Page 1


Copyright © The Channel: The Department of English Undergraduate Journal, McGill University, Montreal Canada, 2011. Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press 3430 McTavish Street, Montreal QC, H3A 1X9, Canada. ISBN: 978-0-7717-0703-2 Editorial selection, compilation, and material © by the 2011 Editorial Board of The Channel and its literary contributors. The Channel is an academic journal of McGill University with literary submissions by its undergraduate students studying in the Department of English. Printed and bound in Canada by the McGill University Printing Services. All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted and cited from external authors, no part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Cover art by Leah Pires ( Layout and design by Ryan Healey, Sally Lin, and Sydney Warshaw. Inside art by Amy Goh (


FEATURING ESSAYS BY Laura Freitag Sheila Giffen Max Karpinski Whitney Mallett

Kevin Paul Leah Pires Brahna Siegelberg Caylin Smith


Sarina Isenberg





Ryan Healey Frances Kim Natalie Martiniello Carolyn Rowan Erin Rubin Binoy Zuzarte Ryan Healey Sally Lin Sydney Warshaw

Jade Hurter Avinash Kanji Olivia Lifman Julie Mannell Gillian Massel Sinead Petrasek Jane Hu



Letter from the Editors-in-Chief Acknowledgements Max Karpinski

“Undo[ing] the latches”: Re-visionary Poetics in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red

Whitney Mallett

The Jew’s Daughter Demonstrates the Limited Freedom of the E-Textual Condition

Sheila Giffen

“The Wounds of Sharisha”: An Ecocritical Reading of Zakes Mda’s The Whale Caller

vi vii 9



Laura Freitag

Pound’s Enactment of Japanese Noh Drama in The Cantos: A“bust thru from quotidien”


Caylin Smith

From “Into the Past!”: Representations of Time and Memory in Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!: A Remembrance in 12 Chapters and My Winnipeg

Kevin Paul

‘Avec les voix de–’: Voice, Body, and Ideology in Touki Bouki

Leah Pires

59 79

Camp, Chance, Trash, Touch: Situating Sins of the Fleshapoids Amidst Pop, Happenings, and Fluxus


Brahna Siegelberg


Our Contributors


Patriotism or Propaganda? Bringing Shakespeare’s Henry V to the Big Screen in Wartime Britain

Letter from the Editors-in-Chief

WE ARE THRILLED to bring you the fourth volume of The Channel. Since its inception in 2008, The Channel has aimed to integrate the three streams – Literature, Cultural Studies, and Drama/Theatre – into one intellectual forum. In this particular issue, we have highlighted different academic voices and styles, as well as diverse subject matters, genres, and mediums. We want to recognize the diversity and multiplicity of student writing at McGill University’s Department of English. This year, we received over 75 essays and, after many meetings, editing sessions, and revisions, we have narrowed down our selection to these eight highly polished papers. We strove to incorporate essays that were both well-researched and original. The essays exhibited in this issue include a wide range of topics from postcolonial ecocriticism to the limited freedom of e-texts to the historicization of Lawrence Olivier’s Henry V to the influence of Japanese Noh Drama in Ezra Pound’s poetry. This is also the first issue to include art work within its pages. We sought to re-envision the magazine: we modernized the visual aesthetic through incorporating images that complement the complexity and beauty of the written prose. We pride ourselves on consistently publishing the strongest student work in our department. In reading this magazine, we hope you too will celebrate in the accomplishments of our community. Preanka Hai Sarina Isenberg Editors-in-Chief



WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK the Department of English Students’ Association, whose commitment helped to ensure the publication of the fourth annual edition. We would like to extend our gratitude to the McGillQueen’s University Press and the McGill Printing Services for their cooperation. We would also like to thank Leah Pires and Amy Goh for their artistic contributions. Further, we are grateful to last year’s Co-Editors-inChief, Catherine Knowles and William Robinson, as well as our Academic Advisor, Professor Wes Folkerth, for their guidance and advice. We appreciate the support of our generous sponsors: The Department of English at McGill University, the Department of English Students’ Association, the Arts Undergraduate Society’s Journal Fund, the Dean of Arts Development Fund, and the Students’ Society of McGill University’s Life Fund. Finally, we would like to thank all those who submitted their papers to the magazine.

The Editorial Board The Channel



“UNDO[ING] THE LATCHES” Re-visionary Poetics in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red MAX KARPINSKI


“Undo[ing] the latches”: Re-visionary Poetics in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red


Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (1998) resists attempts to label or define its genre, billing itself as a “Novel in Verse” with “autobiography” in the title, and containing appendices, a dialogue, and even an interview. The dialogue is between Carson herself and Stesichoros, a Greek lyric poet whose “Geryoneis” Carson rewrites in her text (5). The Geryoneis tells a mythic tale of Herakles’ killing of Geryon, a winged, red monster, as a fulfillment of “one of His celebrated Labors” (6). Stesichoros, however, presents the story from the perspective of the monster, troubling the conventional reading of the tale as a “victory of culture over monstrosity” (6). Autobiography of Red is Carson’s rewritten version of a rewritten story, a twice reworked narrative that resists the reader’s desire to locate the events temporally and spatially. Geryon is still red and winged, but in Carson’s text he attends school as a child before falling in love with Herakles at the age of fourteen. From a young age, Geryon is interested in writing what he calls his “autobiography,” although its form evolves from sculpture to photographic essay. It is in photography that Geryon finds himself artistically. The photograph takes on immense importance in Carson’s novel which foregrounds its re-visionary exercise in the opening essay, “Red Meat: What Difference Did Stesichoros Make?” Through the juxtaposition of images, either in language or in Geryon’s own photographs, Carson presents language as the structuring principle of the world. Carson’s palimpsestic re-vision and re-presentation of Geryon’s story functions linguistically in the same way as his long exposure photographs. Both her text and his photographs layer images and language in order to open up a space in which meaning proliferates, and both are set against reductive and restrictive models of representation. The short essay that begins Autobiography of Red describes Stesichoros’ use of the lyric and his criticism or renouncing of the epic language characterized by Homer. Carson’s focus in the essay is on the place of the adjective in traditional Greek poetry. Whereas “nouns name the world” and “verbs activate the names,” it is the adjectives that “attach[] everything in the world to its place in particularity” (4). Adjectives, “the latches of being,” are used by Homer to close meaning and deny ambiguity

or play within the text (4). His epithets “ place” every object and substance in the world (4). Stesichoros’ opposition to the epic tradition “release[s] being,” opens the “latches,” allowing “all the substances in the world [to go] floating up” (5). Stesichoros challenges the notion of the conventional Homeric epithets, both in the sense of linguistic fixity as well as the notion of language as ordering and thus correcting natural chaos. Stesichoros’ imagery introduces unpredictability to the linguistic representation of reality. Carson, entering into a conversation with Stesichoros’ text, posits that the epic tradition stands against the very nature of language: “Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do” (3). These two sentences, which appear on the opening page of the novel and which echo the epigraph from Gertrude Stein, hang over the entirety of the text and speak to the materiality and malleability of language.


Geryon is aware of this physical aspect of language from a very young age. In the second chapter of the novel, the narrator, focalized through Geryon, describes “the word each bl[owing] towards him and c[oming] apart on the wind” (26). Words “disassemble” themselves “into separate letters and go” (26). Elsewhere in the novel, they “drop[]” (41) or “crack[] in half” (62). These words behave as Carson describes in the opening essay: they are “unlatched,” free-floating, and “bounc[ing]” as opposed to tied down to any single object. In her analysis of visual metaphors in Autobiography of Red, Monique Tschofen points to the moment in the text when Geryon attempts to explain the “noise that colors make,” describing “the cries of the roses” as “horses in war” (Carson 84). Tschofen ties this description to Ferdinand de Saussure’s use of the horse in Course in General Linguistics to “demonstrate that language is arbitrary” and that it is only a “social agreement” that connects signifier to signified (46). This reference to Saussurean linguistics explains Geryon’s connection of “roses” and “horses,” displaying the omnipresence of language in what Tschofen describes as “two seemingly visual images” (46). Tschofen, however, does not take up the next section of the text that further explores the arbitrariness of the sign, this time focusing on the breakdown of meaning due to oversignification. When his classmates do not acknowledge his questions about the sounds of roses, he asks them 11 “Why is grass called blades?...Isn’t it because of the clicking?” (84). Instead of demonstrating the instability of language by conflating the

image of “roses” and “horses” through a recombination of the phonemes in their signifiers, here Geryon superimposes two vastly different objects because of a single, common signifier. It is language, in the form of a “social agreement” that is structuring the world and, more significantly, each individual’s perceptions of that world.


Geryon’s confusion at the unrelated significations of “blades,” and his conflation of visual object and sound, suggests a synaesthetic predisposition, the ability to hear or taste in relation to specific colours. It is in the seventh grade, we are told, that Geryon “began to wonder about the noise that colors make” (84). Sound, the spoken word, and language can be connected, yet again, to the visual, material, and physical realm of the object. Reacting to her son’s new obsession with photography, as well as his decision to “relinquish[] speech,” Geryon’s mother similarly connects the disparate elements of language and photography out of frustration: “Maybe I’ll just keep talking / and if I say anything intelligent you can take a picture of it” (40). Tschofen makes the interesting connection between Geryon’s synaesthesia and the language of Stesichoros, describing his “adjectives” as “synaesthetic” in their “join[ing] together two images in terms that belong to one or more differing perceptual modes or senses” (39). She points specifically to the description of “killings cream black” (Carson 5), and the collapsing together of visual, tactile, and gustatory. Geryon’s synaesthetic experience of his reality pushes him to create art which is itself synaesthetic: “In Geryon’s autobiography / this page has a photograph of some red rabbit giggle tied with a white ribbon” (62). The final form of Geryon’s autobiography, the photographic essay, includes a photograph which manages to depict colours (“red,” “white”), objects, (“rabbit,” “ribbon”), but also sounds—a visual representation of a “giggle.” Stesichoros’ use of synaesthesia was one aspect of “undo[ing] the latches,” of propelling language and linguistic representation forward beyond the “fixed diction” of the epic tradition (4). Geryon’s experimental photography achieves a similar unravelling. His photography dramatizes what Stesichoros’ language did, but in a new medium—it “release[s] being.” The similarities between Stesichoros’ language experiments and Geryon’s photography articulate a profound connection. André Bazin closes his seminal work, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” by

opposing cinema and photography, commenting that “on the other hand of course, cinema is also a language” (9). Carson’s text is offering up photography as a form of language, with similar spaces for ambiguity and proliferation of meanings. It is “the indexicality of the photograph,” writes E.L. McCallum, that “misleads us into thinking that photographs have a relation to the object” (par. 56). The ability to order photographs, based either on their number within a series or their resemblance to an object, deceives the viewer into supposing an inherent connection between photograph/object. This division recalls the Saussurean discussion of signifier/signified, and the arbitrariness of this connection as opening space for the play of language. However, whereas signifiers define through difference, “photographs describe only insofar as they say why two completely disparate things...are like” (McCallum par. 56). The photograph describes through objectification. What is important to the “language” of photography is not the object being represented, not the “horse” itself, but the way in which it is represented, its existence as object. If Bazin’s article sets cinema apart from photography by arguing that it has its own perceptible “language,” Carson’s text is attempting to demarcate and define for photography a language of its own. Indeed, this language mirrors her own lyric language, as inherited from Stesichoros, in its ability to collapse images together, and through this conflation, defer meaning.

‘What is time made of?’ is a question that had long exercised Geryon... Time is an abstraction—just a meaning that we impose upon motion. ...Much truer


This superimposition of images, as effected by Stesichoros, has parallels in the method of photography that Geryon is interested in working within: a fifteen-minute exposure. Quoting André Bazin, Stuart J. Murray writes in his phenomenological reading of Carson’s text that “photography does not celebrate embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption” (Bazin, quoted in Murray 114).As Murray points out, however, the photograph’s “permanence” gestures “toward transcendence...[and] testifi[es] to a life greater than life itself” (114). The photograph “compress[es] on its motionless surface fifteen different moments of time, nine hundred seconds” (Carson 51). Time itself becomes an obsession of Geryon’s:


is the time that strays into photographs and stops. (93)

Time, the “abstraction...that we impose,” becomes Geryon’s photographic equivalent of language. E.L. McCallum quotes Geoffrey Batchen’s discussion of Louis Daguerre, in which he suggests that “the primary subject of every photograph is time itself” (par. 4). Time, for Geryon, is very much the “subject of every photograph,” but it is also the object, or tool, with which he creates his art. Language, in Carson’s text, shares similarities with the visual arts in its status as object. On the flight from Miami to Buenos Aires, Geryon reads “‘Things to Know About Argentina’” from his “Fodor’s Guide,” a manual of tourist information which describes the “indigenous folk of Tierra del Fuego” known as “the Yamana” (78-79). The guide notes the multiple significations located within the tribe’s name: Yamana...means as a noun ‘people not animals’ or as a verb ‘to live, breath, be happy, recover from sickness, become sane.’ Joined as a suffix to the word for hand it denotes ‘friendship.’ (79)


In less than four lines of verse, Carson has traced the trajectory of Geryon’s autobiography, from sculpture to photography, by describing the malleability of language. “Yamana,” as an aural/visual signifier, contains multiple meanings. It can be manipulated, moulded, or recast by its speaker. This reshaping of meaning is predicated on the juxtaposition of the signifier, either with the words surrounding it within a sentence or phrasal unit, or by literally attaching or “join[ing]” it “as a suffix” to other signifiers. The opening up of new meanings or connotations occurs because of the movement of signifiers within language. Geryon’s photographic obsession, the fifteen minute exposure, allows for a similar interaction between singular images. Each of the “nine hundred seconds” that pass when the shutter is open are set against each other, creating a space in which Geryon can communicate more than he ever could with a single, still frame. In On Photography, Susan Sontag reinforces the importance of surrounding and interaction with other images as central to creating meaning in photography: “A photograph changes according to the context in which it is seen” (106). The fifteen minute exposure contradicts

Roland Barthes’ assertion that the photograph “is without future” (91). It challenges the common trend in photography theory that understands the arrest of time in a still image as “photography’s thanotographic inscription” (McCallum par. 4).

Geryon’s ideas about the possibilities and limitations of photography are not aligned with traditional photography theory, which


From its inception, photography theory has been obsessed with the relationship between the photograph and death. André Bazin’s famous article, quoted above, opens with a discussion of the “mummy complex,” what Bazin considers “a basic psychological need in preserve, artificially, his bodily appearance [and to] snatch it from the flow of time” (4). Barthes’ groundbreaking Camera Lucida was undertaken as a response to the death of his mother, and is born out of the grief he feels when he contemplates her picture. Barthes reduces “Life / Death” to a “paradigm” separated by the “simple click” of the camera’s shutter (92). He also suggests that photography represents a stasis or “mummification,” arguing that “Time’s immobilization assumes only an excessive, monstrous mode” (91). In Barthes’ eyes, photography cannot be separated from death because “each photograph always contains [the] imperious sign of my future death” (97). Batchen, quoted again in E.L. McCallum, offers the possibility that this connection might recall the earliest photographs, which required that the subject’s head be “supported by a standing metal device to keep them steady for the necessary seconds. Photography insisted that if one wanted to look first had to pose as if dead” (McCallum par. 3). Geryon’s initial obsession with the photograph, and particularly the extended exposure, is spurred by a photograph he sees while staying with Herakles, titled “Red Patience.” Taken by Herakles’ grandmother, it is a fifteen minute exposure of a volcanic eruption. Most striking, for Geryon, is that “across the bottom of the photograph / [he] could see a row of pine skeletons / killed by falling ash” (51). One of his first photographs, titled “If He Sleep He Shall Do Well,” “shows a fly floating in a pail of water— / drowned but with a strange agitation of light around the wings” (71). Using the extended exposure, the reader is told that “when he first opened the shutter the fly seemed to be still alive” (71). From the outset, his obsession is tied to the ability of photography to capture not only the passing of time, but to preserve the moment of death.


deals with singular images, as opposed to the extended exposure to which Geryon is initially introduced. In a text which is a re-vision or re-presentation of a story written in Antiquity, the extended exposure photograph becomes a way not only of “embalm[ing] time” but of capturing its flow. The photograph becomes a way of re-presenting the passage of time. These photographs become paradoxical, effecting a stasis or death that also portrays perpetual movement. Set against this eternal flux of the photograph is what Geryon considers the stasis of written language. Sitting in the audience of a lecture at the University of Buenos Aires, Geryon observes: the yellowbeard quoted Pascal and then began to pile words up all around the terror of Pascal until it could scarcely be seen— Geryon paused in his listening and saw the slopes of time spin backwards and stop... as still as a word in a book. (91) For Geryon, language is “fixed” until it is spoken. While “a word in a book” is “still” and unmoving, it is only the aural signification of language, or the ability to speak, that imbues it with power. While the “yellowbeard” can “pile words up” as if they were material objects, these words seem to obfuscate as opposed to reveal, rendering the original quotation from Pascal almost invisible. Furthermore, even this spoken language comes across as dull and lifeless: “[Geryon] willed himself / to attend to the flat voice” (91). The lecture ends with Geryon confused. The speaker “maintain[s] belief / in man’s original greatness— / or was he denying it? Geryon may have missed a negative adverb” (92). Language is unable to arrest his interest in the way that “Red Patience” did.


Surprisingly, these ideas echo closely the effect of the Homeric epithet described in the opening essay—a “hold[ing] place” rather than the “released” status of language which Stesichoros brings about. However, when the large central portion of Autobiography of Red is considered as a Künstlerroman, and when Carson’s intention, “to resurrect a monster and demonstrate the powers of revision” (Tschofen 34), are considered against Geryon’s experiences in the second half of the novel, it becomes clear that the idea of the stasis of language is not the same idea

with which Geryon ends his growth to maturity. On the flight to Lima he becomes “furious with himself / [for being] stirred by dull sentences” from the novel he had bought earlier, not having realized it was “pornographic” (118). Here Carson reimagines the death of Geryon, presenting instead a sexual encounter with Herakles that recycles imagery from Stesichoros’ fragments. Carson’s own translation of Stesichoros, the “Poppy shames itself in a whip of Nude breeze” (13), is reconstituted in the airplane when Geryon “[feels] Herakles’ hand move on his thigh and Geryon’s / head [goes] back like a poppy in a breeze” (118-19). Language, in this revised death scene, is the weapon which connects, but paradoxically separates, Geryon and Herakles. In a separate translation of Stesichoros’ fragment “XIV. Herakles’ Arrow,” Carson begins the poem with “Arrow means kill” (13). Again, in this instance, it is language that structures individual perception, connecting the object, an arrow, to the abstraction of death, the end or stopping of time.


The inclusion of the fragments of Stesichoros, and the fragments themselves, find an analogue in the photographs of Geryon, and in photography in general. The “papyrus scraps” on which he composed his poetry are “still being found,” and they “withhold as much as they tell” (6). The interaction that a modern readership has with the writings of Stesichoros resembles the interaction of photograph and viewer: “Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it” (Sontag 4). Elsewhere, Sontag states the case more clearly—“each photograph is only a fragment” (105). Just as “the whole corpus of the fragments of Stesichoros in the original Greek has been published thirteen times” with “no edition [being] exactly the same as any other in its contents or its ordering” (6), so do photographs “get reduced, blown up, cropped, retouched, doctored, tricked out” (Sontag 4). According to E.L. McCallum, “the fragmentation and jarring juxtapositions typify what photographs do to what they depict. That the fragments are still being discovered, moreover, intimates how photographs functions in our daily lives: buried in boxes, files, or albums” (par. 11). Indeed, Carson even describes the fragments of Stesichoros as “a substantial narrative pieces and a box with some song lyrics and lecture notes and scraps of meat. The fragment numbers tell 17 you roughly how the pieces fell out of the box” (6-7). The linearity of “pieces f[alling] out of the box” suggests a strong connection to the

roll of film in a camera, an ordering or sequence that serves as a rough structure, but that is open to rearrangement and reconfiguration. Carson herself invites this reconfiguration. Addressing the reader, she offers up the book as a grouping of fragments: “Here. Shake” (7). This invitation to shift the fragments of Stesichoros, and even to shift to fragments of the “Romance,” recalls Sontag’s discussion of context and its centrality to the meaning of the photographic image. In engaging with her text, Carson is asking the reader to work, or, in the words of Geryon, to “play[] with perceptual relationships” (65).


While staying with Herakles and his grandmother, Geryon and Herakles engage in an argument about the nature of photography. Interestingly, this argument occurs when the two return from “the video store,” a location which foregrounds the discussion in a contemplation of the similarities and differences between both forms of visual media (65). Barthes argues that the photograph “gives itself out as complete,” that it is “full, crammed,” and set against the cinema, in which the “raw material” of the photograph “is impelled, ceaselessly drawn toward other views” (89). For Barthes, because cinema changes perpetually as it moves forward through time, it does not present itself as totalized. Geryon does not see the singular image as a totality, arguing that “photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships” (65), thus a photograph re-presents and provides a new perspective. For Geryon, photography represents potentiality, while for Herakles, “a photograph is just a bunch of light hitting a plate” (71). Attempting to shift the argument, Geryon compares looking at a photograph to looking at the stars. Unwilling to accept that only “some” of the stars “are really there” and that “some burned out / ten thousand years ago,” Herakles responds bluntly “But I see them” (65). “You see memories” is Geryon’s response (65). This conflation of memory and photograph is another instance in which Geryon’s ideas about photography are directly challenging Barthes’: “not only is the Photograph never, in essence, a memory...but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory” (Barthes 91). Geryon’s understanding of photography at this point in the text is not as an account of a specific memory, but as memory of presence—the stars’ light is a testament to their existence, just as the “pine skeletons” or the fly, floating in the pail. For Barthes, the photograph, by embalming a specific moment in time, destabilizes the narrative of memory that is aligned with the cinematic. The photograph

is always decontextualized from a narrative whole. Carson seizes on this decontextualization and exploits it to multiply meaning. In her concluding remarks in On Photography, Susan Sontag once more grounds the photographic in the desire for fastening the temporal: “our oppressive sense of the transience of everything is more acute since cameras gave us the means to ‘fix’ the fleeting element” (179). This ability to “fix” moments, to take them out of their narrative flow, allows for a “layering of time” that is unique to photography (McCallum par. 15). Geryon’s photographs literalize the trope of “layering time” in their collapsing together of disparate moments or images. His photographs represent a “temporality [that] is not an end, an arrival at stasis, but an experience of duration” (McCallum par. 15). Geryon’s photography as “experience of duration” aligns it with his central desire for Herakles, and his desire for a return to their brief relationship. Sontag describes the ability to take a photograph as a sexual desire: “a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and, second, because the project is finally self-devouring” (179). Geryon’s lust for the photographic image as a testament to the “experience of duration” is tied to his longing for Herakles. In the concluding chapters of the text, photography becomes an act which dramatizes the “self-devouring” described by Sontag. Geryon, as photographer, removes himself from the experience of the group’s sightseeing at Icchantikas, and relegates himself to a position behind the eye of the camera. However, his role in the final chapters, while first suggesting a self-erasure or removal, and therefore a closing down of meaning or signification, can be read instead as a moment in which the text opens up temporally, reaching both forward and backwards through time.


The “Romance” section of Autobiography in Red concludes with seven chapters or fragments which seem, at first, to be ekphrastic. These seven fragments are titled so that each seems to refer to a specific photograph which Geryon takes over the course of the trip to the volcano Icchantikas. The body of the fragment, however, describes the process of the picture being taken, rather than the final image itself; it presents for 19 the reader the “click” of the shutter, not the “final print” (Barthes 92). These chapters place Geryon as “the instigator of the process” rather

than the “subject of representation” (McCallum par. 21). They also “distance[]” the reader, making him/her “more aware of [the tale’s] layers of mediation both visual and narrative” and create a distancing effect between Geryon and “his photographic objects” (McCallum par. 21). These chapters function in the framework of the text in the same way that both Carson’s re-presentation of Stesichoros’ mythic tale and Geryon’s extended exposure photographs do. They “layer” the text, building over top of what McCallum calls the “events in the hero’s life” (par. 21), not to obfuscate, as with the language Geryon encounters at the lecture, but to proliferate meaning and draw attention to the multiplicity of language and image. Immediately preceding the chapters which deal specifically with photographs, Geryon thinks to himself “I am disappearing... / but the photographs were worth it” (135). Geryon is not being removed from the narrative. His art as representative of his presence is being written over, in the same way that Carson has written over Stesichoros, who in turn had written over the mythological story of Geryon. Concluding the section in her article which deals specifically with Geryon’s photography, Tschofen offers a statement that can be extended beyond Carson, and can be applied similarly to Stesichoros and Geryon: Carson believes that the image produced by a single phrase can compress an infinity of moments of time on its surface, and that an archaeological excavation of the past can animate what has been buried and even bring new things to life. (47)


For Carson, as a writer and professor of Classics, to “excavat[e] the past” is to rewrite it. In Appendix A, Carson defines the “palinode” (17) as a “‘Counter song’ or ‘saying the opposite of what you said before’” (15). Whereas Stesichoros’ palinode falls quite clearly into the second of these definitions, the first is not as clear cut. E.L. McCallum takes up the notion of “Counter song” to mean a song which “bounces or reverberates with the song it counters, and in that reverberation reveals new aspects, undoing some of the initial meanings, underplaying or redeploying others, but opening up space for the palimpsestic blurring of the original” (50). It is precisely this “palimpsestic” blurring which Carson is attempting to achieve in Autobiography of Red: taking up the “fragments” from “the box” and “shaking” them, reconfiguring them, in order to re-present and

re-“animate” Geryon’s tale. Geryon’s own conception of photography, and his interest especially in the extended exposure, is easily connected to Tschofen’s description. He literally “compress[es]” multiple “moments of time” on the “surface” of a “single” “image.” His photographs are not impositions of stasis or death, but efforts to open up potential, to “animate what has been buried and even bring new things to life” (Tschofen 47).


Anne Carson’s re-presentation of the myth of Geryon and Herakles updates an ancient story by superimposing Geryon, the monster, onto a setting that is recognizable to the contemporary reader. Geryon’s extended exposure photographs also function as re-presentations, art objects that capture and demonstrate the movement and the passage of time. Time, indeed, functions for Geryon as a sort of language, the focus and core of his photographs and the tool he struggles to understand: “‘What is time made of?’ is a question that had long exercised Geryon” (Carson 93). The superimpositions of Geryon’s photographs, “nine hundred seconds...compressed on [their] motionless surfaces,” (51) draw a parallel in the formal technique of metaphor which juxtaposes images in order to accurately represent the real. When “roses” become “horses in war,” Carson is collapsing visual images into each other through language. When “blades” of “[],” (84) language is moving beyond the purely mimetic, and entering into a mode which privileges the individual experience, and embraces natural chaos over “fixed diction” (4). Carson’s text is a palimpsest, a space in which she has written over a traditional myth, as well as Stesichoros’ challenge to tradition. Her re-presentation of Geryon is an attempt to effect a shift similar to the one perpetuated by Stesichoros. Carson imbues her protagonist with her own poetics. Geryon’s photographs, themselves palimpsests that obscure single moments but that also stretch those moments into “experience[s] of duration,” (McCallum par. 15) challenge the traditional discourse which associates photography with death. It is through this collapsing of language, time, and images that the real is approached, that language in a book or time in a photograph breaks free of its stasis or stillness and re-presents moments or emotions for the reader or viewer.


Works Cited Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981. Print. Bazin, André. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” Film Quarterly 13.4 (Summer 1960): 4-9. Print. Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1998. Print. McCallum, E.L.. “Toward a Photography of Love: The Tain of the Photograph in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.” Postmodern Culture 17.3 (May 2007): n. pag. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. Murray, Stuart J. “The Autobiographical Self: Phenomenology and the Limits of Narrative Self-Possession in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.” ESC 31.4 (December 2005): 101-122. Print. Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978. Print. Tschofen, Monique. “‘First I Must Tell about Seeing’: (De)monstrations of Visuality and the Dynamics of Metaphor in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.” Canadian Literature 180 (Spring 2004): 31-50. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.




The Jew’s Daughter Demonstrates the Limited Freedom of the E-Textual Condition As Paul Duguid points out in “Material Matters,” digital texts are often heralded as being able to free works from the material confines of the printed book. Duguid refers to several advocates of this technologically deterministic position: Bruce Sterling asserts that information “wants to change…[but] for a long time, our static media…have strongly resisted the evolutionary impulse”; Ted Nelson expects that new technology will achieve the “true structure and interconnectedness of information”; and for Jay David Bolter, who argues that the “semiotic” and the “perceptual” are as distinguishable as wine and bottles, digital forms of writing will ultimately liberate the text (498). To follow Bolter’s metaphor, if we separate the wine from the bottle, we still need to pour it into a new container, be it a crystal goblet or a thirsty mouth. The computer screen is only a new container for texts. In response to Sterling, Nelson, and Bolter, Duguid declares that “all such emancipator narratives…are illusory” (500). Judd Morrissey’s e-text The Jew’s Daughter ( demonstrates the limited freedom of the textual condition as mediated through a digital interface. The e-text uses linguistic and bibliographic codes together to demonstrate that restrictions accompany texts regardless of their form.


A reader of Morrissey’s text rolls the cursor over highlighted words, letters, or punctuation marks, prompting new text to replace part but not all of the text on screen. The abstract at describes the text as “progressively weaving itself together by way of subtle variations on a single page.” Promotional quotations emphasize its “fluid page” and “organic” quality. These claims echo Nelson’s argument that digital media can help us return to some true, original quality of information. In some ways, The Jew’s Daughter can be used to support emancipatory arguments. Its dynamic quality realizes Bolter’s wish that e-texts will “[free] writing from the frozen structure of the page” (498). In the text there is, however, a tension between liberation and restriction. Comparing The Jew’s Daughter to their work on a new e-text in “Automatic Narrative Evolution: A White Paper,” Morrissey, Lori Talley, and Lutz Hamel admit

emancipatory motives:

The approach in this previous work [The Jew’s Daughter] was to divide the page into three regions with hard coded narrative paths as well as visual/structural configurations. The goal of our new system is to break away from this hard coded approach and make the process as dynamic and flowing as possible.

This quotation reveals that a desire for a liberated text was limited by material circumstances. The Jew’s Daughter strives for fluidity, evident in its forward momentum and rapid screen changes, as well as in repeated allusions to water – the ocean, lakes, rivers, and a drinking fountain. In their next e-text, Morrissey and Talley aim to achieve as much fluidity “as possible.” With these two words, they recognize the impossibility of total freedom. The designers’ demonstrate their awareness of these limitations in The Jew’s Daughter, as they attempt to resolve the tension between this urge for liberation and the inevitable material restrictions. The linguistic and conceptual message of the text relies upon its physical presentation: the visual allusion to the page, colour coding, line and page breaks, screen transitions, and autonomous typing. By breaking down the barrier between message and material, between wine and bottle, the text argues that not only are material restrictions inevitable but that they are also germane to the production of . The text declares that restrictions, in fact, realize fluidity: “the song of the primeval poet, that, when stifled, flows like wine” (Morrissey screens 3, 4).


The text uses an interaction of its bibliographic and linguistic codes to reference its own material features as well as the material experiences of producing and consuming other media. There are explicit references to the e-text’s formal digital features that use both codes. First is the reference to different colored type. The phrase “color code” is coded as black type on screens 290, 291, 293, and 294, but is coded as blue type on screen 292. Second is the reference to the JavaScript programming language. Type progressively appears across the screen from left to right as if it were being written before the reader’s eyes: “She had laid her head on her head on the tracks and the train cut cleanly through her neck” repeats twice more with slight variations in accidentals, and then follows with “In Java she had seen the woman decapitated” (Morrissey 134). If we


assume this effect was generated through JavaScript – Morrissey’s online résumé lists it among several other programming languages – then the reference to “Java” represents the reader’s experience. Through JavaScript the words incrementally form the idea of a train severing a head, thus in Java the reader sees a woman decapitated. Third is the reference to screen transitions. “And what if every time I sit down to write, he writes, with his old machine, breaking the pages?” is repeated on screens 21 through 25 with the phrase “breaking the pages” highlighted in blue on screen 23. This gestures gives the phrase a second connotation outside of the narrative. In this case, “breaking the pages” refers to the text’s screen transitions, which break the page into segments that are repeated and subsequently replaced. At the same time, the phrase reonates in the context of the narrative, suggesting a tension between creation and destruction The two readings of this phrase break down the barrier between form and content, medium and message.Prior to these examples, on the first screen the text declares that meaning comes from a conflation of elements: “these expressions of your will that lured, and, in a cumulative fashion, became a message.” After making one’s way through to screen 351, the circular text brings us back to this first screen. These words take on a new significance that further emphasizes the way in which meaning is created through a combination of linguistic and bibliographic codes. Both formally and linguistically, the e-text alludes to other media. The screens’ black-on-white type and margins visually imitate the pages of a book: the link from the introductory screen to the narrative text is labeled “page”. The other two links on this screen also reference familiar features of a book, the “dedication” and the “colophon”.  Despite these allusions to the book, restrictions imposed on the e-text limit its ability to be transferred to a print medium. In “My Digital Dickinson,” Katherine Hayles notes:


Not surprisingly, ‘pages’ from The Jew’s Daughter are resolutely of the digital medium; they can neither be printed out nor can they be cut and pasted to facilitate immobilization of the text for scrutiny or to bring to bear techniques of close-reading that apply only to the book-bound. (61)

On nearly every day there is a reference to

books, flyers,


advertisements, tapes, letters, audiobooks, biographies, notebooks, painting, poetry, ballads, photographs, diagrams, cardboard displays, maps, songs, or films within the text. The sheer quantity of these allusions affirms the interrelatedness of media. However, the text also suggests their material restrictions and incompatibility. The narrator emphasizes the “problem” of how tapes of her relatives’ conversations “were recorded on slow speed so now…playing them back on ‘today’s technology’ they’re talking like the chipmunks” (screen 244). The text uses formal and linguistic features to refer to other media. However, by breaking down a distinction between the physical and the conceptual, the text stresses that while these different media are relative, limitations and distortions accompany any attempt to transfer a work from one container to another. The text also plays with the idea of media as a container. The text says, “It was all there like icons contained in a sphere and beginning to fuse together,” leaving it ambiguous whether fusion merges the icons or the icons with the sphere (screen 1). The latter option seems more likely because as the text proceeds, it demonstrates how physical features and linguistic codes can be used together to create meaning. However, traces of Bolter’s separate wine-and-bottle viewpoint still resonate towards the end of the text. When the previously mentioned tapes are first introduced, the text compares them to a box: “I’ve discovered a box of jewels in my aunt’s closet…tapes of conversations of my great-grandmothers” (screen 244). While the ellipsis makes the statement ambiguous, we can safely assume that the narrator is comparing the audio tapes to a box of jewels. The narrator suggests that it is not the medium but its message that has value. The metaphor thus suggests something that contradicts its own form and function. The cognitive gap between the tenor and the vehicle makes the language of the metaphor opaque and the extraction of its meaning an act of interpretation. The comparison between the boxes and the tapes suggests that the tapes could be retrieved. However, the previously mentioned episode of the tapes’ distortion implies that the conversations cannot be extracted from the tapes as easily as one could empty the box of its jewels by turning it upside down. Through these narrative holes and contradictions, the text undermines its own suggestion that the message could be separated from its medium. 27

The text proposes other metaphors for media which suggest

containers less easily emptied than boxes. The body is one of these containers. The narrator emphasizes it as a bounded entity: “the borders of her body” (screen 141). However, the text linguistically breaks the body up into its parts. It explores the relationship between these parts and the whole, by asking, “could I build you from a pile of anonymous limbs and parts” (screen 1)? The text suggests a holistic understanding of the body as conditional: “If you ever saw me saw me as a whole person” (screen 157). The page break ends this phrase mid-sentence and thus underscores a fragmented body. Further examples show how the text breaks the body down to just teeth (12, 24, 136, 137, 138, 227, 234, and 282) and eyelashes (162). These miniscule body parts occur in many similar parts (20-some teeth, hundreds of lashes), an apt figure for text, which is itself composed of many parts (lines, words, letters). The Jew’s Daughter formally emphasizes that the page is composed of parts. It replaces some lines and not others; it highlights single words in blue; and it highlights smaller words within words, for example “Ear” in “Earful” and “yes” in “eyes” (screen 67, 89). The comparison between the component parts of media and the body is linguistically reinforced . The narrator describes the act of interpreting speech as a process of making holistic sense out of a series of parts: “I didn’t hear it until I actually heard the name, as a proper name, and not, as it looked or sounded when it first swept past me as its small, component words” (screen 162) Seven lines later, the fragmentary nature of speech anticipates the reference to a single lash as, “the voice broke and a tear moved along the curve of a long black eyelash” (screen 162). The division of the voice into its parts is compared to the eyelash’s relationship to the body – at once a single entity, but connected to the whole that produces the tear.


The body, as the mediator between ourselves and the external world, is a common metaphor for media interfaces. Throughout the history of the codex, the body has been mapped onto the book. Its features are named after body parts—the spine, the head of the page, and the foot of the page. In “The Digital Subject and Cultural Theory,” Mark Poster cites Sandy Stone’s explanation that the “relationship between bodies and selves” makes us “take into account communications technologies as these mediate social groups and speech acts” (491). The Jew’s Daughter explores the relationship between social communication and physical internalization: “There are places that I could take you in: here between

shoulder and neck, here in my heart, in my knees” (157). It emphasizes the body as a social joiner, by referencing points of connection (the neck) and literal joints (the knees). That “shells” is highlighted on this screen stresses that the body is a container, in this case, in which another can reside. The relationship between medium and message is also compared to domestic space throughout the text. The phrase “A street, a house, a room” is emphasized as the last line on the first three screens, suggesting that familiar figures of inclusion can be used to understand the interdependence of text and its parts. A street is composed of the houses which line it, just as the house is composed of the rooms within it. In the same way, a text cannot exist without words, nor can words exist without letters. References to domestic space occur frequently in the text, serving to expand this metaphor. For instance, figures of containment found within rooms, like cabinets and closets (screen 244), occur frequently in the text. The familiar tension between liberation and restriction is figured by the permeability of barriers within the home: knocks at the door and sound bleeding through the floors (screen 8, 23). The text suggests that, like media, these domestic containers vary in their opacity. Domestic space is also used to refute particular theories that claim the media is a treasure chest of meaning and that messages are easily retrievable from their medium: “Home (the key to the gate is silver, but the key to our door is gold, or the door is silver, and the gate gold)” (screen 78). The parentheses after “Home” syntactically emphasize home as a figure of containment. But within these parentheses, the confusion regarding which key opens which barrier suggests that meaning cannot be extracted from its medium without resistance and ambiguity.


Another domestic metaphor central to The Jew’s Daughter is that of the window frame. The window is a common metaphor for the material features of media. In The Crystal Goblet, Beatrice Warde compares typography to the glass in a windowpane, transparent but easily visible if we look for it (16). Or, to quote The Jew’s Daughter, it is “unnoticed and then suddenly spectrally present” (screen 289). Windows are especially fitting metaphors for an e-text. In a book remediated online, windows (also referred to as browsers or screens) replace the paper page. However, within his windows, Morrissey uses material features like typography to implicitly refer to the familiar book-bound page. The use



of a traditional serif font is a silent argument for a sense of continuity between the book and its intangible online remediation. A similar strategy was used in the first printed books – the mechanically produced typeface imitated the manuscripts’ handwritten calligraphy (Eisenstein 240). Though programming languages and computer software make possible a number of features that the book is unable to perform, Morrissey’s fluid page change is the only principle feature of the text that would be impossible to reproduce in a printed version. Morrissey is conservative in his adaptations of the book’s features and, via typography, he advocates a continuity between the book and his remediated version. Perhaps this is because he wants to create a smooth transition for readers between the familiar experience of reading a material book and the new experience of reading a book online. Despite these conservative urges, the e-text uses metaphors of windows to draw attention to its innovative features. The narrator explains “in the daytime you can see out [a window] and at night everyone else can see in” (Morrissey 347). The formal elements of the e-text can be compared to a window frame. The page-like screen provides a static frame and the text within changes over time, just as from day to night the image in the window changes. Furthermore, the highlighted blue type provides a specific frame in which to read each successive screen. By making variations to a single page, the text uses transitions from past to present to create meaning. Hayles explains that “reading here becomes an act of memorization as you need to be able to visualize or remember the content of the first page in order to know what has changed or in order to read the text” (68). But as the text points out, “words [are] grossly spilled, [and our] memories unreliable” (screen 27). While we may not be able to pinpoint exactly what has changed, every reading of the screen’s new text is framed by the previous reading. Through an interaction of the present and the absent, meaning is created but is not fixed. This constant decontextualization demonstrates the limited freedom of the text. By putting them in new combinations, the text shows how the meaning of words is “fickle, wishywashy” (screen 3). The multiple combinations demonstrated by the text suggest an infinity of possible combinations. However, in each frame, the word’s meaning is restricted by its context. All mediums of communication provide contexts that define how the message is transmitted. These framing elements of the e-text emphasize the tension

between restriction and liberation inherent in all media and language. The features that are unique to this e-text foreground its digital interface. Although screen transitions and automated typing liberate words from a static page, there are inherent restrictions. Each screen demonstrates the extent to which language is confined by its context. Language is malleable, yet its ability to take on new meanings speaks to the defining forces that squeeze it into new shapes. The Jew’s Daughter reminds us that, regardless of a text’s medium, “words are always only real-time creation, realized under the pressure of days” (screen 8). A text mediated through a digital interface does not escape the realities of time and space in either its production or its consumption. The Jew’s Daughter is conscious of both its own materiality and the realities inherent in the textual condition. All texts make meaning through their linguistic codes, but not of all them do so conspicuously. The Jew’s Daughter illustrates that digital texts will never cast off the shackles of materiality, and thank goodness, because in losing their materiality, texts would lose an important tool for making meaning. 


Works Cited Duguid, Paul. “Material Matters.” The Book History Reader. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print. Eisenstein, Elizabeth. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Print. Hayles, Katherine. “My Digital Dickinson.” The Dickinson Journal. 17. 2. 2008: 55-75. Print. Morrissey, Judd and Lori Talley. The Jew’s Daughter. Web. Morrissey, Judd, Lori Talley, and Lutz Hamel. “Automatic Narrative Evolution: A White Paper” (2004). Web. Poster, Mark. “The Digital Subject and Cultural Theory.” The Book History Reader. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print. Warde, Beatrice. The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography. London: Sylvan Press, 1955. Print.


“THE WOUNDS OF SHARISHA” An Ecocritical Reading of Zakes Mda’s The Whale Caller SHEILA GIFFEN


“The Wounds of Sharisha”1: An Ecocritical Reading of Zakes Mda’s The Whale Caller 2


Zakes Mda’s The Whale Caller traces the complex and fraught relationship between a man, a woman, and a whale, exposing some of the destructive dynamics between animals and humans. Mda’s novel can be read through the lens of ecocritical thought as a text that seeks to reimagine human engagement with nature. The novel does not, however, serve as a mere descriptive and celebratory casebook of nature. Rather, the relationships between human and whale and between man and woman are dysfunctional, displaying flawed modes of thinking. The text is ecocritical insofar as it exposes a need for change in the way people think about nature. Since the ecocritical approach involves a holistic understanding of how all forms of life are connected, it can also be applied to efforts to encourage more egalitarian approaches to society. At the core of the novel are questions about how humans should relate to nature, as exemplified by the relationship between Sharisha and the Whale Caller and Saluni. But on the periphery of the text lies more socially grounded criticism about environmental issues, such as fishing and ecotourism. The triangular relationship that develops between the man, the woman, and the whale explores the exploitative and destructive relationship that humankind has with nature at the level of ideas and the imagination, which in turn becomes the basis for a critique of the environmental and political crises at the level of concrete actions and events. The way humans interact with nature thus stands as a model for the health and sustainability of society. Ecocriticism is a relatively new field of study that examines the relationship between nature and the physical environment. According to Lawrence Buell, “it testifies to the need to correct somehow against the marginalization of environmental issues in most versions of critical theory that dominated literary and cultural studies through the 1980s” (3). An ecocritical approach seeks to reorient our understanding of humans’ place in the environment in order to nurture a more sustainable relationship with nature. Recognizing the holistic connectedness of all things in nature



Zakes Mda, The Whale Caller. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2005. My research and ideas for this paper are partly indebted to Sarina Isenberg's presentation entitled: "The Significance of Whale Symbolism in Zakes Mda's The Whale Caller" delivered on March 10th, 2010 in Prof. Monica Popescu’s Postcolonial Nations Seminar. 2

is essential to such a project. Ecocritic Louise Westling notes: “Early in the twentieth century… physicists demonstrated the relativism and situatedness of knowledge, the dynamism, reciprocity, and indeterminism of physical entities and forces in a profound way that has not yet penetrated the popular imagination, or even the working assumptions of some scientists” (35). In this sense, the work of ecologically conscious literature would bring this conception into the popular imagination. This endeavor restructures how people conceive of their place in the universe, as Westling argues: “We are no longer alone as transcendent Minds locked in decaying bodies on an Earth where we don’t belong, and separate from the myriad creatures around us. Now we can see ourselves as vibrant bodies pulsing in harmony with our whole environment” (36). Ecocriticism approaches the environmental crisis at the level of ideas, suggesting that it is only by altering the way we conceptualize our relationship with nature that we can hope to effect change. In an introduction to their study, Culture, Creativity and the Environment, Fiona Beckett and Terry Gifford conclude by saying “our ability to transcend the ethical and aesthetic categories and discourses that have contributed to our alienation from our environment is dependant upon an enlargement of our imaginative capacities” (9). The presence of this kind of discourse is visible in the works of Zakes Mda. Wendy Woodward notes how writers such as Mda “endorse an ethics and politics of mutuality between human and nonhuman animals, and are implicitly critical of the notion that human identities can be constructed outside of nature” (308). The Whale Caller in particular displays the complex and sometimes destructive relationship between humans and nature.


The Whale Caller questions what an appropriate relationship between humans and animals might be. There are no ideal models enacted in Mda’s novel. Rather, the narrator presents the complexities and tensions involved in human relationships with nature and animals. The extent to which the Whale Caller objectifies Sharisha by humanizing her and subjecting her to his sexual gaze serves as a disturbing reminder of how feelings of affection for animals can lead to detachment from society and misanthropy. In Woodward’s study of The Heart of Redness, she is careful to point out that Mda “does not proffer an idealized or utopian record of eccentric communication with the environment and 35 animals” (308). Similarly, I would suggest that there are no models of virtuous engagement with nature, but rather a display of subtly satirical

relationships that forward the question of how best to relate to nature. This demands the critical awareness and scrutiny of the reader, as Ralph Goodman notes: “Mda uses a mixture of biblical allusions, humour, satire and lyricism to lure the reader into this irresistibly meditative text that thwarts any attempt to read it hastily” (106). The Whale Caller does not engage with environmental issues merely by describing a pretty landscape that is at risk of destruction, or by idealizing a romantic relationship between a man, a woman, and a whale. Rather, the novel manifests the definition of ‘complex pastoral’ as it is described in Lawrence Buell’s study on ecocriticism: “One draws a firm line – reminiscent of Leo Marx’ simple vs. complex pastoral – between good nature writing that displays an appropriate postmodern reflexiveness toward its own status as textual artifact, and mediocre nature writing that succumbs to naïve descriptivism” (32). Far from offering mere descriptions of nature, Mda presents challenging and often disturbing images of nature. In one episode, the Bored Twins forcibly squirt goat’s milk into Saluni’s mouth: She lifts it up and one of the Bored Twins grabs a teat and squeezes the milk into her mouth. The goat is struggling and trying to escape and milk splatters all over her face. Saluni lets it go and runs to help the second twin who is chasing another goat that has an even bigger udder. After a relentless chase they catch the goat, overpower it, and successfully milk it into the girl’s mouth. (105)


The playfulness of both Saluni and the twins contrasts the violation of the goat in this scene. It also highlights the incongruity of one species drinking the milk of another species and questions this human exploitation of animals. The image of the goat’s udder being milked directly into a mouth provides a troubling reminder of the abusive relationship between humans and nature, whereby humans merely extract the resources from other living creatures. Mda renders situations that involve communing with nature unnatural in order to expose how certain relationships with animals and conceptualizations of nature are abusive and destructive. The criticism of human interactions with animals and nature is most visible in the relationship between the Whale Caller, Saluni, and Sharisha. The Whale Caller’s fetishization of Sharisha alienates him from humans

and the realities of his own place in nature and society. His adoration for Sharisha translates into a retreat from other members of the village: “He did not seem to be friendly towards human brings, so they kept their distance from him” (11). Instead of replacing human interaction with another distinct form of communion with animals, the Whale Caller imposes human traits on the Southern Right. He describes “Sharisha’s surf-white smile” (39) in a gesture that suggests he is imposing human expressions of happiness onto another species. Furthermore, he attributes subtle and distinctly human emotions to Sharisha when he performs his naked dance in front of her: “Sharisha just floats there, looking at him wistfully” (133). The Whale Caller’s imposition of human traits onto Sharisha calls into question the legitimacy of the love affair. Might the Whale Caller’s descriptions of this communion with Sharisha merely be projections of his own fantasies? The narrator describes how Sharisha “performs these breaching displays in time with the special song that the Whale Caller blows relentlessly” (39). There is similarly an implication that the whale is involved in the sexual excitement that the Whale Caller experiences, as: “Sharisha breached like that repeatedly, increasing the pace as the Whale Caller got more excited” (63). For the Whale Caller, Sharisha is responding to both the sound of his horn and his own mounting sexual energy, yet the wording of these scenes suggests he is merely writing this into his interaction with the whale. Saying that Sharisha performs the breaches in time with the Whale Caller’s song could easily imply he times his notes to her. Similarly, Sharisha’s increased breaching pace does not seem to be a result of the Whale Caller’s sexual excitement, but rather the other way around.


In many ways, Saluni puts Whale Caller’s perverse fantasies into perspective. When the Whale Caller points out Sharisha to Saluni for the first time, she immediately asks: “You have given them names?” (40) and the narrator proceeds to remark: “Saluni looks at him questioningly, as if she doubts his sanity” (40). In addition to questioning his relationship with the Whale, Saluni confronts the Whale Caller about his relationship with nature more generally when he accuses her of killing animals by wearing fur. She responds to his accusation saying “They die every day, man … the animals … they die so we can eat them or wear them as shoes. So why not wear them as fur coats? Some are killed by you, 37 man. What do you do with the fish that you catch? Fondle and caress and kiss them and throw them back into the sea?” (174). Although Saluni’s

assertion that animals die and are appropriated for human use does not represent a sustainable ecocritical approach to nature, Saluni identifies an important flaw in the Whale Caller’s relationship with nature: his disgust with the creatures of earth being sacrificed for food is not motivated by a violation of the cycle of life but rather by a perverse and sexually charged desire to commune with nature and animals on human terms. The Whale Caller wants to “fondle and caress” animals. At the same time as Saluni questions the Whale Caller’s misguided relationship with animals and nature, she also humanizes the whale. In an act of frustration toward the giant mammal that steals the affection of her beloved Whale Caller, Saluni begins to moon Sharisha, “slapping her bottom and screaming: ‘Take that, you lousy fish!’” (155). The narrator goes on to describe how Saluni “pulls up her underpants and walks away, leaving the poor whale looking scandalised” (155). Much as the Whale Caller anthropomorphizes Sharisha, so too does Saluni attribute the complex and culturally coded human emotion of embarrassment and horror to the whale. The feeling of being “scandalised” is entirely rooted in human societal and cultural definitions of propriety. Although Saluni points out the perversions in the Whale Caller’s relationships with Sharisha, she too becomes implicated in the humanization of the whale by treating Sharisha like her lover’s mistress.


Saluni further objectifies the whale through her gaze. Throughout the novel, the act of watching dictates the relationships between all of the central characters. From Saluni’s surveillance of the Whale Caller, to the whale watching tours, to the Whale Caller and Saluni’s window food shopping, the act of gazing accrues significance. In each case, watching is a unidirectional activity that does not implicate the subject being watched. Instead, the object of the gaze merely becomes a passive recipient. When Saluni asserts to the Whale Caller, “I don’t come here to watch the whale. I come here to watch you” (51), she positions herself as an observer rather than as an active part of his life. She is not engaging with the Whale Caller, but rather subjecting him to her gaze. The Whale Caller, in turn, begins to subject Saluni to his gaze once she transforms into a watermaid: “The Whale Caller sits on the green bench above and watches her as he used to watch the whales” (90). The act of watching in the novel serves as a model for the destructive and insidious relationship between humankind and nature. A gaze does not allow for any kind of communion or exchange. By mutually imposing this unilateral

form of interaction upon their relationship, the Whale Caller and Saluni become more distanced and alienated from society and each other. Suggesting a possibility for change, Saluni’s blindness reverses some of the objectifying gazes within the novel. Once she begins to live in a “world of darkness” (184) she can no longer define her interactions with the world around her solely based on her objectifying habit of watching. During her period of blindness, Saluni begins to listen to the songs of the shepherd: [The shepherd] commends Saluni for opting for blindness in a world that would be better off with everyone in it walking in perpetual blindness. All the problems of the world emanate from the arrogance of sight. In blindness one is able to reach into a dimension buried in the very depths of one’s soul and recover the beautiful things that one has known in previous existences. (198)


The words of the shepherd symbolize the problem of human engagement with nature that is presented by both Saluni and the Whale Caller. The extent to which they merely stare at the objects of their sexual desire with no possibility of real communion or exchange reveals how they are merely abusing nature. The phrase “the arrogance of sight” dispels the idea that nature is a spectacular feast for the eyes. Thus, the voice of the shepherd pushes against the perverse relationship between Sharisha, Saluni, and the Whale Caller. The voice of the shepherd also suggests that within Mda’s satirical narrative lie alternatives to the destructive interaction with nature that the triangular relationship between man, woman, and the whale exemplifies. If Sharisha is a projection of the desires of the Whale Caller and a subject of the unilateral gaze of Saluni, then the question remains as to whether there is any truth conveyed about the experience of animals and their relationship to human beings. The reading I have offered so far do not afford Sharisha much agency. Mda is not offering a renewed perspective on animal behavior, but rather explores the dark and insidious ways that humans can relate to nature. In his article on The Whale Caller, Ralph Goodman argues that Sharisha embodies what Homi Bhabha defines as an intermediate space, suggesting she enacts a progressive kind of ambiguity 39 and otherness (106). In an optimistic reading of Sharisha’s place in the novel, Goodman suggests: “[Sharisha] has access to the oceans of

the world, and, in an ironic sense, may be said to shadow the colonial voyages of European colonists of the past. She is devoid of the elements of exploitation, material gain and misplaced patriotism, however, coming in peace and interacting with the Whale Caller in love” (109). Goodman’s reading suggests there is something genuine and admirable about the relationship between the man and the whale. Although the Whale Caller’s feelings for Sharisha are likely genuine, it is naïve to assume that the whale comes to the Whale Caller in ‘peace’ and ‘interacts with love’ herself. The fetishes that the Whale Caller projects onto the sea mammal suggest exploitation and addiction, not a loving communion. Furthermore, separating Sharisha from the issues of exploitation, patriotism, migration, and environmental politics minimizes the significance of her tragic fate: she lies exploded on the shores of the beach at the hands of politicians and environmental workers. Goodman enthusiastically attributes more agency and power to the character of Sharisha than the novel seems to allow her.


But I do not want to merely suggest that Sharisha is the hapless victim of human interaction, nor that her place in the narrative serves only to illuminate the destructive relationship between the Whale Caller and Saluni. Instead, Mda endows Sharisha with agency and dimension by allowing her to reverse the gaze that has been projected onto her; Sharisha now watches those who have watched her. Jacques Derrida’s essay “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” elaborates a useful theory about the animal gaze. Derrida describes how the experience of being watched by his cat while naked allowed him to think differently about how humans interact and relate to animals. His argument that animals should be allowed agency and allotted a distinct identity is reflected in the depiction of Sharisha who, despite being largely defined by the projections and perceptions of Saluni and the Whale Caller, embodies an independent character and voice. For Derrida, the experience of being seen by an animal enables him to question the limits between humans and animals: “As with every bottomless gaze, as with the eyes of the other, the gaze called animal offers to my sight the abyssal limit of the human: the inhuman or the ahuman, the ends of man, that is to say the border crossing from which vantage man dares to announce himself to himself, thereby calling himself by the name that he believes he gives himself” (381). Louise Westling forwards a similar proposition in her description of the “posthuman” which “helps to define the human place within

the ecosystem by interrogating or erasing the boundary that has been assumed to set our species apart from the rest of the living community” (30). Re-examining the divide between animals and humans allows for a more symbiotic understanding of the place of humans within nature. Derrida further argues that by recognizing the ability of animals to look at us, they cease to be the passive recipients of our objectifying gaze and thus realize their autonomy. According to Derrida, this addresses a critical gap in the thinking of philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, and Heidegger: The experience of the seeing animal, of the animal that looks at them, has not been taken into account in the philosophical or theoretical architecture of their discourse. In sum they have denied it as much as misunderstood it. Henceforth we can do little more than turn around this immense disavowal whose logic traverses the whole history of humanity, and not only that of the quasiepochal configuration I just mentioned. It is as if the men representing this configuration had seen without being seen seen by it; without being seen seen naked by someone who, from the basis of a life called animal, and not only by means of the gaze, would have obliged them to recognize, at the moment of address, that this was their affair, their lookout. (383)


The effect of the animal being “seen seen” appears in The Whale Caller in the final stages of the novel when Sharisha is finally allowed a degree of agency outside of the prescriptive gazes of both the Whale Caller and Saluni. After Saluni strips bare and moons the whale again, this time intending to flash her to death, the narrative recounts: “Sharisha has decided to assert herself. She does not budge. She stares Saluni straight in the eye. She does not look scandalised as she usually does when Saluni moons or flashes her. She looks defiant” (183). Although the description of Sharisha’s “defiant” stare aligns with the naïve humanization of the whale, the episode also conveys how Sharisha can actively respond to human action. Sharisha’s stare affords her agency in much the same way that the stare of Derrida’s cat provoked him to reconceptualize the independence of the animal before him. Derrida does not argue, however, that the line between humans and 41 animals should be blurred. Rather, he suggests that the concept of “animal” is too general and does not allow for a holistic conceptualization of the link

between humanity and the natural world: “I would like to have the plural of humans heard in the singular. There is no animal in the general singular, separated from man by a single indivisible limit. We have to envisage the existence of ‘living creatures’ whose plurality cannot be assembled within the single figure of an animality that is simply opposed to humanity” (415). The depiction of Sharisha, albeit veiled by the perceptions of the Whale Caller and Saluni, embodies Derrida’s expanded definition of an animal. Although her humanization can be read as the naïve projection of human understanding and values onto animals, Sharisha nevertheless asserts herself and becomes a creature with agency by virtue of her animal gaze. At the core of Mda’s novel is an exploration of human interaction with nature. The dynamic between the Whale Caller, Sharisha, and Saluni works as an abstract model for ways of thinking about the relationships of objectification and abuse that exist between humans and the natural world. Mda reveals ecocritical awareness by displaying these issues at a conceptual level, by displaying a complex representation of the whale. But the novel is also concerned with concrete environmental and economic issues through its allusions to the fishing industry and the economic strife of a fishing village. Placing these issues on the periphery of the central dynamic between man, woman, and whale implicitly argues that the central problems stem from humanity’s relationship with nature at an imaginative level. Mda maintains that the way humans conceive of their place in nature is intimately related to economic systems of inequity, nationalism, and globalization.


Some critics have argued that an ecocritical approach should allow for a greater appreciation and understanding of animals in and of themselves, and further, that utilizing our relationship with the environment as a platform for human concerns is a selfish betrayal of the independent lives of animals. Philip Armstrong’s study What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity sought to “go beyond reading animals as screens for the projection of human interests and meanings,” suggesting instead that the field of animal studies is “interested in attending not just to what animals mean to humans, but to what they mean themselves; that is, to the ways in which animals might have significance, intentions and effects quite beyond the designs of human beings” (2). Bryan L. Moore similarly notes: Ecocentric personification … represents the relationship between

human and nonhuman, challenges anthropocentrism, and extends moral considerability to nonhuman beings. It works directly, often in a few words, as a consubstantiating gesture and emphasizes not, foremost, the inner life of the writer but nature-in-itself. (10) While the idea of extending ‘moral considerability’ to non-humans is a worthy pursuit, there is something naive and dangerous about imagining the human capacity to represent nature in itself. In a more carefully constructed commentary on ecocritical writing, Lawrence Buell notes: “One can speak as an environmentalist, one can “speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness,” as Thoreau did, but self-evidently no human can speak as the environment, as nature, as a nonhuman animal” (7). More useful than trying to imagine how an ecocritical perspective can allow for a greater understanding of nature and animals, is to assess how this approach allows for a more egalitarian view of society in general. Rather than using our relationship with animals as a “screen” for human meaning, as Armstrong describes, one could expand the ecocritical perspective to relationships between humans and nations in order to emphasize the connectedness and symbiosis of all of earth’s peoples and processes. Graham Huggan notes “postcolonial criticism has effectively renewed, rather than belatedly discovered, its commitment to the environment, reiterating its insistence on the inseparability of current crises of ecological mismanagement from historical legacies of imperialistic exploitation and authoritarian abuse” (702). Huggan further elaborates that “global ‘ecological citizenship’ requires commitments to human, as well as wider ecological justice, engendering the recognition that nature has extrinsic, as well as intrinsic, value for us all” (703). In the context of postcolonial studies, the ecocritical perspective is useful as a lens that demands a holistic approach framed around egalitarian principles.

While the town of Hermanus is raking in fortunes from tourism, the mothers and fathers of Zwelihle are unemployed. It is a world


The novel offers a criticism of economics and politics in postapartheid South Africa through its scrutiny of the fishing industry and the corruption of political figures. Although references to the forces of globalization in the economy are spare in the novel, they stand out as pointed reminders of social injustice incurred by economic systems of inequity:


where people have lost all faith in politicians. Once, they had dreams, but they have seen politicians and trade union leaders become overnight millionaires instead. Only tiny crumbs trickle down to what used to be called ‘the masses’ in the heyday of the revolution. (85) Further, the encounter between the Whale Caller, Saluni, and the puny man emphasizes the inequality that the current economic arrangement generates: “ ‘We have got to eat, sir,’ says the puny man. ‘We have got to feed our children. Big companies are making money out of these perlemeons the government gives them quotas. What about us, sir? Do you think if I apply for quotas I will get them? How are we expected to survive?’ ” (191-92). The story of the puny man puts into perspective how fishermen are forced to abuse the earth’s resources in order to survive. A large part of the environmental crisis is explained by an economic system that does not accommodate sustainable practices. The criticism of the idealism of the post-apartheid state occurs at the level of images in nature. In their article about alien plant species and xenophobic attitudes in South Africa, Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff argue that the way society conceives of certain trends in the natural environment naturalizes societal concerns about immigration. Plant metaphors act as a powerful symbol for the country’s xenophobia:


The displacement of the argument about outsiders into the floral kingdom made it possible, by analogy, to contemplate and legitimate discrimination against those humans not embraced in the body of the nation, those cast adrift on the currents of the new world order. In so doing, it sanctioned, albeit unwittingly, a new, post-racist form of racism; a form of racism that, by concealing itself in the language of autochthony and alien-nature, has come to coexist seamlessly with a transnational culture of universal rights. (651) In a similar sense, ideals and misconceptions of the South African state are projected onto depictions of the natural environment in Mda’s novel. For example, different perceptions of the natural environment reflect the rainbow state. The narrator describes how “[in] the sunshine of the day

these rocks are beautiful in their bright yellow, grey, metallic brown and white” (5) and how “[the] flowers grow in clusters of deep purple, white, pink, yellow and red. Some petals combine different hues. There are red petals with yellow edges and violet petals with white edges” (104). The ideal of the rainbow-nation is projected onto the natural environment. However, the reader is made to scrutinize these images, particularly in the final scenes when the narrator describes the explosion of Sharisha with a similar list of colours: “Sharisha goes up in a gigantic ball of smoke and flame … He is looking intently at the red, yellow and white flames as Sharisha rises in the sky” (225). Here, the kaleidoscope of colours that had previously described wonders in nature is applied to the violent death of the whale, thereby inverting the idealism of the rainbow nation. Ralph Goodman notes how “Mda challenges the rainbow nation concept, as well as other new master narratives which have created a utopian vision of this country’s present and future” (108). Much as the threat of alien plants represents xenophobia for Comaroff and Comaroff, projections of multicolored natural wonders in Mda’s novel signifies the ideal of the rainbow nation. However, Mda self-reflexively scrutinizes and dispels these idealist sentiments.


Although Mda satirizes and criticizes the relationship between the man, the woman, and the whale, he does not offer an alternative model for communing with nature. Similarly, even though the novel comments on the fishing industry and the political corruption in the post-apartheid state, no concrete solution is brought to the fore. Rather, Mda presents complexities and exposes the reader to different ways that humans commune with nature in order to illuminate some of the insidious and destructive tendencies in society. The exploitative relationship between the Whale Caller, Sharisha, and Saluni, mainly based on sexual fetishization and addiction, shows how the issues of environmental politics occur at the level of individual relationships by displaying how people conceive of nature and their place within it. The conclusion of Mda’s novel reminds the reader “how unaddressed dysfunctionality may eventually resolve itself” (Goodman 105). The violent death of two central characters indicates how the destructive and exploitative relationships between humans and nature will persist unless people exercise their imaginative capacity to change.


Works Cited Armstrong, Philip. What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print. Beckett, Fiona and Terry Gifford “Introduction”. Culture, Creativity and Environment. Ed. Fiona Becket and Terry Gifford. New York: Rodopi, 2007. Print. Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Print. Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. “Naturing the Nation: Aliens, Apocalypse and the Postcolonial State.” Journal of Southern African Studies. 27:3 (Sept. 2001). 627-651. Print. Derrida, Jacques. “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” Trans. David Willis Critical Inquiry. 28:2 (Winter 2002). 369-418. Print. Goodman, Ralph. “The Man, the Woman and the Whale: Exploring the Politics of the Possible in Zakes Mda’s The Whale Caller.” Current Writing. 20:1 (2008) 105-118. Print. Huggan Graham. “ ‘Greening’ Postcolonialism: Ecocritical Perspectives” Modern Fiction Studies. 50:3 (Fall 2004). 701-733. Print. Mda, Zakes. The Whale Caller. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2005. Print. Moore, Bryan L. Ecology and Literature: Ecocentric Personification from Antiquity to the Twenty-first Century. New York: Palgrave, 2008. Print.


Westling, Louise. “Literature, the environment, and the question of the posthuman.” Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism. Eds. Catrin Gersdorf and Sylvia Mayer. New York: Rodopi, 2006. Print. Woodward, Wendy. “Postcolonial Ecologies and the Gaze of Animals: Reading Some Contemporary Southern African Narratives.” Journal of Literary Studies. 19:3/4 (2003). 290-315. Print.



Pound’s Enactment of Japanese Noh Drama in The Cantos: a “bust thru from quotidien” In a letter written to his father, Homer L. Pound, in April 1927, Ezra Pound sets out his goals and inspiration for the beginning of The Cantos. He discusses a “‘magic moment’ or moment of metamorphosis, bust thru from quotidien into ‘divine or permanent world.’ Gods, etc.” (285). This “bust thru from quotidien” informs his enterprise within The Cantos, and he achieves this “bust[ing] thru” by appropriating tenets that he learned from his early work with Japanese Noh drama. Ezra Pound’s early work with Japanese Noh drama provided a foundation upon which he based many of his complicated maneuvers in The Cantos. Accordingly, much of the complexity of The Cantos can be elucidated through its correlation to Noh drama. The Cantos appropriates characteristics from the formal structures of Noh drama, like the use of music, as well as from direct allusions, the presence of gods and spirits, and specific emotional and ethical preoccupations. These characteristics are also evident in the Noh’s use of natural imagery through the relationship between Canto I, II, IV and the “Shugen”—the opening play of a Noh drama cycle—and in Canto LXXXI, from the Pisan Cantos, which takes on aspects of the “OniNo,” which is the fourth play in the Noh drama cycle. By looking at Pound and Ernest Fenollosa’s co-authored publication ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment, one begins to gain insight into Pound’s conceptualization of Japanese Noh Drama. In Ernest Fenollosa’s commentary on Noh Drama he explains that:


The beauty and power of Noh lie in the concentration. All elements— costume, motion, verse, and music—unite to produce a single clarified impression. Each drama embodies some primary human relation or emotion… The emotion is always fixed upon idea, not upon personality. (399) From Fenollosa’s explication of Noh, we can see the similarities between Pound’s ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment and his early conception of the Image as articulated in “A Retrospect,” published two years after. Pound writes that the Image is “a complex” and “it is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives the sense of sudden liberation; the

sense of freedom from time limits and space limits” (“A Retrospect” 60). As early as 1918, Pound’s understanding of Noh drama, and its display of unity through disparate parts, echoes in his theorization of a new poetic. Pound presents the Western reader with a strategy for understanding Noh drama in the introduction to ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment where he explains that “One must build out of their indefiniteness a definite image. The plays are at their best…an image; that is to say, their unity lies in the image” (368). Evidently, Pound had already begun to see the similarities between Imagist thought and the structural properties of Noh drama. Pound carries his affinity for Noh to Vorticism in a note appended to his essay “Vorticism,” where he contends that “in the best ‘Noh’ the whole play may consist of one image…Its unity consists of one image, enforced by movement and music. I see nothing against a long vorticist poem” (94). Once again, Pound transfers what he and Fenellosa read as successful in Noh into his poetic strategy within a Vorticist idiom. When Pound begins to write The Cantos, then, it is unsurprising that he assimilates characteristics of Noh drama into his poetic, which critic Peter Nicholls’s discusses in his reading of The Cantos.


In his essay, “An Experiment with Time: Ezra Pound and the Example of Japanese Noh,” Nicholls takes a similar route to establish how Noh drama’s conception of time affected the change in Pound’s poetic from the short “In a Station of the Metro” to the breadth of The Cantos. Nicholls opens his essay with a 1941 letter written by Pound to the Japanese poet, Katue Kitasono, in which Pound proposes “to trade territory for Noh plays” (1). Nicholls then suggests that the letter is in some ways surprising because between 1916 and the 1940s “reference[s] to Japanese theatre had rarely appeared in … Pound’s work” (1). That said, Nicholls argues that while Pound made few direct allusions in those years to Noh drama, it is Noh’s structural approach to time that played an integral role in the formation of The Cantos. Nicholls explains that “Noh plays suggested to Pound a structural conception of time which would allow him to progress from momentary intuition of Imagism to the complex extended structures of The Cantos” (2). Daniel Albright, in “Pound, Yeats, and Noh Theatre,” alludes to Nicholls’s approach and explanation. Albright describes Pound’s discovery of Noh as something that “enabled him to see that a poem could be longer than two lines, and yet have a quality of instantaneity to it” (43). Albright also connects Pound to Noh through his allusions to


various Noh plays within The Cantos (44-50). These critics showcase the way in which Noh drama had a great influence on the development of Pound’s poetic in the The Cantos. This essay, however, will suggest that the influence of Noh drama was far more pervasive than just the structural representation of time and a few direct allusions. More specifically, this essay will contend that Pound was also heavily influenced by the formal techniques, overarching structures, and even the content of Noh drama in his writing of The Cantos. The appropriated content from Noh drama is made clear as early as Canto I. While Pound intertextually situates the opening of The Cantos in relation to traditional Western epics, his content and process also resembles the opening play of a Noh drama cycle or Ban-Gumi. In Pound’s introduction of ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment, he details the structure of Ban-Gumi starting with the first play, or the “Shugen”, more commonly called a “Waki-No.” Pound elaborates: [S]hugen, or congratulatory pieces, are limited to Noh of the Gods (that is, to pieces connected with some religious rite)… The gods have guarded the country from Kami-yo (the age of the gods) down to the time of the present reign. So in praise of them and in prayer we perform [this] first… (341)


The Waki-No of Noh drama was performed in gratitude towards the gods and “in praise of the.” In these first cantos, Pound creates a persona that enacts a kind of Shugen or Waki-No on multiple levels. Firstly, Pound performs a Waki-No through his source material, which in Canto I is Book XI of The Odyssey, and in Canto II is the tale of Dionysus and Acoetes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Waki-No is directed to the persona’s Epic ancestors, praising them through the inclusion of their stories or work within The Cantos. The inclusion of Dionysus in Canto II also manifests the Waki-No. By including Dionysus in Canto II, the persona performs a kind of prayer to him. He describes Dionysus’s punishment of the shipmen, who attempt to take advantage of the boy form of Dionysus because they are “mad for a little slave money” (II.51). Thus, Dionysus is positioned as acting rightly when he punishes the men and saves Acoetes. Dionysus is also praised

through the imagery of fertility: Acoetes says, “And where was gunwale, there now was vine trunk / And tenthril where cordage had been, / grape leaves on the rowlocks” (II.67-69). The persona favours Dionysus for his ability to engender growth out of the ship as demonstrated through the metamorphosis of the gunwale, cordage, and rowlocks. This Waki-No to Dionysus can be aligned with the artistic process, and thereby connects the structure and content of Canto I and II. Dionysus creates using the skeleton of the ship, much like the way that the persona figures Canto I to Canto II as a growth upon Book XI of The Odyssey and the Metamorphoses. The persona opens with this Waki-No, akin to an epic invocation, to a creation figure with whom he aligns himself. This alignment with Dionysus is especially interesting because, as Fenollosa explains, Japanese Noh drama and Greek plays both have had “an independent growth from miracle plays”; Greek plays came “from the plays of the worship of Bacchus” and Japanese Noh “from the plays of the worship of the Shinto deities and of Buddha” (390). The persona performs a similar maneuver that showcases creation through the Greek deity Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, and places him within the context of the Waki-No of Japanese Noh Drama. The reading of Canto I and II as a Waki-No is bolstered by the persona’s allusion to that part of the Noh cycle in Canto IV. This persona directly references Noh in Canto IV with the “the pine at Takasago” (IV.73), which confirms the previous cantos as the Waki-No and further aligns these opening cantos with nature. The Noh play “Takasago” is about a couple that grows together, represented by way of two pine trees (Terrell 13). Pound’s allusion within The Cantos reads:

“Behold the Tree of the Visages!” (IV.73-76)

The reference to “Takasago” is especially relevant because it is a god play, thus categorizing it as a Waki-No (Gardner 205). The play opens with the introduction of a sailor’s pilgrimage (207), further aligning it with Cantos I and II, which focus on Odysseus’ and Acoetes, two sailors. Pound’s pine



The Pine at Takasago grows with the pine of Isé The water whirls up the bright pale sand in the spring’s


trees are symbolic in multiple ways as are those in “Takasago”; indeed, they act “as a symbol of life, fertility, and reality” (204). These pine trees therefore echo the earlier cantos where Dionysus is presented because of his ability to create. Cantos I-IV thus take on many characteristics of the Waki-No with respect to content and structure; as previously mentioned, however, Nicholls argues that The Cantos also employ a fundamentally Nohinfluenced conception of time. Nicholls explains that, in Noh drama, time functions through reminiscence and that


…[the] main action takes place in the present of the play’s performance and simultaneously in the past of stylized recollection … The past, then, is not simply recalled … but may be modified and transformed through its (re-)enactment … The ‘split’ of time of Noh thus offered Pound a model of structure which folds back on itself, becoming in that movement an allegory of its own process. (6)

Through this structural conception of time, we find another way of identifying references to Japanese Noh drama in The Cantos. This identification comes to the fore in Cantos I and II, which Pound positions as both reminiscences and enactments of Book XI of The Odyssey: for instance, he begins Canto I with “And then went down to the ship” (I.1) and propels the story forward with lines like “Then sat we amid ships” (I.8) and “Then I prayed” (I.24). Besides the book beginning in medias res, it also starts in past tense. The retelling allows for the act of recollection to delve into the past, which aptly fits the intertextual subject manner but furthermore displays the subject matter that Pound highlights. This structuring of time becomes yet another method to identify the presence of Noh drama in The Cantos, which comes to the fore most sharply in the Pisan Cantos. Canto LXXI, which contains some of the best known passages in The Cantos, functions much like the fourth play within the Ban-Gumi known as an Oni-No. In ‘Noh’ or Accomplishment, Pound describes the Oni-No, also known as Kurui-mono (Lemarque 160), as a play of “the Noh spirits” (‘Noh’ or Accomplishment 341). The Oni-No, as Peter Lamarque

explicates in his essay on Noh, “gives prominence to madness … the emotions of sadness and lament predominate…there is an atmosphere of longing or yearning and ghosts or possession by spirits are characteristic” (160). Canto LXXXI opens with the subject rhymes of mourning. These rhymes begin with Zeus saying, first in Spanish and then translated in English, “Kings will, I think, disappear” (LXXXI.7). By having Zeus prophesize his own death, Pound evokes a sense of mourning. Thereafter, the hostess says, also in Spanish and then in English, “it is mourning, my husband is dead” (LXXXI.31), a direct corollary to mourning themes. The persona then alludes to the mourning of Christ while he was in hell (Terrell 451), saying that “they beat drums for three days” (LXXXI.38). The themes of lament surface in the lines referring to something Santayana had written “and said the grief was a full act / repeated for each new condoloress / working up to a climax” (LXXXI.80-2). These last lines act as a focal point for the subject rhyme of lamentation between all of these disparate stories. What is most notable about the subject rhyme is that it passes from references of Zeus to Christ to a contemporaneous Santayana. All of these events are reenacted as if simultaneously occurring in the present, reaching into the past, and iterating the events in the future, thereby appertaining to Nicholls’s argument regarding time in The Cantos. This structural display of time creates further implicit connections between Canto LXXXI and Noh drama. The subject rhyme of the process of mourning as inextricably tied to the dead and spirits prepares the reader for a meeting with a spirit in the latter half of the canto.


The persona’s use of music in Canto LXXXI, combined with the lamentation and the eventual conjuring of an apparition, solidifies the connection between the Oni-No and Canto LXXXI. After introducing the subject rhyme of lamentation and letting out an “AOI!” (LXXXI.93), which Terrell identifies as an oral expression of grief (Terrell 452), the persona begins the libretto. The expression of grief and yearning is thus imagined to be accompanied by music. This suggested accompaniment of music to the text provides an implicit allusion to the relationship between verse and music in Noh drama. The combination of the verse and music at the end of the canto, combined with the chant-like poetic therein, further aligns the piece with the style of Noh drama. In this latter part, the persona introduces the apparition, saying that “came new subtlety of eyes into my tent, / whether of spirit or hypostasis” (LXXXI.117-118). The inclusion


of a ghostlike being harks back to the Oni-No form of this canto. This spirit is one that is attached to “eyes” and the persona goes on to call it “hypostasis,” which Terrell defines as the “divinity of the object as object in itself, not as container for a spirit that might come or go” (453). From this appellation, the persona reveals that the spirit is inextricably tied to the eyes. It is through the material nature of these eyes, as imbued with divinity, that the reader becomes aware of another characteristic of Noh drama, one that Pound shared in his aesthetic. Albright explains that Pound favoured Noh theatre for “its anti-discursiveness, [and] was continually working toward an instant breakthrough, of buckling between the spiritual and mortal worlds” (43). Through the presence of the eyes as “hypostasis” in the poem, the reader becomes aware of the “buckling between the spiritual and mortal” within the content of the poem itself. Albright also explains that another characteristic Pound valued in Noh was its “visitation from the realm of superhuman beauty and presentation of an ethical ideal” as part of “the ethos of the Noh plays” (Albright 47). Once the apparition of “eyes” are introduced, they are described to interpass, penetrate Casting but shade beyond the other lights Sky’s clear Night’s sea Green of the mountain pool shone from the unmasked eyes… (LXXXI.127-132)


The eyes reveal the “sky’s clear / night’s sea / green of the mountain pool,” pointing the persona to the beautiful landscape. The revelation occurs as the sky, night, and pool have “shone from the unmasked eyes,” and thus the persona showcases this “buckling” between the divine eyes and physical world since they become interrelated through the eyes’ act of looking. The spiritual visitation in the form of the eyes thereby emphasizes the beauty and importance of the natural landscape. The “presentation of an ethical ideal” also follows from the reading of the natural scenery. Pound explains that within the Oni-No “the glory

and pleasures of man are not reliable at all” (‘Noh’ or Accomplishment 341). He focalizes the Oni-No to emphasize the mutability of “glory and pleasures of man,” which is crystallized as a “presentation of an ethical ideal” in the persona’s repeated refrain of “pull down thy vanity” (LXXXI.114). This ethical quest is repeated and re-considered many times, often placed in conjunction with the natural world. One of the most specific instances of this refrain occurs when the persona says, Pull down thy vanity, it is not man made courage, or made order, or made grace Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down. Learn of the green world what can be thy place In scaled invention or true artistry (LXXXI.114-118) The ethical concerns of the Oni-No and persona converge at the climax of the libretto through the view that “it is not man / made courage, or made order, or made grace” that is useful. The persona shuns worldly views of “courage” and “grace” because, as Pound writes in his explanation of OniNo, “the glory and pleasures of man are not reliable at all.” In fact, the persona seems to reject everything related to man through the enjambment of “it is not man / made courage.” This enjambment suggests to the reader that “it is not man,” thereby eschewing all things human or individual with a move toward “the green world.” This didactic move on the part of the persona ends in an injunction to the reader to look towards the natural world rather than towards the individual man for “invention” and “artistry.” This move towards the natural, combined with the line that opens the entire lyric interlude, “What thou lovest well remains” (LXXXI.133), coincides with the unreliability of “glory and pleasures.”


By reading the line “what thou lovest well remains” in light of the persona’s advice to “learn of the green world what can be thy place,” it becomes clear that the persona understands what remains within the natural world. In the last lines of the libretto of Canto LXXXI, the persona says, “To have gathered from the air a live tradition / or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame / This is not vanity” (169-171). These last lines elucidate many of the characteristics of the libretto. The persona’s advice is a gathering “from the air a live tradition” which is a turn towards the natural world, towards what is living, and “or from a fine old eye the


unconquered flame” returns to the aforementioned “eyes” imbued with a divinity that also looks outward to and projects images of this natural world. The persona ultimately ties the “ethical ideal” of learning from the natural world to the divine presence of the hypostatic eyes in this adaptation of a sort of Oni-No. “Here error is all in the not done,” ends Canto LXXXI, “all in the diffidence that faltered …” (172-3). In this final move that defines error in “the not done” manner of ending with ellipses and that is situated within a canto focused on the dead, the persona fosters a characteristically Oni-No “atmosphere of longing or yearning” within the reader at the end of this climactic lyric interlude. Pound’s use of Japanese Noh drama provides a lens to read and to explicate the multifaceted structure and content of The Cantos. In particular, the lens helps trace correlations between the Waki-No and Canto I, II, IV, in which the persona praises the work of Dionysus while referencing tenets of Noh drama. Moreover, the poetic persona appropriates not only a Noh-influenced conception of time, but also Noh-related content, like the presence of spirits and gods in Canto I, II, IV, and LXXXI. The persona uses structures of Noh further to trace out “an ethical ideal” in favour of the natural world in Canto LXXXI. The way Noh drama informs The Cantos is intricate, but it can nevertheless be traced back to Pound’s discussion of the “bust thru from quotidien.” Noh drama’s usage of the natural world as a vector for the emergence of spirits and ghosts falls in line with Pound’s early goals. The “bust thru from quotidien” informs the decision to use gods and spirits within the aforementioned cantos, but this is not the only source of breakage between the ordinary and divine. In fact, perhaps in Canto LXXXI the reader witnesses the persona finally reach the “divine or permanent world” through the combination of the didactic direction, “pull down thy vanity”, and the hypostatic “eyes” in order to look out into the natural world and find, “what thou lovest well remains.”


Works Cited Albright, Daniel. “Pound, Yeats, and the Noh Theater.” The Iowa Review. Spring-Summer 15.2(1985): 34-50. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2010. Gardner, Richard A. “Takasago. The Symbolism of Pine.” Monumenta Nipponica 47.2 (Summer, 1992): 203-40. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2010. Lamarque, Peter. “Expression and the Mask: The Dissolution of Personality in Noh.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 47.2 (Spring, 1989): 157-68. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2010. Nicholls, Peter. “An Experiment with Time: Ezra Pound and the Example of Japanese Noh.” The Modern Language Review 90.1 (Jan., 1995): 1-13. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2010. Pound, Ezra, and Ernest Fenollosa. “‘Noh’ or Accomplishment (1917).” Comp. Richard Sieburth. Poems and Translations. New York, NY: Library of America, 2003. 334-480. Print. Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect.” The English Modernist Reader 1910-1930. Ed. Peter Faulkner. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1986. 59-71. Print. ---. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions Pub., 1996. Print. ---. Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941. Ed. D. D. Paige. London: Faber and Faber, 1951. 284-285. Print.

Terrell, Carroll F. A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley, Calif.: Published in Cooperation with The National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine at Orono, and University of California, 1993. Print.


---. “Vorticism.” From Gaudier-Brzeska. New York: New Directions, 1970. 81-94. Print.




FROM “INTO THE PAST!” Representations of Time and Memory in Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!: A Remembrance in 12 Chapters and My Winnipeg CAYLIN SMITH


From “Into the Past!”: Representations of Time and Memory in Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!: A Remembrance in 12 Chapters and My Winnipeg1 “The Touching Gloves” In “My Mother, My Winnipeg,” I addressed the forger, a character who not only complicates the narrative of My Winnipeg, but who is also able to generate affect on the part of the viewer. “The Touching Gloves” continues along this line of thought; this section examines how images are able to provoke an emotional and visceral response. This reaction to the images onscreen is achieved through “haptic visuality,” a theory suggested by media theorist Laura Marks. For Marks, haptic visuality creates another approach to spectatorship that does not involve the viewer identifying with the characters onscreen. Instead, “the haptic image forces the viewer to contemplate the image itself instead of being pulled into narrative” (Marks 163). Marks’ theory, therefore, allows for an examination of how viewers of Guy Maddin’s films are able to experience the narrative on a sensory level. Moreover, it is possible for the viewer to be hailed by the films’ visuals whether they are composed of Maddin’s actual memories or not. This section will primarily address Brand Upon the Brain!: A Remembrance in 12 Chapters, the second installment in Maddin’s “Me” trilogy and his first film made outside of Canada. Haptic visuality is an especially useful lens with which to examine Brand Upon the Brain! since the film was also presented as a live show, complete with foley artists, an orchestra, and live narration.


Marks believes haptic images to be most commonly found in works of “intercultural cinema,” a term she uses to describe films made by directors who are from Canada, America, or Britain, but who are either first generation immigrants or the children of immigrants. These filmmakers, therefore, occupy a liminal space between a minority background and dominant Western culture. Though Maddin’s Icelandic heritage is not explicitly represented in Brand Upon the Brain! nor My Winnipeg, his 1

This essay is the second section from Caylin Smith’s undergraduate thesis.

films depict an attempt to occupy multiple spaces simultaneously. For example, in My Winnipeg, Maddin separates Winnipeg from the rest of Canada, thereby situating himself between city and country. The film also depicts other cultures that are struggling to find a home within the city, such as First Nations people. As a director and writer, Maddin creates multiple positions from which to narrate, including the present, as well as a subjective past. This tendency to span multiple boundaries at once is further demonstrated by the fact that Brand Upon the Brain! is a Canadian-American co-production. Maddin is thus similar to directors of intercultural cinema since he also struggles with liminality in regards to space and time.


Films of intercultural cinema encourage a viewer to look for meaning in images, an act that elicits a visceral reaction from the viewer. Literary theorist Jonathan Auerbach reiterates how haptic cinema encourages the viewer to assume an engaged spectatorial position: “[it is] a welcome corrective to earlier psychoanalytic oriented apparatus theories that assumed cinema spectatorship to be essentially passive—an illusory search to suture together a split subjectivity, a process in which stationary viewers in the darkened theater identified with the phantasmagoric bodies onscreen” (3). Though the viewer watches the film the same way he normally would, haptic images cause his other bodily senses to be heightened. Marks explains, “[they] invite the viewer to respond to the image in an intimate, embodied way, and thus facilitate the experience of other sensory impressions as well” (2). She refers to these other sensory impressions as “unrepresentable senses”—touch, smell, and taste. Moreover, though a director of intercultural cinema depicts his own memories, the viewer is also encouraged to experience them and draw connections to his own life. Haptic cinema is different from other cinematic techniques that attempt to provoke a visceral response from audience members, such as films presented in 3D or shot in IMAX. Though these filmic techniques may encourage a more embodied experience, they still emphasize vision as opposed to the unrepresentable senses. At best, these films will create a sense of vertigo (Marks 211).

The ability for a viewer to perceive these unrepresentable senses 61 through haptic visuality extends the ocularcentric experience of viewing a film, thereby making cinema the most synaesthetic art (Totaro). The words

“haptic” and “touch” also encourage contemplation of the many definitions of “hands.” For example, hands relate to Marks’ idea that haptic visuality causes a viewer to feel as though he can touch the image with his eyes (22). Hands also call attention to how film is a tactile medium as opposed to video, which is usually regarded as an optical one (Marks 173). We must then question whether “second-handedly” is the correct term to apply to a person’s experience of viewing a Maddin film: though Maddin uses original footage, his films are also composed of animated material and stock footage, which may or may not have a known source. There are many degrees of separation when it comes to Maddin’s works. Hands and touch are recurring motifs throughout Maddin’s oeuvre, especially his “Me” trilogy. For example, Cowards Bend the Knee is also titled The Blue Hands, and in the film, the character Guy Maddin is tricked into thinking that he has been given someone else’s hands. In My Winnipeg, hands act as a synecdoche for the complete incarnation of Guy Maddin, and are seen when he jots down notes on his familial experiment. In Brand Upon the Brain!, Wendy Hale, one half of the teen detective duo the Lightbulb Kids, uses gloves to disguise herself as her brother, Chance. This accessory later becomes known as the “touching gloves,” the term from which this chapter takes its title, since they permit Wendy to caress Sis. Haptic visuality, therefore, becomes a natural tool for analyzing a spectator’s relation to this Maddin film.


Marks’ theory of haptic visuality is grounded in the works of many theorists, but most notably Gilles Deleuze and his work on cinema. The haptic image is closely related to Deleuze’s affection-image, which is his term for a close-up and one of the three images of movement-image cinema. However, the affection image can also be found in time-image films: “Recall that the affection-image, while it usually extends into action, may also force a visceral and emotional contemplation in those any-spaces-whatever divorced from action” (Marks 163). This detail is important to Marks’ study since the techniques employed by directors of intercultural cinema are also similar to those used by directors of timeimage films. Maddin’s penchant for different methods of filming—Super 8, Super 16, digital video—as well as his use of animation, stock footage, and early cinema sound techniques, solidifies his inclusion in this group: “Formal experimentation is not incidental but integral to these works”

(Marks 1). As previously mentioned, directors of intercultural cinema also tend to foreground problems concerning memory and documenting past events, issues that make Maddin akin to this group of filmmakers. “The Touch. The Smells. The Sights. The Sounds.” Marks asserts that “Intercultural cinema assumes the interestedness, engagement, and intelligence of its audience” (19), a statement that is applicable to a viewer’s relation to Maddin’s films. Although Maddin may not assume an active spectator, it is reasonable to suggest that his films— amalgams of fact and fiction—interpellate the same type of audience. Much like My Winnipeg, Brand Upon the Brain! begins with the character of Guy Maddin returning home; however, this time he arrives at his family’s lighthouse orphanage, which is located on the desolate island of Black Notch, after a thirty year absence. This visit is prompted by Mother asking Guy to give the lighthouse “two good coats of paint” before she arrives for her final visit. For Guy, this return home evokes past experiences of growing up on the island with his older sister, overbearing mother, scientist father, and a group of rambunctious orphans. The viewer is soon introduced to Wendy, who young Guy discovers while out wandering one afternoon. She has come to the island to investigate the mysterious holes that have been discovered in the heads of the adopted orphans. Wendy decides that she can better pursue this inquiry as a boy, so she disguises herself as her brother. Her new look captures Sis’ attention, and the two begin a clandestine affair behind Mother’s back.


To begin this analysis of Brand Upon the Brain! through the lens of haptic cinema, the quality of the image must be discussed. Marks notes that images found in works of intercultural cinema are similar to the optical images of time-image films since the viewer has to work to gain an understanding of them (46-47). At the same time, a viewer’s reaction to an image will also depend on how familiar he is with the narrative content; one viewer’s relation to the film will differ from another’s. The disjointed narrative structure of intercultural films also causes an audience to fill in the gaps and imagine what is missing: “Hence the importance of absent images (often, video black or black leader), barely legible images, and 63 indistinguishable sound in so many of these works” (Marks 31). While the image itself might be indiscernible or meaningless, the quality of the

image is what is important: what does it mean that the image is captured on grainy film stock or underexposed? What cannot be represented or is not represented is what matters. Marks connects this practice of looking for gaps to archeology, yet it can equally apply to archival theory and the attempt to create a narrative from seemingly unrelated filmic, photographic, and textual material. Maddin also makes his films, especially Brand Upon the Brain!, exhibit an archival quality, thereby making the viewer look for gaps where there might have never been any. Maddin wants his viewer to question the way he crafts his films. It has also been suggested that the degraded quality of Maddin’s films relates to the appearance of his characters (Church 11), especially since death is a common motif throughout his oeuvre. Maddin resurrects people from his past and employs archaic film techniques in order to draw attention to the quality of the image. Maddin likely wants the viewer to see an image and then search his own memory in order to experience the film on a personal, embodied level. The haptic image is also a subset of the optical image because the viewer has to find a comparable image or sensation in his own past in order to make sense of it (Marks 47). Marks uses theories of mimesis to help explain a viewer’s relation to the film. She clarifies, “cinema is a mimetic medium, capable of drawing us into sensory participation with its world even more than is written language. Images are fetishes, which the reader can translate—more or less, depending on how her own experience is embodied—into sensuous experience” (214-215). Cinema, therefore, encourages this relationship so long as viewers welcome a more embodied experience to what they are viewing.


Since its inception, cinema has been able to provoke a visceral reaction from the viewer, an important detail since Brand Upon the Brain! displays early techniques of film production. Film theorist Tom Gunning has thoroughly examined this notion in his work on the “cinema of attractions.” However, one does not need to be familiar with haptic visuality or the work of Gunning to recognize the bodily effect early films had on their spectators. The myth surrounding the screening of the Lumière brothers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station suggests an early example of haptic cinema: viewers supposedly became so overwhelmed

by the image of the train barreling towards them that they fled the theatre. Similar to these earlier films, as well as films of intercultural cinema, Brand Upon the Brain! prompts one to touch. For Marks, the way viewers feel as though they are able to “touch” the image with their eyes is by perceiving its texture, which is accomplished through camera techniques, such as a change in focus. This visual sensation is present in every image in Brand Upon the Brain!: there is a foreign quality to watching an early film nowadays, as well as a modern film that recalls the look of this period. This feeling is due to the fact that twenty first century viewers have become accustomed to the pristine appearance of film as well as digital video. A modern viewer, therefore, might be captivated by the grainy quality of images seen in Brand Upon the Brain! even though the film is not solely recreating an earlier period. When we cannot perceive something with our eyes, touch becomes the next natural means of understanding the world. Touch is, after all, the first sense that humans develop (Keim). Therefore, the film’s grainy appearance not only obscures, but it is also unfamiliar to a contemporary viewer. This unfamiliarity is what further encourages tactile visuality.

Though Black Notch appears to be a mythical island, film critic Chiranjit Goswami notes that this location is similar to Maddin’s family


Brand Upon the Brain! opens with adult Guy traveling back to the family’s lighthouse in a rowboat. The water is captured in a close-up, as the music swells and the camera mimics the movement of the waves. The camera’s motions also cause the viewer to experience a sense of dizziness. Nausea, but also isolation and disorientation, is further caused when the camera pulls back, revealing how there is no land in sight. Though the viewer knows that this film is about adult Guy’s return home, he does not know how to situate this scene in relation to the rest of Guy’s familial narrative: “Haptic images can give the impression of seeing for the first time, gradually discovering what is in the image rather than coming to the image already knowing what it is” (Marks 178). The combination of camera techniques and sound recreates the feelings of hesitation and unease that one experiences when returning to a disturbing location. This reading is emphasized when the narrator informs the viewer that Mother has ordered Guy to return to the island; he does not return home by choice.


home: “Filmed on a Seattle beach, the north-western location closely resembles the gloomy shores of Maddin’s own childhood home in Gimli, Manitoba.” While it is unlikely that most viewers will recognize this detail, Goswami’s observation of this esoteric reference demonstrates how particular aspects of a film affect viewers differently. This retreat into the past is further encouraged when adult Guy actually reaches the island, which is reminiscent of a Deleuzean “anyspace-whatever” because of its desolate landscape. This space and its objects evoke past experiences for Guy. The depictions of adult Guy’s memories serve as examples of what Deleuze refers to as crystal-images: the viewer sees a direct image of time when the actual and virtual coalesce. While painting, for example, Mother and the orphans appear to adult Guy. The viewer is aware that these appearances are not new, but from a memory located in adult Guy’s subconscious. In this instance, the act of painting is referred to as “covering up the past,” and although these virtual images quickly fade, they demonstrate that the past will always linger no matter how many coats of paint are applied to the lighthouse’s walls.


These virtual images also encourage one to touch, especially during scenes that feature Wendy. The narrator introduces the viewer to Wendy as a “love lost,” which is reiterated formally as she fades from view. In this virtual image, Wendy is dressed the same way as when she and Guy first meet. A white gown adds an ethereal quality to Wendy, thereby intimating how adult Guy wants to remember her as his crush and not as the masked imposter who pursues Sis. Wendy is also the only character to appear in color. Regarding what the appearance of color signifies, David Batchelor explains, “[it] is often close to the body and never far from sexuality, be it heterosexual or homosexual. When sex comes into the story, colour tends to come with it, and when colour occurs, sex is often not too far away” (63). Color not only signifies Guy’s and Sis’ desire for Wendy, but its appearance also encourages this desire on the part of the viewer. Furthermore, the film emphasizes how acts of touching will help Guy remember in the future as he explores the island. For example, the camera captures young Guy as he touches various plants; his hands graze the dry flowers, and he brushes them against his face. Viewers are also encouraged to experience this touch by grazing these objects with their

eyes. Speaking as young Guy, the narrator explains, “The first time I will just see something, smell it or taste it, but it won’t stick. I know there will come again someday a second chance to really feel these things really.” Therefore, touch becomes a way of creating memories, which will be evoked at a future time. Adult Guy repeats this same behavior when he returns to the island. His tactile habits from when he was a young boy allow his childhood memories to be recalled upon his return. The touching gloves, which later become the undressing gloves, also allow the viewer to touch. Marks notes that viewers identify with the activity that takes place onscreen, which is what occurs in movementimage films (213). However, Marks explains how narrative identification encourages a visceral reaction: “it is common for cinema to evoke sense experience through intersensory links: sounds may evoke textures; sights may evoke smells…These intersensory links are well termed synesthetic” (213). Therefore, when Wendy puts on the touching gloves, the viewer is capable of experiencing the clandestine game that she and Sis play. By emphasizing how this game is played in private, the film further encourages the viewer to participate since he is the only person invited to watch this act. Camera movements in this scene further eroticize Wendy and Sis. For example, the camera captures Sis’ legs in a close-up, and then mimics the act of Wendy taking off Sis’ stockings and nightgown. Moreover, there is always a lingering threat that Wendy will disappear, which is first indicated when her virtual image fades. While the viewer, as well as adult Guy, can only behold Wendy for a short period of time, this invitation to touch during the game further incites the viewer’s desire to actually hold her. Touch, therefore, is provoked through sight.


An erotic element lies within haptic cinema itself: “Visual erotics allows the object of vision to remain inscrutable. But it is not voyeurism, for in erotics the looker is also implicated. By engaging with an object in a haptic way, I come to the surface of myself..., losing myself in the intensified relation with an other that cannot be possessed” (Marks 184). The viewer, therefore, does not master, or “possess,” the image. Like adult 67 Guy, the viewer also cannot possess Wendy, and instead she continues to tempt both parties as though possession was indeed possible.

The film’s soundtrack further encourages the viewer to assume an embodied spectatorial position, especially since sound plays a crucial role in Maddin’s films. In Brand Upon the Brain!, an image’s accompanying sound effect assumes a life of its own. One way of thinking about sound’s independence from the image onscreen is through a discussion of Andy Malcolm’s Footsteps Studios—the foley team that was hired to create the sound effects featured in Brand Upon the Brain! The use of a foley team gives a hyperreal quality to the film’s soundtrack and also recalls an earlier period in cinematic history when all recorded sound was created separately from footage. During this period, foley teams and trap drummers were noted for disrupting a film’s verisimilitude since the accompanying sound detracted from the narrative. Film sound theorist Rick Altman explains, “Aligned with the audience against the performers, like their vaudeville predecessors, nickelodeon trap drummers were treated with disfavor by the trade press precisely because they so often called attention to their own activity, thereby threatening the stability of each film’s meaning” (239). In terms of haptic cinema, Marks’ thoughts on an image’s texture can also be related to sound: “Films… that contain more visual texture than the eye can apprehend, have the effect of overwhelming vision and spilling into other sense perceptions” (175). But in Brand Upon the Brain!, a sound effect has more aural texture than the ear can apprehend: there is an image/ sound divide since sound alone is capable of eliciting a visceral response. One needs only to think of the scene where Sis visits Father in his lab: the sound of the sharp device being drilled into the back of Sis’ neck emits a noise similar to the breaking of a celery stalk, most likely causing viewers to cringe. Sound effects not only encourage the viewer to experience sound independently of the image, but also heighten his reaction to scenes where the two are paired.


Another way of thinking about a sound’s relation to an image is to consider the notion of “incompossible” images, a term that Deleuze borrows from Gottfried Leibniz. For Deleuze, these are visual and sound images that butt into one another, but cannot be reconciled in a single discourse (Marks 30). Marks explains, “Some elements of the image track exceed the seeable, in that they are not acknowledged in the dominant

discourse of signs. All these extradiscursive sounds and images appear as noise. This points to the uneven fit between a theory of ‘worlds and things’ and the merely audiovisual object of cinema” (31). In Brand Upon the Brain!, the visual of the scene in the lab and the accompanying sounds do not align. The soundtrack expresses more than what the image is capable of revealing, and therefore, brings extradiegetic material into the world of the film.


Though Marks is primarily interested in haptic visuality in relation to works of intercultural cinema, she briefly discusses the notion of haptic sound. She explains, “We listen for specific things, while we hear ambient sound as an undifferentiated whole. One might call ‘haptic hearing’ that usually brief moment when all sounds present themselves to us undifferentiated, before we make the choice of which sounds are most important” (183). Haptic sound, therefore, can be applied to the aerophone in Brand Upon the Brain!, a device invented by Father that allows Mother to communicate with the children when they are away from the lighthouse; Mother controls the main aerophone and Guy and Sis carry smaller versions. One operates the device by speaking into the horn; however, a message can only be transmitted if it possesses genuine sentiment. When the message is successfully relayed, cacophonous static is produced as a result. The sound produced by the aerophone relates to the ambient noise that Marks mentions: the viewer strains his ear to try and make out what the speaker is saying since the onscreen recipient is capable of interpreting the noise. Despite the viewer’s efforts to engage with the film, he is unable to hear an audible message. This static is a noticeable contrast to the hyperreal sound effects produced by the foley team. It must also be noted that this analog device remembers old messages and relays them sporadically. The aerophone becomes an unreliable device when it re-sends old messages, thus causing the recipient to think that they were sent in real time. When a character receives an earlier message, it conjures up old memories and causes him or her to experience an already lived moment. The machine’s tendency to remember can also be taken as a comment on memory itself: Mother is unable to provide an answer as to why the device stores messages, which relates to how people may not be able to explain what triggers the memory of a past experience. 69

Brand Upon the Brain! also allows its viewer to vicariously

experience the unrepresentable senses of smell and taste. Smell is most noticeable when adult Guy paints the lighthouse. Goswami remarks, “Guy finds the vapours restoring his memories of childhood when the lighthouse also served as an orphanage run by his parents.” Here, frenetic editing creates a dizzying effect for the viewer just as the paint fumes cause Guy to go off into reverie. Moreover, the scenes of both young and adult Guy exploring the island not only encourage one to touch, but also to smell. For example, Guy’s eyes close and his head tilts back, bodily positioning that tells the viewer that he is taking in the smells of the island. Smell is also the body’s sense that is most closely tied to memory: “[it] can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously” (Dowdey). Similar to how the viewer can “touch” Sis along with Wendy, images are also capable of relaying the senses of smell and taste. Marks explains her own relation to images that cause her to remember specific odors: Research suggests that we cannot remember an odor unless that odor is waved in front of our noses again…In any case, an audiovisual image evokes bodily associations, so that when I hear crickets and see a magnolia I remember that prickle of sweat on my skin, and (nanosecond later) the words for the smell of the magnolia— pungent, sap-like, always about to rot (!)—emerge from the emotional associations I formed when I did smell them. (148)


As a viewer, the same process occurs for me when I hear the sounds of the waves during the scenes where Guy stands on the beach. Words such as “crash,” “salty,” and “breeze” come to mind as I watch this scene and connect it to my own childhood experiences. Marks might have a different reaction to this scene or maybe none at all. Instead, she might be interpellated by the scenes the depict Mother brushing Guy’s teeth or feeding him cookies. Marks might smell, or even taste, the sweetness of the treats or the flavor of the toothpaste. But this is the point: every viewer will relate to the images in a personal way. An analysis of smell in My Winnipeg will establish how Maddin continually elicits an active viewer. For example, Maddin describes how his mother’s beauty salon smelled of “female vanity and desperation.” Though there are no smells associated with these words, an image of the sort of female clientele that frequented this “gynocracy,” the term Maddin

uses to describe the salon, is evoked through his description. Maddin also describes the old Winnipeg Arena as smelling of urine, breast milk, and sweat, abject fluids that he not only relates to personal memory, but to cultural memory as well. Breast milk becomes connected to hockey and the smells of the arena through Maddin’s claim that he was born in the Winnipeg Maroons’ locker room. Regarding the memory of smells, Marks writes, “these memories remain embodied in the senses even when their stimulus has disappeared” (201). The old Winnipeg Arena was no longer in use when Maddin visited it during the filming of My Winnipeg. However, the smells still lingered for Maddin, evoking his childhood spent in the locker room. He contributes to the already foul smelling room by urinating in the trough, a sign of respect for the neglected Maroons. This event is the only time when the viewer sees the complete physical incarnation of Maddin from behind, as though he was saving his appearance on camera for this visit. Through image and description, Maddin is able to evoke these smells for the viewer, who might also have a similar childhood experience. Hockey is also seen in Cowards Bend the Knee, allowing Maddin to call to mind a larger Canadian narrative. Memories of tastes and smells are also no longer personal since the viewer is able to relate them to his own memories. “A [Live] Remembrance in 12 Chapters” Though Marks’ haptic visuality has provoked a new reading of Maddin’s film, the live performance of Brand Upon the Brain! further allowed the viewer to assume an embodied spectatorial position. The live performance opened on 9 September 2006 at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, and later traveled to various American cities: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. The live performance’s website emphasized how the show was a once in a lifetime experience:


The Film Company and Vitagraph Films is pleased to announce the release of Director Guy Maddin’s latest feature film BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! In an unprecedented act of faith in the enduring power of the theatrical experience, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! will be 71 presented as an expansive live event in select cities, with an 11-piece LIVE orchestra, a 5-piece LIVE Foley (sound effects) team, a LIVE

celebrity narrator, and Castrato supplementing the filmic image to comprise a one-of-a-kind cinematic spectacle. (Live) While the opportunity to view Maddin’s film live was certainly a drawing factor, the addition of celebrity narrators, which varied from city to city, further enticed people. Like the film, the live show also used narrators who are mostly artists with a cult following or whose work appeals to mainly a niche audience: Lou Reed, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, John Ashbery, scream queen Barbara Steele, and so forth. Maddin has also referred to the Winter Garden Theatre as a “movie palace” (Halfyard), a notable description since cinemas of the early twentieth century were sometimes referred to as “picture palaces” (Popple and Kember 83). The live showings in other cities were also performed in theatres of the same nostalgic quality. Maddin’s choice of wording further allows his films to recall an earlier period in cinematic history. Moreover, Maddin caused the audience member to embody the spectatorial position of someone from an earlier period. A brief account of spectatorship during this time will aid me in examining exactly how this phenomenon occurred.


While the filmic version of Brand Upon the Brain! creates a multi-sensory experience, the live performance was even more capable of provoking a visceral response through sound. For example, a viewer could have a different experience of the performance depending on the narrator since people react differently to tone of voice. Another way in which sound heightened the viewer’s experience was through the presence of a live foley orchestra: “With the live production of Brand Upon the Brain! the sound effects are created in front of the live audience right on stage!” (Foley). While the film introduces viewers to the sound effects created by the foley team, the live showings extended this aural experience and made it a visual one as well: the live audience could actually see these performers at work. For the live performance, Andy Malcolm’s troupe donned white lab coats, a protective garment that was also an homage to the Oxbridge sound crew, a foley team from the late 1920s (Foley). Moreover, the troupe not only dressed the part, but also selected objects that were used to create sounds for early films: “Since the film has an overall vintage look, the sound effects had to be organic (nothing digitally created), so the team researched old radio foley props and built what they needed” (Foley). The opportunity to see the troupe perform the sound effects live undoubtedly

satisfied curious spectators since the performance pulled back the curtain and revealed the referents of the film’s sounds. Maddin has also described the live elements as “boredom insurance” (Lim), wording that emphasizes how the live performance encouraged an active and alert viewer. Concerning early cinema’s relation to sound, communications theorist Jacques Polet notes, “spectators were caught between two opposite processes: one tied to images, which tended toward centering in a hegemonic manner; the other, associated with sounds, which decentered the audience’s attention” (194). During the period of early cinema, a live piano score or a foley soundtrack, sounds that were located outside of the narrative, accompanied the film. For Polet, these opposing poles of image and sound prevented a viewer from watching what was onscreen and paying attention to the soundtrack at the same time. Similar to the problem created by live sound effects and music, a live narrator would have only distracted the viewer even more. However, this complaint only takes sight into account and ignores the body’s other senses; any distraction that sound created was purely a problem for those who considered sight to be the primary way in which one experienced a film. Rick Altman notes that early films were not always accompanied by sound: “In many theaters, dance and marching band films could count on some form of musical accompaniment, but films lacking clear justification for music would usually go without” (93). This statement reiterates the emphasis that was placed on vision since some early films were completely devoid of sound.


Regarding the live performance of Brand Upon the Brain!, Goswami recalls, “the live musical accompaniment only heightened the experience of watching Maddin untangle his customarily convoluted combination of numerous influences using his usual blend of murky montage to wade through his own hideously humorous memories.” Goswami’s claim emphasizes how these sounds added to the experience rather than being extraneous. When Goswami does describe the foley team as distracting, his comment is supposed to be interpreted in a positive light. Moreover, the live performance’s audience member still assumed the embodied spectatorial position that the film’s viewers take 73 up; however, the live showing brought the audience yet another step closer to the experience of viewing an early film. Though it was thought that live

sound distracted a viewer, it also had the ability to heighten a viewer’s experience of the performance by appealing to his other senses. Another way of considering spectatorship in relation to Brand Upon the Brain! is to look at how the film continues to create an active viewer even after its theatrical run. Goswami explains how today’s consumer decides whether to purchase a DVD: With the rise of the home video market and the phenomenon of DVD, the quality of a film is often evaluated using the notion of “repeat viewings,” which appears more of a method used by consumers to justify purchase behaviour rather than simply to judge the artistic worth of an individual film. Hence the merit of a single film becomes akin to a mathematical equation comparing costs and through a twisted form of consumer logic, viewers begin to attach more value to the DVD as a product than to the film as an experience.


The Brand Upon the Brain! DVD addresses this problem through its relation to sound and the option to choose from a variety of narrators, thereby creating an interactive aspect to the film. This option to choose from eight different narrative tracks encourages one to view the film multiple times, thereby satisfying the logic of today’s consumer. One might also have an alternative opinion of the film after selecting another narrative track since viewers may have different reactions to pitch and tone. Some of the narrative tracks included on the DVD are even taken from the live showings, an inclusion that adds a palimpsestic element to the film since the viewer can hear the audience’s reaction. This decision to include the live tracks allows the film to occupy a liminal space in time since there is an indexical link that refers back to the live showing. The viewer watches the film in the present, but the audio references a past live performance. In a way, the DVD viewer becomes a member of a larger audience since he laughs along with a larger group. However, there is another important aspect to viewing a film en masse. Marks writes, “It is at the live events that one can see the audience that has been constituted around this work, and this is a thrilling event that the circumstances of virtual audiences just don’t permit” (19). Therefore, the live performance not only allowed for a different spectatorial

experience, but also created a community around the film, and thus incited greater interest in Maddin’s work; the wider the circulation, the greater the conversation. Cultural theorist Darren Wershler suggests that Maddin takes the circulation of his films to another level: Thinking about My Winnipeg necessarily involves the film (with or without live narration), but also the book, the DVD and its various related short films and commentary tracks, the official website, links between this film and Maddin’s two other autobiographical films, his two books, and an installation at the Power Plant, without either attributing symmetry between various versions of the object or assigning primacy to any particular one of them. (10) Maddin thus adds to the already complex relation a viewer has to one of his films: he not only considers how and where the film will be seen, but also produces additional material. The plethora of ways that one can experience a Maddin film also allows a viewer to assume more than one spectatorial position. For example, a viewer might have a different opinion of the filmic version of Brand Upon the Brain! than of the live performance. A viewer’s opinion of My Winnipeg might change after reading the book or viewing the other two films in the “Me” trilogy. Cowards Bend the Knee was originally an art exhibit at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto, where viewers looked through peepholes at six-minute scenes, and was later made into a film. These various additional contexts help Maddin generate discussion around his work. Maddin has managed to circulate his films in a multitude of ways, thus making them available to a wider audience. His films are ultimately not bound to the screen. These multiple ways of experiencing Maddin’s films also provoke more bodily reactions than simply visual engagement. “One Memory Leads to the Next”: Concluding Thoughts


This look at Brand Upon the Brain! through the lens of Laura Marks’ theory of haptic visuality demonstrates how Guy Maddin’s film encourages a viewer to assume an embodied spectatorial position. Unlike other theories of spectatorship, haptic visuality does not emphasize a 75 purely ocularcentric experience since the body’s other senses—touch, taste, and smell—are also triggered. While Marks’ research is on works by

intercultural directors, Maddin’s films can also be included in this category since he uses similar distortive techniques and narrative structure. Haptic visuality allows the viewer to access Maddin’s eccentric films. Touch is also present throughout the narrative of Brand Upon the Brain!, but most noticeably through the character of Wendy Hale and her touching gloves. Touch and gloves relate to both working in an archive as well as handling film since one may leave behind a fingerprint if he fails to take this precautionary measure. Maddin’s use of early cinematic techniques also emphasizes the tactile quality of the image since editing would be a hands-on operation. Brand Upon the Brain! is notable for its live performance. The live, theatrical, and DVD viewings all encourage one to assume an active spectatorial position. Moreover, the live performance, as well as screenings in movie theatres, allowed people to view Brand Upon the Brain! en masse, which is an especially important means for interacting with a director whose work appeals to a niche audience. Both types of events—live or in a movie theatre—allowed for audience members to see who else is interested in Maddin’s films, thereby encouraging discussion of his work. At the end of Brand Upon the Brain!, the narrator states, “Cover it up, Guy. Cover it up. But some things won’t be covered with mere paint.” This statement implies that memories live on in Brand Upon the Brain! and are recalled when adult Guy’s senses are triggered. Film allows for this process to be taken a step further since the viewer is able to vicariously experience someone else’s memories as well as their own once again.


Works Cited Altman, Rick. Silent Film Sound. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. Print. Auerbach, Jonathan. Body Shots: Early Cinema’s Incarnations. Berkeley: U of California P, 2007. Print. Batchelor, David. Chromophobia. London: Reaktion Books, 2000. Print. Brand Upon the Brain! Dir. Guy Maddin. Perf. Sullivan Brown, Gretchen Krich, and Maya Lawson. The Film Company, 2006. Film. Church, David. “Bark Fish Appreciation: an Introduction.” Playing with Memories: Essays on Guy Maddin. Ed. David Church. Winnipeg: U of Manitoba P, 2009. 1-25. Print. Dowdy, Sarah. “How Smell Works.” Discovery Communications, 29 Oct. 2007. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. Foley. Brand Upon the Brain! 2007. Web. 14 Aug. 2010. Goswami, Chiranjit. Review of Brand Upon the Brain!: A Remembrance in 12 Chapters, dir. Guy Maddin. Not Coming to a Theater Near You, 20 Set. 2006. Web. 12 Sept. 2010. Keim, Brandon. “Sense of Touch Shapes Snap Judgments.” Condé Nast Digital, 25 June 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. Lim, Dennis. “Newfangled Silent Movie With a Bit of Old Barnum.” New York Times, 7 May 2007. Web. 10 Sept. 2010.

Marks, Laura. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke UP, 2000. Print.


The Live Show. Brand Upon the Brain! 2007. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.


My Winnipeg. Dir. Guy Maddin. Perf. Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, and Amy Stewart. IFC Films, 2007. Film. Polet, Jacques. “Early Cinematographic Spectacles: The Role of Sound Accompaniment in the Reception of Moving Images.” The Sounds of Early Cinema. Ed. Rick Altman and Richard Abel. Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2001. 192-197. Print. Popple, Simon and Joe Kember. Early Cinema: From Factory Gate to Dream Factory. London: Wallflower, 2004. Print. Totaro, Donato, “Deleuzian Film Analysis: The Skin of the Film.”, 30 June 2002. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. Wershler, Darren. Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2010. Print.


‘AVEC LES VOIX DE–’ Voice, Body, and Ideology in Touki Bouki KEVIN PAUL


‘Avec les voix de–’: Voice, Body, and Ideology in Touki Bouki Early in Djibril Diop Mambéty’s 1973 landmark of African cinema Touki Bouki, the camera surveys an electronics storefront as “Allahu akbar” is broadcast over a loudspeaker. The shot connects the film’s separation of voice from its origin of the body to the central conflict between tradition— symbolized by Islamic prayer and the unpaved road—and modernity— represented by radios for sale, the loudspeaker. Although the role of voice has gained prominence in film studies as a whole, existing scholarship on postcolonial cinema has neglected it. Voice delinked from a visible origin is a motif throughout Touki Bouki, which documents the quest of a Senegalese couple, Anta and Mory, to leave post-independence Dakar for a mythic Paris. Mambéty is known for hybridizing Western and African meanings and forms by combining styles characteristic of the French New Wave with allusions to the African storytelling tradition of the griot (Wynchank 54-55). In an illustration of this tendency, the film employs Hollywood’s dominant mode of gendering the voice through the presence/ absence of body as a model for critiquing spatialized power relations between metropolis and (former) colony. In other words, approximately as techniques of (dis)embodied vocal representation in classical Hollywood cinema site power in men, they cite a psychically enduring authority in a physically departed colonizer in Touki Bouki. Through its representation of embodied and disembodied voice, Touki Bouki illustrates a disembodied colonizer’s ideological exercise of power on postcolonial subjects1, and yet leaves room for embodied resistance.


Part of the theoretical basis for this argument lies in Kaja Silverman’s groundbreaking work on voice and gender in film. As part of a Western tradition which “defines speech as the very essence of presence” (43), she notes, Hollywood constructs voice as a primary site of authenticity. In order to enforce a sonic vraisemblance, dominant cinema stresses “synchronization, which anchors sounds to an immediately visible source” (45). Silverman argues that Hollywood film enforces gender hierarchy through “a complex system of displacements which locate the male voice at the point of apparent textual origin, while establishing the For the purposes of this essay, ‘the postcolonial subject’ refers to the racialized Other interpellated by and subject to metropolitan or neo-imperial power. 1

diegetic containment of the female voice” (Ibid.). Men thus tend to author meaning, often as though structuring the narrative from the outside, while women lack control and cannot exceed the limits which men impose on the film world. The distinction Silverman makes between voice-off and voice-over—both, apparent interruptions of synchronization­—is critical to the analysis of Touki Bouki. Voice-off is that which “exceeds the limits of the frame, but not the limits of the diegesis,” and thus “contributes to the diegetic illusion” (48). It is not, however, fully disembodied for the viewer can mentally extend the diegesis to the off-camera space in which the speaker is embodied. In contrast, voice-over speech emerges from outside of the diegesis and retains a unique claim to authority insofar as it “preserves its integrity” (Ibid.); its disembodiment is a source of invulnerability. After Anta and Mory rob Charlie, a wealthy gay man, the latter telephones the police and speaks to an inspector named Mambéty, illustrating the conflation of disembodied voice (not heard but known) and authority—specifically, that of “the cinematic apparatus” (45).2 Djibril Diop Mambéty, the film’s writer and director, adapts these Western cinematic codes of voice and body to Senegal’s postcolonial context: in Silverman’s analysis, the disembodied voice-over is gendered masculine; in Touki Bouki, it belongs to the Parisian imperial metropolis, and thus, to a regime of neocolonial influence. The definition of ideology developed by Slavoj Žižek deftly describes the nature of this influence. Žižek rejects the Marxist conception of ideology as “false consciousness” (33). Instead, he argues that in a cynical place and time, like post-independence Senegal where initial optimism has all but faded, the public facilely deconstructs “false” meanings, and ideology becomes consciousness itself: a compulsory fantasy wholly structuring social reality (ibid.). In Touki Bouki, voice without body signifies the magnetic authority of mythic Paris, suggesting the all-encompassing operation of


According to Silverman’s analysis, this would not precisely constitute a voice-over, since the inspector’s voice is within the diegesis. But its source is in a space unknown to the viewer, not simply outside the frame; the voice is not recoverable by a simple camera movement. Thus, it is more than voice-off, but less than voice-over. It still functions as disembodied, however, because the viewer cannot imagine the speaker’s body in a given diegetic space. Also, the viewer cannot hear the voice, and so cannot imagine, based on its particularities, how the body might appear. 2


a neo-imperial ideology. The most radically disembodied voices in the film, rather than traditional voice-overs, belong to the French singers who periodically intrude on the soundtrack. The most frequent of these intrusions is Josephine Baker’s refrain, “Paris, Paris, Paris: c’est sur la terre un coin de paradis” (“it’s a corner of paradise on earth”). Silverman argues that the disembodied voice-over attains a “theological status” (49), building on the work of Mary Ann Doane, for whom its authority arises from its “radical otherness with respect to the diegesis” (42). Baker’s lyric gains significance in light of her historical link to Paris: her career in the city between 1925 and 1942, first as an erotic dancer, then as a singer (Ward). Her status as racialized, exoticized Other, performing in banana costumes and alongside a cheetah (ibid.), complicates her role in Touki Bouki: her voice cannot signify the center of imperial power itself; rather, Paris speaks through her. Baker points to the facility with which the myth of the metropolis as beacon enlists bodies to instantiate itself. Significantly, a masculine choir repeats Baker’s “Paris, Paris, Paris” refrain, suggesting that Baker, too, is merely iterating a sign such that it can be re-iterated. Baker’s is not the voice of God, but rather a voice through which ideology is perpetually in the process of disseminating itself.


For most of the film, the lyric seems to wholly structure Anta and Mory’s quest. It signifies the structuring fantasy—escape to Paris, where a better life awaits—of a Žižekian metafiction. That Mory refers to Paris as “the gateway to paradise” before the lyric is first heard could be seen to undercut this thesis, but his phrasing3 suggests a travel marketing slogan (the channeling of another imposed iteration of the guiding fantasy), and the film demonstrates that fantasy and ideology are indelibly intertwined, such that expression of the former cannot come before or without consent to the latter. The camera placement corresponding to Baker’s lyrical overlay vividly suggests the coexistence of fantasy and/as ideology. In the refrain’s first two manifestations, Mory is driving his motorbike, with Anta either seated directly behind him or in a taxi farther back. In both instances the camera alternates between shooting them from the front, seeming to pull them through space, signifying an externally originating force— ideology—and the back—emphasizing their agency, a force within them pushing them forward: fantasy. The multiple camera angles also render Mory and Anta encircled by the lens, the limit of the diegetic, suggesting 3

Assuming no significant difference in meaning in the original Wolof.

beyond it an extra-diegetic circumscription of their journey by the precise ideology that the lyrics espouse. Significantly, as the music fades out after its first occurrence, Mory is roping his motorbike to a tree. The scene suggests an imperative for ideology to re-iterate itself in order to sustain its mobilizing power, foretelling the continual return of the lyric in the film. This iterative dimension of ideology is precisely what is concealed by the lyric’s biblical allusion to “a corner of paradise.” It references the Garden of Eden, biblical land of the first humans, where “no one came before.” Imbued with all the authority of the totally disembodied voice, the allusion enacts the erasure of all the real struggles of Africans who immigrate to the European metropolis, promising Mory and Anta an original odyssey radically unburdened by history. Significantly, Mory changes his mind when in line with other Senegalese to board the boat: when he recognizes his fantasy is shared by fellow travelers and thus is not unique. This timing reinforces the role of the “Paris” refrain as vocalizing a structuring fantasy. The other repeated disembodied voice in the film, that of soprano Mado Robin, eludes fixed, unitary signification. Her lyrics read: “The joy of love lasts but a moment but heartbreak lasts a lifetime ... I abandoned everything for the fair Sylvie yet she abandoned me and found another.” The refrain plays first over Mory’s encounter with Charlie, and again in the port sequence. The initial intrusion sustains a homophobic, stereotypical representation of Charlie as effeminate (the lyrics, as well as his exaggerated mannerisms), predatory (“You know, I always help the kids”), and other to Africa (the French lyrics, in addition to the stars-and-stripes design of his car).4 But the repetition as Mory’s quest nears its suspension suggests that the refrain takes on new meaning with respect to the quest and should be considered in relation to Baker’s “Paris.”

Mory makes a noticeable effort to express his reluctance to interact with Charlie. He moves his head away from Charlie’s upon entering the paddleboat in the pool, then needs to be almost dragged up the stairs to his villa. In this way, the film enforces Mory’s heterosexuality – ‘he’s only there to steal the clothes’ – as well as its own antigay project. 4


Only the lyric’s second half is repeated, foregrounding the themes of abandonment and alienation that are integral to the ideology it transmits. “The fair Sylvie” represents mythic Paris, land of “fair” women mythologized in themselves as part of French culture. Yet if Robin’s voice,


like Baker’s, is one through which the ideology of the metropolis speaks itself with supreme authority, then who is the “I” that “abandoned”? The lyric expresses the metropolis’ ideological enlistment of a mythic body— no particular person, but an ideal—within the postcolonial realm it strives to govern, to render neocolonial. This mythic body is one that abandons absolutely “everything,” including all attachments to its homeland, to accede to the metropolis. This ideal body cannot take real, living form, as one can never absolutely sever oneself from one’s past. The ideology that Robin vocalizes accounts for this fact: “she abandoned me and found another.” If the would-be immigrant fails to negate their native attachments to the extent required to leave, then the metropolis will simply find (not even need to look for) another postcolonial subject to enclose in its magnetic field. As Žižek might propose, Anta and Mory’s structuring fantasy is this ideology. They buy into the severity of their struggle, as they are willing to steal from people in their community and reject their families. Aunt Ouma embodies these families, and her incessant speech (excessive embodied vocalization) points to her disempowerment. The “wild man” who takes Mory’s motorbike symbolizes Anta and Mory’s quest: living in a tree, he has alienated himself from a modernizing world just as they have emotionally withdrawn from everyone and everything but each other. Early in the film, a baby cries off-camera as Anta works at a desk outside: her decision to ignore the baby prefigures her eventual detachment from her community. Furthermore, the camera’s refusal to show the baby posits this detachment as written into the narrative, in accordance with the ideology-fantasy structuring it. In this way, as Baker’s voice speaks to the compulsory allure of the metropolis, Robin’s points to compulsory alienation from the homeland.


Confronted by the converging, push-pull forces of this disembodied ideological assault, where can the possibility of resistance exist? It will not emerge merely in embodied voice. The opening montage that juxtaposes the traditional herding of cattle with their industrial slaughter associates the anchoring of voice to a particular body with vulnerability. The film later shows black migrants being herded like cattle onto a ship, symbolically linking cattle with postcolonial subjects. This technique supports the reading of the cattle’s mooing as a voice, specifically that

of the postcolonial subject. The opening sequence in which a boy, read by some critics as a young Mory (Wynchank 59), leads a herd of cattle across the savannah features voices that are embodied, but not properly: the viewer cannot match any individual sound to one animal. The voices float within a roughly delimited space of the diegesis, synchronized with, but not anchored to, particular bodies. In contrast, the abattoir sequence features a shot in which a single animal is forced to the ground and emits a loud groan moments before a worker cuts its throat. The scene’s coupling of a much stronger anchoring of voice to body with a loss of control and, finally, death affirms Pascal Bonitzer’s characterization of voice as “decrepit” and “mortal” once its source is revealed (qtd. in Silverman 49). The film thus addresses postcolonial power relations not only through the disembodiment of voice but also through its forceful embodiment. In contrast to the abattoir, the savannah shots prefigure Touki Bouki’s imagination of a site of resistance to the constraints of a singularly embodied voice, as well as an omnipotent disembodied voice. The relatively free-roaming cattle, though following Mory, elude industrial containment; the cattle comprise a multiplicity of embodied voices unanchored to specific bodies. The form of the resistance that Touki Bouki suggests is one of embodied polyvocal collectivity. Near the end of the film, Mory’s escape from the port district points to the activation of this resistance. In the absence of his motorbike, on which the body remains relatively stationary, Mory runs, underlining the bodily mobility that the motorbike previously prohibited. An evocative sequence transposes the polyvocality of resistance onto the structure of the film itself, which gains a multitude of voices: the sounds of the abattoir and of the ship, as well as multiple musical instruments, crowd the aural field to an unprecedented degree. Manic cuts and camera movements suggest the multitude of perspectives that polyvocality implies.


Such a striking shift upon Mory’s rejection of a Parisian escape suggests the fall of the structuring fantasy of the metropolis as a beacon; a unitary, omnipotent voice no longer orders the diegesis. In line with the emergent polyvocality, the film cuts to Anta, who remains on the boat. For Anta, the ideology of the paradisical metropolis endures. Significantly, she is carrying a suitcase: her body is weighed down, less mobile than Mory’s. As Mory holds the broken zebu horns that signify the death of his fantasy


(he originally attaches them to his motorbike and, as he approaches Paris, the camera frequently appears anchored to the horns), the hum of invisible passersby enters the soundtrack. The assembly of these off- and on-screen embodied voices surrounding Mory suggests the collective dimension of the film’s proposed mode of resistance. Michel Foucault describes the crowd as “a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect” (201). Foucault posits that the panopticon, a model of disembodied optical discipline analogous to the symbolic vocal model of Touki Bouki, destroys the crowd’s collectivity (201).5 Resistance, Mambéty suggests, may lie in the recuperation of that “locus of multiple exchanges.” Significantly, the voices composing the soundtrack for Mory’s sorrow are the last heard in the film: no individual has the final say. The flashback to Mory and Anta, naked bodies interwoven on the cliff overlooking the ocean, envisaging their distance from Paris, suggests the possibility of Anta also freeing herself from the structuring fantasy and eventually reuniting with Mory. Lingering shots of a postman’s rounds, a drifting sailboat (visibly holding human figures, unlike the ocean liner that precedes it), and finally Mory’s childhood cattle drive end the film. Interconnected by the solemn yet forward-looking horns and percussions engulfing the soundtrack, these images locate an ongoing struggle firmly in the realm of embodied, rather than mythic, journeys. With Touki Bouki, Mambéty appropriates a Western cinematic logic of the voice to express a Senegalese neocolonial reality: thousands of young people following the departed colonizer to its capital, leaving their homes for the perhaps real promise of opportunity. In the film, the ideology of the metropolis speaks itself through disembodied voice removed from the diegesis and thus reflective of the structuring power mythic Paris wields over the psyches of Anta and Mory. The fantasy and ideology of the Parisian escape coalesce around a mythic body capable of truly abandoning its homeland, a mythic body that the neocolonial subject strives to inhabit. The fantasy-ideology begins to disintegrate as


In the panopticon, a nineteenth-century prison design which signifies for Foucault a more general regime of vision in modernity, a central watch tower is encircled by a ring of cells in such a way that if a guard is present, they can see into any cell, but the prisoner cannot see into the watch tower to determine the presence of a guard. The system’s power lies in its disembodiment of optical discipline: the ever-present threat of visibility is enough to render the prisoners “docile bodies” regardless of whether a human guard is watching. 5

the subject confronts the sustained impossibility of that mythic ideal. Touki Bouki finally imagines a collective resistance to neocolonialism, valorizing embodiment, and polyvocality.


Works Cited Doane, Mary Ann. “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space.” Cinema/Sound. Spec. issue of Yale French Studies no. 60 (1980): 33-50. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. Silverman, Kaja. “Body Talk.” The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. Touki Bouki. Dir. Djibril Diop Mambéty. Kino Video, 2005. DVD. Ward, Philip M. “The electric body: Nancy Cunard sees Josephine Baker.” Philip M Ward. 2003. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. Wynchank, Anny. “Touki Bouki: The New Wave.” South African Theater Journal 12.1 (1998): 52-71. Print. Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verson, 1989. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.


CAMP, CHANCE, TRASH, TOUCH: Situating Sins of the Fleshapoids Amidst Pop, Happenings, and Fluxus LEAH PIRES


Camp, Chance, Trash, Touch: Situating Sins of the Fleshapoids Amidst Pop, Happenings, and Fluxus The dynamics of that movie lingers in my memory glands—the sauerkraut, George’s sweaty cheeks, robotic infants marching out of stiff bushy Fleshapoid crotches, the tawdry tearing of Mike’s jockey shorts as his butt flapped to the heavy pulse of the sound score. I believe this was our big-time 16mm feature! —Donna Kerness, Reflections The “big-time 16mm feature” Kerness refers to is Mike Kuchar’s Sins of the Fleshapoids, a homemade 1965 production that is equal parts parody and homage to the low-budget Hollywood pictures that he and his twin brother George were raised on. Despite—or perhaps because of—its humble means, Sins of the Fleshapoids is considered a pioneer of camp and pop aesthetics as well as one of the most influential movies of the 1960s (Stevenson 170). After all, it was allegedly Andy Warhol’s favourite movie (Gruen 101). Part of Fleshapoids’ cultural resonance can be attributed to Kuchar’s siphoning of mainstream culture for his own bizarre filmic reimagingings, a tactic which fits within a larger trend in early 1960s creative practices: the attempted dissolution of cultural hierarchies through the blurring of art and life. In this essay, I will map the commonalities that exist between Sins of the Fleshapoids and Pop Art, Happenings, and Fluxus as a result of creative cross-pollination that took place in New York at the time. To suggest direct cause-and-effect relationships between the different groups would be difficult—not to mention missing the point. Rather, my aim is to point out shared tendencies and concerns.


The “neo-avant-garde” that emerged in the late fifties and early sixties, to which Pop art, Happenings, and Fluxus contributed, was part of an artistic backlash against the elitism of high modernism and claims about the autonomy of art (i.e. its separateness from everyday life) made by critics such as Clement Greenberg in his much-maligned essay, “AvantGarde and Kitsch.” This movement, whose sentiment Susan Sontag termed “the new sensibility” (“One Culture” 293-304), armed itself with source material from “non-art” realms such as Hollywood films, advertising, household objects, and garbage cans in an attempt to underscore art’s connectedness to the everyday, and demolish the barriers between

“high” and “low” culture that had been built by Greenberg, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, among others. Sontag argued that, according to this forthright, pleasure-driven sensibility, looking at a Rauschenberg painting could be as satisfying and complex an experience as listening to The Supremes. “Works of art, psychological forms, and social forms all reflect each other,” Sontag writes in 1965. She further states, “The new sensibility understands art as the extension of life” (299-300). George and Mike Kuchar, who recruited their friends to act in their largely unscripted 8mm and 16mm films, and shot after school or work in the apartments of their parents and friends, exemplify Sontag’s observation almost literally. For them, filmmaking was life, it seemed.


The work of Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Hamilton, and Roy Lichtenstein has perhaps the most obvious affinities with the films of the Kuchar brothers due to their shared mass culture reference points and deliberately campy aesthetics. Warhol is well known for his silkscreens of Brillo soap boxes, Campbell’s soup cans, and celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis; Hamilton is remembered for his collages of consumer products sourced from catalogues and magazines; and Lichtenstein’s signature pieces were enlarged, painted reproductions of comic book panels and advertisements. These artists’ repurposing of mainstream, commercial source material for critical or subversive ends depended upon the fluidity of meaning inherent in any cultural text. According to film historian Juan Suárez, “Mass culture [is] a site of dispute in which meanings are not fixed or imposed by media producers. While the culture industry’s apparati may have totalitarian structure and intent, the texts they disseminate can be inflected and modified by specific audiences” (172). Not only did Mike Kuchar put Clark candy bars, Wise potato chips, and soft-serve ice cream cones in the hands of his actors in Fleshapoids, he depicted them as the epitome of leisured luxury: Ernie, Princess Vivianna’s lover, consumes the aforementioned treats while lying half-naked on a leopard-print chaise and enjoying a massage from his Fleshapoid servant. Like Lichtenstein, Kuchar found inspiration in comic books—the medium incidentally described by Tom Wolfe as “an unconscious American avant-garde” because they were one of the first popular mediums to hint at a rupture within postwar consensus (Suárez 113). In Fleshapoids, Kuchar most clearly manifests 91 this interest through his repeated use of ill-placed speech bubbles and cartoonish currents of white electricity—carved stop-motion style into the

film’s original footage—to convey dialogue and Fleshapoid lovemaking, respectively.1 Besides their shared vocation as lapsing commercial artists, Warhol and Kuchar also shared a preoccupation with Hollywood films and the cult of the star. As the studio system emitted its last gasps, classic Hollywood films became objects of nostalgia in mainstream culture as well as the New York underground. Jack Smith openly fixated on 1940s Technicolor star María Montez, and many of Warhol’s superstars—his name for The Factory’s stable of self-fashioned celebrities—modeled themselves after Hollywood starlets. Obviously indebted to their childhood Saturdays spent at the movies, the Kuchar brothers gave birth to films that were a pastiche of Hollywood melodrama, B-movie sci-fi, premodern epics, and exploitation films. Mike Kuchar’s description of Fleshapoids is funny enough to quote at length: [It is] my most ‘movie’ movie. It is a monument assembled to glorify Hollywood and the ‘star’ image… To me Donna Kerness has reached the peak of her ‘Movie Goddess’ image, an image that, in this film, makes her a caricature, a Debra Paget or Dorothy Lamour, that borders on the grotesque, but yet still retains romantic atmosphere. I have given Donna a ‘leading man’ that can only be described as ‘a gift from the gods.’ His looks and physique endow the sets like mustard on a hotdog. The script deals with science fiction while the sets display a sort of mythologic or Arabian Nights flavor. To sum up, Sins of the Fleshapoids is my most dearest dedication to commercial American movies, or, to put it another way, it is a joke that cost me a thousand dollars. (Gruen 101)


It is true—Fleshapoids is a Frankenstein of genres and references that somehow amounts to more than the sum of its parts: its premise, enslaved robots learning to love (and make love), is undeniably sci-fi; the chiaroscuro lighting and multiple murders are noirish; the abundance of statues, (fake) Kuchar also put these skills to use elsewhere, making movie posters in the style of comic book covers for his films and drawing erotic comics and illustrations for his friends (a talent that he occasionally capitalized on later in life to make ends meet). (Stevenson, Desperate Visions 219). 1

fruit, and semi-nude bodies are a caricature of Ancient Greece; the tangled love stories and interpersonal conflicts are sourced from Hollywood melodramas; and the abruptly changing soundtrack—from surging opera to unaccompanied harmonica—is beyond location.


Despite being sourced mainly from appropriated material, something entirely original emerged from Sins of the Fleshapoids. In 1964, Susan Sontag would call it camp, (“Notes on Camp” 282) and though Mike Kuchar has not read her essay, he concedes to the term (Zurbrugg 224). Pure camp, according to Sontag, emerges when one gains pleasure from a cultural object due to its “failed seriousness”—an effect caused by deterioration over time or changing context. At the time of its creation, the work of Warhol and Kuchar could not qualify as pure camp because of its newness. However, it did constitute “camping” because of the way it appropriated cultural references and reveled in theatricality, artificiality, and excess. Kuchar understands camp to mean “pitching a tent” on territory previously established by mainstream genres (Stevenson “Thinking Big” 4). Kuchar states, “Then you go on holiday (Fig. 1) Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe with that established form, consciously accentuating the artificiality inherent in the styles and techniques they used to manipulate the audience. It’s a sort of vandalism, a form of good natured sabotage” (qtd. in Stevenson “Thinking Big” 4). Both Warhol and Kuchar created exaggerated, distorted depictions of Hollywood stars in what was both a homage and a critique. Warhol’s sloppy, fluorescent Marilyns (Fig. 1) and Fleshapoids’ Prince Gianbeno (Fig. 2), with his shiny pink face, overarched eyebrows, and visible eyebrow putty, are cut from the same cloth. For 93 Fleshapoids, Kuchar deliberately used Kodachrome-2, an oversaturated home movie film stock that other filmmakers warned was for amateurs,

(Fig. 2) George Kuchar as Prince Gianbeno. Still from Sins of the Fleshapoids

because he liked that it looked unnatural and “souped-up,” like a comic book cover (Stevenson Desperate Visions 169). He explains the appeal of embracing artificiality in film production: “There’s another entertainment value, another drama going on, another kind of beauty that’s coming out of these pictures, which are not failures” (Zurbrugg 226). Indeed, Sins of the Fleshapoids was a triumph of camp, but at the time of its creation not even Kuchar could have foreseen the enormous financial success the aesthetic would become for fellow campers Andy Warhol and John Waters.


The Happenings, here represented by the work of artists Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg, share with Sins of the Fleshapoids their propensity for amateur performers, improvisation, deinstitutionalized production and exhibition, cheap materials, and ephemerality. In his paradigmatic 1958 essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” Kaprow suggested that in the wake of Pollock’s death, artists would abandon painting in favour of an art composed of experience. “We shall utilize the specific substances of sight, sound, movements, people, odors, touch,” he wrote. “Objects of every sort are materials for the new art: paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies…” (Kaprow “Jackson Pollock” 9). He predicted that in the 60s, artists would no longer identify along the lines of medium, but simply as artists. The commonalities between the practices of Kaprow, Oldenburg, and Kuchar

suggest that this shift did occur in terms of creative work; whether or not its creators identified it as an undifferentiated group is another question. Kaprow aimed to undermine the division between artist/ performer and audience through participatory experiences. Anyone who showed up to a Happening was part of it, and by necessary extension, Happenings were created by amateur performers. In fact, when laying out the rules for Happenings (an interesting approach to spontaneous artwork, Allan), Kaprow insisted that they be “unrehearsed and performed by nonprofessionals” (“Happenings are Dead” 63). One assumes he meant nonprofessional actors, because it seems that he himself was a professional artist. The Kuchar brothers were also limited to nonprofessional actors for their films, though in their case it was out of necessity more than anything else. Donna Kerness, who played Princess Vivianna in Fleshapoids (Fig. 3), was a high school friend that starred in many of their films. George Kuchar explains her talent, presumably in order of importance: “She had big bazooms. And she had a very nice face, and she could act…. And all my Bronx buddies were excited about her” (Stevenson, Desperate Visions 188). An added bonus was that her parents let the Kuchars shoot movies in their apartment, and even appeared on film sometimes. For lack of better


(Fig. 3) Donna Kerness as Princess Vivianna. Still from Sins of the Fleshapoids.


locations, the Kuchars filmed their early work in semi-transformed domestic spaces. Kerness’s friend Bob Cowan—who appears as Xar, the Fleshapoid slave—let Mike shoot parts of Fleshapoids in his Brooklyn apartment. For the most part, the films were also screened in unofficial venues: friends’ houses, home movie clubs, and later, filmmaker Ken Jacobs’s loft. Only their more popular films, such as Fleshapoids, were screened at underground movie nights in “real” theatres. Similarly, the Happenings often took place outside of officially sanctioned venues, especially as the movement developed. “The most intense and essential Happenings have been spawned in old lofts, basements, vacant stores, natural surroundings, and on the street,” Kaprow wrote (“New York Scene” 17). For example, Kaprow’s Fluids (1967) involved building a structure entirely out of ice on the outskirts of LA (and then letting it melt); his Household piece (1964) gathered men to build forts and women to build nests and lick jam off cars in a field in Ithaca; and Oldenburg’s Ray Gun Manufacturing Company opened The Store (1961) (Fig. 4) Claes Oldenburg, The Store (Fig. 4) in a rented storefront in the Lower East Side.


The philosophy behind Kaprow’s Happenings was shaped a great deal by his former instructor John Cage’s ideas of chance (Lauzon) Cage understood chance as organizing and disorganizing principle for his compositions, and he thought that art needed to leave room for indeterminacy in both composition and reception. Accordingly, Kaprow was keen on the idea of Happenings embracing spontaneity and improvisation. Though he emphasized this point in his writing about Happenings (Kaprow, “New York Scene” 16, 19) and it an oft-cited characteristic, many early Happenings such as 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959) were actually meticulously rehearsed (Kaprow, “18 Happenings” 75). One could argue (and perhaps John Cage would) that there was still an element of chance

(Fig. 5) Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts


in their execution and reception, but by no means was it maximized. Mike Kuchar, on the other hand, truly embraced improvisation. He says that he seldom directed Cowan or Kerness, and instead left them to improvise their roles as they saw fit. “My philosophy was: You start the ball rolling and everything falls into place creatively. It was all spontaneous. The script to Fleshapoids was written on the spot,” he explains (Stevenson, “Thinking Big” 4). In fact, when Kuchar couldn’t figure out how to end the film, he remembers that the cast and crew took a dinner break to think it over and returned to the set with an ending in mind. Interestingly, Kuchar’s approach fulfilled the criteria for a Happening—embracing indeterminacy and letting a situation unfold as it will—more so than most of Kaprow’s work. The spaces in which Happenings took place were called “environments.” They were ramshackle spaces constructed out of lowcost materials like cardboard, paper, and sheets of plastic, as well as more decorative items such as crumpled balls of Scotch tape (Rorimer 196). Incidentally, a description of a 1958 environment by Kaprow, “a sensory obstacle course—rattan nets, lights hanging from cords, mirror fragments and foil, taped sounds of sirens and doorbells, pungent chemical odor” 97 actually sounds a lot like the set of Fleshapoids (Crow 33). Like Kuchar’s set, which he says was constructed in two-and-a-half hours after work

one day, the walls of rooms 18 Happenings didn’t quite reach the ceiling. (Fig. 5) The two productions also shared an affinity for inexpensive shiny objects, colourful draped cloth and fake fruit—hung from a panel in the case of 18 Happenings, and poured over a dancing Vivianna in the case of Fleshapoids. The wide brushstrokes of Kuchar’s painted mural in the opening scene of Fleshapoids make it seem like he traded painting tips with Claes Oldenburg at The Store (Fig. 4); Oldenburg’s oversized and sloppily painted plaster-and-wire replicas of everyday objects, as well as the crowded darkness of his East Village storefront, make them virtually indistinguishable from Kuchar’s props and set. Whereas Oldenburg was lodging a critique at what he saw as a consumption-obsessed art world, Kuchar was just using what he had on hand or could find at thrift stores for cheap: printed fabric, costume jewelry, Christmas baubles, and fake plants, among other gems. Even his special effects were makeshift: Gianbeno and Vivianna’s castle was nothing more than a colour drawing viewed through a veil of fake shrubs, and Gianbeno’s death by electrocution was masterfully rendered by creating a double exposure of a birthday sparkler overtop of a writhing Gianbeno with a smoke bomb going off between his legs (Kuchar, DVD commentary).


An embrace of ephemerality and impermanence was also a central concern of Kaprow and Oldenburg, and an incidental byproduct of much of Kuchar’s work. In what was perhaps another misreading of Cage, Kaprow insisted that no Happening—after 18 Happenings’ initial six night spree—could ever be repeated, in order for its presence and immediacy to be preserved. According to Cage’s thinking, however, even rehearsed, repeated actions could never be replicated due to inevitable changes in circumstance and execution. Nonetheless, Kaprow took pains to use materials that were as perishable as possible, such as newspapers, garbage, rags, food, and borrowed objects, just in case. “A Happening is thus fresh, while it lasts, for better or worse,” he wrote (Kaprow, “New York Scene” 20). Oldenburg used similarly flimsy materials for his creations, and kept The Store open until all the sculptures had been purchased. Despite the artists’ attempts at ephemerality, galleries and collectors have (of course) managed to commodify and preserve their work in the years since. The work of the Kuchars, however, has deteriorated more organically. George says that reels of some of their earlier films are still sitting in their mom’s closet in the Bronx in poor condition (Stevenson, Desperate Visions 198),

and Mike says that he deliberately destroys the sets to his movies after the shoot is over. “All the stuff was conceived to decorate another world,” he says. “I don’t want to own mementos looted from places where they belong and where they would be better off remaining… Movies, like memories, shouldn’t be something you stumble over on the way to the bathroom” (Stevenson, “Thinking Big” 6). Perhaps Kaprow and Oldenburg would have wished a similar fate for the remnants of their work, but it seems that the art world vultures cannot be reasoned with.


Fluxus, an international movement officially united under George Maciunas’s 1963 Fluxus Manifesto, shared many key concerns with the Happenings. Fluxus artists staged event-based works on the streets and in other unofficial venues, rejected the idea of art as a high-value commodity, and deemphasized the role of the artist through artworks that required viewer participation (Rorimer 34). Accordingly, part of Maciunas’s imperative-filled manifesto read, “Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY, to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes, and professionals” (Rorimer 32). Part of the Fluxus approach to making art more accessible involved the deprivileging of vision through art that could be experienced through multiple senses. “The basic unity of contemporary art is not the idea, but the analysis and extension of sensations,” wrote Sontag in “One Culture and the New Sensibility” (300). This notion was manifested in Fluxus works that generated touch, taste, smell, and sound-based experiences in an effort to offer the viewer multiple pathways toward ontological knowledge (Higgins 38).2 Examples include a collectively organized meal that was made entirely of transparent food and drink; Ay-O’s Finger Boxes (1964), which invited viewers to poke their fingers in small boxes containing concealed objects such as bristles, beads, condoms, sponges, nails, or cotton balls; and Larry Miller’s Orifice Flux Plugs (1974), which invited the view to consider various soft small plugs and statuettes for insertion into available orifices (Higgins 38). Though the medium of film restricts viewers from visually experiencing events, the actors’ onscreen interactions in Fleshapoids exhibit a Fluxus-like interest in multisensorial experience. For example, Xar’s owner disrobes as a textured piece of red lace is slowly raised in front of the camera lens, and a bedazzled Vivianna dances around wearing nothing but paper flowers 99 Here, I use the term Hannah Higgins borrows from David Michael Levin, who defines “ontological thinking” as a modality of knowledge that is multisensory. 2

and leaves as a cascade of fake fruit is poured over her. The frequently half-clothed Ernie receives a massage, runs his fingers through Vivianna’s jewelry box (of Mardi Gras beads and Christmas tree baubles), eats great snacks, frolics in bed with Vivianna, and has a bubble bath. And, most triumphantly, Gianbeno perishes in the aforementioned fiery electrocution just before the Fleshapoid servant Melenka dramatically gives birth to a baby robot. Clearly, Mike Kuchar had a habit of packing his sets full of Fluxkit-worthy sensorial experiences—that, or they are an accidental byproduct of his surreal plots and bargain-bin props.


Another facet of Fluxus production centred around Fluxkits, which were boxes of objects for audiences to interact with. “Event scores,” small paper cards with instructions for an “event” that would engage the reader in a certain set of actions, were a frequently included item. For example, La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #10 to Bob Morris (October 1960) stated “Draw a straight line / and follow it” and Alison Knowles’s #2— Proposition (October 1962) simply instructed its reader to “Make a salad.” Event scores were supposed to turn any participant into an artist. In keeping with Cage’s concept of indeterminacy, there was no correct way to perform the scores, and the idea was that a set of instructions would never produce duplicate acts, just by virtue of participants’ idiosyncratic interpretations. The event score’s anti-elitist impetus resonates a great deal with the Kuchar brothers’ approach to filmmaking. It seems like they treated the Hollywood movies from which they drew their inspiration as event scores in themselves. Had they existed, the cards might have read, Make a movie with your friends as stars, or Parody a Hollywood movie, or Reimagine a sci-fi B-movie as your fantasy world. Just as if they were reading an event score, the Kuchars inevitably made films that were idiosyncratic, bizarre, and unique interpretations of these unspoken instructions. The same words could be interpreted in infinite ways, and they would never yield the same results—and none would ever truly resemble a Hollywood film. However, that is the beauty of the event score, and of the Kuchars’s personal filmmaking: there is no wrong answer, but there are many startlingly inventive ones.


Despite the lack of concrete evidence that Pop, Happenings, and Fluxus had a direct impact on the making of Sins of the Fleshapoids, or vice versa (with the exception of Warhol’s penchant for the film), there is

substantial resonance between them. Maybe, as Allan Kaprow claimed, artists of the sixties “[Were] simply ‘artists.’ All of life [was] open to them.” Or maybe not. Mike Kuchar offers a more likely explanation when he describes the exchanges that take place between cultural creators at any given time: “What we do is open these doors for each other, and we show a possible path that could be traveled further…. It’s like an exchange we have between ourselves… It’s like a continuity—it opens possible channels to be further explored. And this goes on and on from there.” Yes, maybe these were the alchemies of the 1960s. Works Cited Crow, Thomas J. The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. Print. Foster, Hal, and Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004. Print. Gruen, John. The New Bohemia: The Combine Generation. New York: Shorecrest, 1966. Print. Higgins, Hannah. Fluxus Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Print. Kaprow, Allan. “18 Happenings in 6 Parts.” Happenings: An Illustrated Anthology. Ed. Michael Kirby. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1965. 53-66. Print. ---. “Happenings in the New York Scene (1961).” Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Ed. Jeff Kelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 15-26. Print. ---. “The Happenings are Dead: Long Live the Happenings! (1966)” in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Ed. Jeff Kelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 59-65. Print. ---. “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock (1958).” Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Ed. Jeff Kelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 1-9. Print. ---. “Notes on the Creation of a Total Art (1958).” Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Ed. Jeff Kelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 10-12. Print. ---. “A Statement.” Happenings: An Illustrated Anthology. Ed. Michael Kirby. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1965. 44-52. Print.


Kelley, Jeff. Introduction to Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Ed. Jeff Kelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. xi-xxvi. Print.


Kerness, Donna. “A Star in the Making.” Reflections From a Cinematic Cesspool. Berkeley: Zanja Press, 1997. 156-157. Print.

Kirby, Michael. Introduction to Happenings: An Illustrated Anthology. Ed. Michael Kirby. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1965. 9-42. Print. Kuchar, George and Mike. Reflections From a Cinematic Cesspool. Berkeley: Zanja Press, 1997. Print. Lauzon, Claudette. Course lecture for ARTH 339: Critical Issues in Contemporary Art, Winter 2009. Rorimer, Anne. New Art in the 60s and 70s: Redefining Reality. London: Thames & Hudson, 2001. Print. Sontag, Susan. “Happenings: An Art of Radical Juxtaposition.” Against Interpretation. First published in 1962. New York: Dell Publishing, 1966. 263-274. Print. ---. “Notes on Camp.” Against Interpretation. New York: Dell Publishing, 1966. 275-292. Print. ---. “One Culture and the New Sensibility.” Against Interpretation. New York: Dell Publishing, 1966. 293-304. Print. Stevenson, Jack. “Thinking Big on Small-Gauge Film: Mike Kuchar Still the Voice of Independence.” Sins of the Fleshapoids DVD Booklet. 2005. Dir. Mike Kuchar. San Francisco: Other Cinema. Print. ---. Desperate Visions 1: Camp America: The Films of John Waters and George & Mike Kuchar. London, Creation Books, 1996. Print. Suárez, Juan A. Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996. Print. Tyler, Parker. Underground Film: A Critical History. New York: Da Capo Press, 1969. Print. Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “Mike Kuchar.” Art, Performance, Media: 31 Interviews. Ed. Nicholas Zurbrugg. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. 223-230. Print.

Artworks Cited (Fig. 1) Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1962. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.


(Fig. 2) George Kuchar as Prince Gianbeno. Still from Sins of the Fleshapoids. Dir. Mike Kuchar. 1965. DVD. (Fig. 3) Donna Kerness as Princess Vivianna. Still from Sins of the Fleshapoids. Dir. Mike Kuchar. 1965. DVD. (Fig. 4) Claes Oldenburg, The Store, 1961. 107 East 2nd St, New York. (Fig. 5) Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, 1959. Reuben Gallery, New York.

PATRIOTISM OR PROPAGANDA? Bringing Shakespeare’s Henry V to the Big Screen in Wartime Britain BRAHNA SIEGELBERG


Patriotism or Propaganda? Bringing Shakespeare’s Henry V to the Big Screen in Wartime Britain After watching Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film Henry V in theatres, one critic noted, “At once escapist and in touch with the reality of its audiences experience, it is one of the subtlest war films of its time” (Jackson 71). “In the midst of the Second World War, English men and women flocked to the theatres to watch the iconic Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of Henry V—the Shakespeare play about a medieval British king who defeated France in battle against all the odds. Financed by the Ministry of Information, the film was an attempt on the part of the government to boost the morale of the war-torn British public (Crowdus 54). With the play’s rousing and patriotic speeches, depiction of a triumphant battle, and exaltation of a fierce war leader, it is no mystery why the government saw it as a sensible story to adapt for a mass audience. Moreover, as Shakespeare is an integral part of the British cultural past, it was appropriate to summon the bard as a reminder that although England was under siege, its enemies could never obliterate the cultural reservoir it had already produced.


While audiences were accustomed to more overt forms of wartime propaganda, however, there was nothing subtle about Olivier’s Shakespeare adaptation. As Joan Lord Hall notes, “[Henry V] is a pageant-like and overstylized, glorified version of King Henry that beefs up the chauvinism at the expense of the play’s ambiguities” (85). While some scholars like Jack Jorgens have dismissed the film’s overtly political nature on the basis of artistic merit, others like Hall have denounced it for its gross exaggeration and simplification of Shakespeare’s play. Olivier’s Henry V crosses the line from celebrating English victory to expunging English sins altogether. This transition from patriotic to propagandistic is demonstrated through three aspects of the film: its extreme caricaturizing of both the English and the French, its politically-motivated omissions from the original play, and its use of meta-theatrical techniques, all of which serve to remind the audience that the adaptation is meant to be a paradigm for their own lives rather than a realist historical re-enactment. When the film is compared to the German film propaganda that proliferated at the same time, it is 104 evident that despite unmistakable cinematic and artistic achievements, Henry V is inextricable from its wartime context. Based on the general understanding of the term in the forties, propaganda refers to “Official

government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect” (“propaganda.” American Heritage Online Dictionary). This essay will not only examine Henry V’ s visual, stylistic, and cinematic techniques that turned it from a nuanced play to the perfect British wartime film, but it will also problematize the concept of film adaptation. While Olivier claimed to be “giving Shakespeare back to the people” (Olivier 180), he also banished all complexity and elided any potential for moral ambiguity in the process. As the film was the first of many to adapt Shakespeare to a major blockbuster, Henry V is ripe for a discussion on both what is gained, and also what is lost from Shakespeare in the process of adaptation for the modern viewer.


In order to fully analyze Olivier’s Henry V and then make claims about its relationship to political life, it is necessary to first examine the national mood during the production of the film. In the wake of Britain’s participation in Hitler’s war—particularly after persistent aerial bombardment by Germany—morale was low and the nation was divided. More straightforward attempts at rousing the national spirit were seen in the films of Humphrey Jennings, which displayed England in a pastoral, idyllic state and the English people as unified and classless, and in William Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver (1942), which demonstrated how a middleclass housewife got wrapped up in the war effort (Jackson 77). Deeply intertwined with English wartime propaganda was the proliferating of notions of brotherhood, universal experience, and a common “Britishness.” As novelist J.B. Priestley wrote in 1944; “Through the fading mists there emerged the simple, kindly, humorous brave faces of the ordinary British folk—a good people, deeply religious at heart, not only when they’re kneeling in our little grey country churches but also when they’re toiling at their machines or sweating under loads in the threatened dockyards” (Priestley as quoted in Jackson 76). In the aftermath of the Battle of Britain, the Battle at Dunkirk, and many other military affronts to the British Isles, Priestley proliferated the notion of a war that was fought by “ordinary British folk.” Although this idea was a political myth, as Britain was still the most class-based society in Europe and the manager of the world’s largest empire, this essay will demonstrate how Olivier’s film makes use 105 of these same topoi in his version of wartime propaganda.


Given this climate of nationalism and the sudden flourishing of films relating to “British” values, it was not particularly strange then, that in 1942, Olivier, labelled by the press “the young actor of the moment” (Munn 70), was summoned by the head of the Ministry of Information, Jack Beddington, to undertake a film in the service of the British cause. The project was a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V—the brainchild of the head of the Ministry’s Film Division, Dallas Bower— which Olivier had already been performing on stage at the Old Vic Theatre for some years. To be useful as wartime propaganda, the film had to make a number of vast alterations and artistic interpretations of the original play. For instance, Olivier’s choice to position the film as a play within a play denies the audience the possibility of getting lost in the escapism of the story and of consequently separating the production from its intended parallel to contemporary society. The outset of the play opens not with the Chorus’ famous prologue bidding for a “Muse of fire” (Prologue 1) to help the audience imagine that the small theatre is “the bloody battlefields of France” (Prologue 12), but rather with a rowdy group of Elizabethan Englishmen and women who pack into the Globe Theatre to watch a performance of Henry V in the year 1600. Cinematically, the camera opens at a distance, panning over London—whose landscape would be panned when documenting its destruction after the Battle of Britain—and then slowly zooms in to focus on the Globe Theatre. Accompanied by early modern music and buildings, it is clear that the film is taking the audience to Shakespeare’s England before turning to the medieval world of his play. As Davies explains, there are three levels of narration taking place in the film: the world of the cinema viewer, the world of Elizabethan England and the Globe Theatre where the play is being performed, and the world of Henry V, which takes place in medieval England and France. By setting up these multiple layers of action, the film is able to transcend time and space, thus creating what Davies calls “universal time” (Filming 27). In other words, setting up this mediation of the theatre between the play’s action and the film’s audience, demonstrates that Henry V takes place in no particular time or place—unlike much of early cinema, which was often aimed at realism (Chapman 7)—and cues the audience to its position as an allegorical work. The theatre thus acts as a microcosm of society, and enables the contemporary British audience to see themselves reflected in these

historically non-specific roles. Audiences are meant to see themselves in the excited Elizabethan crowd at the Globe Theatre, and in the loyal soldiers on the play’s battlefields. Furthermore, the film demonstrates that Olivier is playing two characters in the film: the actor playing Henry and the character of Henry himself. When he clears his throat before he walks onto the stage, he announces to both the audience in the Globe Theatre as well as to those in the cinema that he is an actor and not a facsimile of the king. Finally, the film also takes us where Shakespeare did not: backstage, where the actors shed their costumes and reveal that they are people taking on a role—people who can stand in for any one in the audience. However, once they enter the realm of the stage, which is the small frame at which both Elizabethan and contemporary audiences direct their gaze, they become archetypes and caricatures that the audience knows and recognizes. By way of this technique, the film invokes all of contemporary British society in its message of military triumph and English brotherhood, as it pictures Englishmen and women of all castes of society sharing in the same excitement of the entertainment before them, and later, getting rained on through the same crack in the ceiling. While Olivier viewed the decision to stage the film using metatheatrical techniques as a natural rendering of the Chorus’s initial statement, it is unclear whether he was really tapping in to Shakespeare, or imposing his own vision onto Shakespeare’s text. In his autobiography, On Acting, Olivier explains his decision to place the Chorus in the Globe Theatre:


In the play Shakespeare complains about the confines of the Globe Theatre. He uses the Chorus to narrate and comment, showing his frustration that the Globe audience wasn’t in France. I wondered how to present the Chorus. Have him as a voice-over perhaps? I realised I had to put him where Shakespeare put him—in the Globe. The play was telling me the style of the film (Olivier 70).

Olivier is right in that the Chorus does discuss the limitations of the theatre in portraying an elaborate battle scene. When the Chorus declares, “Or may we cram/Within this wooden O the very casques/That did affright the air at Agincourt?” (Prologue 12-14), he is indeed describing the 107 difficulties in portraying a vast battle within the “crammed” theatrical space. The question, however, is whether Shakespeare is complaining

about these limitations or merely commenting on their irony. While scholars like Jorgens suggest that Shakespeare would have readily welcomed the technological additions of the cinema in conveying battle scenes, scholars like Anthony Davies argue that Shakespeare made use of the limitations of the theatre in order to make a statement about the absurdity of war (Filming 28). Olivier’s version, alternatively, abandons the meta-theatre during battle scenes and uses realist techniques to more accurately convey the glory of war. Shakespeare employs the Chorus as an omniscient narrator who brings the audience from one scene to another, but the Chorus does not mediate between two spaces, as all the action takes place on the same stage. It is impossible to determine whether the bard would have welcomed the realism that cinema offers in re-enacting historical events, but it is certainly noteworthy that Olivier chose neither to embrace cinema entirely nor to fully abandon the stage altogether.


Just as the use of meta-theatre turns characters into archetypes, the film also exaggerates the presentation of both the English and the French through a number of visual cues. Where Shakespeare’s play maintains a critical distance from its characters and often leaves them open to harsh judgement, Olivier’s film, alternatively, abandons any hints of nuance and impartiality. The English are presented as simple, loyal, and hard-working, in accordance with the images of Humphrey Jennings and William Wyler; whereas, the French are pictured as addle-brained fools who care for little other than their decadence and finery. With the help of vibrant costumes and colours, stylized orchestral music, and a castle modelled on the medieval illuminated manuscript Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berri (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry”), the French are shown as laughable and unsympathetic enemies (Crowdus 55). The English soldiers brood before the battle of Agincourt and mourn the death of Falstaff; the French are silly, weak, and proud, and their king effete and apathetic. The French set, speech, makeup, and gestures serve as an added means of promoting the technique of fairy-tale and allegory. The blatant artificiality of the French elements again underscores the simplification of the play. During the Battle of Agincourt, the French dauphin is literally lowered on to his horse, which looks particularly pathetic when preceded by Henry’s 108 athletic gallop onto his own. Watching this scene, it is impossible not to take notice of the juxtaposition of the contrasting French and English preparations for the war: while the French jovially drink flasks of mead

in their vibrantly coloured uniforms, the British work arduously away in drab colours. As the French Minister of Foreign Affairs notes, “The film is extremely painful and almost intolerable in its depiction of the moral faults and weaknesses of the French” (Chapman 247). Although the statement somewhat misses the mark—France is quite possibly a stand-in for Germany in this case—it does call attention to the film’s lack of moral ambiguity. The film’s politically allegorical nature has drawn many critics to compare the style of Henry V to that of a Western, the most popular Hollywood genre of the time (Bazin 36). In enumerating the main facets of a Western, Andree Bazin helps illuminate the archetypal and straightforward nature of the adaptation (37). Bazin highlights the Western elements in the film, including the relation of action to a formative process of romanticized history, the simplicity of characters by way of archetypes, the spatial strategy which relates man to natural terrain, and the unambiguous polarization of moral categories (37). Any member of the film crew would have been intimately familiar with the characteristics of the Western, and it is no coincidence that they chose to adopt this style. The long panning of the travelling shots featured in the battle scenes, as well as the importantly empty horizons, closely mimic the cinematography used in Westerns. Furthermore, the clear polarity between the British and the French adheres perfectly to Bazin’s descriptions of the Western. One only needs to watch the films of John Wayne or Henry Fonda to recognize Henry V’s clear citation of this cinematic mode and desire to evoke a similar sympathy in its viewers. Using the conventions of the western not only emphasized the politically- motivated tactics of the film, but it also helped to veil the film as another Hollywood production.


The clearest indication of the film’s political motives is not the elements that were added to the original play, however, but rather the elements that were omitted. As Olivier and co-writer Alan Dent removed almost fifty percent of the play’s original lines, it is shocking to compare the new text with the original; anything that could have been construed as anti-British—or to put it more crudely, nuanced—is noticeably missing from the screenplay. There are a number of incidents in the play in which 109 Henry demonstrates a darker, more complicated character, but these are strategically left out of Olivier’s version. For example, after the Battle

of Agincourt, Henry orders his men to kill all of their French prisoners: “The French have reinforced their scattered men. Then every soldier kill his prisoners! Give the word through” (4.7.36-8). While Henry’s sense of revenge and justice is perfectly legitimate within Shakespeare’s reimagining of the famous battle, it found no place in British wartime cinema. The film also excludes one of the most problematic moments in Shakespeare’s play, in which Henry threatens the murder, rape, pillaging, and throat-slitting of the French residents of Harfleur, Henry declares, “Take pity of your town and of your people whiles yet my soldiers are in my command…If not—why in a moment look to see the blind and bloody soldier with foul hand defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters; your fathers taken by the silver beards; And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls; your naked infants spitted upon pikes…” (3.3.2838). In the film, Henry is kind and just to the people of Harfleur, merely asking them “where is your governor?” after which him and his troops are welcomed into the Harfleur gates. Scholar Gary Crowdus asserts that even the original play downplayed Henry V’s purported abrasive character , “Even Shakespeare soft-peddled the character and exploits of this monarch who was, by all accounts, a religious bigot, a manipulative, self-serving politician, and a ruthless military leader who brought more bloodshed and devastation to France than any other invader, from the Vikings to the Nazis, in that nation’s history” (Crowdus 55). The way in which Olivier, and even Shakespeare, adapted the historical figure, gestures toward the way in which the interpretation of history can always be manipulated for political use given the right artistic flourish and spin.


There are many other notable moments of the play that are excluded from the film. For example, in the play, after the dauphin sends a messenger to mock Henry by giving him tennis balls to remind him of his wild youth, Henry tells the messenger, “We are no tyrant, but a Christian king unto who grace our passion is as subject as is our wretches fettered in our prisons” (1.2.241-3). In the film, however, he merely responds by stating that he is a Christian king but omits the part where he 110 speaks about “wretches fettered in [his] prisons.” A few other important moments that are left out are the conspiracy plot by fellow Brits to kill the king and Henry’s subsequent death sentence of those men; Henry’s


merciless hanging of Bardolph for stealing a crucifix; and Henry’s famous speech in Act Four in which he worries that he will inherit his father’s guilt for usurping the crown from the rightful king, Richard II. The film also excludes any mention of Scotland as a separate kingdom, which at this time would demonstrate the reality of British complexity and diversity. Finally, the chorus tells us in the epilogue that Henry dies soon after the battle, leaving the newly acquired France to his infant son whose “state so many had the managing/That they lost France and made his England breed” (Epilogue 11-14) Including this conclusion, however, would obviously undercut the film’s mission by suggesting that Britain’s triumph would be fleeting, and therefore it, too, was omitted. Instead, the play ends with Henry’s marriage to Princess Katherine, which comes off more as a means of demonstrating the ultimate end and reconciliation of war, than it does as a logical conclusion to any romantic courtship. By leaving out many of the play’s side plots and complications, the film is able to emphasize its most patriotic and rousing moments. While the play is full of moments like the aforementioned one in which Henry feels guilty for his father’s usurpation of the crown, it is also replete with oft-quoted speeches that the king delivers to his men before battle. The Second World War relied on strong, even cult-like war leaders who rallied their people through persuasive words and impassioned speeches, and Henry V highlights a similar type of leader (Massai 17). In addition to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Adolph Hitler were all very central in giving their respective nations reason and will with which to persevere through trying times. Shakespeare’s Henry V is well known for the speeches he delivered to his men before the Battles of Harfleur and Agincourt. Notably, there is a strong parallel between the charisma of Henry V and Winston Churchill, and this could be an example of Olivier’s intentional contemporary relevance of the film. For instance, Churchill’s exhortation, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few,” echoes Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers/ For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother” (4.3.60-63). Just as Henry V disguises himself as a commoner on the night before battle in order to give hope to his men, and later delivers these lines, Churchill, too, hoped to incite a similar 111 sense of camaraderie and brotherhood among the troops. Cinematically, the scene begins with a close-up of Henry as the camera follows him while

he walks, and then slowly pans out to the crowd around him, signalling both the king’s centrality amongst the battalion and also his unity with them.1 Similarly, during the battle scene itself, a low-angle shot of Henry placing him in the frame next to the flag of St. George serves to further his status as war leader (Chapman 246). For all the problematic moments of the play that are left out, there are many scenes that are capitalized on and strategically left in. This status of Henry V as a symbol for strong wartime leaders is made further suggestive when considering the centrality of Olivier himself in the landscape of British culture. As the go-to actor of the age, Olivier was the perfect choice for the role. Commenting on Olivier’s performance, Charles Loughton asked, “Do you know why you are so good at the part? It’s because you are England” (Holden 123). Olivier’s star status meant more than that he was a good choice for the role; his close association with the state of England itself caused his role as king and his valiant speeches to be inextricably tied to the film’s political aims. In his autobiography, Olivier describes feeling initially somewhat ambivalent about playing the part of Henry V, who he saw as somewhat of a “scoutmaster,” but eventually Ralph Richardson, the actor with whom he ran the Old Vic, convinced him to take on the role. Olivier writes, So I asked Ralph what he thought about it. He said with some disgust, “Yes, Henry V. He’s a Scoutmaster.” He fell silent for a few moments, thought about it, and then said, “But he raises scoutmastership to godlike proportions, which is just what Shakespeare always does. Of course you must play him.” So that’s what I did (Olivier 58).


Richardson is commenting on not only Shakespeare’s capacity to turn “scoutmasters” into gods—something that would have appealed to the British government at the time—but also insisting on the significance of Olivier taking on the role. There seemed to be an association between Shakespeare, as a central figure in England’s past, and Olivier, as a central figure in England’s present. In a similar anecdote, an extra, performing In fact, before Bower decided to make the film, he produced a radio programme called Into Battle, in which Olivier recited Henry V’s ‘Harfleur’ and ‘Crispin’s Day’ speeches (Chapman 245). 1

with Olivier in the stage production noted, “The man wishing me luck was Larry Olivier, but the man I saw was Henry Plantagenet himself” (Munn 70). His statement exposes not only the transformative potential of good acting, but also the meshing of art and political life at this particular historical moment.


Not only was Olivier the face of British celebrity, but he was also the perfect picture of a loyal British citizen. He served in the Fleet Air Arm as a lieutenant, training air-gunners by flying them in an old Walrus bi-plane (Munn 128). In fact, describing his decision to take on the film role, he explained, “As I flew over the country in my Walrus I kept seeing it as Shakespeare’s sceptred isle. I was thirty-seven and in fine fettle. I asked Wyler to direct but he said, ‘No, if it’s Shakespeare it must be you’” (Olivier 186). Olivier’s statement conflates military pursuits, Shakespeare, and England, the “sceptred isle” itself. Furthermore, his initial decision to ask William Wyler to direct demonstrates both the explicitly propagandistic nature of the film—as Wyler was known for such films—and, again, the clear association of Olivier with Shakespeare and quintessential “Britishness.” As Olivier asserted about the play, “We were inspired by the warmth, humanity, wisdom and Britishness just beneath the surface of Shakespeare’s brilliant jingoism. And there I was, an Englishman with a mission to bring Shakespeare to the screen” (Olivier 190). In addition to using the politically charged word “Britishness,” Olivier notably discusses his decision to “bring Shakespeare to the screen” in militaristic terms. Furthermore, the word “jingoism” implies more than simply patriotism; it also suggests sensationalism and even fabrication in the service of a national cause. Even without the extreme doctoring of the play, there was already something inherently political about the choice of Olivier for the role.

In fact, Henry V was not the only wartime film on behalf of the Ministry of Information in which Olivier participated. Another important film was Words For Battle, a documentary short directed by Humphrey Jennings—the reigning king of British wartime cinema (Aldgate 216). A Cambridge intellectual, poet, painter, and writer, Jennings produced a number of documentaries, including London Can Take It! (1940), Listen 113 to Britain (1942), and Fires Were Started (1943). Narrated by Olivier, Words for Battle was a call to arms through images and words of Britain’s


countryside, people, and poets (Aldgate 217). In each section, a visual image is accompanied by a famous poem or speech from British figures like John Milton, William Blake, Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, and Winston Churchill. For example, when Olivier recites Churchill’s famous words, “We shall never surrender,” Jennings artfully cuts to an image of St. Paul’s church towering over the rubble. The juxtaposition of Blake’s Jerusalem with the image of children being evacuated from contemporary London, signals Jennings’ commitment to evoking sentimentality regarding the current predicament by reminding viewers of a supposedly glorious British past. As Olivier reads Milton’s Areopagitica, the film first displays an image of Royal Air Force recruits arriving at the airfields and starting to train on fighter planes, and then mischievously cuts to an image of Hitler and the Nazis parading in the streets. Like Henry V, Words for Battle belonged to a specific genre of wartime films called the “heritage” film, which sought to not only relay values of the present, but also to remind Englishmen of their cultural past (238). Olivier also narrated This Happy Breed, a movie about an ordinary family whose lives are suddenly uprooted by the war. The film ends by projecting what life will be like when the war is finally over; in his classic British accent and strong, actorly vibrato, Olivier declares, “With the return of the troops, hundreds and hundreds of houses are becoming homes again” (Aldgate 211). A similar film was Demi-Paradise (1943), the story of a Russian scientist, played by Olivier, who comes to England before the war, and discovers the delights of the English way of life. His character ends by concluding, similarly, that the British are “a grand, grand people” (Chapman 244). Olivier also played a small role as a French-Canadian trapper in Alexander Korda’s 49th Parallel, a film, which told the story of a group of Nazi submariners who get stranded on the coast of Canada (Munn 127). This film also starred Robert Newton, who played the part of Pistol in Henry V. The purpose of 49th Parallel was not only to demonstrate the differences between Nazism and democracy, but also to affirm the shared bonds among all democratic nations—particularly those within the British Commonwealth (Chapman 73). Although Henry V went above and beyond these films in its attempt to appeal to a more mainstream audience, it was clearly part of this stream of British wartime cinema. Finally, the role of Henry V as propaganda becomes even more explicit when we consider it not only in relation to other British wartime

cinema, but also in the context of German wartime cinema. Triumph of the Will (1934), one of the most famous German propaganda films, provides a surprisingly vivid comparison to Henry V. Directed by Leni Riefenstahl and produced by Joseph Goebbels, the film opens with a highly evocative sequence of an airplane descending from the heavens in a Christ-like fashion, and eventually delivering Hitler to a crowd of eager supporters on the ground (Giesen 24). While it is highly unlikely that Olivier and the rest of the film crew were deliberately citing this Nazi staple, the extent to which Henry V’s opening pan of the London skyline and slow zoom in on the crowd at the Globe Theatre echoes Triumph’s beginning, is somewhat shocking. In both cases, the recent invention of Newsreel2 provides a previously unavailable means of linking images of the national landscape to a political cause. To further evoke a triumphant, nationalist spirit, orchestral scores, composed respectively by British and German composers William Walton and Richard Wagner, accompany both opening sequences. Furthermore, like Henry V, it depicts an exclusively male world. While Henry V is the story of an army that wins a battle against the odds because they banded together, Triumph emphasizes the male camaraderie of the Nazi movement (Giesen 26). And, much like Charles Loughton told Olivier3, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess tells Hitler in the film “You are Germany! When you act, the nation acts; when you judge, the people judge!” Triumph is yet another film that exhibits a cultish war leader, and equates the person leading the nation with the nation itself.

Newsreel is a form of short documentary film used before television supplanted it in the 1950s, regularly released in a public presentation place. It was a source of news, current affairs and entertainment for millions of moviegoers. Newsreels are now considered significant historical documents, since they are often the only audiovisual record of historical and cultural events of those times (Davies 30). 3 See page 112. 2


Like Henry V, Triumph is often remembered more for its outstanding cinematic and artistic achievements than for its ideological beginnings. At a 1935 film award ceremony, Goebbels declared, “The film has successfully overcome the danger of becoming a mere propaganda feature” (Goebbels as quoted in Giesen 30). Goebbels expresses his belief that artistic merit somehow sidesteps political bias, and in the case of Triumph, the propagation of hateful and destructive falsehoods. Time’s Richard Corliss has denied that Triumph was itself a propaganda piece, arguing that it is rather an objective documentary about a propaganda


event. Similarly, contemporary filmmaker Oliver Stone controversially called the Hitler story, conveyed in Triumph, a drama of “Shakespearean” dimensions (Giesen 18). Although Stone was not necessarily expressing sympathy or approval of the heinous dictator, he was nonetheless affirming the story’s potential for cinematic greatness. Moreover, his choice of the word “Shakespearian” confirms the cultural significance of Henry V as a wartime film. Going on to win several Academy Awards, including a custom-made award for “Outstanding Production Achievement as Actor, Producer, and Director” given to Olivier, Henry V was also remembered most for its cinematic achievements (Chapman 265). As James Chapman writes, “[Henry V] so transcended its propagandist origins that it is now regarded as one of the masterpieces of British cinema” (Chapman 233). The fact that a clear piece of propaganda like Triumph can have a mixed legacy as a result of its cinematic accomplishments, demonstrates that Henry V is no less problematic because of its mainstream acceptance.


In fact, many contemporary writers and scholars have drawn a more suggestive parallel between Olivier to Goebbels. A 1990 novel by Philip Purser entitled Friedrich Harris: Shooting the Hero, which is a first-person fictional tale about the making of the 1944 film, places the project in the context of wartime propaganda and even establishes a direct connection between the charismatic acting skills of Olivier and the German wartime film industry run by Goebbels. Harris, the novel’s main character—an unsubtle reference to ‘Bomber Harris’ who conducted the British bombing campaign against Germany—recounts his memories while shooting Henry V at the same time that Goebbels is filming Kolberg, the most expensive German propaganda film of WWII (Massai 82). While Purser’s novel seems somewhat flippant, it does raise an important question in terms of where to draw the line between wartime propaganda industries. Peter Drexler, similarly, compares Henry V to Veit Harlan’s der Grosse Konig—a 1942 film portraying the great German war hero Frederick the Great (Davies, Companion 172). Not only have scholars discovered the propagandistic nature of Henry V in the context of wartime cinema, but some have concluded more sinister links between Olivier and German wartime figures. Furthermore, just as British films like 49th Parallel served to not only promote British values, but also to denounce German ones, German

propaganda worked to underscore that its enemies were also not entirely free of sin. For example, Emil Jannings’ Ohm Krüger (Uncle Kruger) tells the story of Paul Kruger— a Boer War hero now blind and exiled in a Swiss hospital—who beseeches help for the Boer cause and draws a terrible picture of British treatment of the Boer people (Giesen 97). In the film, Churchill is depicted as an overfed, dogmatic, and “whisky-swilling” imperialist whose crimes outweigh those of the Nazis (Giesen 98). The purpose was to explain the fate of German people abroad and justify the invasion of countries like England. While the story of British imperialism, and all of the sins thereof, is a vast topic unto itself, films like Ohm Krüger remind us that no nation was free of misdeeds, and that any wartime film excludes a large part of the picture. Each country, whatever the merits of cause or lack thereof, resorted to similar forms of propaganda. England’s choice to produce a film that emphasized the English people as a “happy band of brothers,” was particularly ironic at a time when it still maintained a flourishing, worldwide empire.

In an age of extreme ideological tensions—German and Italian fascism, Russian communism, British imperialism, and American


Thus it is clear that in adapting Henry V for the silver screen, Olivier and his cohorts were not haphazardly using meta-theatrical techniques, citing Hollywood genres, emphasizing patriotic speeches, and cutting lines that somewhat complicated the picture. The film—or, at least the very modified version—, fits perfectly within the scheme of the wartime film industry. However, when we begin to compare it to German propaganda, it is necessary to ask the question: what exactly is propaganda, and is it necessarily a bad thing? It is difficult to draw a line between “presenting the positive virtues of British national characteristics” (Aldgate 12) and ideologically influencing people in a way that a free country should not. At a meeting with the British Film Producers Association, Beddington stressed that, “Any good British production could be regarded as “propaganda” even though the subject matter could not in some cases be so described” (9). If a film only needed to be “good” in order to be considered propaganda, who determined what constituted a “good” film? Given the centrality of propaganda in Germany, where “good” films helped to justify utterly atrocious behaviour, it seems strange that this would necessarily be seen as a virtue.


democracy—film was not only the most popular form of entertainment in the western world, but also the most common means for governments to produce, proliferate, and disseminate ideology for a mass audience. Totalitarian regimes like those of interwar Germany and Russia had already adopted cinema as an instrument of indoctrination and control. In 1922, Lenin remarked, “Of all the arts, the cinema is for us the most important” (Chapman 2). Ten years later, Goebbels would pronounce cinema as “one of the most modern and far-reaching media that there is for influencing the masses” (ibid). By 1936, the British Report of the Committee on Cinematograph Films observed: The cinematograph film is today one of the most widely used means for the amusement of the public at large. It is also undoubtedly a most important factor in the education of all classes of the community, in the spread of national culture and in presenting ideas and customs to the world. Its potentialities moreover in shaping the ideas of the very large numbers to whom it appeals are almost unlimited. The propaganda value of the film cannot be over-emphasised (1).


Recognizing the “propaganda value of the film,” the report unabashedly supports using film as a vehicle with which to promote ideological values. It is also important to remember that England had not only its domestic audience to bear in mind when producing these films, but also a massive constituency of colonial subjects abroad to whom they would have surely wanted to relay British “national culture” (Chapman 2). Thus, England was well aware of its participation in wartime propaganda, but the question is how and why it saw itself as any different from the constituency of totalitarian regimes.

During the war, parliament passed a Cinematograph Films Act, which both stipulated that only British-made films could be shown in the country, and ensured that only favourable images would be shown on screen. Additionally, The Moyne Committee was formally appointed in 1936 to consider what measures would help British film production and 118 to ensure cinema’s role as a medium of national projection. Despite the shortage of film supplies during the war, it proved to be a “golden age” for British domestic film, particularly since many other forms of leisure

were curtailed or denied altogether (Chapman 3). Angus Calder notes that whereas 19 million people went to the cinema in 1939, around 30 million made it a weekly pastime in 1945 (Aldgate 3). The propagandistic effects of cinema worked on yet another level as the inherently public experience of cinema going forced the individual to become part of a crowd and witness the film’s effects on the other filmgoers. A Wartime Social Survey concluded, “the larger groups of the population are relatively better represented in the cinema audience than they are in the publics reached by other visual publicity media such as newspapers and books” (Chapman 3). Hence, the films that were chosen to represent British cinema at this time—Henry V included—were inextricably linked to and recognized as a part of what the government determined would be useful to this large representation of the British population.


For the government of a democratic nation like England, however, adopting cinema for political ends would seemingly pose a serious ideological dilemma. As Professor Frederick Bartlett noted at the beginning of the war, “In the modern world, political propaganda may be said to have been adopted as a weapon of State, but very nearly everywhere it has been adopted as the tool of a single political party within the State. This is precisely what cannot happen, except in an incomplete way, in a democracy” (Bartlett as quoted in Chapman 3). While Bartlett recognizes that true propaganda does not exist within a democracy, between the Moyne Committee and the British Board of Film Censors, film content suggested that there was absolutely no internal dissent within the nation, and that the British people were indeed a band of brothers, who together, would defeat Germany. In truth, however, there were both Nazi sympathizers and people who were radically anti-war. One wartime paradox was that while the country was led by one of its most “totemic right-wing figures”—whose politics were supported in cinema—there was a strong advance of the left on a popular level (Chapman 7). It is difficult to justify British propaganda on the basis that it had a populist intention, when in reality the films only represented the politics of a small, elite group.

The basic assumption, however, is that even while the British 119 government had no problem using the term “propaganda,” they did view it as a distinct enterprise from what the Germans were simultaneously doing.

When asked to compare British wartime cinema with that of Germany, Ian Dalymple, the head of the Crown Film Unit, explained: “When we make propaganda we tell, quite quietly, what we believe to be the truth. The Nazi method is to bellow as loudly and as often as possible, what they know to be absolutely and deliberately false” (Aldgate 218). Understanding the history of these two nations at this historical juncture, it is fair to agree with Dalymple’s assessment to some extent. Even Drexler, who compared Henry V to Der Grosse Konig, concluded that while there are remarkable similarities in the way the two national heroes are treated by the camera at these crucial moments, there is a frivolity to Olivier’s film, which is not found in Harlan’s depiction. Davies writes, “In the case of Olivier’s film, the hypothesis would be that he used popular Hollywood film codes as well as the theatrical frame of the Globe Theatre production to save the film from becoming as flat a piece of propaganda as its German counterparts” (Davies, Companion 172). Although this paper argues that even the Hollywood film codes and the frame of the Globe Theatre are part of the propagandistic approach to the play, Drexler’s assertion that the film does not share the same gravitas as Triumph of the Will contains a level of validity.


However, many scholars have taken issue with the British wartime propaganda industry precisely because the Germans were conducting propaganda. This debate relates directly to the discussion of Henry V as propaganda; while there is not necessarily anything problematic with adapting the play for political ends, when it is placed in this particular context the picture is somewhat complicated. It is strange that despite Olivier’s own awareness of what was going on in the film industry at the time, he did not view Henry V as part of the same ideological discourse. In explaining the difficulty of adapting the play to film, he wrote: “The main problem, of course, was to find a style which Shakespearean actors could act and yet which would be acceptable to the audience of the time, used to little other than the most obvious propaganda” (Olivier 186). While Olivier acknowledges the political bias of most wartime films, he does not regard Henry V as another example of “obvious propaganda.” Interestingly, Olivier notes that he would often slip into “Crispian speech” 120 while reciting the lesser-known lines of the play that had nothing to do with the patriotic oratory. It is likely that it was a mere consequence of the speech’s crucial importance in the play, but perhaps subconsciously

even Olivier was unaware of the extent to which he was preoccupied with discussing and promoting British pride. Some of these ambivalences can even be detected within the film itself. While the construction of a universal ‘Englishness’ was essential to the film, nothing was quite so ironic as the fact that the filming of this classic British epic took place on the soil of Republican Ireland and used Irish extras in the battle scenes (Chapman 244). Furthermore, if the purpose of wartime propaganda was, as Chapman asserts, to present “what Britain is fighting for,” “How Britain fights,” and “The need for sacrifice if the fight is to be won”(54), the adaptation of Henry V did not entirely serve its purpose. While the story depicts a strong war leader and a heroic fighter—both virtues that made sense to display—the film could not omit the play’s demonstration of clearly unjustified motives for going to war; Henry goes to war, unprovoked, on the basis of an ambiguous “Salic law,” which outlines that he is next in line for the French throne. Additionally, with the film’s conspicuous choice to leave out any bloodshed during battle, it fails to truly demonstrate how sacrifice is needed if “the fight is to be won.” Finally, while the idea of the massive enemy charge halted by a small-yet-determined “few” was a romantic one, by 1944 America had entered the war to rescue England from near defeat, and consequently the illusion of the nation’s capacity to defeat Germany on its own had long been shattered.


All this is not to ignore, however, that from a cinematic perspective, Henry V was not only masterful, but also crucial in that it would be the first of many films to adapt Shakespeare for a large, mainstream audience. As Olivier proudly asserted, “Shakespeare had been given to the people. He was no longer for a small band of the select” (Olivier 185). As this essay has underscored, the film was not the representation of the people that Olivier believed it was. However, he was giving Shakespeare “to the people” in the sense that bringing Shakespeare’s plays to the big screen has since provided access for a diverse representation of society that likely would not have otherwise been familiar with the wordsmith. It would be ludicrous to suggest that an actor and director as brilliant as Olivier was a mere pawn of the British government, or anything close to a war criminal; 121 he was a true British patriot and more importantly, a dedicated devotee to the adaptation of Shakespeare for the modern viewer. However, arguably

as a result of his enmeshment in British society, he does seem to gloss over the problematically allegorical rendering of Henry V at this crucial historical moment.

Works Cited Aldgate, Anthony. Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print. Bazin, Andre. What is Cinema? Trans. Timothy Barnard, 1st ed. Montreal: Caboose, 2009. Print. Chapman, James. The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Print. Crowdus, Gary and Dan Georgakas. The Cineaste Interviews 2: On the Art and Politics of the Cinema. Chicago: Lake View Press, 2002. Print. Davies, Anthony. Filming Shakespeare’s plays: the Adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook, and Akira Kurosawa. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988. Print. ---“The Shakespeare films of Laurence Olivier.”,The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on film. Ed. Russell Jackson. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.


Giesen, Rolf. Nazi Propaganda Films: a History and Filmography. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co., 2003. Print. Hall, Joan Lord. Henry V: A Guide to the Play. Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut, 1997. Print. Holden, Anthony. Olivier. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988. Print.

122 Jackson, Russell. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

---Shakespeare Films in the Making: Vision, Production and Reception. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print. Jorgens, Jack J. Shakespeare on film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977. Print. Massai, Sonia. “Shooting the hero: the Cinematic Career of Henry V from Laurence Olivier to Philip Purser.” World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance. Ed. Sonia Massai. London: Routledge, 2005. Print. Munn, Michael. Lord Larry: The Secret Life of Laurence Olivier. London: Robson Books Ltd., 2007. Print. Olivier, Laurence. On Acting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986. Print. Priestley, Sunday Postscript. 30 juin 1940, BBC Written Archives Centre. “Propaganda.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2008. Web. 8 May 2008.


The Contributors LAURA FREITAG is a U3 Honours English Literature student with a minor in Jewish Studies. She likes fast cars, rock and roll music, modernist poetry, and theatre. She is also interested in the more practical side of things, having directed Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life. She plans to spend the next few years gallivanting around Europe while pursuing a Master’s degree in Performance Studies.

SHEILA GIFFEN completed her Honours undergraduate degree in English Literature in December 2010. Last year, Sheila wrote an Honours essay on women’s writing of the Second World War. She intends to pursue a Master’s starting in the fall with a focus on modernist literature. Sheila is 23 years old, she grew up in the West Island of Montreal and she enjoys running, singing, and biking.


MAX KARPINSKI is studying English Literature and is in the final year of his undergraduate degree at McGill University. He is Editor-in-Chief of Steps Magazine, a journal which publishes the creative writing and art of McGill students, and he sits on the board of the Fine Arts Council at McGill. His creative writing has appeared in a number of McGill publications, such as the Daily’s literary supplement, the Veg, and Steps. This is his first published critical essay.

WHITNEY MALLETT is a U3 Honours English Literature student, with a minor concentration in German Literature and Culture in Translation. Her interests in media and materiality extend beyond the theoretical. She also explores the collisions of old and new mediums in her own work, which ranges from super-8 film and collage art to hypertexts and digital art.

KEVIN PAUL is a U2 Arts student, majoring in cultural studies and minoring in philosophy. Beyond postcolonial literature and cinema, his academic interests revolve around the politics of visual culture – whether online, in television, in film, or in urban space – with respect to consumer capitalism, state power, gender, and sexuality. As a member of Queer McGill’s executive committee, he organized McGill’s first-ever Queer Cinema Week in March 2011. He is currently researching a paper on Lady Gaga’s single “Born This Way.”

LEAH PIRES, a Joint Honours student in Art History and Cultural Studies, often examines visual culture from an interdisciplinary perspective. She is particularly interested in film and art since the 1960s. Leah is co-founder of Folio, McGill’s visual art magazine, and has worked as a writer and editor for The McGill Daily. Her artwork is featured on the cover of this issue of The Channel.


BRAHNA SIEGELBERG is an Honours English Literature and History student in her final semester. Although she is a born and bred New Yorker, she is thrilled to have spent the last four years experiencing Montreal, and Canada more generally. She loves music, dance, theatre, and film, and works as the Arts & Entertainment editor for The McGill Tribune. After graduating this semester, she hopes to make writing a career, and to have the time to read the occasional crappy novel. She has two older sisters, who she thanks profusely for giving her reading lists as a child.

CAYLIN SMITH recently completed her BA in Honours English, with a concentration in Cultural Studies. She loves the films of Guy Maddin, as well as those of classical Hollywood cinema. She also enjoys Fritz Lang’s often undervalued American films, such as Scarlet Street and Secret Beyond the Door. In the hopes that future generations will be able to enjoy cinema’s past, she will begin her MA in moving image preservation in the fall.




The Channel 2011  
The Channel 2011  

Department of English Undergraduate Journal McGill University 2010-11 Vol 4 No. 1