Melodious Rants and Passionate Cannon Fodder

My favorite uncontextualized academic quotation of the day, from Lucyle Hook’s introduction to the 1696 satire on female playwrights of the London stage, The Female Wits:

Mrs. Barry’s ability and her strength of voice in expressing the passion led to the full development of the rant, which was the test of the dramatic actress as the aria is the test of the opera singer. Ordinarily in a tragedy, there were two: one, the melodious expression of unattainable love in the first part of the play, and the second in the death scene, usually of raving madness. In The Royal Mischief, there are at least six major rants, each more powerful and surprising than the one preceding it.

Later, from a summary of this play (by Mrs. Manley):
Bassima, however, has been poisoned and is dying when Osman comes to her, urging the consummation of their passion then and there, before it is too late. Her gentle refusal to stray from virtue on her deathbed awakens him from his unplatonic spell, and he begs forgiveness but is interrupted in the middle of his contrite speech, led away, crammed alive into a cannon and shot off.

Two points:
  1. No, it doesn’t make any more sense if you hear the plot that comes before this (though apparently there is a lot of erotic writhing on beds for people one has never seen).
  2. I can’t wait to get a hold of this play and read it.

Apologies from London

Apologies for my long absence! I hope no one has given up on me utterly because of it. I offer up this explanation by way of apology:

My March was filled to brimming with conference-going, which demanded an unusual level of, let us say, non-blogging work from me. All of this culminated at the beginning of April with a sprightly (if inconsistently so) popular culture conference, where I learned many an interesting tidbit about Battlestar Galactica (would that I had gotten there in time to hear about Freud, the gaze, and the Cylon body). No sooner was that conference finished than I spirited myself across the Atlantic (with the aid of a major airline) to London, where I have now been suffering from feeble internet access (I can only find a wireless signal if I crouch on the bathroom floor) and a terrible dearth of free time for a week and a half now.

I must admit to feeling rather smug and virtuous about the busyness of my schedule since I have arrived, especially since this (my non-teaching, dissertation-writing) year of graduate school has been largely characterized by the most profound sloth. I have been lounging around my apartment (or my boyfriend’s apartment on the West Coast, or my parents’ house in DC) like a figure from a medieval allegory of the seven deadly sins, unable to move from the couch except (barely) to feed myself, pick up the TiVo remote, figure out why the wireless router is tormenting me with dysfunction, or fetch a new book. Whole days go by without my catching a glimpse of the outside world. College counselors should serious consider photographing me for prophylactic campaigns about the dangers of graduate school.

But, before you send a flock of life coaches to rescue and rehabilitate me, rest assured that travel has hoisted me forcibly off the couch and back into life. I have spent some part of virtually every day since I arrived in London working on my dissertation (chapter 3 of 4, baby!) at the British Library, the most incomparably work-inducing location I have ever frequented. Most mornings and early afternoons will find me there (I admit that I am taking time from my studies there currently to type this up), after which I go traipsing (well, more like manically rushing) off to the theatre in the afternoon or evening (and, on four exhausting occasions, both).

Determined to be more virtuous about blogging (by typing my entries up in Word before transferring them to Blogger, in the hopes that I will then be able to make use of the brief flashes of internet-access lucidity I get in my flat), I counted up all the things I had done since arriving here 12 days ago that I want to blog, and found that I had 21 entries to write (12 live performances, 2 films/DVDs, 3 exhibits/historic house visits, 4 books). So I had better hop to it, and do the best I can. After all, I am seeing two more plays tomorrow.

The Sun

During my long time away from the blog (and I am afraid it might soon be even longer, since I am about to leave the country for locales of spotty internet access), I have added to my fame with a number of accomplishments, as of yet unrecorded in the annals of blogdom:

1) I have made it halfway through a number of books, including no less than three (3!) New York Times Notable Books, before either having to return them to the library or having to leave them on one coast or another as a traveled across the country. Special apologies my compatriots at the NYTNotableBooks blog where I have been so silent that many of them must suspect I have undertaken some kind of sinister covert identity. At any rate, I have gotten myself in a tangle of books, all halfway completed, but with little prospect for finishing many of them before I head off to a conference at the end of the week, and from there flit off to parts foreign. The New York Trilogy, Martin Chuzzlewit, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Something Rotten, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Last Dance, Twilight of the Superheroes, Beasts of No Nation (and this one's only 142 pages long! What's wrong with me?), The Underpainter, and Joe Penhall's Plays have all been suspended in reading limbo. I have fallen behind in ALL of my reading groups, and yet I seem to be reading ALL THE TIME. This is just not right. When I return from abroad in five weeks, there will have to be a serious book-finished reckoning.

2) I have become addicted (in the last couple of days) to the witty, strange, and free online game, Kingdom of Loathing. There is very little that I can say that will prepare you for its delights, but how could I resist the opportunity it offered me to become a professional Turtle Tamer. Or to be accompanied by a familiar who is a 7-pound mosquito named Trort? If you have already entered the world of the game, or feel tempted to (it is quite easy to get sucked into - be forewarned. You need have no background in gaming.), drop me a line via "messages." My name is quite easily deduced from this blog.

3) I have been traveling. A great deal. Here, thither, and yon. The most charming moment of my travels was probably when I sat in LAX airport, reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and a school group passed by me. Amidst a gaggle of giggling friends, the voice of a 12-year-old boy piped up. "I liked reading too," he said to me, and then walked on.

4) I have been charmed by ANOTHER indy magazine out of Chapel Hill (Bookmarks was the first). I must admit that I have a significant soft spot for these products of my old college town (let us never speak again of how March Madness ended for the Tar Heels. My long absence from writing is in part the result of a lengthy funk I entered after that game.), perhaps because I harbor a secret fantasy of the alternate life in which I graduated from college and stayed in town, going to work for a charming small magazine. At any rate, this one is The Sun, a politically progressive, spiritually New Age (but only very lightly - I must admit that I have a very hard time processing religion at this point in my life) collection of essays, short fiction, photographs and poems that will now arrive monthly on my doorstep. In the first issue I received, a photograph shows a weathered statue of a classical warrior, scarred with a mossy plague that skims over his perfect shoulders and outlines the bristles in his crest. Out of the top of his helmet, like Athena from Zeus's head, leaps an odd, spritely female figure. It only dawns on you gradually that she is not leaping, so much as emerging from her own prehensile serpent's tail. In a series of vignettes from his travels in Syria, Kevin Patterson relates this incident:

Me: Take me to the Meridien Hotel.
Taxi Driver: Inshallah [God willing].
Me: It's only across town.

Elsewhere readers from a remarkable array of backgrounds recount their experiences with friendship (every week readers write in on a different "theme," very broadly conceived), including a number of residents of drug treatment facilities and prisons, to which The Sun sends free subscriptions. Susan Davis writes an article about her father's inexplicable rejection of his family after a divorce; his behavior seems totally out of keeping with his character and their relationships, and comes into focus only after he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Painfully honest self-scrutiny seems to be the hallmark of the writing. Many of the articles deal with travel, and present guilty liberal solipsism warts and all (I should quickly add that I consider myself a liberal). Others deal with loss of loved ones, or the attempt to come to terms with selfishness and disgust in your dealings with those around you. The tone of the magazine is melancholy, but hopeful. I admit that I wept through the entire first issue. Openly. On an airplane. Sigh.