The Inarticulability of Crisis

Every year for Halloween I watch an adaptation of Macbeth. It’s a tradition I started in undergrad that started as a way to do something literary and spooky but also get in the writing mood for NaNoWriMo (oh for the time to put into a novel again!). So far I haven’t repeated the same one twice, and it’s been fascinating seeing how many different ways the same story is interpreted. This year’s Macbeth was a little special – an online interactive (and somehow very claustrophobic) adaptation put on by the Independent Shakespeare Company called the last syllable.

It is mentioned early on that Macbeth’s wife has a name – Gruach. Interestingly, we don’t really see Macbeth for a long time – instead time is spent on Lady Macbeth learning of the prophesy, with Macbeth appearing beside her, as if summoned by magic. Really, Macbeth is pushed to the back burner a bit – he is only the latest in a long line of kings to rise to and fall from power by violence, a force that leaves the ruined lives of everyone it sweeps by – particularly the women and children – in its wake.

The structure of the story – told through video, audio clips, maps, images, phone calls, etc in a fashion that feels disjointed and cryptic – conveys a sense that this is a story too big and strange to be captured in text. In pandemic times, the production is very slippery – the Artist portrayed as researching the play could very well be the observer, the audience, you, as we participants consume the very imagery and recordings the Artist is using in her work. The idea of a lost production, the Artist/Audience working in isolation with only recorded messages for company, are a bit too close to home.

This inarticulability of a crisis oddly parallels a book series I’m currently reading, the Ravicka series by Renee Gladman. These books are about a lot of things, all of which appear at the corner of the eye as if they would turn to smoke if spoken about directly. Ravicka is a city, but it is un-becoming in a way that nobody, inside or outside the city can truly articulate. This crisis, one of translation or architecture or political upheaval, unfolds slowly, with each book adding layer upon layer and new perspectives o the change.

Ravicka and the last syllable have little in common in their conclusions. Where the problems of Ravicka remain untranslatable even to the city’s most loyal inhabitants, who persist in spite of change, the last syllable features a triumphant ending of sorts (as much as you can for a tragedy) – the actor who plays the Artist also plays a witch and Macduff in the final scene – delivering the final blow to Macbeth before taking her place among the weird sisters. Macbeth has been tamed by the travails of a scholar, who upon being asked whose side she would be on “when judgment is passed for what has been done” chose to confront the creeping, violent force that has destroyed so many lives and break the tragic cycle.

In either case, it’s good, interesting stuff. The perfect amount of unsettling for autumn.

Book Pairings: Into the Weird

One of my favorite species of weird fiction is travel journals about improbable places. Stories about leaving home with a purpose, only to lose yourself in the strangeness of your destination. Finding yourself in a landscape that reflects the state of things (if you can believe in it at all). Places that feel like somewhere you could have been or should have been or might have dreamt you’ve been.

Book #1: Amatka, Karin Tidbeck

A place where everything must be named to keep it from disintegrating (I’m so jealous of this, it’s an idea I was using myself, but she pulled it off and gave some political weight in her story). Our protagonist is sent by the government to do research. Dystopian and strange.

Book #2: The Taiga Syndrome, Cristina Rivera Garza

I just finished this book! It’s a very small detective novel of sorts. At least, there is a missing woman and a detective. And a translator and a dark, dark forest. Noir-ish and woven with fairytales and the kind of language that gets under the skin. I’m left with more questions than I started with, which is exactly how you should feel after entering the woods.

Book #3: Tainaron, Leena Krohn 

A woman comes to a city of insects and there she stays, writing letters. The details of this city are delightful, as is trying to understand it. Not a plot-driven novel by any means, but a puzzle to ponder over and tiny world to wonder at.

Pair with the playlist at the end of The Taiga Syndrome, and a work of beautiful and disturbing interactive fiction