Have you ever read or seen Caryl Churchill’s play, Top Girls? For those that haven’t, Act I takes place in a liminal space where the protagonist from Act II (Marlene) has dinner with five real and imagined female figures from the past. What takes place is an interesting discussion, deconstruction and interruption of femaleness between subjects of male imaginings, archetypes of femaleness, historical feminists and a business woman from the Thatcher period. This got me thinking, if I could choose five real or imagined figures from the past to have dinner with: Who would they be? What would the conversation be like? How would they interact?
- Marilyn Monroe
- Virginia Woolf
- Helen of Troy
- Catherine from Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim
and just to add a lil heat to the fire:
I have chosen these five because the four females offer various readings and deconstructions of feminism and ‘femaleness.’ All four females are tragic figures, closely linked to death and death is a controversial space of female empowerment. I have added Freud to the mix because he would treat these females as his patients, trying to trap them within his theories, however I think he will find himself a patient and student too. I believe he will be haunted. That is not to say all the females will band together to attack a common enemy ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ there will be disagreements between the females too, over femaleness and what it is to be a feminist. All five figures are involved in depression and suicide, issues of shame and silence even today. Everyone will speak in their native tongue but will be able to understand each other.
MARILYN MONROE (1926-1962) A sex icon of the collective unconscious.
What she will bring to the conversation: She is the liminal where boundaries collapse. She is everything and nothing, belongs to both reality and imaginary, the tragic and the comic, life and death, innocence and experience, fake and real. She is an object of desire for both male and female. She is a tease for the person who believes they have trapped her. She will also deliver off-beat jokes and self-depreciating wit. She will express the fear of female entrapment – in both archetype and institutionalization. Topics she may bring up: schizophrenia, Fox, exploitation, ‘Dumb Blondes,’ sense of self, death, method acting, reading, Joyce, Freud, but above all things LOVE.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Freud: Marilyn was always searching for ‘father figures’ to fill the void left by her ‘real’ father, thus she may serenade Freud with ‘My heart belongs to Daddy.’ She also studied Freud, during his American resurrection during the 50s so I think she will take genuine interest in his theories in her pursuit of knowledge. I think she will flatter his theories until he attacks her ‘father complex,’ and she will become either cold and unresponsive or she will subtly undercut his Electra complex theory, with herself as an example. Virginia: Marilyn and Virginia were both institutionalized, share a past of sexual abuse, subject to mood swings, fear of madness and both committed suicide, although Marilyn’s drug overdose may have also been accidental or homicidal. Marilyn, who attached herself to older women will do so again with Virginia.
Helen of Troy: Marilyn was well-read, therefore she would be very familiar with the figure of Helen of Troy and the different interpretations. Marilyn would connect with Helens frustration over being misinterpreted and re-imagined within popular culture, as the blonde siren. She would also understand the sense of ‘multiple selves’ the two share.
Catherine: Catherine was born on screen the same year Marilyn departed life’s stage (1962). Marilyn will hate but be fascinated with Catherine. Marilyn will see the uncanny in Catherine, who will be both familiar (the space where boundaries collapse) and unfamiliar (Catherine as character is but a projected shadow on the wall). Marilyn will compete with her for the affections of Freud and Virginia.
VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941) Advocate for every woman to have a “room of ones own.”
What will she bring to the conversation? If the conversation tends to become silly she will enforce an intellectualism. She will discuss literature with such fervor and express issues surrounding feminism, gender power structures using her fellow female dinner party guests as proof. Her conversation will be in a stream of consciousness, at times she will seem as though she is talking to herself. She will bring an intensity to the conversation. Topics she may bring up: sexual abuse, gender, Vita, female writers having a room of ones own, depression, St Ives at Cornwall, water.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Freud: There will be a power struggle between these two, while simultaneously there would be an amount of mutual respect, where they will discuss in tandem issues of literature, war, shell shock, fascism and suicide. There will be a serious debate regarding his studies on Hysteria. He will say her hysteria is a direct result of her unconscious desire and fantasy for the sexual abuse she suffered from her half-brothers. Undead Virginia will not suffer any nervous breakdowns from these attacks, she will instead place herself in position of therapist awakening Freud’s own unconscious desires and fears. Every time Freud makes an oral slip, she will tease him with “freudian slip.” Marilyn: Virginia will be impressed by Marilyn finding a room of her own (starting Marilyn Monroe Productions) however she will find it hard to condone her self-exploitation for fame. Virginia will recognize Marilyn’s attachment to her and will be kind and attentive to her. The two will discuss literature together.
Helen of Troy: Virginia will be intrigued by Helen of Troy, however she will simply call her Helen. As a figure of literature, Virginia will try an unpack the layers of her creation by male hand. She will try to get to the real Helen but will be competing against layers of myth and imagination.
Catherine: As a film creation of the femme siren, Virginia will also be curious as to deconstructing and rereading her through a feminist lense. She will recognize in Catherine the misunderstood ‘mental illness,’ the sexual liberation and drive for suicide.
SIGMUND FREUD (1856-1939) Father of Psychoanalysis What would he bring to the conversation: He would bring a narcissism. He will not know he’s dead and will continue treating the females as his patients and diagnosing them. He will be delighted by the prospect of having dinner with very complex, layered and repressed subjects. Topics he may bring up: trains, ‘unheimlich,’ dreams, talking cure, castration, penis envy, hysteria, depression.
The following would be his diagnosis or response to the other figures:
Virginia: Hysteria, due to unconscious pleasure derived from sexual abuse. While he called homosexuality an Inversion, he did not condemn it, and in fact believed all humans to be bisexual so he would not be interested in Virginia’s relationship with Vita. Marilyn: Electra complex thus her displacement of her absent father onto her lovers. Catherine: He would see her ‘bipolar’ as some sort of childhood trauma repressed and bouncing from the id to the ego. He would try a talking treatment on her.
Helen of Troy: Freud will be fascinated with Helen because of his interest in the beginnings of western civilization, ‘the childhood,’ integrating classical beauty and personal enlightenment. He also had a dream where he had an affection towards his daughter Mathilde who had the words Hella above her. He would use Helen for his self-psychoanalysis.
How I would I respond to Freud: I would want to paint his face pink so I could call him Pink Freud
HELEN OF TROY(Mycenaean age- ) The face that launched a thousand ships
What would she bring to the conversation: As a product of mouth, myth and males she would bring a mystery to the conversation, ‘Will the real Helen please stand up.’ She would bring multiple personalities as she would be layered internally with centuries of constructions, deconstructions etc. As an archetype of the siren and the founding femme fatale i.e. luring men from ships into their imminent deaths, she would stimulate an interesting debate on archetypes of femaleness and how it has individually effected the females at the dinner table. Topics she may bring up: fathers and mothers, birds, beauty, rape and abduction, Troy and Egypt, loneliness, reincarnation, the uncanny, worship and scorn, confusion, deja vu.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Virginia: Helen would be curious as to how Virginia would interpret her in literature; as siren, victim or something entirely different.
Marilyn: Helen would identify with Marilyn’s mythical status postmortem and how that layers the dead with multiple identities. She would be however, jealous of Marilyn’s founded origins, even if her father was still a mystery.
Catherine: As the Mother of the femme fatale archetype, she would look to Catherine as her daughter but would also carry the guilt over burdening her with this image. The two would discuss the multiple readings of the femme fatale.
Freud: Helen would grow weary of Freud’s constant questions towards her, which would aggravate her multiple personalities. He would see himself as her savior, talking away her multiple selves; she would see him as another suitor, this time after her inner ‘self’ rather than her external beauty and she would fiercely protect it.
CATHERINE from Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. The face in stone that possessed two men.
What would she bring to the conversation: Catherine will bring spontaneity to the conversation. She will be talking furiously one minute and then withdraw into an internal cave. She will suggest eating the dinner with our hands and the next minute call us uncivil gutter snakes. She will break into song and suddenly leave the table to run around it. Topics she may bring up: female sexuality, seaside, her names absence in the title, threesomes, liars, time, dreaming, runaway.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Virginia: Catherine, often cautious around females, will find Virginia to be a fearsome thing to behold. She would connect with Virginia over water, the medium they both choose to end their lives.
Marilyn: Catherine would see Marilyn as the uncanny but also competition, in terms of self-depreciating wit, kooky humor and the struggle between happiness and sadness. Helen of Troy: Catherine would feel like the reincarnation of Helen of Troy, the archetype of her creation as ‘femme fatale.’ She would harbor resentment towards her because of this misunderstanding. She would purposely say things to intensify Helens guilt.
Freud: Catherine often drawn to men, will also be drawn to Freud although she will keep her true self detached from him. She will desire his attention and loath its claustrophobic nature when it is given.
How I would I respond toCatherine: I love Catherine and will defend her to the end when others deem her ‘bitch.’ She is such a complicated soul, balancing the ideas of femininity and simultaneously deconstructing them. I love her spontaneous personality, especially when she jumps into the water as I have done this also. Another character I love who reminds me of Catherine is Justine in Lars von Trier’s, Melancholia. I would beg her to sing. I would also probably join her in her spontaneous activities.
Yours Invisibly, Anyones Ghost