of conducting, directing and government” (231).  This is reflected in the penchant of philosophers to write strategic tracts on how to conduct a subject: “the sovereign who rules and exercises his sovereignty now finds himself responsible for, entrusted with, and assigned new tasks of conducting [men]” (Foucault “Security,” 231). Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is a beast, a mythical figure originating in the Hebrew Bible and with a lengthy description in the King James version, Job 41: “Canst thou draw out leviathan with a hook? (Norton).

Shakespeare also utilized the figure of the Leviathan in A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, yet in a benevolent context reflecting upon its monstrosity, its remarkable speed and suggests that a subject might overtake it:

Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.
I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes (2.1.174).

“The Leviathan” is captured in a particular performativity, a fable, and in a contained literary and visual state marks a division of bodies in the manufacturing of the sovereign while simultaneously making known the singularity of the beast – a prototype that continues to have significant impact.

The Hobbesian model is based on the urgency to avoid civil war and chaos within the state.  Hobbes believed, as Ian Shapiro points out in his Introduction to the Leviathan “Reading Hobbes Today,” that the state of nature “is terrible – depicted in perhaps the most frequently quoted of his memorable lines as a world in which life is ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’” (xix).  Hobbes believes that all subjects in the commonwealth must cede their judgment and submit to the prescribed conduct of the sovereign who is infused with divine law and judgment. If this conduct is countered, the Leviathan will return to the state of nature leaving individuals as singular subjects with no protection and security.  The images are significant here because in the seventeenth century frontispiece, for example (Plate 1), the body of the monster Leviathan, an automat, is constructed with the docile bodies, as a unity, creating a commonwealth.  Faces turned inward – individuality subsumed, and subjectified, in order to maintain the polis, and the good life.  As Derrida remarks when considering Hobbes:  “Sovereignty causes fear, and fear makes the sovereign” (40).  Something, however, is absent in this image; or, rather veiled: la bête (148). The beast, as Derrida argues, is impossible to translate but the wolf, a beast, in French is loup which also means a black velvet mask worn by women during masked balls (Derrida, “Beast,” 6).  It could also be a visor, similar to that worn by Hamlet’s ghost, or the veil that possibly cloaks the truth. Wolf as loup. The image of the beast. The beast for Hobbes is internalized in the sovereign, a unifying sensibility that requires all the power forces of the commonwealth to sustain it.  Significant, is what this fable is teaching.  The Leviathan, as beast, is unregistered.  Erased. The sovereign is coded divine; the state of nature is subtracted from the new ideology. What becomes apparent in the Hobbesian discourse is the need for an enemy in order for the sovereign body to be sustained, not unlike an Aristotelian tragedy, or a fable. For the sovereign every subject is a potential enemy and the potential enemy is the beast.

The biblical reference would be understood by the seventeenth century audience, this is crucial in order for the state to ensure obedience and instill the elements of fear of the beast that haunts the sovereign’s body: “the element of fabulation, in which the analogies between the beast and the sovereign, find their resources and their schema” (Derrida, “Beast,” 80).  A change takes place in the nineteenth-century in the image of the Leviathan created by Gustave Doré. In Plate 2, the Leviathan returns to its biblical origins seemingly drowning in the chaotic state of nature. Gustave Doré was a prolific nineteenth-century illustrator who produced among his many works Milton’s Paradise LostThe Bible (1866), as well the figure of the Leviathan, and Perrault’s Fairy Tales that include “Little Red Riding Hood.[1]

Here, Derrida’s comment on fables is apt:  “The fables themselves show that the essence of political force and power where that power makes the law” (“Beast,” 217).  Derrida delineates the lengthy lineage of the beast who is often portrayed as the “wolf” and how it walks across the stage for Hobbes, Rousseau as a self-proclaimed werewolf, Plato’s wolf-tyrant, as well, among others, La Fountaine’s Fables, fables illustrated, incidentally, by Gustave Doré (another wolf crosses the stage).

The sovereign in this space is represented explicitly as the enlightened divine law in the act of disciplining the beast that has turned rogue (a word created by Shakespeare).  The moral of the fable, recounted in wolves and sea monsters, is that obedience is a necessity;  the United States military and global sovereign forces in 2011 calls any counter conduct by alternative sovereign states, specifically the civil occupation of space as rogue, or perhaps Hobbes might have call it the contemporary Leviathan, unleashed.

Bodin, Jean. On Sovereignty.  Ed. Julian H. Franklin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques. The Beast & the Sovereign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Foucault, Michel. Society must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1975-76. New York: Picador, 2003.

…, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1977-78. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

–, History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1990.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan; or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Shapiro, Ian. “Reading Hobbes Today.” Leviathan; or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill by Thomas Hobbes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

 [1] It is noted that Dore also illustrated The Tempest by William Shakespeare in 1860.

There may be solemn duty; and if it come we must not shrink from it…I shall be prepared. I shall get my typewriter this very hour and begin transcribing – Mina Harker, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

“Diskursmaschinegewehr,” a word from Dracula’s Legacy (DraculasVermächtnis: Technische Schriften) by Friedrich Kittler, is Kittler’s 1993 wordplay to signal the late nineteenth-century social anxiety related to modernity, machines, and media – a triumvirate of consumption generated by the ink fabric carriage return of the typewriter or Kittler’s “discourseweaponmachine.”  Kittler’s critical appropriation is addressing Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel and Stoker’s object of choice, the typewriter, for his radical protagonist/stenographer, Mina Harker.  Embracing the vampiric technology and her role as the New Woman, Harker totally takes down (in not a few key strokes) not only the figure of Dracula but the epistolary framework of Stoker’s narrative.  Mina was, indeed, a post-Gutenberg proto-cyborg.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - featuring Mina Harker

Harker’s ontological hybridity of machine and organism is explained, in part, by Donna Haraway in “A Cyborg Manifesto“:

Cyborgs are  not reverent; they do not re-member the cosmos. They are wary of holism, but needy for connection — they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party.  The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and partriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism.  But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their father, after all, are inessential. (151)

The Remington typewriter (1873), developed by the company that manufactured guns for the Civil War, is, in its very infrastructure, a discursive weapon of war, and was utilized as a frontline industrialized device in the proliferation of military communications and its handmaiden:  nineteenth-century media.  In April 2011, Godrej and Boyce, the last typewriter factory in the world announced that it would be closing its doors but the “discourseweaponmachine” does not falter:  during the nineteenth-century another data communication system, the telegraph, ran parallel to the typewriter and established the foundational apparatus for the twentieth-century world:  the internet. The inter-networking systems expanded in the 1950s with cyber gateways and bridges leading to mainframes held in the United States Department of Defense and its “Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network.

I feel not unconnected to Mina Harker, as a fellow cyborg, as I enter data into the machine and wonder if the twenty-first century’s pop cult fanaticism for Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries et. al. is perhaps a continuum of the anxieties/fears/desires that were prevalent in the nineteenth-century: social, ecological, and economic cannibalism, the virtual fangs of Ebay consumerism, and the ever firing neo-engine discourse of the Military Industrial Complex?  As McLuhan explains in The Gutenberg Galaxy: “That every generation poised on the edge of massive change should later seem oblivious of the issues and the imminent event would seem to be natural enough.  But it is necessary to understand the power and thrust of technologies to isolate the sense and thus to hypnotize society (272).

If you’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read it again.  If you have not:  Read it; the film versions unfortunately do not include Harker’s cyborg intervention and also exclude significant layers of cultural, social, and economic symbolism that remain ever-present in the contemporary discourseweaponmachine.  To follow:  Nosferatu (1922); Dracula with Bela Lugosi (1931).

Othello’s occupation will be gone; but he will remain Othello. The young airman up in the sky is driven not only by the voices of loudspeakers; he is driven by voices in himself—ancient instincts, instincts fostered and cherished by education and tradition. Is he to be blamed for those instincts? (Woolf, The Death of the Moth)

Othello, (1623 First Folio)

Traces of Othello emerge in Virginia Woolf’s first chapter of Orlando (1928) as an artistic and literary strategy to make present the influence of education, tradition, and ancient voices enacted in the violence against women and the eradication of their voices.  Woolf does not merely resurrect the ‘dead,’ early modern characters of Othello and Desdemona, with whom the living could experience a temporal connection; she disrupts early twentieth century cultural and national literary hegemony to effect historical and literary change. Woolf’s intertextual methodology is not containable; it is not static nor is it isolated in a desire for meaning.  For Woolf, her writing provides the agency through which to explore the variant social, political, and cultural ideas available for interpretation; Woolf does not give answers; she leaves a space for critical inquiry into the violence recorded through loudspeakers and literary canons.

I continue to return to Erica L. Johnson’s essay, “Giving up the Ghost: National and Literary Haunting in Orlando” and her reference to Derrida’s hauntology theory. Johnson suggests “for Woolf … to be haunted is to hear silence and to perceive that which is invisible” (110). Woolf’s intertextual use of Shakespeare brings forward the absent/presence of women, and one represented “silence” is particularly deafening:  Desdemona, the suffocated woman in her bed (Woolf 43).

But why Othello? In the first chapter of Orlando Woolf directs her reader to the act of decoding, a semiotic to-do list for “those who like symbols, and have a turn for the deciphering of them” (5). The deployment of an Othellian allusion is not simply Woolf’s literary cunning to cite another author in order to conjure meaning. Othello’s specter haunts Woolf’s text because of the ancient voices that reside within Woolf, and thereby, manifest as symbols to register the reader’s responsibility to decipher.  Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her essay, “Notes Toward a Tribute to Jacques Derrida,” addresses Derrida’s theory that “the public part of mourning is a not unimportant step in the releasing of the ghost, in us. We cannot know the gift, least of all a giftcoming from a named ghost. We know the gift, if there is any, as responsibility, accountability” (102).  Woolf’s gift is through her use of codes.  In her compilation of essays in The Death of the Moth, for instance, Woolf questions the voices over loudspeakers and those ancient instincts fostered and cherished by education and tradition that cornerstone the pedagogical building of patriarchal hierarchies and their associative violence specifically in literary, historical, and biographical texts (par. 7).   Woolf expects the reader “to know” Orlando’s Shakespearean associations which were garnered through traditional education.    Woolf’s own education, fostered by the bookshelves in her father’s library, brings forward her personal catalogue of voices that manifest in the figure of Orlando, in an attic haunted by his violent association, and in his patriarchal and colonial African past (Orlando 11).

Woolf’s biography of a woman writer traced through four centuries of English literary history is based on the life of Woolf’s lover, Vita Sackville-West.

The play Othello is a Shakespearean tragedy written in 1603 during the reign of King James.  Crossing a spectrum comprising racism, misogyny, betrayal and power the lead figure Othello is cast as “a Moor.”[1] His character’s lineage, in the play text, is not designated, and thereby, distinguishing Othello as “a Moor” could mean a Muslim, Arabic from sub-Saharan African descent.  Woolf’s reference to “a Moor” however is distinct and locates him in the violent history of Orlando’s colonizing forefathers in Africa (11). Benedict Anderson argues that in Woolf’s Orlando, in “the modern world everyone can, should, will ‘have’ a nationality, as he or she ‘has ‘a gender’ (Hovey 1).    The statement infers not only a merging of gender and nation but a construction that is tantamount in the first page of Woolf’s novel.  By intersecting nationality, gender and race, Woolf documents a retrospective subtext detailing the violence made present in Orlando’s attic, a slicing of a Moor’s head.  Woolf’s simultaneous posturing and declaration that Orlando is “HE – FOR THERE could be no doubt of his sex” (1), genders the colonizing brutality and signals the anxiety of identity while identifying how nations and identities are chronicled and, ironically, fall into the cultural violence of amnesia.  Why do the lips on the head, as it falls, reveal a smile? The violence against the figure of Othello is situated but not heard.  The history from the Moor’s voice is not recorded and a specific irony captured in the lips of the nameless history haunts Orlando’s attic.

Woolf’s narrative redistributes a textual and visual mourning, a memorial that lets go of literary ghosts and, through varying historical manifestations, are essentially “in us.”  The attic, therefore, is a metaphor, a space of unforgetting the violence of colonization not only of territory but also of individual bodies.

“It was the colour of an old football, and more or less the shape of one, save for the sunken cheeks and a strand or two of coarse, dry hair, like the hair on a coconaut. (Woolf, Orlando 12)

Woolf’s metonymic link to sport in “football” and to “cocoanut” (sic) demonstrates the practice of exotification and signals a performance space where ancient voices manifest and inform the actions of Orlando:

Orlando’s father, and perhaps his grandfather, had struck it from the shoulders of a vast Pagan who had started up under the moon in the barbarian fields of Africa; and now it swung, gently, perpetually, in the breeze which never ceased blowing through the attic rooms of the gigantic house of the lord who had slain him. (1)

Here, the slain “Moor” is abject and Other and carries the codes of imperial violence.[2] Johnson in her essay suggests that because Woolf works out her “conflicted stance on national identity through haunting, cultural theories, and cultural applications of Marxist and psychoanalytic theory are of particular use.  For Woolf and these thinkers, to be haunted is to hear silence and to perceive that which is invisible” (1).  The encoding of “smiling lips on the head of the Moor” signifies the loss of agency to Orlando and presents a powerful irony because he will never know the history behind the smile of the Moor, and as postured, the figure of the Moor has the last laugh.   Simultaneously, the symbol establishes the unrecorded stories, a major theme in Woolf’s text.  In addition, Woolf also raises the figure of the Moor with intertextual associations in Ǽthelbert: A Tragedy in Five Acts (13). The play could reference the historical writing of Aethelbert, King of East Anglia, who, during his reign was a subject of plots that led to his beheading (DiBattista 257).  The allusion physically conflates imperial, territorial, linguistic histories in the slicing of the head, a specific violence found in Woolf’s text when she describes that the “soldiers planned the conquest of the Moor” (26).  Maria DiBattista, who wrote the Introduction and Annotations to the Harcourt edition of Orlando, further explains Woolf’s symbolism of “fields of asphodel” (11): “Orlando’s ‘fathers’ roamed, it seems, in actual fields of asphodel, a lilylike plant that the ancients believed to be the favorite food of the dead and so planted them near graves.  The irony is deployed in the realization that the Greek myth made no connection to virtue or evil in the symbol, yet early English poetry used the symbol to represent chivalry (257).  Woolf also draws upon the allusion of Robert Green’s characterization of Orlando Furoso, the figure DiBattista suggests Woolf’s character’s name is based on (256).  Consider the following passage from Green’s edition:

The savage Moors and Anthropophagi,
Whose lands I pass’d, might well have kept me back;

But so the fame of fair Angelica
Stamp’d in my thoughts the figure of her love,
As neither country, king, or seas, or cannibals,
Could by despairing keep Orlando back.
I list not boast in acts of chivalry (par. 6)

From the opening of Orlando, Woolf uses the past to spin multiple translations and interpretations.  But how does one detect the invisible and the silence when the text is not supplemented with annotations?  How does one identify the undetectable, the lost stories, the women cut down as they ran through the African fields, the words Desdemona said the moment before she was strangled?  How does one know for certain that even though the Moor is constructed as male, as Orlando is, that the gender may not represent a woman, a gender-switch made concrete in a seventeenth century Desdemona played by a young boy.  The haunting, then, becomes like the Spur on the narrative forest floor, intertextual and organic traces of voice or what Derrida calls, trace. For Woolf, she brings forward the trace of Othello.

Othello (adaptation by Frantic Assembly), 2008

Spivak, in her article, asks the question: What, then, is a trace?

It is or is not, or, more important, is in the possibility of always not being, the material suggestion that something else was there before, something other than it, of course. Unlike a sign, which carries a systemic assurance of meaning, a trace carries no guarantees. Animal spoor on the forest floor (in German, trace is Spur) may mean the animal was there, that it’s a decoy, that I am mistaken or hallucinating, and so on. When I am around, you know I had a mother, but that is all … I am my mother’s trace. The Father’s name is written within the patronymic sign system. (104)

Derrida’s allusion to father and mother is iterated in Woolf’s opening passage with Orlando’s inner call to go to the field of Africa:

He would steal away from his mother … and go to his attic room and there lunge and plunge and slice. (1)

The trace in this passage is Orlando’s mother as unwritten; in contrast, as Spivak denotes, Orlando’s patriarchal history is written within the patronymic sign system as ‘father’ (11).  Woolf’s system leads to the specter of military, authority, patriarchy and descends into envy, murder, and death. Woolf’s subtext of the violence against women is not an abstract quote inserted into a text but rather that it is the text.

Scene from Djanet Sears, Harlem Duet (adaptation of Othello)

Derrida’s hauntology mobilizes “the specter haunting Europe (the specter of revolution) from the first sentence of [Friedrich Engels’ and Karl] Marx’s The Communist Manifesto together with a famous literary specter, the ghost of old King Hamlet from the opening scene of Shakespeare’s play, to give figuration to the hauntings of history, the traces of the past that persist to question the present. The specter appears to summon the living to undertake a rethinking of the past; it calls, in Fredric Jameson’s words, ‘for a revision of the past, for the setting in place of a new narrative’” (Derrida 43). The new narrative is where Woolf opens her text, a narrative form that belies the patriarchal narrative strategies, by throwing the inkpot, as it were, at the textual system by instead encoding potential interpretations and defying meaning:  “Like the deconstructive stress on instability,” explains Derrida, “the specter represents an impossible incorporation: as a revenant (returning) the ghost has no beginning, only repetitions. Present and not present at once and at the same time, it seems to be in a process of ‘becoming-body’, but never quite achieves the materialization toward which it gestures” (Derrida 6). Colin Davis imparts that “Derrida’s specter is a deconstructive figure hovering between life and death, presence and absence, and making established certainties vacillate” (McClallum 11).  Woolf takes the established patriarchal certainties and vacillate them in order to disrupt the ancient voices that reside there.  Woolf’s ancient voices include the colonial powers staking global territory and expanding empires, as well as representatives from the male dominated canon whom Orlando, as both male and female, meets.

Kristeva and Intertextuality

“Or to offer her his hand for the dance, or catch the spotted handkerchief which she had let drop” (“Orlando” 19) is Woolf’s allusion to Desdemona’s handkerchief, a trope that led to her death on the bed, a symbol, that Woolf offers intertextually to the reader. Julia Kristeva coined the post structuralist theory of intertextuality in 1974; however, intertextuality (intertextualité) is often a misused term.  It is not one writer’s, in this case Shakespeare’s, influence of upon Woolf but how the variant elements of the textual systems infuse the work before, during, and after production (Kristeva 15). The “spotted handkerchief,” thereby, is not merely an inserted Shakespearean allusion but it is infused within Woolf’s inner and ancient voices, voices informed through a complex polyphonic system of semiotics, education, and tradition.  As part of a system, the handkerchief that Woolf adapts could have permeated while she was in her father’s library.  Intertextuality is defined in La Révolution du langage as “the transposition of one or more systems of signs into another, accompanied by a new articulation of the enunciatively and denotative position.  Any signifying practice is a field (in the sense of space traversed by lines of force) in which various signifying systems undergo such a transposition” (Kristeva 15).  Kristeva’s use of gramme, or that which is written, is used to designate the basic, material element of writing – the marking, the trace (14).  The notion of space in which systems undergo transpositioning is apt in Woolf’s work; for example she takes the literary and cultural systems and makes them travel through time to demonstrate powerful association with gender and nation and the subsequent amnesias that are constructed.

"The Othello Project marks Walking Shadow Theatre's most daring and powerful project to date

The Othello Project, by Rod Carley (1995)

In the same way, Woolf is also interested in the historical marking related to the absence of women’s voices.  The cultural marking is represented comparatively in the form of the intertextuality practiced by Woolf in her work.  It is here where the trace of the violence against women is found, a transmission rather than an insertion of text.  “Violence is all” (21) is coined by Orlando’s narrator explaining the multidirectional influence of literature, nation, and gender:  “Thus, if Orlando followed the leading of the climate, of the poets, of the age itself, and plucked his flower in the window-seat even with the snow on the ground and the Queen vigilant in the corridor, we can scarcely bring ourselves to blame him” (21).  Woolf’s work, similar to Kristeva’s theory, is a diffusion of literary residue, a process of how language operates with previous usages, the dissonances, and the collisions among them, as well as the engagement with a broader field, extended from or inverted within a specific word or quotation.  Who then is to blame?  Woolf pursues the question by using the very “classic” texts written to identify the patriarchal influence not only in her work but also in its relationship to violence against women.  There are also instances, moreover, when the narrator silences or denies voice to female characters, such as Sasha being untranslatable (34); as well, Sasha’s real name is given by Orlando to a fox he owned as a child, an animal that his father kills (33). Sasha, “who might drop all the handkerchiefs in her wardrobe” (31) is also the figure whom Orlando wishes was Desdemona (43).

Othello, Globe Theatre, London UK, 2007 (I was there)

Erica L. Johnson explains that “one way of responding to the novel’s pronounced gaps in representation is to piece together what material markers there are [and] that it is prefaced by her [Woolf’s] attention to that which is not apparent through the text” (116). Here, Johnson brings forward of Derrida’s hauntology theory in association with Orlando. Woolf’s meta-literary devices in Orlando make the invisible and silent forms present; or “to be haunted is to hear silence and to perceive that which is invisible” (110). What exactly does this mean and how are the silences perceived in Orlando?   I returned to the passage in Woolf’s work that seems to haunt me:  Orlando’s (re)memory of Shakespeare’s Othello (5.2.102):

Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse

Of sun and moon, and that th’ affrighted globe

Should yawn. (Woolf 43)

This passage, that “rose in his [Orlando’s] memory?” (17) marks Derrida’s hauntology, as well as Kristeva’s intertextuality.  The scene presents Orlando seeing   Shakespeare as a ghost-like figure who haunts Orlando much like Hamlet’s ghost haunts his son.  Orlando rhetorically asks the specter, “Tell me … everything in the whole world” (17).  Woolf’s haunting, through the (re)memory of Shakespeare, brings forward, the presence of violence against women represented in the allusion to Desdemona, the suffocated woman in her bed, who is killed by Othello (an analysis of the relationship between Othello and Desdemona, as well as Iago will be taken up in another entry). Present in its silence is Orlando’s amnesia or the bracketing off of the play’s next line by Emilia, “that I may speak with you” (5.2.106).  Woolf makes present the canonical history of Shakespeare and associates it with the violence in the silencing of Emilia’s voice.   As Johnson explains, “the dynamic of haunting not only enables those living in the present to become aware of histories that have been erased by the dominant historical narrative, but also potentially signifies the unrepresentational moment of trauma of an individual’s experience of terror or the collective trauma” (110).  In making Emilia’s “speaking” absent (“No, I will speak as liberal as the north”) (5.2.226) Woolf indeed makes it “present.”  Woolf brings forward the absent voices of women who were present yet undocumented, by keeping them undocumented.

The erasure of Emilia’s voice and her request “to speak” function on two levels:  Orlando, informed by his ancient voices, does not recall Emilia’s voice and therefore the silence in history signifies the “moment of trauma.” Woolf, however, shifts this articulation when Orlando is a woman and in that representation “she” remembers, through her ancient voices, Desdemona and Emilia’s trauma, especially when Orlando is asked to be married:  “was it impossible then to go for a walk without being half suffocated” (Woolf 94).  Orlando, in speaking that she is “half suffocated” shows a shift in the patriarchal patterning, the silence is remembered while Orlando, as a woman, and is present.

Woolf recognizes, not only the violence embedded in text and the absence of the woman’s voice to speak it, but the textual systems that perpetuate the violence of racism that Othello, as Other, is politically, socially and culturally subsumed by, a patriarchal and imperial structure that (re) constructs his representation.   The complexity of Woolf’s association, like Kristeva’s theoretical analysis, does not attempt to pin down “meaning” but rather to evoke additional associations and codes that nudge the reader to a certain amount of “accountability” in following the trace lines embedded through tradition, education, and text.   Spivak delineates the theory of trace:  “To follow this line would take us away from any recognizable task of feminisms in brief compass. As we have noticed, in the discourse on democracy, women are never forgotten, but invoked only as a trace of the many ‘outsides’ of democracy.” (106). Woolf does not attempt to contain the “outside-edness” of women’s space but alternatively reveals its very uncontain-edness, which in itself, as Derrida argues, is revolutionary.

[1] Maria DiBattista in her “Notes to Orlando: A Biography” the text indicates that Woolf’s use of the figure of the Moor is situated as a “North African Muslim of mixed Arab and Berber descent.” DiBattista also explains that the scene is the “first of the novel’s many historical and moral ironies” (256).

[2] Maria DiBattista notes that in the novel “Orlando’s ‘fathers’ are off subduing the Moors in the field of Africa or helping fight the war against France” (257).

On March 12, 2008, at the Robert Gill Theatre in Toronto, I spoke with Guillermo Verdecchia about his play Fronteras Amercianas (American Borders) and its relationship to memory, theatre, and the archive.  To follow is an excerpt from the interview and from his play.

The end of the US-Mexico fence in California

GV: The play started as a letter. I went back to Argentina many years ago as I was traveling. I was figuring out what this experience … a stranger in a place that in some ways was very familiar of this notion of a return home, this notion of trying to make sense … of where I lived, imagined, or some interior way I always felt that I wasn’t fully here and part of my imaginary and part of my memory was situated elsewhere. I have a memory that was passed from generation, from my family collective and culture that doesn’t sit well with the collective or social memories that are found here, in Canada or North America. This experience of being dislocated and yet knowing that returning to Argentina was the solution … it was the experience of returning and feeling, “Oh my god.” So in returning there was this working through it. That is where the play comes through, on one level. On another, it is comes from what it means to be an American, to be on this continent. What are the modes of being on this continent? Who gets to speak? Who represents who? (“Interview”)

Fronteras Americanas is a one-person show about a man divided by cultural borders that manifest in the live theatre of cultural memory through timelines, multimedia, and physical and emotional journeys home. In the play, Verdecchia is the “straight guy” against the anti-hero, Wideload, a constructed hyperbolic array of stereotypes designed to deflate defamatory archetypes through shrewd and witty commentary on culture and sentimental departures (Karenda 10). Verdecchia sees his character(s) as a border-line, as a conflation of space in the pop and political culture, not so much as a binary but as a negotiation, a working-with and through in order to reveal the violence, as well as the amnesia that is bracketed in racist representations. As “a direct descendent of Tupac Amaru, Pancho Villa, Dona Flor, Pedro Navaja, Sor Juana and Speedy Gonzalez, Wideload is the reveal that Verdecchia is after in his work ” (Verdecchia “Fronteras” 23). Wideload is a manifestation of the popular archive or “the store,” a space that “sustains power” as it disseminates through mass culture the representations of Latino American culture, specifically male identity.  Borders, geography, and body are articulated in the process of theatre by Verdecchia’s transgressing and foraging from multiple archives.

American Borders

In Archive Fever, Derrida reveals the assumed veracity of the constructed catalogue or “that there could be no archiving without titles (hence without names and without the archontic principles of legitimization, without laws, without criteria of classification and of hierarchization, without order and without order, in the double sense of the word)” (40). The notion that there could be no archiving without titles delineates the process of classification, and the subsequent power in how material is made and not made accessible, and who decides.  The archive, in its very structure of bordering off culture through authorization and classification, stratifies the object, subject, and culture. Verdecchia is clear that the archive creates and orders privilege:

GV: I could go to the library and get things out or I could go to the Research Library and look stuff up … that’s fantastic; however, it is not the be all or the end all of knowledge, or of understanding, or the ways of knowing. The problem of course is that we have, or the West or generally in the world, we’ve validated a certain kind of knowing … we validate … the archive over embodied … knowing, not transmitted through writing: “That’s not really a document! But if you had a letter, if you had a letter that would be really good.” And of course that raises a lot of historical questions because up until a certain point in our history most people couldn’t write, so those documents that were extrapolated from a culture … are only the elite strata of a culture … because those were the 10% or less of the people who could actually write things down.” (“Interview”)

What is culturally privileged as archival ironically doesn’t necessarily represent what was or is. Matthew Reason argues that theatre provides a challenge or a resistance to the authoritative “permanency” of the archive:  “stage detritus presents an ‘archive’ able to create and recreate the multiple appearance of the performance. In the accumulation of these traces it is as if an immediate archive of the production is established: here is the shaky and incomplete evidence of what happened” (88). Where then does the archive of theatre exist if it is “shaky and incomplete”? Diane Taylor suggests “the West has forgotten about the many parts of the world that elude its explanatory grasp. Yet, it remembers the need to cement the centrality of its position as the West by creating and freezing the non-West as always other, ‘foreign,’ and unknowable. Domination by culture, by ‘definition,’ by claims to originality and authenticity has functioned in tandem with military and economic supremacy” (Taylor 12). The “freezing,” then, is a project of the institutionalized archive to maintain “the object” for supremacy that ultimately serves the economic and capitalist payoff in the form of Cultural Property Certification and the issuing of the federal tax receipt to the donor, who once again represents a small, yet powerful, elite. It is in the theatre, then, where there is a melting of the “freezing” of objectified culture, the live and living performances of its various formations in all its shaky detritus.

GV: That is one of the things that attracted me about the theatre was that it left no traces. There was something about that [aspect] that really appealed to me. I love the temporality … the flaring up like a light and then it’s gone. It’s very anti-archival, but you know, I wish I could make something to point to. Like, ‘I made that bridge!’  Instead, I make the thing that happened for a few hours, for a few weeks.” (“Interview”)

As both a scholar and a playwright, Verdecchia utilizes the archive, as well as performance to put pressure on the cultural, and institutionalized “keeping” of information. By couching his performances with multimedia, he is able to access other sites of memory, other public archives that have become naturalized into the contemporary Western lexicon of representation.

GV: Part of my process is that I have to know everything before I can write … I’ve got to assimilate to get to the beginning of what I want to get to. The timeline is an idiosyncratic history … I’ve chosen preposterous markers that appeal to me … part of the timeline is … the dialogue between history and art … I come back and forth between certain historic events and its construction of history and how it is meaningful to me.
SM: There is also a safety with the timeline, right?  A collective comfort?
GV: I do want to unsettle it [the comfort] … there are markers that should be known … or that there were cities being built in 5,000 BCE.   Like Das Kapital … it’s not a marker that we would stick into a cultural timeline … it’s kinda rude to mention Marx or capitalism but I stick it in … right next to Confederation … and it’s the utter absurdity of history. (“Interview”)

The absurdity of history through its agents, as Verdecchia states, are the keepers of the archives who categorize by way of massive reduction the “key” moments in time. Reason’s argument about the impossibility to capture “live” theatre in the archives echoes the inability to capture the “live theatre” in everydayness. Archives at best act as a filter through which most of what is passes (84-5). The filter managed by institutional mandates, then, has the “sustained power” to decide what cultural memory is and what is forgotten.

Gloria Anzaldúa, in “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” insists “that borders are experienced primarily as psychological conflict, and those who wish to negotiate them experience a kind of dual identity” (63). The borders, she remarks, are not translatable in the natural world: the skin of the earth is seamless. / The sea cannot be fenced, / el mar does not stop at borders” (“The Homeland, Aztlan” 3).

Verdecchia is haunted by his cultural memory “it still speaks to me” and begs as Marcellus implores Horatio: “Thou art a Scholler, speake to it, Horatio” (Hamlet 1.1.51).  Verdecchia dares to speak to the phantom; however, he departs from Derrida’s assertion that the phantom is to have the last word” (39). The haunting that Verdecchia cannot fully articulate draws in another level of archive: the body, his DNA. Theatre becomes a space in which the archive is activated, a fluid dispersal of polyphonic (re)memory, concrete documents that are enacted on the stage through the process of body, the articulation of the archive, without sea walls, and remain unpredictable.


The anxiety that haunts Verdecchia and informs his work as an Argentinean is the cultural trauma of the “thirty thousand disappeared who were tortured and murdered, ten thousand were women, hundreds of them pregnant. They were killed as soon as they gave birth. Their children, born in captivity, were also disappeared – not killed, in this case but adopted by military families (Taylor 169).

GV: It’s part of my memory, my cultural memory. It’s a significant part of my memory where … I live it. I would have been exactly the right age to be on the receiving end or the giving end. My family was almost entirely untouched. I have friends who were disappeared. My identity and my memory and that experience of political experience … that is a significant part of my … self imagining as a Latin American and that’s a bit weird and a bit troubling … There is something about it that’s not great … that’s not right … and that is what this moment speaks to. I wanted to see. I wanted to be close to the … it’s a hoary trope … Those are horrific and stupid cliques and what do you know, I subscribe to them. It’s a big part of my imagination. It’s complicated.

The following is an excerpt from Fronteras Americanas (American Borders). Verdecchia listened to this music, a Tango, Verano Porteno, Astor Piazzolla, over and over again while writing this section of the play.  The Tango remains in the play as a stage direction. I suggest (because I’m bossy) that you play the music and read the section out loud:

Let it “flare up like a light and then it’s gone.”

[Music: Verano Porteno, Astor Piazzolla]

It is music for exile, for the preparations, the significations of departure, for the symptoms of migration. It is the languishing music of picking through your belongings and deciding what to take.

It is two a.m. music of smelling and caressing books none of which you can carry – books you leave behind with friends who say they’ll always be here when you want them when you need them – music for a bowl of apples sitting on your table, apples you have not yet eaten, apples you cannot take – you know they have apples there in that other place but not these apples, not apples like these – You eat your last native apple and stare at what your life is reduced to – all the things you can stick into a sack. It will be cold, you will need boots, you don’t own boots except these rubber ones – will they do? You pack them, you pack a letter from a friend so you will not feel too alone.

Music for final goodbyes for one last drink and a quick hug as you cram your cigarettes into your pocket and run to the bus, you run, run, your chest heaves, like the bellows of the bandoneon. You try to watch intently to emblazon in your mind these streets, these corners, those houses, the people, their smells, even the lurching bus fills you with a kind of stupid happiness and regret – Music for the things you left behind in that room: a dress, magazines, some drawings, two pairs of shoes and blouses too old to be worn any more … four perfect apples.

Music for cold nights under incomprehensible stars, for cups of coffee and cigarette smoke, for a long walk by the river where you might be alone or you might meet someone. It is music for encounters in shabby stairways, the music of lovemaking in a narrow bed, the tendernesses, the caress, the pull of strong arms and legs.

Music for men and women thin as bones.

Music for your invisibility.

Music for a letter that arrives telling you that he is very sick.

Music for your arms that ache from longing from wishing he might be standing at the top of the stairs waiting to take the bags and then lean over and kiss you and even his silly stubble scratching your cold face would be welcome and you only discover that you’re crying when you try to find your keys –

Music for a day in the fall when you buy a new coat and think perhaps you will live here for the rest of your life, perhaps it will be possible, you have changed so much, would they recognize you? would you recognize your country? would you recognize yourself?” (58-60)



Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Living Languages: Contexts for Reading and Writing. Ed. Nancy       Buffington, Marvin Diogenes, and Clyde Moneyhun. New Jersey: Blair Press, 1997.

Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression.  Trans. Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: UCP, 1996.

Reason, Matthew. “Archive or Memory?: The Detritus of Live Performance.” NTQ. 19:1 (Feb 2003).

Taylor, Diana.  The Archive and The Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas.  London: Duke, 2003.

Verdecchia, Guillermo. Fronteras Americanas (American Borders). Talonbooks, 1997.

… , Interview with Sorouja Moll. Personal interview. Robert Gill Theatre, Toronto. 12 March 2008.

“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.

… 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 …