Double exposures: on the reciprocity of influence between Tennessee Williams and Jean Cocteau.
--Jean Cocteau, L'Aigle a deux tetes (1946) (1)
By labeling "the, androgynous" as "a myth" "an ideal," and "the truest human being, Tennessee Williams stated his interest in all things liminal. (2) An ardent reviser and adapter of his own and other artists' works, (3) he therefore found a natural supporter and mutual influence in Jean Cocteau, the French paragon of hybrid artistry. Not content with attaining popular acclaim for his stage dramaturgies and feature films or critical prestige for his poetry and novelistic work, the latter expressed himself with equal enthusiasm through imaginatively idiosyncratic drawings, paintings, ceramics, mosaics, frescoes, furniture, stained glass, tapestries, advertising posters, and even postage stamps. (4) After all, with the continuous exploration of the brittle boundaries between media, genres, and referential frameworks, both Williams and Cocteau showed a certain sensitivity to the principle of reciprocity that is not only rare in itself, but even more rarely leads to well-assimilated artistic creations. Indeed, due to its partly collaborative and emulative nature, the reciprocal process at the very least implies a sense of complicity that is simultaneously defined by its sheer boundlessness as, in the words of leading literary critic Harold Bloom, "there is no end to 'influence" as there are no limits to "the power of invention." (5) Endemically dialectical, the logic of influence is driven by a dynamic that for Bloom holds primarily positive connotations when considered from the angle of the inspiration it implies and the mutually sympathetic themes or moods on which it thrives. (6) In a context characterized by such reciprocities, the need for an approach capable of capturing the mechanisms intrinsic constructiveness therefore becomes palpable, especially when taking into account Cocteau's and Williams's shared reliance on rewrites, translations, and adaptations. These three variants of textual hybridity function by virtue of interplay between familiarity and innovation, and thus strike by their recoil from fixity without alienating their audiences in the process. It is accordingly all the more fitting that this analogy-based duality of convention and invention would find both aesthetic and thematic echoes in the meandering reciprocity of influence between Tennessee Williams and Jean Cocteau, in particular since the production of an analogical relation does not require anything but a context highlighting structural relations. (7)
The perspective offered by the theater, incidentally a prime expressive platform for both Williams and Cocteau, provides precisely such an environment. The notion of "performance," after all, could be understood as a metaphor for analogizing itself, effectively staging a "double exposure" of product and process that stimulates analogical thought. (8) The human body onstage, especially, has kept fascinating artists, audiences, and philosophers alike because of "its impermeability and intangibility" as an engine of such associative thinking (9)--a characteristic that prompted the following statement from the towering acting theorist Jerzy Grotowski:
I have seen for a very long time now that a theatre with tangible, corporeal and physiological characteristics is an ideal medium for provocation, a pestering of oneself and the audience through the actor (the actor who actually challenges himself when he challenges the audience). The theatre has to combat our stereotypical world vision, our conventional feelings, our preconceived notions as they are anchored in the body, in respiration, the inner reflexes, in short, in the entire human organism. The theatre has to break these sorts of taboos. Through this transgression the theatre will enable us to engage ourselves, "naked" and entirely agitated in something which cannot be easily defined. (10)
A similar reasoning prompted Jean Cocteau, impressed by the raw, visceral quality exuded by the young Marlon Brando playing Stanley Kowlaski, to adapt Tennessee Williams's Streetcar Named Desire to a succes de scandale on the French stages in 1949, (11) thus initiating a reciprocal relation of artistic attraction and resistance that arguably informs the various works under scrutiny in this article. Accordingly, with hybrid artistry as prime mover and reciprocity as connecting agent, the argument we propose aspires to demonstrate the mutual influence Cocteau and Williams exerted upon each other's works while at the same time highlighting the relation's generative character on a broader plane. Building on "recurring allusions" (SC, 20) between familiarity and innovation, repetition and transformation, or even doubles and mirroring from the angle of "double exposure" so elicited, it will moreover be posited that analogical patterns such as those found in the relations of artistic influence find a natural ally in theater productions. In the end, with the "double exposure" brought about by a live person impersonating a fiction of sorts, our essay's keystone hybridity principle finds itself "doubled" by the performer's physicality via a literal embodiment of the connection between life and art--incidentally another aesthetic through-line shared by the two playwrights.
Historically speaking, however, a first connection is provided by Cocteau's and Williams's shared fascination with the Orpheus myth. (12) Many artists were inspired by the Greek singer, of course, but his story's particular appeal for Williams lay in its combination of "poetry, love, and death;' the same elements "that drew Cocteau to it." (13) Jean Cocteau engaged with the Orpheus myth in three films and a play: Orphee (1926), (14) Le Sang d'un porte (1930), Orphee (1950) (15) and Le Testament d'Orphee (1960). Cocteau's 1926 "tragedy" presents a surprisingly passive and seemingly not very creative Orpheus character. We learn that Orphee had once been a celebrated poet who is now obsessed with writing down messages dictated to him by a horse (390). In 1950, Cocteau brought a new version of the legend to the silver screen. The eponymous character is still a celebrated poet, but one now ostracized by a younger generation of writers and plagued by the press. While Eurydice was murdered by Aglaonice in the film's stage predecessor, it is now one of Death's satellites who takes her life in order to meet Orphee again. The Princess in question is found guilty by a tribunal and Orphee's wife returned to him under the famous condition.
Tennessee Williams's early play Battle of Angels (1940) also portrays its Orpheus figure as a writer rather than a musician. (16) Val Xavier is not reduced to taking dictation from an animal or a radio, but his artistic activities nevertheless pale when compared to his female counterpart's.
We occasionally witness Battle's male protagonist at work, as in the second act where he "is raptly composing an idyllic passage in his book" (213, original italics). Over the course of seventeen years, Williams revised the "emotional record of his youth" (17) and brought it back to the stage as Orpheus Descending. (18) A fugitive wanderer once again helps a shop owner's wife momentarily forget about her miserable marriage and provokes the wrath of the village's male inhabitants. All works under discussion here focus on repetition and transformation, two elements inherent in the myth. Orpheus's story is not only repeated by various artists under a wide variety of guises but is also repetitive in itself. After all, its mythic protagonist loses his beloved female companion two times.
In Cocteau's Orphee, this concern with repetition and transformation is obvious from the very beginning. The eponymous character tries to decipher the mysterious horse's message while his wife implores him to admit the animal always dictates the same word (390). Cocteau's play repeats the relationship between a character named Eurydice and her husband Orpheus from previous material but also transforms it. Theirs is a querulous and troubled bond, as also becomes clear from the opening passage. Yet even Cocteau's newly-defined connection between the two characters develops into a repetition. In a willfully ambiguous comment, the couple's friend, the angel Heurtebise, expresses his fear that the scenes between the spouses will begin for a third time once they are brought back together again (414). His concern is based on their earlier reunion. During their first meal after Eurydice's return, the couple proves incapable of avoiding their argument about the moon and the horse (409, 410).
Orphee's own bodily transformation at the hands of his persecutors is similarly repetitive yet innovative. The singer's dismemberment has been a constant over the decades, even if some (primarily medieval) versions of the myth ended happily. (19) Different reasons for the frenzied women's violence have been proposed. In one version, the female population of Thrace sought vengeance because the poet took no interest in them or tempted their spouses. (20) Then again, Orpheus might also have angered Dionysus by worshipping Apollo. (21) Cocteau, though, makes use of the dubious horse to explain the protagonist's death. Aglaonice, the persecution's leading woman, has born a grudge against Orphee for a long time. But it is the horse's offensive sentence which provides her with an excuse to end the poet's life (412). The protagonist's corporeal transformation once more confirms his essentially passive nature and ties in with the play's contemplation of the connection between life and art. As leading Cocteau scholar David Gullentops indicates, the horse motif--which Cocteau borrowed from the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck--serves as a mediating agent between parallel worlds: creative, referential, and temporal. There is also a sexual world, Cocteau's and Williams's presumed homosexuality providing an umpteenth echo of both playwrights' fascination with physicality. (22) Unlike some of his other incarnations, Cocteau's Orphee does not change reality but rather is changed by reality. Orphee's gruesome death allows life to transform him into a masterpiece, as he himself explains:
Que pense le marbre dans lequel un sculpteur taille un chef-d'oeuvre? II pense: "On me frappe, on m'abime, on m'insulte, on me brise, je suis perdu." Ce marbre est idiot. La vie me taille, Heurtebise! Elle fait un chef-d'oeuvre. Il faut que je supporte ses coups sans les comprendre. Il faut que je me raidisse. Il faut que j'accepte, que je me tienne tranquille, que je raide, que je collabore, que je lui laisse finir son travail. (415) (What thinks the marble from which the sculptor hews a masterpiece? It thinks: one strikes me, one spoils me, one insults me, one breaks me, I am ruined. This marble is foolish. Life strikes me, Heurtebise! It hews me into a masterpiece. I must bear its beatings without understanding them. I must harden myself. I must learn to accept, to keep quiet, to assist life, to collaborate with it, to let it finish its work.)
This idea is repeated and markedly adjusted in one of Cocteau's later plays. In L'Aigle a deux tetes, the female protagonist also wishes to convert her life into art--into a tragedy, to be more precise (1085). However, the queen does not let life run its course. She actively pursues her goal, to the dismay of her male antagonist of choice (1099).
Like Cocteau before him, Williams opted to focus on the Orpheus myth's connection to repetition and transformation in his play Battle of Angels. Most obviously, Myra Torrance--the playwright's Eurydice figure--loses the man she cares about two times. This already gives an impression of how Williams adjusts the Orphic story. (23) Normally, Orpheus is twice bereaved of his wife, as was the case in Cocteau's play. Here, it is the female character who suffers the loss of two different men. The male protagonist Val Xavier, for his part, repeatedly finds himself obliged to move because of troubled relations with a woman (219). Moreover, both protagonists undergo bodily transformations. Val, however, is not torn to pieces like his Greek and Coctelian predecessors, but is rather transformed by means of a blowtorch. This transformation offers a variation on an incident from act 1, in which Beulah and Dolly observe how the sorbet Vee brought is changed through heat, "reduced to juice" (199) more precisely.
In Orphee, the main character's death is announced in a similar fashion. At the very beginning of the first scene, Eurydice complains that her husband does not have any patience. In French, she literally claims Orphee "has no head" ("Toi qui n'as aucune tete," 390). Later on, the protagonist himself wonders where his head was (409). Williams arguably imitates these allusions to Orpheus's head, even if Val Xavier is not decapitated. After he fights with Sheriff Talbot, Myra despairingly asks "Oh, Val, Val, Val, why didn't you keep your head" (239). The itinerant writer, for his part, relates how he "lost [his] head for a minute and struck [the Woman from Waco] in the mouth" (240).
Imitation appears to be one type of repetition Williams is particularly concerned with. During their preliminary tour of the store, the Temple sisters urge their visitors to "notice those imitations ..." (193). On the whole, all the characters seem to take an interest in imitations of various types. Val mimics Cassandra's expression (200). Eva Temple complains about the singing of one the women during choir practice, which was nothing short of "a perfect imitation of the Cannonball Express" (215). The character most obviously associated with imitation is Val's nemesis. The Woman from Waco is "a hard, dyed blond in a dark suit" (259, original italics) according to the stage directions or "a vicious, pitiful, artificial blond" (262) in Myra's opinion. Hence, she appears a poor imitation of Williams's Eurydice character, whose golden hair Dolly and Beulah had previously admired (249). But Myra also imitates the Texan. Both women would rather incriminate Val and endanger his life than let him leave without them (266).
Imitation also is related to the issue of influence at stake here. Whereas Elizabethan authors such as Ben Jonson seemed to have had few qualms about owning up to their imitations, (24) the phenomenon has a decidedly negative ring in Williams's play. This could be partially attributable to the playwright's often remarked upon affinity with the Romantics, who tended to put high stakes on "originality." (25) And yet Williams was always in the habit of borrowing from or appropriating other artists' work. It might have been impossible for him to acknowledge his loans within the context of his first professionally produced play. At the end of his career, however, Williams would devote an entire play to F. Scott Fitzgerald, an author notorious for his appropriations. Williams's Something Cloudy, Something Clear seems to espouse a different attitude, too, with its continuous references to "recurring allusion[s]" (20).
Myra's confectionary raises the issue of the relation between life and art. As mentioned, her creative effort imitates a place she knew when she was younger. She therefore appears to mimic Williams, who claimed "the stage or setting of [his] drama was the country of [his] childhood." (26) Val's artistic endeavor seems bent on transformation rather than imitation. He is "gifted with too much imagination" (212), which further strengthens his association with Orpheus, "the singer with magic in his notes, who could metamorphose nature by his art." (27) Vee Talbot's painting holds the middle ground. Her depictions of the Apostles and Jesus are strangely unimaginative. Christ's disciples all "look ... like some man around Two River County" (198) while her vision of the Savior leads her to portray Val. Vee's representation of the church steeple, conversely, is subject to "a sort of imaginative treatment" (232). Her painting thus combines repetition with transformation, as is true of Williams's text.
From this angle, then, Williams arguably mirrors yet alters Cocteau's most obvious articulation of the connection between life and art in Orphee. The eponymous character was convinced life carved his body, all the while making a masterpiece. In Battle of Angels, the girl Val meets on Witches' Bayou has a similarly carved body, as witnessed by the following exchange between Val and Myra:
Val: Well, it was. She'd been lonesome.
Myra: How did you know? Did she tell you?
Val: She didn't have to. She had it carved in her body.
Myra: Carved? Is lonesomeness carved in people's bodies? ...
Val: Kind of. Anyhow you can see it. (227)
The dialogue in question offers perhaps the most blatant example of a series of allusions to the text's Coctelian predecessor.
It is conceivable Battle's references to opium are connected to Cocteau as well. When Myra first encounters Val "she has on a cheap Japanese kimona of shiny black satin with large scarlet poppies on it" (207, original italics). The flowers relate to the female protagonist's forgetfulness (228) but are also the source of the French poet's drug of choice. In the second act, Eva Temple discusses a Miss DeQuincey (218). Given the earlier hint about opium, the name seems particularly appropriate. Indeed, Thomas De Quincey famously described his dependence on drugs in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Tennessee Williams was well aware of the French writer's addiction and "often recalled Cocteau's having smoked opium to excite his poetic inspiration ... to justify his own drug use for similar creative stimulation." (28) Finally, Orphee as well as Battle tap into Orpheus's association with magic. (29) In his description of the scenery, Cocteau points out that Orphee's sitting room resembles the one of a conjuror/magician (387). Williams's play also immediately draws attention to the Conjure Man (191). This is hardly surprising, since magic is often concerned with transformation.
In his introduction to the published screenplay of Orphee, Cocteau effectively highlights his film's concern with repetition and transformation. According to the director, the eponymous character embodies various themes, one of which can be summarized by Mallarme's line "Such that at last eternity transforms him into himself." (30) This is no coincidence, for Mallarme was one of these artists very much concerned with Orpheus's potential to transform reality. The older writer's line implies the poet must die several times in order to be born, following Cocteau's assessment (n.p.). It captures the interconnectedness of repetition and transformation as repeated deaths give rise to change. The theme is, moreover, no novelty within the context of Cocteau's oeuvre. By his own admission, he already provided his take on the subject with his film Le Sang d'un porte. Orphee, in turn, offers a transformed, "orchestrated" (n.p.) view on the same theme. Finally, Cocteau defines his film as nothing but the paraphrase of a classical myth (n.p.). Paraphrase again brings together the two elements under discussion here, in that it constitutes the repetition of an older idea under a changed form. Yet Cocteau's film presents a different stance vis-a-vis the material and also engages with representations of the mythic singer other than the classical. Accordingly, the idea of Orphee as the mere paraphrase of a Greek myth would appear not entirely truthful.
Orphee's conversation with the anonymous "Monsieur" at his story's inception is quite fittingly accompanied by jazz music (4). Incidentally, in Gerard Genette's opinion, "the happiest balance between transformation and repetition [can be found] in the variations of jazz." (31) It is not the only time music adds to the film's central concern. Music from Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice plays at the Princess's ramshackle mansion as well as Orphee's house following his return (17, 19, 32). Cocteau's film could be said to repeat the ending of the opera, where the lovers are also reunited. (32) Whereas Orfeo's conclusion is nothing short of "happy" it is difficult to claim the same for Orphee. (33) The couple's reunion "comes at a hefty price, that of amnesia and ignorance." (34) Heurtebise refers to the spouses' return to conjugal "happiness" as returning them to their "mire," thus hardly suggesting a positive assessment. (35) Interestingly, Cocteau also seems to refer to another musical variant of the story. When Orphee insists to Heurtebise that he would follow his wife to hell (68), his plea brings to mind Jacques Offenbach's operetta Orphee aux Enfers (1858). The piece "parodied Gluck mercilessly" (36) and can thus be viewed as an instance of "repetition with difference," Linda Hutcheon's definition of parody. (37)
While Cocteau repeats and transforms other models, he looks back to his own previous treatment of the material, too. The film differs significantly from and at the same time engages with its stage predecessor. Cocteau brings an equally trouble-ridden marriage to the screen and the celebrated poet is similarly concerned with his own corruption (O 391; OF 39). On many occasions, the characters repeat the things their precursors mentioned using different words. In this way, they literally embody the idea of paraphrase Cocteau broached in his introduction. To cite but one example, Orphee once again compares himself to marble, yet phrased in another way.
Williams's Orpheus Descending is similarly repetitive by virtue of its characters' movements. Despite Jean Kontaxopoulos's assertion that Williams "keep[s] the mythological name only in the title and drop[s] every other direct allusion to the legend," (38) the legendary singer's behavior to a large extent influences the actions of Two River County's inhabitants. Orpheus descended to the nether realms, crossed the river Styx, and tried to return to earth, but turned around and looked at his wife. In the 1957 text, descending, crossing, (re)turning and staring are practically all the characters are capable of. These actions are not limited to Val Xavier but scattered all over the play, thus contributing to its concern with dismemberment (272, 282, 283, 302, 304, 330).
On top of that, Val Xavier's story does not only transform an ancient myth but is itself also a "transformation of Battle of Angels." (39) The older play's abundant references to imitation are entirely absent from its newer incarnation. Gone also are the allusions to opium and (Orpheus's) decapitation, two possible connections to Cocteau. The male protagonist still meets a girl on Witches' Bayou, but she no longer has a carved body, another potential hint at the French poet's treatment of the material. Williams had seen or at least knew of Cocteau's film. He described Jean Marais as "the beautiful youth of 'Orfee' [sic]" in 1953. (40) But further links between Orpheus Descending and Orphee prove hard to find or are rather vague. The play and film both focus on a transgressive love relation and are concerned with corruption. All four stories discussed here elaborate on the myth's repetitive nature and its interest in transformation. But since so many different artists have dealt with Orpheus and Eurydice, it is difficult to establish that Williams looked to Cocteau to craft his version of the legend.
The playwright's debt to the latter's L'Aigle a deux tetes in his The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore is far more easy to discern, however. (41) The French poet's 1946 play portrays another transgressive relation: it revolves around the love affair between a rather unusual queen and the anarchist who intends to assassinate her. Stanislas is a poet, and the spitting image of the female protagonist's deceased husband. After he breaks into her room at night, the young man becomes the queen's "free prisoner" (1087) and angel of death. And since the queen always wanted her life to be a tragedy, she casts Stanislas as her fate, a role he particularly resents. The poet appears able to escape his task by killing himself rather than his paramour. Yet the harsh words the queen speaks to him while he is dying prompt Stanislas to stab her in the back. In this way, Cocteau's royal protagonist ultimately triumphs.
The queen's story is deeply concerned with doubles and mirroring. (42) The eponymous two-headed eagle proves a case in point. The two heads mirror each other, at least as depicted in the drawing by Cocteau which adorned the text's first edition (1947). If the protagonists should be able to carry out their desire to become a two-headed eagle, they will mirror the queen's coat of arms, as Stanislas points out (1115). The poet's appearance probably offers the most blatant example. Stanislas looks so much like the king that the queen actually believes her husband's ghost has entered the room when they first meet. While Stanislas's appearance is akin to the king's, his demeanor and ideas mirror the queen's and vice versa. Representative of royalty and revolution, the two would appear opposites. However, the female protagonist describes herself as an "anarchist queen" (1094), a label she seems to deserve as a result of her disregard for the established rules. The poet, for his part, dons the king's costume (1095). Most importantly, both protagonists are artists. Stanislas's poem "The End of Royalty," which is much admired by the queen because of its formal innovation, prefigures the play's tragic end. The queen constructs, directs and acts in the tragedy she wants her life to become (1085, e.g.). In order to induce the ending she envisioned, the queen pretends Stanislas's impending imprisonment was a plot of her own making in keeping with the court's constant scheming (1140).
The play's incessant mirroring as well as the queen's behavior easily account for the presence of Hamlet in Aigle. Shakespeare's play is, after all, concerned with doubles, too. In addition, "there is hardly a scene in [Hamlet] in which some character is not trying to dramatize another." (43) As mentioned, Aigle also very much revolves around the queen's desire to dramatize Stanislas and herself. In the second act of Cocteau's play, Stanislas reads the famous closet scene in the queen's presence. Not surprisingly, the scene is prefigured by the French text. Prior to the poet's reading, the queen alludes to her excellent hearing which allows her to "hear the servants listening at the doors" (1095), thus foreshadowing Polonius's eavesdropping. Subsequently, the queen chides Edith for listening in on her conversation with the poet (1103) before she allows Stanislas to overhear her discussion with the Count of Foehn (1103). The closet scene is also mirrored and inverted by the dialogue preceding Edith and the Count's arrival. Hamlet reproaches the queen since she dishonors the memory of his father by marrying his uncle. Stanislas, by contrast, admonishes his queen for her excessive mourning. Her love for the king was nothing but a result of her education, in his opinion (1100).
Hamlet famously includes a play-within-a-play, a structural example of internal mirroring. The Mousetrap mirrors old Hamlet's murder and doubles the play's structure. Although Cocteau did not incorporate such a well-defined and fully-fledged inner play into his text, Aigle's mirroring is also structural. The first act's third scene can be viewed as an embryonic play-within-a-play featuring one actress. The queen pretends to have supper with her deceased husband on the tenth anniversary of their wedding and his death. Cocteau's stage directions indicate "the entire scene should be mimed by the actress as if the king is present in the room" (1074-1075). The queen's so-called "tragedy" might be construed as an elusive inner play. However, the female protagonist fuels her masterpiece with material taken from her life, which makes it exceedingly difficult to distinguish between the different layers of performance.
Tennessee Williams's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963, 1964) mirrors Cocteau's play in many ways. Most obviously, Flora Goforth's story mirrors the set, characters and certain plot elements from L'Aigle a deux tetes, as Gilbert Debusscher has already pointed out. (44) Examples Debusscher discusses include the queen and Flora Goforth's shared widowhood and artistic aspirations, as well as the nickname and profession Stanislas and Chris Flanders have in common. (45) From the very beginning, however, Cocteau's text is present in Milk Train in a more cryptic guise than Debusscher recognizes. The epigraph of Williams's play hails from William Butler Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium,' published in the 1928 collection The Tower. According to Michael Paller, Williams chose to cite this poem because its author was equally interested in Japanese No theater. (46) Yet Byzantium's imperial symbol was a double-headed eagle and would therefore appear to reinforce the relevance of L'Aigle a deux totes. In her first speech, Flora Goforth alludes to the symbol's mirror image. Williams's female protagonist recounts how her last husband "wore a signet ring with the heavy Romanov crest" (9) with which he accidentally hit her. The Romanovs' crest involved another double-headed eagle, as was the case for imperial Russia's coat of arms. Russia first adopted this symbol to establish its connection with the Byzantine Empire. (47)
The reference to Byzantium also points to the play's concern with hybridity. Eastern and Western culture intersected in the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The same can be said about Williams's play. It includes two Kabuki stage assistants presented as "a theatrical device of ancient and oriental origin" but "with occidental variations" (7). Paller is convinced "we [should] change the angle of our perception from Greece to Japan." (48) But Williams's "Author's Notes" indicate that we should look at both Greece and Japan, since the stage assistants "function in a way that's between the Kabuki Theatre of Japan and the chorus of Greek theatre" (3, original italics).
While The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore is a cultural hybrid concerned with cultural hybridity, it also includes other types of the in-between, more obviously connected to L'Aigle a deux tetes. Williams's play involves a wide variety of monsters, as Robert F. Gross also claims. (49) Flora Goforth's own "heraldic device" is not a double-headed eagle but a "gold griffin" (8, original italics). The link with the eponymous bird of the French text is still present, as the griffin has the head and wings of an eagle, combined with the body of a lion. Milk Train's concern with monstrosity mirrors Cocteau's. In the 1946 play, the Count of Foehn is convinced his ruler is a chimera, one more creature straddling the boundaries between different species (1128). On the whole, monstrosity proves to be another issue that all the characters take an interest in. Stanislas is persuaded the queen was made into a monster of pride (1100), to cite but one example. The same could easily be said about Flora Goforth. Indeed, Blackie is positive "Mrs. Goforth is a dying monster" (29). Even the stage assistants' assessment of the monstrous griffin mirrors Cocteau's, as they insist it is "wholly and completely human" (7). As Gullentops and Van Sevenant point out, Cocteau was greatly interested in human monstrosity and the humanity of monsters. (50)
L'Aigle a deux tetes revolves around mirrors and doubles, as we have seen. Tennessee Williams's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore perpetuates the earlier text's mirroring by reflecting a wide variety of its components once again. Cocteau's play, in turn, complements Milk Train's central concern of hybridity, in that it adds a French element to Williams's melange of different cultures and extends its array of hybrid monsters. While mirroring and hybridity are not the same thing, both make for a duality befitting the presence of the two-headed eagle in the two plays. However, an extra layer of signification can be added to the already ample parallels between Williams's Milk Train and Cocteau's Aigle. For, as John Bak demonstrates in his recent biography of the American dramatist, the "inspiration" derived from the French play would later morph into something more akin to "imitation" when Williams wrote the (granted, obscure) one-act The Pronoun "I" (ca. 1975). Indeed, beyond transposing certain thematic elements in this playlet Williams goes as far as literally copying "stage designs, characters, plots, and even symbols of Cocteau's L'aigle." (51) Still, Bak maintains that Williams "was not interested in plagiarism" but rather paid tribute to his peer via a postmodern form of "pastiche," (52) which Linda Hutcheon defined in her Theory of Parody as not "an imitation ... of a single text but [rather] of the indefinite possibilities of texts." (53)
Too frequent for coincidence, the multiple aesthetic and thematic analogies between Cocteau's Aigle and Williams's Milk Train find further confirmation in what one could come to call the Clair-Obscur-dialogue. After having written the autobiographical one-act The Parade in 1940, (54) a playlet that would remain unproduced until 2006 but which bears the same title as the 1917 ballet that Cocteau created in collaboration with composer Erik Satie, impresario Serge Diaghilev, and painter Pablo Picasso, Williams rewrote, restructured, and retitled it 40 years later as Something Cloudy, Something Clear. This full-length two-act play once again took its title directly from Jean Cocteau's signature 1954 poetry collection Clair/Obscur, (55) a work which itself thematically thrives on the double exposure of lucidity and opacity constantly interacting. The terms "double exposure" and "recurring allusion" form a literal, because repeatedly emphasized through-line in Something Cloudy, Something Clear. Moreover, this textual genealogy carries supplementary weight as an inter-artistic dialogue when the play's thematic and structural conceptions are taken into account. The penultimate new work to be staged during Tennessee Williams's lifetime has prompted multiple and rather self-evident biographical readings, justified by the reference made to a cataract in one of the protagonist's eyes. Beyond these, however, Something Cloudy, Something Clear is above all an eloquent exercise in exploiting the stage's elusiveness, as well as a further display of the particular aesthetic sensitivity implied by an intrinsically integrative perspective. On a superficial level, Tennessee Williams himself described it as "one of the most personal plays" he ever wrote, "releas[ing] for me some of the emotional content of my life." (56) Arguably, however, its central conceit of the aging playwright remembering the summer of 1940 that directly preceded the production of Battle of Angels by the Theatre Guild, which effectively launched his career in professional theater, serves as a mere bridge to a more layered rendering of those creative principles that constituted the "artistic content" of his life.
Despite a declining critical stature arguably caused by Williams's unwillingness to forfeit experimentation and exploit the niche he carved out for himself in the American theater, he kept appealing to a--granted, similarly dwindling--band of drama enthusiasts who "securely captured Williams's high regard." (57) One of them was Eve Adamson, credited with staging some of the artist's least popular plays like In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) and Kirche, Kuche, und Kinder (1979) while acting as the artistic director of the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre. That she would come to direct the first production of Something Cloudy, Something Clear, a play with a title so clearly reminiscent of Clair/Obscur and a structural opacity so similar to Cocteau's dramaturgic work, with hindsight arguably could be interpreted as a natural occurrence--i.e, a logical turn in a nonlinear dialectic between like-minded spirits. For, as Adamson herself pointed out in the introduction to the play's printed version, this "double exposure" of past and present, but also of fact and fiction, or better: of originality and influence, forms "the key metaphor of the play." (58)
After all, the play's ur-version, the one-act The Parade, already dramatizes duality with both its title echoing Cocteau's scandalously famous ballet and its opening sequence depicting a "perfect dance floor" that only requires "mirrors" to allow "for ballet practice" (167). Just so, The Parade then juxtaposes "incestuously fatherly" (167) feelings with three things: thematic, but also structural, "queerness," depicted quasi simultaneously through the theme of homosexual attraction; incessant play with language's so-called "logic of supplementarity"; (59) and dramatic refusal of a straight narrative progression. In the words of Don, Williams's presumed alter ego in this early version,
as soon as I love--then I lose all my character. I seem to dissolve. Love makes some people charming but it makes me dull. I haven't thought of anything to say for several hours. He was here dancing. I supplied the rhythm. (175)
Homosexuality, however, did indeed prove one of the major stumbling blocks to a positive reception of the later play because most "traditionalist" critics took issue with "double exposure" of lofty meta-artistry and coarse queer disclosures. Still, the "numerous variations" (11) on and "recurring allusion[s]" (20ft.) to the theme of "double exposure" are precisely what prevent the play from lapsing into the one-dimensional exhibitionism of an "unscrupulous, horny bastard on the make." (60) For one, the term "constellations" (63) Williams uses already hints at a more integrative perspective than mere accusations of self-centeredness would allow, just as the actor's body performing on stage functions as a repository of a double consciousness" of the simultaneously live and simulated to actor and audience alike. Moreover, the adaptation and even literal integration of a passage from The Parade cumulatively contributes to a cognitive "massage" of sorts ushering our perception away from monolithic readings:
August: All my life, at least since I started to shave, I've been like a kid on a grandstand, flag-draped, you know, waiting for a circus parade to come by. I hear the calliope in the distance. It gets louder slowly, that light, haunting music. But there's another sound, the sound of a thunderstorm approaching much more quickly. There's a sudden torrent of rain, a deluge--disperses all, all are dispersed except me. I stay on the deserted grandstand among drenched, motionless flags--always the obstinate writer.
Kip: How long did you wait for it, August?
August: I waited until a sort of faceless policeman in a black raincoat tapped my shoulder and said, "The parade's been rained out, son, it's been called off till later." But later still hasn't come ... (24, emphasis added)
Much like "haunting music," Williams's incessant play with allusions and analogies dramatizes an aesthetic of elusiveness that finds its most appropriate platform on the theater stage but is essentially poetic in conception. The integration into a fictional context of many autobiographical elements or characters, such as the notoriously mercurial actress Tallulah Bankhead so admired by both Williams and Cocteau, (61) resembles a poet's associative play with metaphor and metonym, as well as the constant creative tension between a recognizable format and formal experimentation. Similarly, Williams here relies on the poet's radical disrespect for rounded readings as we can only "live on half of something--some [even] on less" (52). Typical for the poetic oeuvre of Jean Cocteau in particular is precisely the transposition of creative techniques and motives across media and genres. (62) More concretely, then, this implies an artistic practice of analogy-based "bricolage" less interested in capturing "essences" of meaning than in the actual transfer of creative energies, "recurring allusions" and their "double exposure" of product and process at once. Above all, however, it provides an indication of an effectively mutual influence between Cocteau and Tennessee Williams.
At least two poems in Cocteau's Clair/Obscur explicitly elaborate some of the themes the American playwright developed in The Parade. Although the latter was never published before 2008, these themes would keep "haunting" his later plays as genuine aesthetic keystones of his oeuvre. When Cocteau writes
Temps j'aimerais te prendre en faute Vaincre tes ruses visiter Ton faux avenir cote a cote Avec ta fausse antiquite. (Time, I would like to find fault in you Vanquish your ruses visit Your false future aside Your false antiquity.) (LXXI)
he tackles the issue of "mediation" underlying poetic creation head-on, but, more interestingly, in direct juxtaposition with the uneasy tension between fact and fiction in the two versions of Williams's memory play on the period preceding his first professional stage production, which coincided with his first "serious" homosexual relation. (63) "Ton faux avenir," moreover, recalls the make-believe world of the theater where high art and bad taste may meet to dance a subversive, "two-headed" tango:
Merveilleux mauvais gout, comediens illustres Vos trones vos divans vos retables vos lustres Vos gestes vos voix d'or Ou sont-ils? Ou sont-ils tombes? Dans quelle trappe D'un theatre royal dont le Rideau se drape Comme un toreador. (Wonderful bad taste, illustrious actors, Your thrones your divans your altars your chandeliers Your gestures your golden voices Where are they? Where have they fallen? In which trapdoor Of a royal theater whose Curtain drapes Like a toreador.) ("Trois fois helas")
And even though Clair/Obscur was released when Tennessee Williams's career was only just beginning, the poetic "suturing" between elevated taste and the entrails of the trapdoor so present in Something Cloudy, Something Clear, but which Cocteau also hints at in this second poem, proved precisely the prime motivating factor for the latter to take the then unknown Streetcar-play to the French stages. (64) After all, in the words of Harold Bloom, this "questing for fire, that is, for discontinuity" constitutes the essence of a poetic consciousness both artists unmistakably shared since, as Bloom continues, "strong poets necessarily are perverse." (65)
Ranging far beyond presumed thematic immoralities, this perversity pertains to multiple levels of the poetic composition simultaneously. Not in the least for a theater play in the transposition from text to mise-en-scene, but also in a part-ekphrastic poetry collection such as Clair/Obscur where word and image are made to interact continually--an approach already announced on its original part-photo, part-drawing book cover depicting its author's face as mediated entity. (66) To Angie Van Steerthem, Cocteau always sought to concretize visually that which literature could only suggest conceptually. (67) In l'Aigle a deux tetes this mechanism is even transposed into the staged fiction as a mise en abyme when, in the first act, we perceive an immense portrait of the deceased king in the queen's bedroom, after which Stanislas enters the same room and indeed doubles the painted image through his strikingly resemblant "liveness"' (68) This duality, however, is double only in a strictly poetic sense, as the ontological effect and cognitive affect so generated thrives on precisely the "perverse" tension between recognition and estrangement. Cocteau meant as much when he wrote in Clair/Obscur that
Avec ce double effroi lorsque notre art en use Marche le choc brutal d'un visage ou d'un corps Car Persee invisible est moins beau que Meduse Lorsque du chef coupe le regard vit encor. (With this twofold terror our art performs Walks the brutal blow of a face or a body For Perseus invisible is less lovely than Medusa When decapitated the gaze lives on embodied) (LXXXVII, emphasis added)
Just as last word of this stanza is willfully faulty to highlight the essentially embodied nature of cognition, both on stage and off, so, too, does Something Cloudy, Something Clear diffusedly draw on autobiographical references, structural doublings, and intertextual analogies to present its audiences with a poetics of visceral response to the complex constellation of impulses and influences that constitute a play--or, as the case of Jean Cocteau as intermedialist creator par excellence demonstrates, any art form imaginable.
The very notion of intermediality, more specific than its cousin concepts intertextuality and (reciprocal) influence, itself refers to the exchange and convergence process of techniques and modes of expression across different communicative or artistic media. (69) In this sense, Cocteau's restless exploration of media, genres, and form(at)s already hints at aspirations of horizontal transcendence, whereby the status quo of fixed readings and realities comes under fire through the very form they inhabit. (70) The preceding analyses in our article, in turn, were precisely intended to highlight both the meandering nature and the mediated quality of (reciprocal) artistic intertextuality. As a result, this allowed us to stress the broader relevance of the creational act in a "constellation" of influences over formulaic assessments of any decontextualized "product"--artistic or otherwise. Like Tennessee Williams's labeling of the androgynous as the "truest" human being, interrelational hybrids then strike us as part of one great humanist poem perpetually in progress. Perhaps, finally, such a perspective implies that no artistic creation can ever be fully clarified, nor its genealogy exhaustively mapped. Yet, by elusively stimulating our imagination, the two-headed eagles of reciprocal influence and double consciousness may still cloud that which occasionally seems clear, while transforming obscurity into something markedly more radiant.
Free University of Brussels
(1 "The true drama is distance and the absence of intimacy. If people knew each other, we would avoid sadness and crimes"--Jean Cocteau, The Eagle Has Two Heads (1946).
Jean Cocteau, L'Aigle a deux tetes, in Jean Cocteau: Theatre complet, eds. Michel Decaudin et al. (1946; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 2003), 1056-1143 (1121). Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text. All translations from the French are ours unless otherwise noted.
(2) Tennessee Williams quoted in Christopher Bigsby, Modern American Drama, 1945-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 47. Thomas P. Adler also discusses the relevance of androgyny to Williams's oeuvre in his "Tennessee Williams's Personal Lyricism: Towards an Androgynous Form" in Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition, ed. William W. Demastes (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996), 172-188.
(3) Brian Parker deals with Williams's habit of revising his own work in "A Developmental Stemma for Drafts and Revisions of Tennessee Williams' Camino Real," Modern Drama 39 (1996): 331-341 (331).
(4) David Gullentops and Anne Van Sevenant, Les mondes de lean Cocteau: Poetique et esthetique (Paris: Non Lieu, 2012), 13.
(5) Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), xi, xviii.
(6) Ibid., 5-12.
(7) Kevin Dunbar, "The Analogical Paradox: Why Analogy Is so Easy in Naturalistic Settings, Yet so Difficult in the Psychological Laboratory;' in The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science, ed. Dedre Getner, Keith J. Holvoak and Boicho N. Kokinov (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 330.
(8) Tennessee Williams, Something Cloudy, Something Clear (New York: New Directions, 1995), 7, 38. Subsequent quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text. To avoid confusion, we will sometimes add SC before the page number.
(9) Luk Van den Dries, "The Sublime Body" in Bodycheck: Relocating the Body in Contemporary Performing Arts, ed. Luk Van den Dries et al. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002), 71-95 (71).
(10) Quoted in Van den Dries, 72-73 (original emphasis). The original Polish-language interview may be found in Jerzy Grotowski, "Gesprek met Grotowski" Nieuw Vlaams Theatertijdschrift 203 (1967): 265-277.
(11) Gerard Lieber, "La question de radaptation: L'xemple d'Un Tramway Nomme Desir" in lean Cocteau: 40 ans apres, ed. Pierre Caizergues (Montpellier: Presses de l'Universite Paul Valery, 2005), 153-169 (153-154).
(12) Jean Kontaxopoulos's discussion of the relationship between Cocteau and Williams in his "Orpheus Introspecting: Tennessee Williams and lean Cocteau," Tennessee Williams Annual Review 4 (2001): 1-27 also revolves around the Orpheus figure but primarily focuses on the authors' biographies.
(13) Hugh Dickinson quoted in James Schiatter, "Red Devil Battery Sign: An Approach to a Mytho-Political Theatre,' Tennessee Williams Annual Review 1 (1998): 39-101 (95).
(14) lean Cocteau, Orphee: Tragedie en un acte et un intervalle, in lean Cocteau: Theatre complet, ed. Michel Decaudin et al. (1926; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 2003), 383-424. Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text.
(15) Jean Cocteau, Orphee, film (Paris: La Parade, 1950). Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text. When necessary, we will distinguish between Orphee (play) and Orphee (film) by adding O or OF before the page number.
(16) Tennessee Williams, Battle of Angels, in Plays 1937-1955, ed. Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holdich (1940; reprint, New York: Library of America, 2000), 191-274. Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text.
(17) Tennessee Williams, "The Past, the Present, and the Perhaps" in New Selected Essays Where I Live, ed. John S. Bak (1957; reprint, New York: New Directions, 2009), 79-82 (80).
(18) Tennessee Williams, Orpheus Descending, in The Rose Tattoo and Other Plays, ed. E. Martin Browne (1957; reprint, London: Penguin, 2001), 245-347. Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text.
(19) Judith E. Bernstock, Under the Spell of Orpheus: The Persistence of a Myth in Twentieth-Century Art (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991), xviii.
(20) Ibid., xvii.
(21) Ibid., xvii.
(22) Gullentops and Van Sevenant, 306-307.
(23) Rory B. Egan also discusses how Williams drew on and adjusted older myths in his "Orpheus Christus Mississippiensis: Tennessee Williams's Xavier in Hell," Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly 14 (1993): 61-98.
(24) Bloom, 27.
(25) For discussions of Williams's connections to Romanticism see Norma Jenckes, "'Let's Face the Music and Dance': Resurgent Romanticism in Tennessee Williams's Camino Real and Clothes for a Summer Hotel," in The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams, ed. Philip C. Kolin (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 181-193, and Nancy M. Tischler, "Romantic Textures in Tennessee Williams's Plays and Short Stories," in The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams, ed. Matthew C. Roudane (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997), 147-166.
(26) Tennessee Williams, "The History of a Play (With Parentheses)" in Bak, 15-24 (16).
(27) Bernstock, 5.
(28) John S. Bak in his notes to Williams's review of Cocteau's The Diary of a Film, in Bak, 288.
(29) Bernstock, 5.
(30) Translation by James Williams, Jean Cocteau (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2010), 131, italics added.
(31) Gerard Genette, "The Other of the Same," in Essays in Aesthetics, vol. 4, trans. Dorrit Cohn (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 102-107 (104).
(32) Simon Goldhill, "Who Killed Gluck?" in Ancient Drama in Music for the Modern Stage, ed. Peter Brown and Suzana Ograjensek (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 210-239 (222).
(33) Ibid., 222.
(34) J. Williams, 113.
(35) Ibid., 133.
(36) Goldhill, 229.
(37) Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 101.
(38) Kontaxopoulos, 5.
(39) Kimball King, "The Rebirth of Orpheus Descending," in Critical Essays on Tennessee Williams, ed. Robert A. Martin (New York: G.K. Hall, 1997), 132-142 (137).
(40) Tennessee Williams, Notebooks, ed. Margaret Bradham Thornton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 575.
(41) Tennessee Williams, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, in The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, vol. 5 (1964; reprint, New York: New Directions, 1990), 1-120. Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text.
(42) Gullentops and Van Sevenant analyze Cocteau's interest in doubles in Gullentops and Van Sevenant, 235.
(43) Lionel Abel, Tragedy and Metatheatre: Essays on Dramatic Form (New York: Holmes and Meier, 2003), 119.
(44) Gilbert Debusscher, "French Stowaways on an American Milk Train" Modern Drama 25 (1982): 399-408 (400).
(45) Ibid., 400, 402, 403.
(46) Michael Paller, "The Day on Which a Woman Dies: The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore and No Theatre" in The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams, ed. Philip C. Kolin (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 25-39 (26).
(47) George Majeska, "'Rus' and the Byzantine Empire," in A Companion to Russian History, ed. Abbott Gleason (Malden: Blackwell, 2009), 51-65 (61).
(48) Paller, 38.
(49) Robert F. Gross, "Tracing Lines of Flight in Summer and Smoke and The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," in Tennessee Williams:
A Casebook, ed. Robert F. Gross (New York: Routledge, 2002), 91-106 (99).
(50) Gullentops and Van Sevenant, 370.
(51) John S. Bak, Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 196.
(52) Ibid., 197.
(53) Hutcheon, 38, our emphasis.
(54) Tennessee Williams, The Parade, Or Approaching the End of Summer, in The Traveling Companion and Other Plays, ed. Annette J. Saddik (New York: New Directions, 2008), 165-192. Quotations from this edition are cited parenthetically in the text.
(55) Jean Cocteau, Clair/Obscur, ed. Pierre Caizergues et al. (1954; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 1999). All quotations from the collection are from this edition.
(56) Michiko Kakutani, "Tennessee Williams: 'I Keep Writing, Sometimes I Am Pleased," New York Times, 13 Aug. 1981, C7, National Edition.
(57) Philip C. Kolin, "Something Cloudy, Something Clear: Tennessee Williams's Postmodern Memory Play," Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 12.2 (1998): 35-55 (36).
(58) Eve Adamson, Introduction to Something Cloudy, Something Clear (New York: New Directions, 1995), v-viii (vii).
(59) French philosopher Jacques Derrida develops this notion, most notably, in his book De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1997).
(60) Michael Feingold, "The Playwright as Stinker," Village Voice, 16 Sept. 1981.
(61) James Fisher looks at the relationship between Williams and Bankhead in his "Divinely Impossible': Southern Heritage in the Creative Encounters of Tennessee Williams and Tallulah Bankhead," Southern Quarterly 48.4 (2011): 52-72.
(62) David Gullentops, "Haltes dans la poesie graphique de Jean Cocteau," in Jean Cocteau et l'image, ed. Pierre Caizergues (Montpellier: Centre d'etude du XXe siecle de l'Universite de Montpellier 3-Paul Valery, 2003), 121-152 (128, 147).
(63) Randy Gener, "Suddenly That Summer, Out of the Closet," New York Times, 24 Sept. 2006.
(64) Lieber 2005, 154.
(65) Bloom, 79, 85.
(66) Alex Callebaut, "Jean Cocteau et la ligne transgressee," textimage Varia 1 (2007): http://www. revue-textimage.com/02_varia/callebaut1.htm, and Gullentops and Van Sevenant, 32.
(67) Angie Van Steerthem, L'adaptation chez Jean Cocteau. Du cinematographe au cine-roman et du theatre au cinematographe (Ph.D. diss., Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2006), 86.
(68) Gerard Lieber, "Theatre image," in Caizergues, 21-29 (25).
(69) This reasoning is developed in more detail by Silvestra Mariniello in her article "L'intermedialite un concept polymorphe," Intermedia: Etudes en intermedialite, ed. Celia Viera and Isabel Rio Novo (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2010), 11-29.
(70) Gullentops and Van Sevenant, 339.
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|Author:||Michiels, Laura; Collard, Christophe|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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