A Tragic Bambi
Blind Judge and Her Follow
Poultry Paradise and Its Discontents: Nightshifts
premiere performance, September 6th, 2013
In conjunction with Theorems, Proofs, Rebuttals and Propositions: A Conference of Theoretical Theatre
organized by Yelena Gluzman & Esther Neff
Olympe de Gouges + Security Guard: Kikuko Tanaka
Bartender: Eric Heist
Multimedia Disign: Phillip Gulley
Photograph + Video: Hiroshi Shafer
"In thier alienation, the oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors, to imitate them, to follow them."
---Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
“They were themselves intellectuals, as is anyone and everyone. They were visitors and spectators, like the researcher who a century and a half later read their letters in a library, like the visitors of Marxist theory or the distributors of leaflets at factory gates.” ---Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please…The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” ---Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Democracy Tonight!: Kingdom of the Oppressed
In the first decade in the U.S, I used to work at a nightclub, and when I was bored, I used to entertain myself imagining other night workers awake through nights. There were some surveillance cameras there, and I imagine a person on the other end of the cameras, who would probably not be looking at us at all.
Partly based on a displaced autobiography of imagining the others, and partly as an attempt to explore the dynamic of differences and spectatorship within contemporary society, “Poultry Paradise and its Discontents” is a nightmarish farce or melodrama framed as a “tragic theater play,” which invites the spectators to a contemplation of multiple issues: including including definition of individuality/collectivity, functions of literary/artistic canons, relationship between artist/intellectuals and their Others and infectious spread of liberal norms.
The performance begins as a reception scene, where the artist poses as an 18th century-society-lady, socializing with the audience and encouraging to visit her art & philosophy salon. She also praises the play in an overly exaggerated manner, claiming that “this play has changed my whole life. Overwhelmed by a sense of pity, I emerged from a bale of tears as a completely new person!”
Then the artist as a society lady disappears into the backroom and reappears as a security guard in the play. It is midnight. As the security guard enters, she punches her time card. She sits in front of the large split security monitor that displays the quiet scenes of a library, a poultry factory and a live-surveillance of the spectators themselves. She completely neglects her job as a security guard, and begins reciting from a thick mysterious black book with a red question mark on the front cover.
The Mystery Book turns out to be a literal assemblage that emphasizes the most ridiculous or problematic sections of Maldoror by Comte de Lautreamount and Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. Though the texts were written for different contexts, they sounds as if they recounts the experience of an "immigrant security guard.” It unfolds the stories of a self-marginalizing lonely hermaphrodite longing for friendship and membership in the human society, and the attempt to learn the human language and their sentiment, as in Frankenstein, that covertly expresses the supremacy of Christianity entwined with Western democratic virtue over the Orientals.
As she reads, she begins touching her loins and eventually pulls a multiple phallus from her pants. She recites, masturbates and sobs through the rest of the performance. The text eventually shift to examine the concept of the “rights of who does not have rights” that Olympe de Gouges, a revolutionary play writer, fashioned at the wake of the modern world. Choked and trembling with tears, the security guard recites the scene of the decapitation of Olympe de Gouges at the hands of revolutionary terror.
The dawn. The security guard punches her time card and retire to off-stage.
A week later, the performance was accompanied with an artist talk and a response session that enabled the audience to respond to the performance in forms of writing, lecture and counter-performance. In the response session, I also presented a complimentary slide presentation, which includes selected images that concern spectatorship and audience transformation. With this slide presentation, I made a group inquiry with the audience regarding the nature of the transformation that participants may undergo in selected images.
1 - 10
Note on Reading Materials
In the process of developing the idea of “Poultry Paradise and its Discontents,” my original idea was to explore “utopian” library. But “utopian” is such a large and vague idea that, for a long time, I was not sure what would be the focus. It was only a month before the premier of the performance that I finally decided to focus on idea of democracy. I am afraid that many won’t agree to categorize democracy as utopian thoughts. I use the word “utopian” as a concept that invokes transcendental aspiration about the collective. In this perspective, democracy seems the right fit. Even though we all know that what happens in democratic states are far from the ideal, we still preserve the reservation for this word “democracy” as a concept that is inviolable. It produces a firm belief as self-evident as “human rights”
The texts that I have selected are Maldoror by Comte de Lautreamont and Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. Both are “assemblage” texts produced in the 19th century, and explores the trope of monstrosity, evil and democratic virtue. These two narratives introduce the characters of “outcast” who expresses its longing to be included in “ human society.” In Maldoror by Comte de Lautreamont, there is short paragraphs that recount of a lonely hermaphrodite in the forest who are longing to be a part of human society but his pride and physical deformation wouldn’t let him do so. In Frankenstein, the monster that Frankenstein created observes a French family, wishing to be recognized and welcomed by them. Both narrative are full of reference to democratic principal, including the rights to have a reasonable examination at the arrest, compensation for the injury of the rights, tolerance for the cultural, racial, religious differences.
Re-reading these text, I was amused, thinking how the sentiments regarding inclusion/exclusion are reflected in these literature. Despite some similarities, these two texts present different kinds of marginalized characters. In Maldoror, the lonely hermaphrodite is a personification of modern autonomous individual, self-contained and self-made man, maybe, bohemian “intellectual/artist” figure as a mad man. This marginality seems self-imposed and a source of his sense of pride and moral superiority against barbaric acts of the government and insensitivity (or ignorance) of people. Yet, Moldoror does not seems to be a straight-forward expression of those sentiments as the author himself. The tone of the narration seems to ridicule the conflicting sentiment among Romantic intellectual/artist, who often come from middle-class background. It creates a character that refused to join, but secretly long to join “human community,” which is depicted nearly identical with “petty-bourgeois” life of comfort.
On the contrary, In Frankenstein, the monster is not a willing “outcast.” Looking at the reflection of himself, the Creature recognizes himself as a monster, and he disparately wishes to be included into human society through learning their language, sentiments, habit, behavior and morality. He is a learner, assimilator and imitator of the West. The monster learns the language together with an Arabian bride, who escapes from the tyranny of her father in order to marry a French man. The Creature first learn the language through observing the family then encounters various books of Western classics. As the narrative progresses, the Creature begin transforming himself into an uncanny double of Frankenstein.
An interesting element of Frankenstein is that the Creature, an devout imitator of the Western value is envisioned both as a horror and object of empathy by an English female author, a daughter of progressive intellectuals.. Whatever Shelly’s intention for writing was, retrospectively, large parts of the world came to learn of the Western values through colonialism, imperialism and globalization, which gave a ground for non-Western world to claim liberal values of rights, autonomy and self-determination as early as Haitian Revolution of 1791, which Susan Buck-Morss’ delineates in “Hegel, Haiti and Universal History.”
Even though they were written in the 19th century, I found the dynamic between these two types are relevant in our contemporary society, not only in the relationship between the West and non-West, but also between different races and classes. My specific concern is what is the psychic dynamic between abolitionist and slave, activist and worker, artist/intellectual & their Others?
Buck-Morss, Susan. Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 2009
Spectatorship, Tragic Theater, Artist/Intellectual and its Other, Empathy, Reading, Infection, Human Rights, Injury, Class & Race, Double Consciousness, Mourning & Grievance, Mimesis, Canon, Fascism, Sublation, Undutiful Officer, Plurality, Castration, Autonomy, Democracy, Petty-Bourgeois Art, Learning, Allegory, Contagion, Meme, Visual Thinking Strategy