Thursday, September 01, 2005

Some Femme . . . Reflections on Blog Writing and Oedipus at Palm Springs

Someone wrote in to suggest that in my last posting, on the Five Lesbian Brothers' Oedipus at Palm Springs, I neglected to consider the status of the femme, Terri, at the play's end. While Prin, the quintessential butch, stands alone as the tragic figure, "some femme" (the responder) suggests that Terri is left even more alone, since she's been abandoned twice (by the same woman). "some femme" writes that my failure to consider Terri fully is typical of lesbian and feminist criticism that tends to privilege the butch.

"some femme" has a very good point. I wonder, in fact, how different the play might have been had Terri been the focus of the plot, instead of the vehicle by which Prin comes to her tragic realization. Why is it that the femme is so rarely the "tragic hero," a place typically reserved in lesbian (and some straight) theatre for the butch?

My initial posting on Oedipus at Palm Springs also raised questions from some readers about how blog writing enters public conversations differently than more conventional publication or information-sharing. I've found, in my very maiden adventures in blogging, that its immediacy lends it an aura of risk. That is, rather than running my ideas through an intermediary like an editor, I offer them here with much less outside manipulation and consideration. The freedom of such a venue in which to write appeals to me; at the same time, I worry that I've been intemperate, already, in my writing here.

Some readers, for instance, have remarked that I didn't "like" Oedipus at Palm Springs very much (and many of them say they liked it a great deal). On the contrary, I enjoyed the performance I saw quite a lot. I meant my critical engagements to offer ways of thinking about the production that might put it in a different light, not to suggest that it wasn't "good." I'm struck by how limited is our critical vocabulary for talking about performance, if we remain caught in that good/bad binary. I can enjoy a performance, feel supportive of its creators, and still want to talk about the range of things it made me think and feel, some of which might be polemical.

Yet I'm struck by how much I, too, worry that what I write will be read as condemnation or disparagement of an artistic project I admire very much. How can I (how can we) work to shift the limitations of such critical discourse?

Writing about any performance is a form of respect and even love, especially when you're someone who's not employed to pass judgment or to offer consumer advisor. I wouldn't (I won't) take the time to write about a performance (or a film, television show, novel, or any other form of cultural expression) unless it moves me in some way, enough to take the time and the care to craft a response.

For me, it's about the dialogue. Please do post responses. Those of us committed to the arts and social change have too few places in which to talk about our ideas, opinions, and impressions. Please use this blog as such a forum.

Best wishes,
The Feminist Spectator

5 comments:

  1. I dig your response :-) I think it is wonderful when a play moves us in some way and perhaps (at times) changes us. I love that aspect of theatre, but sometimes figuring out just how a play touches us and articulating how and why a performance does what it does can be difficult to articulate -- especially immediately following the experience. Usually a great deal of reflection is required for me to figure-out how and why a particular play affects me. Anyway, recently, I found myself listening to a soundtrack of HAIR the musical, which was performed here in Austin a few years back at Zackary Scott theatre. At the time, I remember being caught-up in its spectacle -- I particularly remember the beautiful voices and bodies, and the intimacy of the space (not physical intimacy but yet a feeling remarkably similar) that allowed for a connection with the performers and my fellow audience members, an experience I have long remembered. I love that it is so memorable. HAIR is hardly an academic work, quite commercial, and no doubt way, way, down on a list of important works, yet this production moved me (not really the text so much as the performace). I recall that (perhaps) Ms. Dolan wrote a response to this performance. I would love to see it posted here because I never got to read it, although according to a friend of mine who worked at Zach Scott, it once lived online (I was never able to find it). I would really like to know the thoughts of the Feminist Spectator on it because, no doubt, if she indeed wrote about it, then it must have moved her in some way. It would be really cool to read about it, particulary her criticisms even though it has been some 3 years since that production

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  2. Thank you for considering the femme. Maybe femininity stands for theatre's general "tragic flaw"--it offers what occasions drama, the object that enables it, but only by effacing the feminine female-the femme- does the show go on? I am trying to hard to make this work...

    In "Oedipus Rex", Jocosta conveniently kills herself and the play goes on it's linear way, rather than exploring the pathos of the mother who realizes she has committed incest with her son. The Brothers give the mother back her voice through Prin, (Princess?) who also happens to consider herself quite butch. In Prin, we imagine a deepening of character as queer, butch, lover, and mother mix in complex emotional purges that do not lead to her death. While Terri is in the position of the Oedipal character, Prin, yes, is the "tragic butch" alone on stage at the end of the play. In a feminist attempt to focus on the mother's (butch)love, umbilical connection, and incestuous yearnings, the play doesn't spotlight Terri, who is the daughter-object of desire, the femme. I guess it would be hard for a review to center on a character who is not the center of attention.
    If the play centered on Terri, the butch would still be seen as outcast, for she would be thrown off-center by the femme's
    spotlight.

    It's hard to imagine how to create a production where feminist theory, lesbian feminist theory and theatre will exactly echo and support one another. Probably theory can pretend a play is exactly what it needs to be a proper theory, but this could also make for stale and predictable theory. Where is there room to ponder if the fit is exact?

    That being said, I understand lesbian and feminist criticism is hesitant to explore mothers and daughters, for the loving, nuturing, all-is well-and-perfect Cixiousian return to the maternal sea is not very appealing to most of us, and it has been a theoretically weak argument linking mothers with daughters. However, there could be strength in a real reconciling look at the fraught love-connection between lesbian daughters and their mothers, for it is not by chance that plays such as "O@PS", Holly Hughes's "World Without End", Marga Gomez's "Memory Tricks" (off the top of my head,) and The Brothers's choice to bring on the mothers have arisen (sp?) from the turbulent waters of maternity. I am not implying that dizzy-headed baby-talking family life is the way to go -- some reviewers use the term "domestification" as if lesbians are otherwise wild animals--maybe we are, but I can't vouch for whether or not we can be made spoiled pets -- as if theory should translate into life experience, god I hope not! But I do think there is something that has not been adequately explored and that would be fruitful, so to speak, to explore the eroticism between lesbians and their mothers and maybe, although I am not sure of this for I have little stage evidence or experience, about lesbian mothers.

    What wasn't explored theoretically in "World" and "Memory Tricks" and what could also be explored in "O@PS" is the unique maternal language each production grants mother and daughter (it tends to be a lovers language, if not "French".) I think somewhere in that language could be a clue or a cipher for how to read femme in theatre. The clues do not necessarily need to come from feminine women, for butches are mothers too.

    I wonder when and how femininty will appear as theory in performance studies. When it appears in theatre, I think it has to be "coded" to be read. Will theorists learn to interpret these codes? Sometimes there are no codes, but to read femininity, or feminine subject you have to read differently, or you have to just make up what you see. I think Terri very well represents the femme as undersided tragic hero - everyone loves her "so much", and then "everyone" leaves her and "no one" wants her. In one show at the end of the run, Terri claimed she could not see. Nor could she be seen
    as the Oedipal subject (by reviewers.) But think of it from her point-of- view: You are someone special and then you are someone abject, then you are no one--and you leave the stage in white. That's gotta sting.

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  3. Great blog! Fascinated by this discussion; as a heterosexual woman who as a mother hit the stereotypes of motherhood ("dizzy-headed baby-talking family life") very hard (didn't fit my experience of it, which was marginalised as "bad mother" stuff): one brought up by my own mother to be "feminine", ie an object on the marriage market, and hated the whole deal, so have looked for other ways to think and work my own feminine/female sexuality and work without being "domesticated" or neutered.

    Cf with Jocasta - how do Phaedra or Medea stand as objects enabling tragic drama? Surely only in the same sense as Oedipus enables drama - both feminine, surely? Or am I misunderstanding?

    Aside from these confused musings, delighted to see such intelligent discussion of theatre.

    All best

    Alison

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  4. Vous avez un blog très agréable et je l'aime, je vais placer un lien de retour à lui dans un de mon blogs qui égale votre contenu. Il peut prendre quelques jours mais je ferai besure pour poster un nouveau commentaire avec le lien arrière.

    Merci pour est un bon blogger.

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