Eavesdropping in on a Cyclical Conversation : Gloss

Eavesdropping in on a Cyclical Conversation

A party, a room, a fire, low cushions—the spare setting is the mise-en-scene for Carl Hancock Rux’s riveting and perfectly imagined dialogue between an unlikely set of characters. In this space-out-of-time (a feature of dramas of the page) James Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Hannah Arendt, Virginia Woolf, Randolph S. Bourne, Napoleon Bonaparte, Harry Truman, Georg Hegel, Alvin Toffler, Oscar Wilde (of course!), and Eartha Kitt debate history, narrative, and other matters. Staged for the page by the multitalented Rux (musician, librettist, director, actor, and writer), who is known for his irreverent intellect, this piece of imagined theatre is comprised of a “cyclical conversation” upon which the audience eavesdrops. The impossible discussion is by turns irresolute, iterative, and unresolvable. Each of the aforementioned historical figures contributes a distilled line about one of the following topics: the meaning of writing, the epistemology of history, or the significance of education. The dialogue consists of actual aphoristic quotations uttered by the characters in question. The focus of the dialogue is historical narrative—how the past resonates in the future. The stage directions provide apt action and affect for the discussants. For example, Virginia Woolf speaks “to the room” as if to recall her famous feminist tract, A Room of One’s Own, Napoleon “counter-attacks” in his comment; and Wilde tellingly “plucks a flower and pins it in his lapel” as he quips, “Everyone who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.” The dialogue ends with the conventional “blackout” which we may read in a new, unconventional manner. This is to say in the imaginary of the West, the likes of Baldwin and Kitt are not usually spoken of alongside (let alone speaking with) writers and thinkers such as Hegel and Arendt (even if they were always already in dialogue!). The piece makes us think with and about historiography and its discontents and leaves us, like Kitt, exclaiming, “The tombstone will be my diploma”; thus, the entire dialogue is set to start again.

About the Author

Jennifer DeVere Brody is Professor in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University where she is affiliated with in the Center for Comparative Studies of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). Her books, Impossible Purities (Duke, 1998) and Punctuation: Art, Politics and Play (Duke, 2008) both discuss relations among sexuality, gender, racialization, visual studies and performance. Currently, she is working on the re-publication of James Baldwin's illustrated book Little Man, Little Man and on a new monograph about the intersections of sculpture and performance.