February 26, 2015
Introducing Spolia's Newest Issue: Nemesis
Your nemesis is not your enemy.
Your enemy is a brutalizing force, a bulldozer that flattens you before you have enough time even to think about what is happening. Your enemy is indiscriminate, it cares nothing for you, only what you represent, or what you have, or what stands behind you. To an enemy, you are merely a nameless, faceless obstacle. The thing standing in the way of his victory.
Your nemesis, though, knows you. Holds you close with one arm while it undoes you with the other. Her poison is intimate. It was designed specially for you. Her hatred burns bright in her breast, and only your downfall, your complete annihilation, will please her.
And so with this new issue of Spolia, we explore this loving violence, and we start with the true story of the French artist Claude Cahun. While on occupied Jersey Island with her lover Marcel Moore, she became the Nazis’ nemesis. She did not resist their infiltration with bombs and guns. She and Marcel got up close. They slipped notes into their pockets, they psychologically dismantled them. It wasn’t the Nazis’ deaths they wanted, but their defection, the breakdown of their entire religion and philosophy. For the first time, her prison letters appear here in English.
In Amelia Gray’s “On the Lives of Ghosts,” the ones we love and have passed on return to maintain their grip on our lives and psyches, keeping us from moving on and living our lives. And in Carolyn Son’s “The Sound of Wings,” it is a friend who finds artistic success while the narrator languishes that causes him to become so frail and brittle.
For our art portfolio this month, we have gone with society’s nemesis, the feared yet compelling witch. The woman with total freedom (and magical powers) who can terrorize the straight-laced with just a glance. From Dürer to Carrington, the witch has been the artists’ muse, and we present some of our favorites here.
As always, we hope you enjoy.
Just like Lucia Cowles – who reviews Yasmina Reza’s Happy Are the Happy for February’s issue of Bookslut – my first encounter with Reza’s work was at the local theater. The play was Art. I remember finding it refreshingly funny and intellectually stimulating. It made me think of Bourdieu and his Rules of Art (even though I never did finish reading that book). My next encounter with her work was the film adaptation of God of Carnage, which meant breaking my no-Polanski rule and getting over my disgust with anyone who still chooses to collaborate with him. But it’s been worth it – because as Lucia Cowles writes: “Reza is an exacting architect. Constraint, character depth, and specificity of language are the hallmarks of her work.” And finally, thanks to this review, my next encounter with Reza’s work will be Happy Are the Happy.
On the disconnect between our social lives, our interior lives and our private lives, Yasmina Reza says:
These are my three writing tools, my three inks, and not just in this book. I make a genuine difference between the private and this appendix that’s the interior, this fold where we sometimes think the contrary of what we are experiencing, that place that is not shared and that we do not see in others. It’s the place of solitude. That ontological solitude that means that we die alone, no matter what, despite the distracting strategies that are love, speed, staying busy. But it’s also, in the weaving of writing, the place of withdrawal and of laughter.
Yasmina Reza interviewed by Christophe Barbier, Yasmina Reza: "J'écris en français, je suis de France" | L’Express (my translation)
On working with Polanski on the script for Carnage:
We worked together, in a small office in his Swiss chalet. We wrote the script very quickly, but that was all we focused on. When we had a disagreement, we would play out the roles to convince each other (we both have experience as actors). I loved those moments. There were not many drafts. We quickly came up with a version that satisfied both of us. Then there were some refinements of course. We added elements that didn’t make it in the film later on (dialogue of people of the other end of phone calls) and then some touch ups after the translation (the script was written in French). The play was written to proceed in real time and Roman wanted to keep that principle. That obliged us to keep a strict framework. Even if there were a lot of changes, they remained within this framework.
God of Carnage is the only play of mine that I agreed to change the location of the story. And only for the US version! In my view, characters are conditioned, body and soul, by their place of origin. But James Gandolfini, who was preparing to play the role of Michael on Broadway, wanted to see if we could try a New York version. I like this actor a lot, so I accepted to try to transpose it to Brooklyn – a place that has a similar spirit to Paris. The result was positive and didn’t betray the play. There were actually not a lot of changes other that the names of the places and a few marks.
Roman Polanski wanted to shoot the film with English-speaking actors. Since I had already had that experience with Broadway, I didn’t object. That being said, I would not have had the same resistance to changes with a film, since films are inherently adaptations.
Yasmina Reza interviewed by Ray Morton, Carnage: An Interview with Yasmina Reza | Script
Wondering about the success of Art, Micheal Billington goes beyond the obvious explanation (“The obvious answer would be that it raises a whole series of unresolved questions about modern art.”):
But I’ve long suspected the popularity of Art has to do with something else. It raises one of drama’s eternal questions: how much truth and honesty human beings can stand. The play starts with Marc bluntly spitting out his views: it ends with Serge telling a necessary lie in order to preserve their relationship. Just like Molière in The Misanthrope, though without the same virtuosity, Reza is examining whether private relationships and public affairs depend upon a certain skilful hypocrisy. “Sincerity in society,” Somerset Maugham once wrote, “is like an iron girder in a house of cards.” And Reza’s point, not unlike Molière’s, is that we only continue to function as social beings by playing the accepted rules of the game.
Michael Billington, Blank canvas: the enduring appeal of Yasmina Reza’s Art | The Guardian
In France, they call her humour Anglo-Saxon. She calls it Jewish. Others have described it as incisive, cruel, bitter, furious, narcissistic, compact, vicious and stinging. She does what her compatriots do best: she dissects the bourgeoisie with the playfulness and insouciance of a child discovering life by dismembering insects. She then crucifies her characters as a lepidopterist pins butterflies to a board. Anouilh carried out a similarly ruthless study of the French bourgeoisie only with more depth, as did French cinema through the pen and eye of Renoir, Chabrol, Truffaut and, more recently, Agnès Jaoui, whose work shares Reza's cruel sophistication.
Agnes Poirier, Yasmina Reza: ‘Please stop laughing at me’ | The Independent
Elaine Sciolino wrote for The New York Times about Yasmina Reza’s complicated relationship with the press and the public: “’The interview is a game,’ she said. ‘I try to structure interviews in such a way that I say nothing. It’s better for me to be mysterious.’”