Romanticising Passion

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Fiction is a breathing, unpredictable creature. It is created by one human being (or several) and consumed by many others (or just a few) but it certainly is something that cannot be controlled. Once it has left its nest and seen the light of day, it will take whatever shape and form it takes, and there is nothing that can predict what that will be. There are so many elements at stake (from media, to society, to historical context, to audience) that will influence it, and it is truly difficult to determine what path each creature will take. Because of the status of fiction, there are stories that become extremely popular (for whatever reason) and that begin to take a form (or, say, a reputation) that creates and feeds a different idea and that result in a different product of what it was originally planned.

         It is safe to say by now that we live in an age where fandoms heavily influence and determine the path of fiction. Fandom is a blanket term I will use to describe “readership” or “viewership”, et cetera. Television shows are not only influenced by ratings (more so than by criticism and awards), they are now sometimes even funded by their targeted audience as well. The way fans respond to particular storylines will determine the direction of those (something I personally find terrifying and that I wish would stop: let’s stop killing these authors), and with that, the readings that the spectators choose to give each specific fiction product, will take a form of its own, one that will be very difficult to shake off. Not to mention the fact that the way these fictional products are created has changed as well, fanfiction is now being acquired by big publishing companies, the concept of self-publication does not sound so crazy anymore, and television shows are not only being funded by spectators but are also being distributed by a wide number of platforms (from paid services such as Netflix, to more public platforms such as Youtube).

             What am I trying to get at? Think about Romeo and Juliet. What do you think about when you think about Shakespeare’s famous play? Do you think about romance or do you think about the demise of two families? Do you think performed theatre? Written text? Film? I mean, Romeo and Juliet were two twelve year olds that met at a party, fell madly in lust, married the following day and died the next. That’s the extent of the story. You can perceive its theme as one thing or the other, but when you look at the facts, you have to wonder what happened for society to take a product about adolescent infatuation and death and turn it into a tale of star crossed lovers. I have obviously heavily reduced the true themes explored in the play, but I am trying to get a point across: Romeo and Juliet is a popularly known product, and most of the time it is inaccurately perceived.

Image4There are a few specific cases which have always struck me particularly, because they seem to have taken a form that detours so greatly from what it is that it continues to shock me that they can be interpreted so differently. For instance, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina* is a very long and rather in depth analysis of the different forms of relationships held within Russian society. It clearly establishes the line between three different marriages (Oblonsky & Dolly, Levin & Kitty, Karenin & Anna) at the same time that it deals with how these marriages deal with extra-marital relationships (Oblonsky and his many lovers, Levin and Levin (sic) and Anna and Vronsky). Each relationship is different, it deals with social disaster and defiance differently, and each example is a further proof of the difference and the uniqueness found in the human being. The novel focuses on all of these relationships and how they both intertwine and affect each other, and it does it almost in equal parts. Vronsky and Anna’s relationship is at the center of the novel and it is clearly a contrast to the rest of the relationships in the way that it deals with something perhaps different to love. It is a tale of obsession – an unhealthy and maddening obsession. An obsession that drives both parties mad, that from the very first moment, starts to deteriorate, destroying more than it can actually take. Whether if these characters willingly and consciously defy society, and how that is explored in the novel, is another story, for another day. What is clear is that Tolstoy clearly deconstructed these relationships to attempt to understand and contrast the nature of love and infatuation, as well as the nature of compromise and commitment. However, one can’t help but thinking about how differently this story seems to be perceived by the popular masses, and one can’t help but wonder if it is all a matter of advertisement or a matter of perception. When did Vronsky and Anna’s story become a tale of cross-star lovers? When was a 900 page long novel about Russian society reduced to the passion between two of its characters? Was it the way it was advertised and sold to modern audiences? Was it the reading it obtained from certain readers, or the reading it failed to obtain from other reading circles? What makes a tale of an emotionally destructive relationship turn into a love story?

                  Image3Another of the most misinterpreted stories of all time, in my most humble opinion, is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. It is the story about a broken home with very broken characters that experience all kinds of abuse and despair, where its main characters share one of the most terrifying emotionally destructive relationships ever written, and yet it continues to be perceived, by modern and older readers alike, as one of the most beautiful love stories of all time. As a young and very impressionable literature student, I was horrified when we read the novel for class and I got to know these characters – mainly Heathcliff. I had always perceived him (by what  I had heard other teachers say or what I had gathered from popular culture) as the epitome of the romantic hero, the epitome of the tortured lover… when in reality Heatcliff was the clear definition of an abuser (an abused abuser, no doubt, because Brontë’s work is complex, I am not attempting to deny that) who kept destroying everyone around him, not only those who had not treated him rightly in the past, but especially those who attempted to love or help him in any way.  After reading a lot of critical work on Wuthering Heights, I feel strangely weird writing such a short paragraph and such finalising sentences on one of the most complex characters (in one of the most complex works) of literature, but I believe it is necessary to acknowledge Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship for what it was: a physically and emotionally abusive relationship, which was self-destructive, composed of two characters so self-absorbed in their own obsession for the other, that they failed to see the reality of their context. Still today Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship continues to be sold as the story of a passionate love affair, and I find it sickening and worrying that we continue to believe in the idea of love as a painful act. What Heathcliff and Cathy felt for each other was not love, it was an unhealthy need for the other, an unhealthy need of possession. Love is about equality and respect and possession should never be a part of such equation.

                 I believe our society has made a special effort in glorifying the pain in love to the point that the lines between love and abuse have started to get blurred. As a society we have a duty to learn to discern between extreme emotion and obsession. It seems to be a very small barrier, but we have to be able to realise what composes each. Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights are not studies on love, but studies on how destructive an obsessive emotion – which might have stemmed from love – can turn out to be.  It is true that art is what we make of it, and we might read whatever we want to read in both these pieces of literature, but I always found it particularly harming that two stories that clearly attempt to point out problematic relationships, have ended up being icons for that which they attempted to denounce.

* I would like to point out Joe Wright’s 2012 film adaptation of the novel, which was an incredible effort and which has been, I’m very sad to say, strangely overlooked by critics and viewers alike. It is an astounding deconstruction of the novel, done in a refreshingly metaphoric way, and I cannot recommend it enough. This adaptation is very objective in its portrayal of these relationships and it does not glorify the love affairs or the tragedies of its characters.

You can read Cristina’s latest article here.

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The Cycle of Violence: This is NOT Business

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. You can find the first reaction here, written by Cristina. And here is Jade’s piece.

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I loved Maria’s piece on Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. It raised so many questions and thoughts were just popping up in my mind. Before I start my reaction to it, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t read any of Ravenhill’s works – and will proceed to change that as soon as possible – so I’m not going to dissection his beliefs but rather try to find my own answers to Maria’s questions in her essay…and create new ones.

I mentioned this in my first article here on Faceless Ladies but I’ll say it again, I proudly don’t have a TV. As a consequence of this, sometimes I can avoid being exposed to things that would just make me sad and frustrated. And more than anything, I can avoid being exposed to HOW these things are shown or told to me, which is a big part of my unhappiness with modern information. I believe the news in general have become pointlessly violent and really not informative at all. The news have become entertainment…often times untasteful, tacky and absolutely disposable.  After a small piece about Syria and how 100 children died in a raid, let’s talk about the Golden Globes with a big smile. News have become entertainment, and yes, they’ve accustomed us to violence, cynicism, and to being completely insensitive, cold. Blood, boobs, and guns have become all the same thing and  NORMAL. There are no limitations and there seems to be no common sense as to what should be said, how and what should be shown. So the more they talk about a certain thing, the more people think it’s normal, an everyday thing. And the more people will actuaMarito investe la moglie e poi la cosparge di benzina dandole fuoco.lly DO that thing. This obviously applies to abuse on women. The other day on the internet edition of a very popular Italian newspaper, I opened an article about a woman, Giuseppina, who was first run over and then set on fire by her husband in front of people in the street. She died on Valentine’s day. Now, this is not normal. Is this normal? How can it be normal? Why has it become normal enough that we just skip through it? Why have we become so accustomed, and as a consequence, bored by it that we don’t really care anymore?  A few days later, an article was published about Giuseppina’s funeral and how many women there took it as a chance to voice their rage and frustration. That article was never on the front page of the website. Was it not worth it? I’m not sure.

In the past 3 or 4 months, for some strange reason, abuse on women has been ‘trendy’ – for lack of a better word, I apologise. Of course this is a double-ended sword. It certainly sheds some light on the issue in general, which is good. But on the other hand, it makes it disposable and it  may take just a couple of weeks before we’re talking about something else even though the problem is still there. Now, is this sudden ‘trend’ just a coincidence due to the increasing popularity of movements such as One Billion Rising? Or maybe due to the focus on gender equality? Are pDomesticViolenceeople finally realizing how retrograde our society really is? I’m not really sure. And as a consequence of all this exposure, is abuse on women becoming (un)fortunately a literary trend, too? Now, I’m sure Mark Ravenhill feels enraged by it but sometimes I find myself wondering whether everyone writing and filming about it feels the same in an honest way or if they’re just riding the wave.

Finally, I wish I could ask Ravenhill about the fact that “he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap.” Alright. So abuse on women in literature and theater is ‘interesting’…but how, in what way? ‘Interesting’ because they have to go through some sort of struggle? Or just ‘interesting’ because it’s a multi faceted issue? And yes, if it is interesting, why does he think that that’s the only thing he can write about so a woman’s role is honored? Is it really possible that abuse is the only interesting thing that can happen in a woman’s life? Does abuse deal with a woman’s struggle to find herself? Again, I’m not sure and I truly hope Ravenhill isn’t being so reductive when referring to a woman’s experience. Let’s look at it this way: when a man needs to find himself, he will do a number of things, for instance he will alienate himself from society and live in the woods (like in Into the Wild) but a woman seems to need some kind of abuse to have the same kind of epiphany.  (I had never thought of struggle as a gender-specific issue…) As a consequence, it also seems that a woman requires a man to find herself. Now I’m really not sure about this either. Actually, I really don’t think so. There are a billion things going on every day in any woman’s life and the majority are very interesting, the majority deal with some sort of struggle, and some sort of path to self-awareness.

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Keira Knightley in CUT, Women’s Aid Campaign

I agree with Cristina’s article in a lot of ways, and I also think violence on stage and on the page can be amazingly helpful to raise questions in the viewer’s and reader’s mind but – as she says so perfectly – “I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction.” My problem with this is that we will never really know where the author’s honesty is and as Maria and Cristina pointed out in their wonderful pieces, we’re running around in circles. I’m fine with that, life is an ellipsis of experiences and feelings that repeat themselves but, call me naive, I hope we never lose touch with our inner critic and honesty in place of mere entertainment.

The Cycle of Violence: Can Violence Fight Violence?

After reading Maria’s piece on Ravenhill, we had a bit of turmoil here at Faceless Ladies. Suddenly, we all realised we had things to say as Maria’s questions started burning in our minds. That’s why we decided to do two additional pieces on the topic, call this a Cycle and turn it into a beautiful experiment. Here is Cristina’s piece.

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 Maria and I have been friends for quite a long time now, and as such, we have been theatre (as well as cinema) companions. We have read many books recommended by the other, and we have watched quite a dozen hundred television shows as well. We consume fiction together, and we tend to discuss it at length. The thoughts and ideas she poured into her article are thoughts I have discussed with her on a number of occasions, and something that I always find endearing is that sometimes we take turns: as one talks about her thoughts, and is unable to find the answer, the other nods, knowingly, perhaps muttering several “I knows”. That’s the point, actually: whenever we talk about this topic, we find ourselves unable to find the answers.

Do I think violence is needed to fight violence? No. I am actually an eerie pacifist. However, when it comes to art, I am a true believer of the in-your-face approach. I believe that in order for art to be something more than a “simple” piece of entertainment, that is to say, in order for art to be socially active as well as stirring, it must be direct, raw and most importantly, unforgiving. It must be brutally honest, and truly horrifying.

la-clh1.ca.0f.0903.scarface.0.1-02 (3)In my opinion, that is the only way for art to be completely effective. With such an approach, it will not leave the spectator undisturbed. It will create a need to question, to discuss, to debate… and most importantly, a need to reform. Sarah Kane once said she would “rather risk overdose in the theatre than in life”. That was one of her arguments in her use of violence on stage. She also wrote “I write the truth, and it kills me”. I believe all writers should write the truth, and I believe it should kill them (hopefully, not as literally as it did with her, though).

This belief of mine in the necessity for the horrifying means that I approve of violence on stage. I also approve of violence on the screen and on the page. I believe it’s also necessary to differ between a senseless portrayal of violence and a denouncing approach to it, and, at the same time, I am fully aware that the line between both is extremely blurred. I believe using violence on stage, or rather, say, on entertainment in general, is necessary in order to shock the spectator, in order to provoke a reaction. Without an extreme, unexpected event, the audience can placidly continue with their entertainment without questioning the content they are consuming or the society they are in. The problem, of course, comes with the eternal question: What makes a portrayal of violence denouncing and what makes it senseless? Who is the one to distinguish between both? And most importantly, if we encourage this cycle of violence, can it ever have an end? If the only way to fight violence is with a performance of violence, are we really putting an end to it or are we in fact reinforcing it?

Lisbeth And so this brings me back to Maria’s article. Has our society become so immunised to violence, and specifically violence against women that the portrayal of abuse has in fact become a new kind of entertainment, a new kind of performance? The fact that the portrayal of abuse has increased and has become alarmingly explicit in recent years would perhaps indicate to that. Have creators started to cross the line between entertainment and criticism? Are we, therefore, denouncing and deconstructing the problem at hand or are we in fact reinforcing it? Is the explicit representation of violence truly raising awareness, or is it actually numbing society in the face of such a problem? Are we writing strong women that face their fears and the acts performed against them, or are we writing victims and dramatising their suffering? The fact is that the sides of the matter are not clearly marked, they are in fact composed of very complex elements, and I don’t think there will ever be a clear answer for the questions that I am posing. In my opinion, it is a never ending cycle of violence, one that I am afraid cannot entirely be unraveled. One that seems to have become more complex with time.

In fact, I have the feeling that the use of fiction in order to fight reality is slowly morphing into something else that we cannot yet identify. Martin Crimp put it best in Attemps on her Life:

Seen it- perhaps. But not seen it afresh, not seen it now, not seen it in the context of a post-radical, of a post-human world where the gestures of radicalism take on a new meaning in a society where the radical gesture is simply one more form of entertainment i.e one more product – in this case an artwork – to/be consumed.”

You can read Cristina’s previous article here.

The Cycle of Violence: The Case of Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat

ImageLet me preface this by saying that I don’t think I’m equipped to properly discuss Mark Ravenhill. And yet, in a way, I want to try. I was introduced to his work some years ago when I had to read Shopping and Fucking for a class I was taking at university. To this day I think I still haven’t properly gotten over it. The experience was hard and distressing. In that class we were expected to read the plays and then take it in turns to re-enact some of its scenes. Shopping and Fucking was not one of the plays I got to act on but I remember the experience of watching some of my classmates do it. We were not professional actors, just a bunch of English Literature students trying to understand a text that was way beyond our scope. You could hardly look for what was going on and I remember feeling a mixture of pity and awe for the students who were “on stage”.

So when we went to see the production of Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona I was excited but scared. This selection of seven out of the seventeen short plays written by Ravenhill for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival deals with the personal and political effect of war on modern life and the West’s necessity to sell the whole world into the ideal panacea of “Freedom and Democracy”.

ImageAs I dreaded, expected and hoped, the plays are violent, powerful, incendiary and necessary. They are intense and they rise questions that will nag at you for days to come. They question choices and they discuss themes such as terror, fear, love and death. And most of the main characters are women. So it should come as no surprise, then, that there were a lot of women being killed, tortured, and raped on stage. Right?

After the play ended there was a Q&A with Mark Ravenhill himself. At some point he mentioned that he had written an almost all female play because there comes a time in an actress’s career when no one is offering them interesting roles to play and he thought that was crap. I think that’s commendable and very very true. And yet… I’m not sure if I’m entirely sold. I wanted to ask him why. Why all this violence against women? Was it necessary? Had he really chosen so many women to showcase how strong they can be (which really, they are!) or has it just been established that they will always be the ones being raped, beaten and abused? Five out of the seven plays performed showed some kind of abuse on women. Six if I want to be overtly precise, all of them showing situations in which women are overpowered by men and made to suffer in varying degrees of physical and mental abuse.

ImageNow, I don’t know what to make out of this. These are just questions that I ask myself because I want to understand. Have we reached a moment in time in which violence against women has become the cultural norm? Are we immunized against it? Has the representation of rape and violence against women become so permanent on the media that it just has ceased to surprise us? Or is this a necessary way to denounce a problem? Violence against women exists, and things don’t seem to be getting better so exposing it through art and in the media seems to be the logical way to shed some light into it.

The only way I have of trying to make sense of things is through my reaction to the play and while I thought it was brilliant it also left me emotionally tired and preoccupied. Why are women always on the receiving end? Why can’t we subvert the roles? While it is true that movies, television and even advertising are full of degrading imagery towards women, I had never felt it as deeply as this time. Theatre, in my opinion, always obtains the most visceral reactions.

I don’t think there is a campaign to abuse women on the media or the arts, and I feel like Mark Ravenhill in particular would be the first one to criticise such a thing, but that’s exactly what scares me. It seems that in order to bring attention to it we need to show more violence, and thus the endless cycle of violence can never broken.

You can read María’s previous article here.

Lady Nobody: on Being a Song

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Illustration by Catalina Estrada.

This is a little awkward for me because I swore to God – and myself – I would never write about my own music. But this time it’s for a good cause – maybe even a couple good ones. So I’m going to be talking about my song Lady Nobody. This is without a doubt the most special song I’ve ever written, both for the way in which it happened and for its meaning, obviously. So that’s what I’m going to try to do in this essay: I’ll talk about the magical way in which it wrote itself and about what it means to me. If you’d like, you can listen to it here, before reading and here are the lyrics:

Lady nobody
hiding in your room
Lady nobody
living inside your doom

Lady nobody
guilty of your pain
Lady nobody
always the one to blame

Oh oh oh…

You are free, finally
You can breathe, can’t you see, you are free

Lady nobody
crying out your tears
Lady nobody
life is led by fear

Lady nobody
a story for every bruise
Lady nobody
there is no excuse

Oh oh oh…

You are free, finally
You can breathe, can’t you see, you are free

So, what came first? The title. I remember writing the two words – lady, nobody – on my Blackberry notepad. Just that. I left it at that and then went on to write something else, some other attempt at ‘title-writing’. It didn’t mean much back then.

After a few months, I found myself being out of school for a quarter, during which I had time to just let ideas marinate and sink in. And then it happened. It was exactly as magical and mystical as I remembered it. I sat down and words literally flowed in the right manner, at a steady pace and with a plan. My mind immediately went back to those two words on my phone and I wrote them on top of a blank page on my notebook. The rest was easy, I finally knew who she was, what her place and mission were. Lady Nobody was every abused woman I had read and heard about. The ease with which the song happened balanced the amazing weight it had meaning-wise.

Lady Nobody was born inside of me a long time ago. When I lived in Barcelona I watched the news every single day – a bad habit I have since then lost fortunately – and I remember the disappointment and frustration I would feel watching how every day one woman – or more – would die because her current or ex partner thought she was seeing somebody else, or wearing a skirt that was too short, or because she had talked back to him…or simply because she had uttered a word. That to me was, and is, unacceptable, disgusting, enraging. Every woman who was beaten or died in the attempt of making her voice heard became an amazingly powerful symbol which grew and grew inside of me. I couldn’t stand the thought of hearing about another dead or barely-alive woman. It was something that really hit me, more than I’ve seen it hit other people, for some reason.

Either way, years passed, more women got beaten, stabbed, shot but I couldn’t find the right words to express all my rage and all my empathy for them. That is probably one of the most frustrating artistic processes; you can try and write pages and pages, but sometimes, you’re just not ready for your own words yet. However, Lady Nobody had already been born. I just needed to see her better in my mind. As elegant and graceful as you can imagine but equally denied in terms of her own identity, she was obliterated, made invisible, torn, stripped of her individuality and personality. All women and none at the same time.

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Finally, the day that Lady Nobody flowed out of me, I finally became her in a matter of instants. I was her, something had clicked. I could see her sad eyes and frail appearance; I could feel the fear she felt for her own life, her sense of desperation and entrapment, her physical and emotional pain, her exhaustion, the polluted air she was breathing. The corner of her room where she’d take refuge, the light she’d leave on at night, the concealer she’d use to cover her bruises. And I could see a huge broken heart. I could also feel how brave she was, trying to fight for her right to have a voice. Such a heroine against such a monster. But the key is, I could feel her relief after all, her sense of freedom and how all the pain had proven to be useful to liberate herself, to wake others up, to provide awareness. Lady Nobody had finally attained her freedom; she had been able to speak up with her chin held high. And she had done it through me.

Lady Nobody still doesn’t have a face in my mind but I can hear her firm voice in spite of the abuse she’s had to endure – she is a faceless lady but she is not voiceless. Despite her apparent powerlessness, she is amazingly powerful.