Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Some Details

Yes, we have a box of copies of Correspondence No. 1 left, but it is the last box of copies. I think. This is worth mentioning for anyone who was worried that the journal had become unavailable. Your concern is appreciated but totally unwarranted. The journal is, for the time being, the lone item available through our Online Store; we also accept orders through the postal service (please send inquiries to our email address). This collection of new work by unfamiliar writers is, concisely, a book to be read after purchasing. More information re the contents here. It is shiny.

The holiday season is a terrible time for us all, I presume, and I could relate an anecdote about being stuck sixteen hours on a train just to get across New York State, if there was anything else to unfold other than sitting still and reading Wuthering Heights. As our calendar is about to end, sentimentalized remembrances of the quondam year grow ever inadvisable. I will taciturnly refrain from congratulating the editors of The Corresponding Society for realizing this project of ours, but cannot help but fleetingly making plain my anticipation for next annum, which will shortly see a new issue of Correspondence (possibly exciting enough to pose serious health threats to the literate) along with other projects and occasions. I must restate that issue No. 2 is looking very attractive. To fill the empty hours until that’s ready, please refer to the Author Catalog on our website, which is looking slightly tidier than usual tonight. Notably, the entry for contributing editor Adrian Shirk has been newly enriched with her poetry and fiction.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dancing Skeleton Reading

Making Skeletons Dance is a reading series, co-hosted by Correspondence contributing editor Adrian Shirk, at Unnamable Books of Brooklyn. The general theme is young writers presenting work about family. Below are the pertinent details about the next event:

Venue: Unnamable Books
Location: 456 Bergen Street, Brooklyn
Date: Tuesday, December 16
Time: 8pm-9:30pm
Featured Readers: Robert Balkovich, Shannon Harrison, Lily Herman, Lonely Christopher, Sophie Johnson, Ian McKenzie, Adrian Shirk

Coincidentally, Unnamable is one of the few distinguished independent bookstores in Brooklyn that we’re aware of and they happen to stock the first issue of Correspondence.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Is The Bad Quarto?

As The Institutionalized Theater continues to build our production of Hamlet, I continue to write notes and ideas on both the play and this project as a way to develop my directorial approach. The following is an essay I wrote in the summer (around the time we moved out of the research phase and toward production) as a way to clarify textual matters. I was frequently asked what my “take” on Hamlet was --- my first answer was that we’re doing The Bad Quarto, which usually prompted a second question re what that meant. I wrote an essay focused on the textual complexities of Hamlet so I wouldn’t have to repeat my explanation awkwardly every time the question arose. I was going to use this essay in the show’s programme, but I think I’ve decided it’s too detailed for that purpose. Here it is:

A Document in Variance
by Lonely Christopher

Works titled The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark were printed in different editions in the form of the quarto, comparable to a paperback, and the folio, often not dissimilar from thicker books of Shakespeare’s collected plays, most notably from 1603 to 1623; of all the extant texts three primary variants are remarkably distinguished: the First Quarto, the Second Quarto, and the First Folio. All three are accredited to Shakespeare, and insist upon legitimacy, but the disparities amongst them are so profound that it’s impossible to conceive of one cohesive and uncomplicated text representative of the impregnable, quintessential Hamlet. Hamlet is plural; it is a congregation of sources, manuscripts, editorial influences, and cultural perspectives. The Second Quarto (1605), which in content comfortably resembles the popular understanding of a “definitive” Hamlet, most likely derives from an authorial manuscript (foul papers). The especially complicated late Folio edition (1623) probably originates from a different source; in content it is seven percent unique, although ten percent of the Second Quarto’s dialog is absent from it. The First Quarto (1603), which we are using as a script for this production, is the most radically different and is seventy-nine percent shorter than the Second Quarto. The sources for Shakespeare’s Hamlet include anterior material such as a Nordic tale recorded in Latin circa 1200 CE by Saxo Grammaticus --- maybe by way of Francois de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragique --- aspects of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, and the indefinable lost Ur-Hamlet of which little is known besides it must have existed (though it is posited by some that Kyd was the likely author). In those preceding works the broad outlines of our Hamlet are discernable --- though the blunt tropes of storytelling have yet to be rendered poetically ambiguous and complex by Shakespeare. The extensive accumulations of pertinent data are manipulated by editors until a recognizable Hamlet is wrought from heterogeneous texts. In the introduction to Arden’s new two-volume Hamlet, Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor summarize the ways in which the data can be presented for a general readership: “1. A photographic, or diplomatic, facsimile of a particular copy of a particular printed book [...]; 2. An old-spelling, or modernized, edition of such a copy of Hamlet; 3. An old-spelling, or modernized, edition of an ‘ideal’ [...] printed edition of a text [...]; 4. An old-spelling, or modernized, edition of the reconstructed text of a lost manuscript assumed to lie behind a printed edition [...]; 5. An old-spelling, or modernized, edition of a play (e.g. Shakespeare’s Hamlet).” A common production title Hamlet uses an idealized conflation of the Second Quarto and Folio; abridging it to a standard play length by excising dialog, scenes, and whole plot threads. The First Quarto constitutes the initial appearance in print of a play --- accredited to William Shakespeare --- titled The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but what it is exactly is unconcluded. It entered the discourse of textual scholarship in 1823 when it was “discovered,” but a satisfactory explanation of its existence has never been reached. An early popular theory was that it is an altogether different play beside the other Hamlets attributed to Shakespeare --- an adaptation of another source text entirely. The story is more similar in minutiae to the Second Quarto than the Nordic tale, but certain names and aspects of narrative, not to mention dialog, are drastically unlike the canonized idea of Hamlet. Another mostly discounted theory is that the First Quarto represents an embarrassing first draft of what would eventually be crafted into Shakespeare’s “true” Hamlet --- or that it’s even the Ur-Hamlet itself. The fashionable theory, which has given rise to the accusation that the text is a bad quarto reflecting poor authorial fidelity, is that this version of the play is a memorial reconstruction. An actor (most likely he who played Marcellus and Voltemar judging by how closely his lines resemble the dialog of the other texts) wrote down what he remembered of the play and sold it to be printed first for his own gain. Thus the consequent Second Quarto is understood as a correction and usurpation of the initial edition; an effort that presumably reflects much more authorial fidelity. It is surprising to a modern reader how unstable all of the extant material is. For example, in the Second Quarto Hamlet is considered by others a youthful student until his age is remarkably revealed to be thirty in the last act, whereas the Bad Quarto features a reasonably teenaged Hamlet. Additionally, though the title Claudius is traditionally given to the character of the King it is doubtful that any conception of Shakespeare as a singular and historical author ever thought of the King with that name. Claudius is only named as such once at the beginning of the Second Quarto and the Folio and thereafter only referenced by his position; in the Bad Quarto he is never given a name at all. When one remembers that, in the Second Quarto, eventually an attendant mentions to the King a character named Claudio, the practice of calling the King Claudius seems more like an editorial imposition based on a printer’s quirk than the reflection of one definitive play. In the Bad Quarto many of the names are what might generally be considered “nonstandard.” Our Queen Gertred, Ofelia and her father Corambis, and Montano all suggest a Hamlet as the Shakespearean manifestation of antecedent stories of Hamnet, or Hamblet, or Amleth, or Amlodi. While the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, rendered thus, widely recognizable they actually represent editorially systematized interpretations --- whereas in the three major versions of the play those specific names vary significantly even within each individual text in a way resulting from and illustrating the non-codified spelling of Elizabethan drama that is almost always modernized in print. In the Bad Quarto the dialog is abbreviated and less poetic --- scenes are shuffled, revised in another context, abridged, and deleted withal. Scene fourteen, in which Horatio clandestinely plots with the Queen, is notorious because it is found in no other version. In the Bad Quarto, opportunities to confront the play’s textuality are significant and unique. Threadbare edges of the material present interpretive challenges that must be met with ardent conceptualism. After I confronted the badness of the Bad Quarto, it was given out that this misfit Hamlet, while unpopular and estranged, seems superlative in is freakishness. Hamlet refuses to cohere into something neatly definitional or a successful “organic whole” expressing an “objective correlative” --- through the lens of postmodernity the “real figure” of the greatest writer ever (the author of humanity according to Bloom) seems untranslatable; ergo I posit that we can now say Shakespeare are authors. I think through that statement much more available surface area of the work is discoverable. As Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor wrote in the introduction to the new Arden Hamlet, “If by ‘Hamlet’ we mean a public representation of a ‘Hamlet’ narrative --- that is, a story involving a character called Hamlet who has some continuity of identity with the Amlodi figure of Nordic myth --- then these three texts are just three ‘expressions’ of Hamlet out of the infinite number of Hamlets which have or could have come into existence.” The textual and narrative multiplicity of data that are available to an interpreter can enable a reaching toward the Shakespearean infinite space.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Reading of The Making of Americans

The Making of the Gradual Reading of The Making of Americans
Being the History of a Reader’s Progress
by Lonely Christopher

On Sunday, November 23rd there was a congregation assembled to incite a progression through a notorious text from Gertrude Stein’s corpus that’s widely considered her swampiest and least readable: the six-hour (so-called “first installment” of a) marathon reading of The Making of Americans was staged at The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The event was organized by students operating under the rubric of hybrid poetics, under the instruction of writer and publisher Rachel Levitsky. This petite band had addressed works by Charles Bernstein, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Rachel Zolf (who visited one afternoon) but the class was to conclude by designing and undertaking a monolithic reading project. Beckett’s fiction, the theater of Brecht, and The Alphabet by Ron Silliman were among the diverse suggestions --- but we decided enthusiastically on Stein’s unruly early novel. The Making of Americans is currently available in an unabridged paperback edition from Dalkey Archive Press, but the text was long out of print (sometimes only procurable in heavily abbreviated form) and seldom read in full even by the most ardent Stein aficionados and critics. When I happened to lug my copy to class, we marveled at the blockish weight of the thing and decided the only way to enter it was to hold a drastic marathon reading. Such an approach to this text is not without precedent: Rachel recalled the 1992 Paula Cooper Gallery reading and I soon found a recording by Gregory Laynor on UbuWeb. Our reading was to be mostly localized within the Pratt community, attended only by the brave (or, fleetingly, the curious), and well documented despite its intimate scale. As the date approached I began to feel increasingly guilty about my involvement in the conception of this project. I love Stein --- my poetics wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t discovered this love --- but I can’t deny that reading her can be an excruciating experience; one that yields an intense sort of alphabetic, epiphanic gratification only after sustained engagement. I feared we wouldn’t be able to launch significantly into the 925-page galaxy of the novel in six hours because it takes me practically six months to thoroughly complete a work of hers that is a quarter of that length. Also I had never participated in a “marathon” like this --- some of us read Proust’s voluminous magnum opus once, but it took an entire summer. For me reading Stein had been a private struggle and private pleasure. I recall spending hours feverishly perusing her book How To Write after finding a fascinating rhythm while simultaneously listening to Philip Glass’ Music with Changing Parts; I remember the first time I opened Tender Buttons and was excitingly startled by the calculated abstraction of her object portraits. The Making of Americans makes monstrously adventurous use of the form of the novel; it can be said to be a “hybrid” work, I posit, even in the context of Stein’s corpus. This mammoth thing exists in a space somewhere between the psychological impressionism of Three Lives and the circular taxonomy of a piece like A Long Gay Book. As literature the novel is a rhizomatically exploded familial pastoral. The few scholars I’ve read who are familiar with the whole thing tend to point to the novel primarily as evidence of biographical specificities re Stein’s childhood. That isn’t wrong but it’s certainly also reductive. The Making of Americans isn’t about Stein’s family but about every American family. The narrative progresses sluggardly --- everything considered cyclically --- in such a way that family experience repeats until losing singularity or distinction (thus turning queer --- to invoke Stein’s usage of the term). This sort of problematizes the familiar in a way inaccessible by narratives that conflate the expansive patterned quality of American existence. Stein writes: “And then there were so many ways of considering the question […] and the many ways to look at them led to many queer things.” The reading commenced in the Pratt Institute library at 2pm. Picasso’s portrait of Stein was projected on the wall, each reader spent about twenty minutes behind the podium (although the computerized clock was broken ergo, as it was often hard to keep time when speaking through Stein, presentations ranged from ten to forty minutes), and it was frequently documented by a photographer and a filmmaker. By way of introduction, Rachel Levitsky played a recording of the author reading an extract of her novel and then the first volunteer began: “Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. ‘Stop!’ cried the groaning old man at last, ‘Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.’” The most pleasant discovery we made about the novel is that the reading experience, perhaps especially considering the collective atmosphere of the event, is more delightful than arduous. Stein’s prose can become overwhelming enough to cause a rupture through which readerly bliss can be accessed (this is most true of repetitive compositions like Many Many Women); The Making of Americans is so widely feared and neglected I assumed the text operated as the foremost example of that compositional technique. Yet while it certainly exists quite radically within the form of the novel, it seems that when a readerly surrender to the style is presupposed the book is, from the start, an exceptionally friendly animal. Spending six consecutive hours with it became more of a happy challenge than a malevolent punishment. Halfway through the event some of the audience had wandered off and been replaced with others, but none of the organizers appeared weary or bored (At 6pm Rachel whispered to me, “This is fun, I love this!”). I feel like I experienced the novel more than I read it --- since I didn’t always read along in my copy with the speaker, and for several hours allowed the words to wash over me gently (but, I don’t think, incidentally), I wouldn’t cite my presence at the event as proof that I “read” any of the novel (even when I was actually at the microphone speaking the words I wasn’t internalizing it on the level I would if reading in solitude). I never listen to audiobooks, and am a rather slow and deliberate reader, so my definition of the act of “reading” a text is pretty specific (conservative?). For me the event was more like an introduction to the act of reading, which was much needed considering how untroubled I have been by leaving The Making of Americans untouched on my shelf. When I presently take up the book again and read the pages that we covered during the marathon I might feel as if I’m re-tracing somewhat but I suspect that will be a welcome support (or a foundation as I study closer the aspects of the writing that I may have glossed in listening). Something else that definitely distinguishes the group reading from personal engagement with the text: each individual presenter articulated a unique delivery that shaped the meaning. Some softer and slower styles de-emphasized the cyclic patterns of the writing, bringing out buried resonances; more fragmented and particular deliveries accentuated the ungainly syntax and the gradual progression through repetition. A few casual volunteers, likely strangers to Stein’s idiosyncrasies, tripped awkwardly over the language or even became emotionally disturbed, but that was also educational. I tried to read in the usual way that I verbalize Stein: as fast as possible with extremely precise enunciation that compartmentalizes the grammar (and its queerness) while expressing a cyclic rhythm. I was fortunate to be able to read an exceptionally witty section wherein the character Julia Dehning takes daily walks with her father and tries to convince him that her suitor is worthy to marry. The extensive repetition of the dialog and its slow trudge toward minor variation (and, finally, a tentative resolution) is somehow wholly accurate in its exaggeration and exasperation. I’ve never encountered such well-conceived dialog from Stein outside of her popular novel The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. We averaged a little less than twenty pages an hour and concluded on page 108, but if making The Making of Americans was a gradual process for Stein I suppose it’s apropos that we will be gradual in our way through. To begin to conclude this summary I hereby direct the interested reader toward Stein’s essay “The Gradual Making of The Making of Americans,” from Lectures in America. It might serve as an introduction to what she’s here doing. Now: we will continue climbing the mountain of what she’s here doing as we keep making progress through the novel being a history of a family’s progress. I will finally end with a collaged extract from William H. Gass’ intoxicated foreword to the Dalky Archive edition: “[Stein] mimics the movement of life itself, aims at a target reflected in a mirror, returns, redoes […] because life belongs to the progressive present, it is living, but living is ‘same after same,’ it is variations on a theme, a deep theme, made of the mixtures of natures […] how does it happen that we feel we are present in a present our reruns make us absent from? shifting gears, poking in a purse […] if the feeling failed to materialize, we’d be as good as dead […] and every one of us will die, but only a few, a small sum at any time, can remember --- really remember --- something of some such thing: when our organs no longer peal, when our words no longer rhyme.”