Oh My God Did You Say Pooh Bear You Did So Said Pooh Bear

I’m like the center of my gravity. So far I’ve lost like five air hockey games. You failed your driver’s ed test oh * my * god I failed my driver’s ed test too. My boyfriend says I’m too aggressive. I drove on the wrong side. Shut up. Ding dong bitch. You heard me ding dong bitch. She thinks I’m Japanese. That’s because I am Japanese. I don’t know where I am. I had a water gun. Look at all that steel. It’s like a junkyard out there. It’s like zombies. I’m so gonna fail. It was horrible. It was so horrible. Here say hi to my boyfriend. Are you jealous. Seriously I so suck at volleyball. Me too I love the letter J. Not unless I’ve got like six inch heels on. Yeah I want some pop rocks. I’ll beat you there. Say it. Say it. Second hand smoke you mean. Sugar Daddy. Muffin. Baby. Sweetie. Pumpkin Pie. Whatever at least I’m proud of it. Pooh bear. Oh my god pooh bear. Do you live by the place with the big chopsticks. I love that place. Shut up. You can buy me a cheesecake. I so too won you over with my sweet charms. I won you over. I’m your flower I’ll wear red. I’ll make you wear my dog’s head. Are you underground yet.


Derek Owens directs the Institute for Writing Studies (St. John’s University, NY) and is enrolled in the Transart Institute’s MFA in creative practice. Information on his artwork, writing, and teaching can be found at derekowens.net.

Baseball Radio Play

AKP: Museum of Thrown Objects (BlazeVox 2010); My Worth (Black Lodge Press, 2010); Between Here & the Telescopes (w/Elizabeth Guthrie; Slumgullion, 2008). Some recent journals: The Offending Adam, Dusie, and The A sh Anthology (Fact-Simile Press). MFA: Naropa U. BA: The Geo. Wash. U. Co-founder/editor: Livestock Editions. Currently: living: Mass. Reading: Hannah Weiner, Philip Whalen, Carla Harryman.

Notes for a Play: Solitaire

A man sits by the window with a cup of tea and a deck of cards, waiting for a tuna casserole in oven 325 degrees, snow falls outside.

First Deal (left to right): ten black, four black, King red, ten red, three red, seven black, Queen black

Queen black on King red, turn six red, six red on seven black, turn two red, red three on four
black, turn King red;
Deal five black, five black on six red, turn nine black, nine black on ten red, turn nine red, nine
red on ten black;
deal Queen black, Queen black on King red, turn five red, no move;
Deal Jack black, no move;
Deal three red, no move;
Deal four black, no move;
Deal two black, two black on three red, turn ten black, no move;
Deal King black, no move;
Deal five black, no move;
Deal eight black, eight black on none red, turn five red, no move;
Deal queen red, no move;
Deal five red, no move;
Deal nine black, no move;
Deal Jack black, no move;
Deal Jack red, Jack red on Queen black, turn Jack red, Jack red on Queen black, turn King black,
black ten-red-nine-black eight on Jack red, King black to open space, turn Jack black, no move;
Deal Jack black, no move;
Deal five black, no move;
Deal seven black, no move;
Deal six black, no move;
Deal eight red, eight red on nine black, turn five red, no move;
Deal ten black, no move;
Deal five black, no move;
Deal seven black, seven black on eight red, turn five red, no move;
Deal six black, no move;
Deal four black, no move;
Deal four red, four red on five black, turn ten black, ten black on Jack red, turn nine black, no
Deal five black, no move;
Deal Jack black, no move;
Deal three red, no move;
Deal nine black, no move;
Deal five black, no move; game over.

The man turns to the window and watches a black dog play with its human friend in the park across the street, snow continues to fall, the park lamps illuminate. He sips the tea, and deals again.

Second Deal: Queen red, two red, King Red, ten black, four black, seven black, eight red.

Seven black on eight red, turn Queen black, Queen black on King red, turn five red, four black
on five red, turn three black, two red on three black, turn ace black, to pot, move king red to open space, turn nine red, nine red on ten black, turn two black, no move;
Deal King black, no move;
Deal eight black, eight black on nine red, turn Queen red, no move;
Deal two red, no move;
Deal eight red, no move;
Deal Queen black, no move;
Deal ace red, ace red to pot, two red to pot, turn three red, three red to pot, turn four black, no
Deal Jack red, Jack red on Queen black, turn ace red, ace red to pot, turn ten red, ten black-nine
red-eight black on Jack red, turn seven black, no move;
Deal ten black, no move;
Deal King black, no move;
Deal five red, no move;
Deal Jack red, no move;
Deal six black, no move;
Deal six red, six red on seven black, turn three black, no move;
Deal ten black, no move;
Deal King black, no move;
Deal five red, no move;
Deal Jack red, no move;
Deal six black, no move;
Deal four black, no move;
Deal ten black, no move; Game over.

The man returns to the window and the park; the dog and its companion are gone. Smoke billows across from stage-left. The man turns, languidly, almost expectedly, into it, but does not move. Curtain.

AKP: Museum of Thrown Objects (BlazeVox 2010); My Worth (Black Lodge Press, 2010); Between Here & the Telescopes (w/Elizabeth Guthrie; Slumgullion, 2008). Some recent journals: The Offending Adam, Dusie, and The A sh Anthology (Fact-Simile Press). MFA: Naropa U. BA: The Geo. Wash. U. Co-founder/editor: Livestock Editions. Currently: living: Mass. Reading: Hannah Weiner, Philip Whalen, Carla Harryman.

Between the Banksys: A Conversation

Nathan Child and Andrew K. Peterson
Between the Banksys: A Conversation

In early May, rumor spread that a new artwork by the world-renown graffitist Banksy had surfaced in the Chinatown neighborhood near the Financial District in downtown Boston. Banksy’s politicized, pop cultural referenced street provocations appear mysteriously overnight on streets and alleys of urban centers across the world (most recently in the US in San Francisco and Chicago). His elusive personal nature brings up questions of authorship and authenticity whenever a new work surfaces. Was it really him? Is he here? This elusiveness is the subject of a recently released documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, which, incidentally, opened Boston shortly before this new work (Some critics have called the new work simply a promotion.). The new image, located at 1 Essex Street, Chinatown, shows a man standing with a bucket and pasting material. To his left, the words “Follow Your Dreams” appear beneath the “posted over” (though actually painted) word “Cancelled”.

This is the second “Banksy” to appear in the Boston area. The other image, at 251Essex Street, in Central Square, Cambridge, features a finely rendered child with a marker in hand, partially viewed through a childlike drawn house, with a sign “No Loitirin” posted on its front lawn.

On a particularly sunny, breezy Sunday afternoon, May 16, 2010, my friend Nathan Child – a visual artist and musician – and I walked from one Banksy to the other, beginning at the newly inked piece, and trudging on foot ‘back’ to the other Banksy in Cambridge, via the Charles River Esplanade and Massachusetts Avenue Bridge (total distance a little over three miles). I recorded our conversation as we walked, which covered the usual topics: the art in question, music, gossip. Not particularly academic, just two friends enjoying a day off. I regret to have had to delete a conversation we had with a stranger at the first Banksy location, an elderly Asian gentleman who said he’d never heard of the artist. While we were there he struck up several conversations with the steady stream of curious visitors, who posed for photos in front of the work which was partially blocked by a late-model, fully loaded Chrysler. (This was, after all, a pay-for-parking lot.)

The process of this dialogue and walk recall many of the dialogues I have had with writers Tim Armentrout and Kevin Kilroy, about the working dialectic between life, art, artist, and location. I added ”travel book” descriptions of the area where each piece of conversation took place.

May 17, 2010
Marshfield, MA.


The 50-acre Boston Common is the country’s oldest park. The Common has served many purposes over the years, including as a campground for British troops during the Revolutionary War, and as green grass for cattle grazing until 1830. The Common today serves picnickers, sunbathers, and people-watchers. Wander freely about this 50-acre green, crisscrossed with walking paths and dotted with monuments. Bostonians hustle to and from the nearby T stations; others stroll leisurely, enjoying the fresh air or engaging in any number of Common activities, from free concerts to political rallies to seasonal festivities.

Which reasons did I say? Did you hear what the uh somewhat intelligible thing that I was talking about with uh…



Um. I heard you say that it was a very timely piece. Immigration policy. Is this the intelligible thing?

Yes, this is the intelligible thing.

[Bagpipes heard in distance, din of children playing, wind.]

Um I was thinking of the location of it particularly being in this um this in between space this sort of cut through street. Looking around it was all these you know the Chinese restaurant obviously. But across the street there were all these like closed like sub-shops and massage places that, um, obviously… yeah, exactly. So it’s not only this space that’s between this immigrant populated location neighborhood of Chinatown, and the Financial District, right? So thinking about those two, um, very timely…collapses with the financial sector and the…yeah, the new Arizona laws that just got passed. And all those people who’ve been effected by that, you know their cancelled dreams. Cancelled American dreams, yeah. I think this piece gives like voice to those people you know.

Thank god for “Los Suns”.

Los Suns ? (Laughs) Did we talk about that?

[The NBA’s Phoenix Suns wore jersey that read “Los Suns” in a playoff game shortly after the Arizona law that allows police to ask for documentation of an individual based on their appearance or suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. The Suns’ decision was made by team owner as a show of solidarity to the Latino community on their city.]

Um, I don’t think we did?

Do you know about that?

I guess I did, I saw some pictures and I guess I, I was amazed that professionals sports teams have decided to get involved, or that they were allowed to. I thought there was always more separation of…basketball and state.

Yeah, there is!

Church and State.

Yeah, yeah! The Suns definitely drew some heat for it.

(Laughs. Then both laugh.)

Pun intended?

Los Suns Drew Heat. Draw Heat. Yeah, exactly, for doing that, you know, the critique is that sports and politics don’t mix. You know and they should stay, they should stay….bagpipes. [Wind.] But yeah it’s interesting that nobody complains when sports players make the news when they cross over to [Child crying.] to quote news stories when they do something bad, you know when Ben Roethlisberger or Tiger Woods you know stories show up not just on SportsCenter but on the actual news as news segments. It seems like a double standard to say you know sports teams can’t comment on the world, but the world can comment on sports players and teams. Basically, though, I’m happy that the Suns did what they did, you know that’s pretty cool.

Did they draw any fines or anything like that?

No, not at all, I don’t think they did.

That sort of amazes me too. I thought that there was only so much you could put on your uniforms. I don’t know. Even, even, even trying. Wasn’t there something a few years ago when somebody was trying to honor somebody and just had like his, somebody had something on his uniform, and it was just, he was fined, and…

Yeah, and. Maybe yeah that was like an individual player or something?


Rather than like the entire team I think that as long as it’s a team-wide thing then that’s okay. But other teams have done it, like the Mavericks have Los Mavs jerseys. As do the Spurs.


Um, so, other teams have worn these types of uniforms this season, before any of this Arizona law went into effect.

Figures, yeah, they’re all teams in Texas. I would think that they have a pretty big Latino following.

Yeah. So .

But does it depend on the issue? Like if they were supporting [car horn]…

Yeah, it definitely does, yeah…

Like if they were supporting gay rights or something. And and I don’t know um, if the Celtics showed up in rainbow colored…

Well, I’ll say this…


I think that would be pretty awesome except that there’s no fucking way because of how homophobic and you know ‘manly’ things are, you know male sports teams and their fans are conservative. That uh, yeah, they would probably draw more flack from their…constituency. But on the other hand, would probably be applauded. But on the other hand, you know, someone I heard was talking about something, you know, uh, ‘where do you draw the line then, like, what if, what if this was like, what if instead of saying “Los Suns” on their jersey it said, “McCain for President” or something like that, you know? Um, yeah, I guess it opens up this can of worms.

It seems….

…but I think it’s justifiable and it’s important to say that sports is not outside of the real world. And yes, it’s an entertainment, yes, but it’s situated in such a place that. I mean, these dialogues should be going on, I mean. And so much of, sports and representation gets passed over. It seems like the fact, thinking about the NBA for example, that 80-85 % of the guys are African-American yet in the stands, the fans are 95% white. And here we are walking down one of the wealthiest streets in Boston. As a couple of white guys.

Wearing our Pumas.

With our Urban Outfitters jeans and Gap jackets.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m wearing an Armani. A nice, Armani cotton T-shirt.

Yeah. (Laughs.)

It is pretty beautiful here, though.

I took some pictures of things. Perpendicularly. Wandering around here a few weeks ago. That’s what the rest of that roll of camera was, was like things on doors. We’ll probably come across one here.

Talk more, talk more about, your um, your distrust of the idea of the z-axis, again. Because. That’s something I’d like to get into with you…

(Laughs.) It’s sort of…

Well, here, we stand right here, right? And I’m looking down this street, and I’m standing here and so I’m noticing cars like slope off into a horizon, you know? There is definitely, is it three-dimensional you know, or is it, or is it these cars and this street,

(Unintelligible response.)

is it my perception of it, is it three dimensional, or is it: not?

We’re just walking along the x-axis right now, it’s just that we’re from the vantage point of it’s actually but…

No, well then that that that would be vertical, right? That….


Vertical, I mean the, a, yeah, the vertical, isn’t that the x-axis? And then the y-axis is the…

You’re just looking at it from the wrong perspective.

Well, how do you account for three dimensionality or do you not believe that the world is three dimensional?

Well, it is three dimensional. But, actually have you ever read Flat – Flatland?

I have not but I…

In which the uh this the main character who is a triangle I believe…


Is visited by a sphere and uh when the sphere visits him the triangle sees a point grow into a line because he can’t see that third dimension. I think I was just egging you on. I think I think I think the z-axis mainly on a two-dimensional diagram…

[Passing stranger: “Hmm…”]

is, just, not talked about. Z-axis. It’s, just hard to focus on z-axes when…the sky is so blue.

[Laughs. Street sounds. Birds. Car has trouble parallel parking.]

Thought it was curtains for that sign. Ooh, this is a pretty window display.

You know what it is, it’s Roy Orbison.

Your glasses? Yeah, it is a little Roy Orbison. You’ve definitely got a little “Pretty Woman” thing going on there…

I’ve been listening to uh The National quite a bit the past few days.

You were listening to The National?

The National. Yeah, last night. It’s really good stuff.

Any, uh, any favorites or um opinions.

I think the first one I listened to was “Conversation 16”.


Because somehow you had circled that on…

Yeah, I didn’t mean to, but, yeah uh….


Beacon Hill is home to some of the most expensive real estate in America. Charming brick row houses reflect a long and storied history; where the State House stands, John Hancock once grazed cows. Visitors gawk at the State House’s newly named “General Hooker Entrance.” Locals praise the community feel of the square mile that constitutes Beacon Hill. The Public Garden and Boston Common function as the neighborhood’s backyard.

…let her go by. She seemed a little impatient. I wanted to get all impatience out around me. Out of being around me… So I can hold all the impatience. Sorry yeah…

Made it seem like a transfer? She transferred her impatience.

Yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to circle it. It wasn’t my intention for you to really focus on that song first. But. I think I got confused because I was circling the letters…

Yeah, yeah…

What album they were on, so…

I took that circle to mean, “Pay attention to this one”.

Even unconsciously. But it’s a really good song, isn’t it.

Yeah, yeah.

I forget what the lyrics are on that one, but…

[Unintelligible. Wind. Foreign female voices. Street sounds. Birds.]

“I think the kids are in trouble?”

Oh, yeah. “I think the kids are in trouble.”

Yeah, no. The trouble. For…

Yeah. Oh, is that “leave the silver city, ‘cause all the silver girls…”

“You’re the only thing I ever want anymore.”

And then the chorus is, “let’s leave the silver city to all the silver girls. They only give us black dreams?”

[Wind, voice. Horn, wind.]


“Everything means everything.”

Yeah. “Everything means everything.” That’s really beautiful, isn’t it? I like his voice. Yeah, that’s from their new one, I found, I, I find I’m really impressed by, that denseness. The dense sound, of their, their newest one? Um, which that one is from.

Is it added instruments? Is it more layers?

I think it’s more layers. I think there’s more cellos. Like they have cellos and pianos…

(Laughs.) “More cellos.” (Christopher Walken impression:) You know what this song needs, more cellos.

“More cellos.”

(Both laugh.) We could go this way?

Actually there’s a band in Portland called The Portland Cello Project, or something.

Portland, Oregon?

Yeah. In which there are something like 5 to 15 cellos at once, playing. Playing, playing all types of pieces. It’s just pieces arranged for multiple cellos.

I think there was this band that played they started at Naropa and they moved to Portland. Um, are we going up the stairs or are we going across the bridge?


I don’t think we can access the bridge this way?

But we can access the river.

Oh, yeah. {sings} anyway, this band was called Strangers Die Everyday. Did I tell you about them or? I think they had two cellos, a bassist, and a drummer. And that was it. They were pretty much all instrumental. And they moved to Portland. Or no, maybe, it was, yeah, it was a cello, a violin, an electric bass, and drum kit.

Not upright bass?

No. But the bassist was a friend of ours. Jared’s still good friends with him, I think they play catch from time to time. Guy named Sterling, he’s a pretty cool guy. But I think they broke up, actually. I wonder if the celloist, Jesse, ended up in the Cello Orchestra you’re talking about. Seems like her kind of deal.

They’re always accepting new cellists.

How can one not be accepting of new cellists?

This view is pretty great.

Yeah, it’s beautiful.

Walking down this ramp, and the glittering river’s all you can see. Framed by these trees and everything…

Yeah, it’s a pretty amazing perspective….

[Sings, incidental noise.]

I’m really tempted …


The Charles River, once lined with sawmills and leather manufacturers, was a smelly, marshy tidal estuary until the early 1900s, when the Charles River Dam was built. Today, both sides of the curvaceous river are graced with grassy banks and weaving byways. The paved paths are perfect for bicycling, in-line skating, jogging, and walking. Storrow Drive snakes along the Boston side of the river…

[Strong wind.]

Eri would get a rabbit and walk it around on a leash! Just eccentric enough to…

[Howling wind, conversation unintelligible.]

…flower shop…. I was drinking coffee she came over and told me she had a large bottle of vodka in her bag that she was going home to drink by herself. She said she doesn’t like to drink in social situations, necessarily, but she’ll go home, and drink by herself, watch a movie and get into bed. But she showed me some of her drawings, when she took my info…and I got to see some of these…

She showed me some of these sketches she did around like her fingerprints. She put some of her fingerprints around the page like similar to your um…that technique you do when you…


…around the page… sort of drags it back and forth….almost like these heads are flames…


Should we happen to…


Windblown carriage knocks bicycles, decapitates two. (Laughs.)

Um, so, on top of the fingerprint heads, did she do, say, outlines of hair or facial expressions, because, or was, like because I always, I remember seeing some drawings that Alexandra did of…
Just, I guess these, extreme [unintelligible.] it wasn’t really anything [unintelligible.]


Yeah, I think the fingerprints had some semblances of faces, sometimes they were more abstract…
[unintelligible.] Um, I mean, you know… [unintelligible.] they didn’t [unintelligible.] Yeah I think I saw some more portraits and things, too.


No, I think I have that last page, not memorized, but…I have him reading it on my iPod, and it’s one of the most beautiful passages when he, the way he reads it. Um, so, [unintelligible.] cause I listened to it so many times.

“And on to it a-gain. Gone!” What are you pointing out? Something, do you want to sit down? Is that what this is about?


Wait, what? (Laughs.)

Yours seems more appropriate. More suitable to you.

Well maybe she thinks you’re a delicate man, and that you’d appreciate… Oh, look at that dog! He’s totally swimming across that… Aw, he’s totally going to eat those mallards.

He’s fetching balls.


Maybe I should have had a, had a, had a brief puff of yours.


This is intense.

Yeah. I know, I, this is the farthest I’ve got with one of these. I usually just have a few drags, and I’m like, ugh. It’s like 1oo % tobacco. [unintelligible.] You can pitch it, it’s totally okay. I’m not going to be offended. I mean…

Maybe I’ll save it.


Oh, man!

Maybe, I think you’re supposed to smoke them like cigars, but you end up smoking them like

Experience…. [unintelligible.] into the tree…


Tom Waits said that he had one of these defining moments of his life when he was in New York, and it was exactly like that he was finishing off this bottle of gin, and lighting a cigarette, and dashing off down the street to… [unintelligible.] different direction…[unintelligible.] Maybe it was [unintelligible.]

…leash… [unintelligible.]




… rabbit…


…just think…


I had seen something he had done as a standup.


No just on Comedy Central…he’s talking about what you’re talking about. The image of him as this sweet guy, but imagining him like guy who’s using prostitutes and saying vulgar things in that Jimmy Stewart voice….



…just necessary to appear to have friends. (Laughs.)

Such as… does that hurt?

It hurts, not much, if I put paper on there it’ll tend to get stuck. So, uh, …


…Memorial Drive along the Cambridge Side. Central Square is a mix of MIT residences, biotech companies, rock clubs, and angry cabdrivers. Sadly, the old Necco candy factory is now a Norvartis research facility…

…learning how to play the guitar, originally … then he was in a band called Jim Kweskin and His Jug Band, which involved a like a washtub, an actual wash-tub bass. [unintelligible.] And Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur and there was this female singer in Greenwich Village named Maria D’Amato, she ended up marrying Geoff Muldaur, and became Maria Muldaur….

Fat Tire! That guy had a Fat Tire training jersey. Sorry.

Nice. Uh, Fort Collins?

Yep. So, had they been in the area, all that time? Were they a national, touring act.

They played all over the place.

Are they still together? Have they been playing continuously?

No, actually, they took a long time off. Geoff Muldaur um went to Hollywood and would wear these white suits and did film scores. Actually, he didn’t play music for maybe 15 or so, 15 or 20 years. He was doing film scores, and then doing film shoots and then, more recently got back into it. Actually, he and Jim Kweskin started playing together again maybe 15, 10 or 12 years ago or something. Um, well I guess, um, they discovered that they are still like a folk, a lot of people still really interested in like his earlier folk music like he was doing in the ‘60s. And Jim Kweskin is great. He does, he does probably their biggest influence is Mississippi John Hurt. That drop-thumb bass, alternating bass lines, but Jim Kweskin just plays [unintelligible.] so as you’re listening to him play, he’ll explain ‘this song was written by, um, was recorded by Alan Lomax who recorded Vera Hill and was one of the most like eclectic singers who was doing things that no one else had heard before and uh, but she didn’t, actually I think one, one of Vera Hill’s is on the Harry Smith, might be “Boll Weevil”? “Boll Weevil Blues” or something like that? She does like an a capella. She does everything a capella. So, they’ll play that on the guitar. And you’re getting this music lesson, and then strings and old, old Americana. But then he’ll switch over and play like Rogers and Hammerstein or something like that.

[Birds sing, street sounds.]

Like those old classical, or classic ones that also show up in a lot of jazz, like become jazz standards. Which is interesting.

Which stuff becomes jazz standards?

Oh, a lot of those…

Just, old musical numbers?

Yeah…you know, uh… like, oh, jees, I can’t, I can’t… I can’t think of any. You know, “I Remember April” or “Can’t Get Started”. But those are…

Pretty sweet little old… I think if I had a car…

Is that a Merc- an old Mercedes?

It’s pretty sweet.

“You didn’t borrow Laura’s Mercedes?” “No, I didn’t borrow Laura’s Mercedes!” (Latter in Cary Grant voice.)

(Laughs.) What. Is. That?

The world may never know.


Sounds like something like an acting, uh, sounds like an acting lesson or something.

It is. It’s a scene from North by Northwest. Cary Grant’s trying to explain to his mother, or no, not to his mother, his mother’s there, but … this woman who’s putting on that she knows him… Ooop…
Oh… Crossing on the wrong side.


Not the obvious place to frolic the day away, Central Square is full of funk-venture by night. Parking around Central Square is not easy, but with a litter persistence, you can find a spot along a side street.

Seems to have happened a lot lately. Uh, lost journals, lost uh, I mean, Liz lost an entire bag of journals.


Like years, this was probably years of writing.

I thought this was something that only happened to Hemingway. Just like a bag of journals?

Yeah it was a tote-bag of like you know Moleskines. There may have been fifteen of them or something.

Oh, man…

This is when we were in Missoula. [unintelligible.] She went off to the Sacajawea Park across the street where we were living, and then came back and realized she’d forgotten her journals and realized when she came back to get it it was gone. So we scoured the area and put up uh lost and found signs and…

Where were you when she realized it was gone?

We were probably in our apartment.

But the bag was in the apartment?

The bag was, no the bag was in Sacajawea Park.

Now I getcha.

Never was found. Not by us anyway. And then, Jared’s uh hard-drive just crashed or his computer just broke. He lost quite a bit of writing. This was in the last month. And then I lost my memory stick.

You poets!

(Laughs.) I know!

You need to learn how to back up your work.

Well, I end up backing it up by printing copies, so I’m pretty much covered. But then of course I give all my copies away so I have to you know ask for the books back which I’ve given people as gifts. Such as your next treee. Uh, and Jared has a whole stash of my work which he has to send me. It’s like poet’s memory. Like poet’s time. You know what they say. You know, poets are sort of always operating on poet’s time, which means that readings consistently start 15-20 minutes late uh. Like today I was about 15 minutes later than I said I would be showing up to see you. But then you were about 45 minutes late so maybe that’s like musician’s time!


Cause like sets never start on time. You know at shows rarely they do. Sometimes they do.

I think it depends.

[Street music, other conversations, car horn.]

I think the, uh, I think [unintelligible.] usually starts on time. Because if you go over, they charge you like a thousand dollars per few minutes.

[Music continues.]

311 cover band, or something? They sound pretty good!

Yeah… “311 cover band”? Is that what this song is or…

Yeah, no, it’s just sort of sounded like their style. Sort of groovy uh somewhat groovy reggae. White guy singing. Oh, squirrel, you don’t look like where you should be…



The Cambridge Department of Public Works has a phone number you can call to “report a street or sidewalk defect”, tempting us to call them once a day to report “all of Mass. Ave.”

So I’m curious about, you know, looking. I’d like to research more of Banksy and see, again, what sort of neighborhoods these other pieces are going on. Like, what’s, the German guy was talking about, and I think I read about it as well, that one of the, one of the pieces, I thought it was in London, but he seemed to think it was in Australia, um, that was just painted over because it was called ‘graffiti’. You know and my guess is, I’m curious, but, sort of thinking about it, you know, if it was in a more, a more affluent neighborhood or something. But that might be um questionable.

[street voice of a woman being handcuffed.]

But it seems like Central Square is, more conducive to the more, uh, urban, uh street graffiti.

Well, it seems like you just get, graffiti that’s uh, I imagine after a week or two it might just be destroyed by other graffiti first.

Yeah, yeah. But I guess that’s sort of part of the culture, too, isn’t it? Like,

The impermanence.

Yeah, absolutely, that it’s impermanent. I feel like that slow, like de-volution, dissolution of it by layers of time and other artists commenting and uh that sort of dialogue is more conducive to the…

[Street voices passing.]

…work than say, like a complete white-washing over the entire piece, you know what I mean?


So, Shepley seemed to think that this was a less, a less possible, a less possible than the other one, than being, legitimately, by him. By Banksy.


I think he said because of the style. Maybe, maybe the house, like sort of chalky, a little less uh, precise in its portrayal. Although it it seems like it would, it supports the image of the child. You know with his marker in his hand…

I like that it’s obvious that there’s people making treks to Banksy…It seems sort of funny that, it seems like something you would just happen across. It’s not like you would go and seek out graffiti.

I know, but, it’s great, right? It’s great that it bringing a different… cultural awareness. I’m almost more fascinated about what’s going on to the left over here. This like um, more layered space of this like figure that’s been painted over, but other tagging and I also love the visual of like even to the left of that, this um, you know, Posted “Wish Ted Happy Birthday” and um, on this worn wood panel on the, and the brick, and then these other layers of paint and, and…

You just like those layered moments….

Yeah, I like those layered, textured surfaces…

Multiple faceted…

In Portland, Jared was telling me, a lot of the telephone poles, they’re just covered in staples from from uh from flyers. And then Jared was telling me, there’s just so many layers of paper, one on top of the other, and Jared told me that, like once a month, they go and burn them off, so it’s like, it becomes this blackened, black space every month, and then they start, you know, building again. It’s just this public space, for, advertisements, for dialogue, that continually renews itself.

Huh. I’d be interested to see the burning of the wood…

Yeah, I know, I know, I would love to see it. I imagine these teams of city workers come out with their blowtorches, and light the streets on fire. I wish I had taken more photographs. I have one…

[car horn]

…that’s this coffee shop in the background, and then the stapled texture on the front there…

[recording ends as the dialogue continues…]

Nathan Child grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and studied Art History at the University of Puget Sound — writing a thesis on the aspiration towards music in the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. He currently lives and works in Boston, and wanders about with a Holga in his spare moments.

AKP: Museum of Thrown Objects (BlazeVox 2010); My Worth (Black Lodge Press, 2010); Between Here & the Telescopes (w/Elizabeth Guthrie; Slumgullion, 2008). Some recent journals: The Offending Adam, Dusie, and The A sh Anthology (Fact-Simile Press). MFA: Naropa U. BA: The Geo. Wash. U. Co-founder/editor: Livestock Editions. Currently: living: Mass. Reading: Hannah Weiner, Philip Whalen, Carla Harryman.

A Love Story in Peelings

A. Prologue: Signs of Life

Tinny static from a tape deck.
Desk lamp on in total darkness on floor.
Unfold the silken cloth.
Under the lamp light examine a limb.
Replace the limb with your face.
Drop static.

B. She’s So Good

One: Face to the floor

Objective: face to the floor, body sex-fixed, prayer-full, broke, dropped.
Come to language by gurgles.
Jaw hold, eye posture.
Text: “I’m so in love. She’s so nice.”

Objective: speak of her in parts.

Objective: Text: “I compared myself to a can,
And I compared her to one, too:
And I asked myself,
‘Could I be inside her?”

Objective: Text: “A can within a can. Cans.”
“I’m so in love.”

Objective: The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft

Objective: A vision.

Objective: Go with the vision –
don’t return.

Objective: Text: “We were in bed together.
I was lying next to her.”

Objective: The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft

Objective: If tears come, through tears, the reasons.
If no tears, no reason.


Two: Hands and Knees

Objective: reposition lamp.
Hands and knees.
Lamp to face.
Face to face.
Text: Sex prep in syllables.
Tough guy sounds.

Objective: Once break the pleasure and acknowledge
the possibility that someone is watching you.
Don’t be deterred.

Objective: Recognition.


Three: Stand, Apology, Kiss

Objective: Text: “And I was just like ‘oops.’”

Objective: Begin making your way to standing.

Objective: Text: Oops.
Oorphs, etc.

Objective: bring lamp with you. Lamp as microphone. Spotlight.

Objective: Text: Os.
And I was like Ops.
Aups, etc.

Objective: Light blind. Light kill. Light Erase.
Go blind.

Objective: Text: “and I was just like:

Objective: Kiss the light-bulb.


Benjamin Hersey writes and performs in and around Northampton, MA. A chapbook of monologues culled from answer-machine messages his mom’s boyfriend left on her answering machine has recently been published by The Chuckwagon, a small press in Southampton, MA.

from Basho’s Phonebook: Three One Act Performances 

Program Front:

Program Back:

Program Back Inside:

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

-Matsuo Basho

Cast of Characters:

DT Suzuki

Nobuyuki Yuasa

Makoto Ueda

Stage Directions: All audience members, with assurances that they will never be sold or used for commercial purposes, are encouraged to provide the performer(s) with their mobile phone numbers prior to the performance in order to achieve maximum effect.


DT Suzuki:

444:66:8:666: 8:44:33: 2:66:222:444:33:66:8: 7:666:66:3:
2: 333:777:666:4: 5:88:6:7:7777:
9:2:8:33:777[’]7777: 7777:666:88:66:3[!]


Nobuyuki Yuasa:

22:777:33:2:55:444:66:4: 8:44:33: 7777:444:555:33:66:222:33:
666:333: 2:66: 2:66:222:444:33:66:8: 7:666:66:3[,]
2: 333:777:666:4: 5:88:6:7:33:3: 444:66:8:666: 9:2:8:33:777 [—]
2: 3:33:33:7: 777:33:7777:666:66:2:66:222:33[.]


Makoto Ueda:

8:44:33: 666:555:3: 7:666:66:3: [—]
2: 333:777:666:4: 555:33:2:7:7777: 444:66[,]
2:66:3: 2: 7777:7:555:2:7777:44[.]

Travis Macdonald keeps his back to advertising and his eyes on Sallie Mae and her hungry dogs. When the dogs are sleeping or distracted, he sometimes manages to make words do his bidding. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The American Drivel Review, Anemone Sidecar, The Bathroom, Bombay Gin, Columbia Poetry Review, CounterExample Poetics, Court Green, Cricket Online Review, Ditch, e-ratio, Hot Whiskey, Jacket, Matter, Misunderstandings, Other Rooms, Otoliths, Source Material, WE magazine, Wheelhouse, and elsewhere. In his spare time, he co-edits Fact-Simile Editions in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Devil and John Malkovich


May 3

JM: There is something I’d like you to change in the interview. On page two there is my line, “I never watch my movies.” I’d like to change that to “I don’t watch all my movies.” I mean, I don’t come home on Sunday night and say let’s watch a movie with me, shall we? You don’t mind changing that, do you? Hello?
I: No, I don’t mind. I’m just a little surprised, that’s all. You said you never read your interviews.
JM: Well, yes. On the first page, when you mention the song, the title is Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais, not J’ai venu.
I: Sorry. I used to speak French before I moved to the States.
JM: What’s that supposed to mean?
I: Nothing.
JM: And, the last correction. On the last page, Jekyll says “There is a fraction in my soul…” Fraction not fracture. Pity about this one. Fracture does indeed sound better.


June 20

To: Investigators Utilizing Human Participants in Behavioral Research
From: Dr. Peter A. Lichtenberg, Chairman
Behavioral Investigation Committee
Subject:New Behavioral Investigation Committee Form

Enclosed are copies of the NEW BIC Forms. The BIC is a research review board and its mandate from the Federal Government is to review research proposals so that research participants will have their rights protected.

“But I don’t do behavioral research,” I tell the Graduate Director.
“I know.” He sighs and offers me a piece of candy. “Can you deal with it? Otherwise they won’t let you use the Malkovich interview in your dissertation.”
I leaf through the BIC form. It reads: “Collection of blood samples by venipuncture, in amounts not exceeding 450 milliliters; collection of both supra and subgingival dental plaque; collection of hair and nail clippings in a nondisfigural manner; collection of excreta and external secretion including sweat…”
“Are you sure this is for the English Department?”
“It’s for everybody,” the Graduate Director sighs.


July 16

Detroit, MI

Dear Mr. Malkovich,

I hope you’re in a good mood when you get this rather surreal document. In case you’re not prepared to sign the bit about the collection of blood, hair and nail clippings (I went easy on you, didn’t I?), please sign the enclosed Consent Form.



P.S. I’m going to Chicago next week to see a play at the Steppenwolf.

Over the past year, I conducted a series of phone interviews with John Malkovich. Prior to these conversations I informed Mr. Malkovich of my intention to use the material for my dissertation Death of the Reader: Theories of the Hypergenre, a project which deals with contemporary fiction and film. Mr. Malkovich agreed to answer my questions and was sent a transcript of our conversations which I had recorded with his consent.


July 31

United Artists Corporation LTD
The Man in the Iron Mask
Les Studios d’Arpajon
Les Cochets – 91180 St. Germain-les-Arpajon

Dear Dayana,

I was amused in all ways by reading your piece and I hope it does well for you and that I’ve proven to be a not too tiresome a subject. I look forward to meeting you sometime. Have a pleasant trip to Chicago.


John Malkovich


September 5

I keep the signed copies of the Consent Form on my desk. Nobody has asked for them yet. I keep them to remind myself that soft-spoken villains are, at times, the most perfect of gentlemen. The play at the Steppenwolf was exceedingly bad.

September 6

I have reached the end of an intellectual adventure, a little frivolous, perhaps, a little self-indulgent, but mostly elegant and affectionate. I wonder if Malkovich is ever going to read the final version of this piece in his self-imposed exile, in another time zone, in his garden of freshly planted daffodils. Maybe not. But now I believe (together with Abel Tiffauges and Peter Greenaway) that things do happen for a reason, that Malkovich’s divorce from Hollywood was not an arbitrary gesture, that it had to happen for me to establish a connection between the life of Joseph Knecht, Master of the Glass Bead Game, and the career of this formidable actor who, like the Magister Ludi, has many lives to live and many deaths to conquer before the final and eternal swim.


It is therefore the game of the world that must be first thought, before attempting to understand all the forms of play in the world.

Jacques Derrida

Talking to John Malkovich is like having a private conversation with a chatty Devil. Anything is possible and everything is allowed in his world where God is not dead, but simply not interested.

Between the actor’s quick changes of mood and opinion and his characters’ suave duplicity, however, lies an uncharted territory, a safe and solitary space of clever speculation that defines politics as dogma and semiotics as narcissism.

Once inside the actor’s “studio,” I realized that our dialogue was taking place within the realm of that unnamable difference Derrida talk about, inside “the non-full, non-simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences.” True to the nature of that difference, the uncomfortable phone conversations undermined my carefully guarded affection and demanded excessive framing and infinite paratextual speculation. If there is no “reality” to our dialogue, no concreteness, no heart-felt exchange (despite the actor’s generosity and patience), it is not John Malkovich’s fault. It isn’t my fault either. We could, perhaps, blame Derrida for emphasizing the “game of the world” which Malkovich rejects while practicing.

Our discussions did not enhance the field of semiotic possibilities surrounding the actor’s films. They did, however, have an unexpected side effect: they sketched the portrait of a different kind of reader, the opposite of Quijote. As a despotic reader of things, John Malkovich is the absolute and transparent center of his busy intellectual empire. In his world of well-put contradictions, windmills are spotted and eliminated, not confused with dragons. Armed with formidable yet shifting insights and definitive truths, John Malkovich is the perfect Master of Ceremonies of Derrida’s “play,” the only Magister Ludi capable of paralyzing the signifier.

Consequently, what follows is not a dialogue but a framing of a Glass Bead Game of elegant articulations, a “trace” which could have been significant and touching, had it allowed for less precaution, if only for a moment.


A tentative sketch of the life and opinions of Magister Ludi John Malkovich

I.The Call

If we have, nevertheless, persisted in our endeavor to determine some of the facts about the life of Ludi Magister Josephus III, and at least to sketch the outlines of his character, we believe we have done so not out of any cult of personality, nor out of disobedience to the customs, but on the contrary, solely in the service of truth and scholarship.

The Glass Bead Game

Why are you writing a dissertation on movies?…Not to be critical, but I find it strange…kind of useless. But what do I know? I’m a poor boy from Illinois. For me acting is a job. That doesn’t mean I don’t do the best I can. Do you know that song, Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais? It’s something like that. Great song. You should listen to it sometime…I received your letter a while ago, but I was on my way to London. As a matter of fact, I took it with me, I don’t know why. I would be delighted to answer any questions you might have, although I don’t understand people’s fascination with movies…The Sheltering Sky? No, I don’t particularly like the book. I prefer Let It Come Down to The Sheltering Sky, but that’s Paul Bowles for you. He lacks humanity in a very primitive way. I think Paul acts as if feelings are foreign and messy, untidy, inelegant. Something to be ashamed of. There is a way to do a story very deeply, and The Sheltering Sky could have been that, maybe, but Paul is ashamed of emotions and keeps his distance from everyone and everything. When he published his autobiography called Without Stopping, William Burroughs suggested that, knowing Paul, the book should have been called Without Telling. The great writers never impose the distance you feel in Paul’s books. Faulkner, for example, never kept his distance. But Paul is wounded and damaged and, I think, that makes him unable to feel. The only time Paul was funny – he did not intend to be, it just happened – was one evening when I asked him when he realized that he no longer lived in America. And Paul said that he was still thinking about it. Bertolucci, on the other hand, is the life-affirming Italian: incredibly narcissistic, charming, funny, but quite afraid of death and emptiness. I think he was afraid of the material and that’s why he brought Paul in as the narrator of the film. It gave him a sense of security. The Sheltering Sky is about emptiness; about lonely people, unhappily married. The desert? No, it didn’t mean much, not to me, not then. It did not change anything. The Sheltering Sky is about these two people who think they need the other’s love to survive; they feel that’s what’s sheltering them, when in fact that’s what ultimately destroys them. And I remember Bernardo telling me he wanted to cut from the film the scene in which my character is dying, because it was too gruesome and too sad. And I said, “Bernardo, in my modest opinion that’s exactly what we’re here for; surely not to make a pleasant film about death.” So I guess the scene is back in the film now. I wouldn’t know. I don’t watch all my movies…I just made a film with the director of The Tin Drum, Volker Schlondorff. It’s called The Ogre and it’s about this guy who wants to become a good Nazi and fails. That movie, I saw more than once. I don’t think you’ll have a chance to see it. I don’t think it will come to America. Americans don’t want to know. It’s not that they don’t know: they don’t want to know. They’ll see The Ogre as a faintly pro-Nazi movie, and it’s not. But if they want to deal with the Nazis they’ll do it their own way: they’ll watch Schindler’s List. I told a journalist here, in France, that sometimes when I look in the mirror I see a Nazi. He didn’t know how to take that, it was a scandal. The character in The Ogre is fascinated by the Nazi order. He doesn’t know what they’re about, but they’re an alternative to chaos. He loves children and believes that Nazi schools are safe for them, so he brings the children to those schools…Yes, my characters share a certain duality. Living in the modern world, we should admit to a certain duality or we should not be living in the modern world, don’t you think? The ending of The Sheltering Sky doesn’t work. Why do you have to die? If I were to make that movie I would change the ending. I would like to think the contrary.

Where are you from?

My god, how odd you must feel living here.

That’s a long way from here.

I didn’t say that. I just said it was a long way from here.

I will call again. It was my pleasure. Take care.

II. In Office

A shudder came through Fritz when the Magister, for the first time, addressed him that way. From Knecht’s look, it was clear that this remoteness and objectivity were not pretense, but uncannily genuine, and the man before him with his matter-of-fact courtesy accompanied by intense intellectual awareness, was no longer his friend Joseph, but a teacher and examiner, entirely Master of the Glass Bead Game, enveloped and isolated by the gravity and austerity of his office.

The Glass Bead Game

Archival Notes (AN): John Malkovich interviewed by Paul Young, 1994, my italics. “I’d have to say that the only political act I’d ever be guilty of is curiosity. I mean, you’ll find over the course of my career that I’ve worked with just about every kind of person and I have just about every kind of person as a friend, and I have almost nothing political to say.”

Q: Your films and plays betray an acute interest in politics. I’m thinking of Heart of Darkness, Empire of the Sun, The Killing Fields, The Ogre, Libra – which you adapted for the stage and directed in 1994 at the Steppenwolf Theatre. The Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Imperialism, the Nazis…Even Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons and Jekyll and Hyde in Mary Reilly deal with certain political attitudes – sexual politics, but politics nevertheless. Still, you claim you have nothing political to say. How do you define politics, then?
A: How do I define it or what is it?
Q: How would you define it?
A: I would define politics as the art of problem solving. I think curiosity is a political act because curiosity is the beginning of understanding. Because if you can be curious about something then you can understand it, and if you can understand it, then chances are that you can solve whatever problem there is.

AN: Magister Ludi’s take on Curiosity mirrors a trend in postmodern British fiction which considers history, theatricality and curiosity irrevocably linked. The history professor in Graham Swift’s Waterland says: “Curiosity, which with other things, distinguishes us from the animal, is an ingredient of love “ (51); “History begins only at a point when things go wrong” (106); “Reality is when nothing happens. How many of the events of history have occurred, ask yourselves, for this or that reason, but for no other reason, fundamentally, than to make nothings happen? I present to you History, the fabrication, the diversion, the reality-obscuring drama. History, and its near relative, Histrionics” (40).

A (cont.): But what people think of politics generally falls under the heading of dogma. You know, it’s Marxist dogma or conservative dogma, or feminist dogma – some set of beliefs shaped and misshaped and pulled around to fit into a system of beliefs. I just don’t have that.
Q: A system of beliefs?
A: Yes, you can almost say I don’t have a system of beliefs. I certainly don’t have a system of dogmatic ones.

AN: Is contradiction a form of curiosity? If so, does it become political? Is the lack of a system a system in itself? If so, can we trace it throughout the Magister’s statements? Consider the following:
a.“Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see a Nazi.”
b.“People think it’s a pro-Nazi movie and it’s not.” (There’s a Nazi in all of us?)

c.“In my modest opinion, that’s what we’re here for; surely not to make a pleasant film about death.”
d.“But why do you have to die? If I were to make that movie, I’d change the ending, I’d like to think the contrary.”

Q: The parts you choose to play seem to represent various stages in the development of a single type of character: a dual, dark, fascinating personality like Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, Gilbert Osmond in Portrait of a Lady, Jekyll and Hyde, the assassin from In the Line of Fire, to mention just a few. Are you attracted to these roles because of this duality? Is that how you choose them?
A: I don’t choose them, I am chosen.

AN: The film chooses its actor the same way the disease chooses its patients. See the cases presented in Mann’s Magic Mountain, Hamsun’s Hunger, Giono’s Horseman on the Roof, and so on. Cinema as quarantine. Movie theatres as giant sanatoriums. The connection between film and disease has already been established: “People who love movies are sick people” (Francois Truffaut).

A (cont.): The only film I’ve ever produced was The Accidental Tourist. I didn’t produce any of these other films, or write them or direct them. I’m chosen for some ability or quality [the people involved] believe I have.
Q: But you do agree to play these parts. You could refuse.
A: Yes, but then I wouldn’t work. I often do refuse. But I don’t choose things because they adhere to a specific set of guidelines, whether it would be about duality, light and dark, anything. There are things that, in fact, you are chosen for because the people who do the choosing believe you possess a certain quality they are looking for. I would agree that the quality they are looking for when they are employing me is a kind of duality, usually.
Q: What about Libra? That was a deliberate choice.
A: Absolutely. Don DeLillo is a friend of mine and Libra is a book I read a decade ago, on my way to China, a book I really loved. And this was around the time I was ready to produce The Accidental Tourist. I really thought about, and should have done, Libra then, long before Oliver Stone got this idea to do JFK which – offensive – was a kind of ripped off and intellectually bankrupt version of Libra reprise with all of Oliver’s Vietnam paranoias and things. But Libra, I think, is a great book. I don’t see it as political, though.

AN: Even the most casual survey of the history of thought shows that the great ages of culture have never been adequately explained by political conditions. Rather culture, or mind, or soul, has its own independent history – running parallel to what is generally called world history. Our Order deals only with this sanctified and secret history, not with “real,” brutal world history. It can never be our task to be continually taking soundings in political history, let alone to help shape it. (The Glass Bead Game)

A (cont.): It’s not a political book. In fact DeLillo says very well what it’s about, in the book. It’s about “the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century.” And that was my interest in it. Also for me…for me as a young child, that was the beginning of nihilism in the country because it gave you this intense realization that things really weren’t well; and no matter how rich you were, and how powerful, and what you’d achieved, and what you’d struggled to do, and how elegant you were, or how funny – things could be taken away from you in a second. And that was the beginning of nihilism in America which, as you know, is a much more European thing. I mean, the existentialists really didn’t fly here.

AN: If we consider the Ludi Magister’s statements from the inside of his (lack of a) system of beliefs:
a.“the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century” (history and humiliation)
b.JFK (history and confabulation)
d.“no matter how rich you were…how elegant you were…” (theories of class, taste and individuality)
e.“everything could be taken away from you in a second” (the – borrowed – existentialist flight)


a.Does it follow that the (temporal) connection between JFK and the American nihilist philosophy is apolitical? Or is it, au contraire, acutely political, a result of curiosity?
b.If so, isn’t Oliver Stone’s version of Libra the result of (his) curiosity, a (fictional) solution to the problem at hand?
c.Should we recognize in the words of the Magister Ludi an American dimension we thought he lacked, a success story prefaced by an acknowledgment of his modest beginnings? (“I’m a poor boy from Illinois”)
d.Should we understand his fascination with the last spasms of the American century as an erasure of boundaries and categories?
e.Or should we read it as a foreshadowing of his restless travels, from Christopher, Illinois to Provence, through China, Tangiers, Los Angeles and London, while carrying, as a true Master of the Word, student letters in his pocket?

Maybe not.

Q: Existentialism brings me to the issue of the anti-hero. There is a tremendous difference between the American and the European anti-hero. The American anti-hero is a young man set for success who ends up failing miserably in all areas. The European anti-hero is Joseph K. An internal exile. Do you agree with this distinction and, if so, where do your characters belong?
A: It depends on which one you talk about. They’re all pretty different. The character in Of Mice and Men has a different goal than, say, the character in Death of a Salesman or either characters in Mary Reilly. Or in, say, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. They all operate from very different world views. So I couldn’t answer your question phrased like that because each character exists in a different place, I think. Many of them not even American. Would I say they are anti-heroes? Yes, sure. But they are very different. There are some who are incredibly nihilistic, some who are very existential, there are some terribly damaged, some who are quite malicious and narcissistic. There are some…What does the guy say in Mary Reilly? “There is a fraction in my soul…Something which left me with a taste for oblivion.” I think that’s pretty well put. And that’s certainly something I would say, in all humility and fairness, that I would share with those characters. Yes.

AN: In the eyes of the Magister Ludi, my inclination to talk about all his characters as variations on a theme is a degrading reduction of his work, a shameful and pointless generalization. But, whatever their goals and beliefs, can his characters not whisper at some point, together with Dostoyevsky, “I am a sick man; I am a lonely man; I am an unattractive man; I believe my liver is diseased?” And isn’t there great beauty to that?

Q: In Michel Tournier’s The Ogre, a sentence is repeated throughout the book: “All is sign.” How do you understand that?
A: All is sign. It’s a kind of failure in our film which I hope you get to see some day, because I think Volker…I think we did not go far enough. It needed to be more like a Herzog film…When the character in The Ogre says “all is sign” he believes, as most people do, that he has this incredible destiny that’s really rather important. And normal people, to me, rather idiotically, believe that everything happens for a reason…I don’t believe that at all. But the character, Abel Tiffauges, believes in that because he has such an inflated sense of his own destiny…that being in a way a metaphor for the Great France, which is what I think he is, in a way: a metaphor for his own country. He has these delusions that everything means something – he’ll meet someone and that, in his mind, has incredible repercussions. A ball rolls out in the street and for him that’s just an unbelievable happenstance of extraordinary importance.
Q: In a recent interview Tournier said he would like to rewrite the book, strip it off everything that does not refer directly to the character and the plot, and turn it into a children’s book.
A: He would have a better book if he did that. He’s the kind of Derrida-influenced French intellectual who has a lot of literary references and conceits that aren’t highly effective literature…Because in the end, literature is story-telling. The great ones can do a lot of other things, but they always take care of that first. And that isn’t fully taken care of in The Ogre, which is what keeps it from being a great book.
Q: Why, because it’s partly a fairy-tale?
A: No, no. Because it’s not enough of one.
Q: Could you make a comparison between Hesse and Tournier? I’m thinking about the system of signs in Demian and the University in The Glass Bead Game: the place where one plays with all the intellectual values…
A: I’m not a huge Hesse fan, despite the name of our theatre. Of course, I know the usual suspects, Steppenwolf and Siddartha and so on. Hesse wrote more simply and, obviously more metaphorically. They’re not dissimilar writers, though.
Q: It was not the Steppenwolf theatre that made me think of Hesse, but The Ogre. After reading it, I realized I hadn’t read such a profoundly semiotic book since Demian.
A: That’s probably very accurate. The character takes everything as a sign. But people who think they’re very important do, don’t they?
Q: Umberto Eco doesn’t.
A: Neither does Tournier, but his characters do. It can be something present in the books that is not necessarily present in the authors’ lives.

AN: I find a lengthy explanation of the Eco-system pointless. What should I tell the Magister, over the phone? That with Eco anything is possible? That sometimes character, narrative voice, Model Author and Empirical Author are one? (see the end chapter in Six Walks in The Fictional Woods). I believe Umberto Eco thinks he’s very important. I believe Umberto Eco doesn’t think he’s very important. Eco, the (Empirical) Author talks about Eco, the (Model) Reader. All the lines are blurred and everything is separable. As I have suspected, contradiction takes us nowhere.

Q: How did you play Abel?
A: Mostly like a character who tried to be a good Nazi and failed.
Q: But my impression was that Abel lives inside a Nazi world of his own making and realizes what is happening only at the end, when it’s too late.
A: Yes, as the world did, in a way. The Nazis seem to Abel rather interesting with their uniforms, and how well they’re organized, and how fantastic they are, like some sort of Teutonic Knights. And he becomes a fairy-tale ogre who’s running around kidnapping little children. And I played him…I played him as not very smart.
Q: I’d like to ask you something about Mary Reilly. In Stevenson’s book Hyde is described as “pure evil.” For me, at least, that means he’s better than Jekyll because Jekyll has something to hide, he’s not “pure.” On the other hand, you could say that Hyde’s purity, like that of Abel, is a sign of “malign inversion” – Tournier’s words, I believe.
A: We made a decision in Mary Reilly that may or may not have failed. I’m not a fan of Jekyll and Hyde, myself, but I thought that the conclusion we reached, that Jekyll was worse than Hyde, was more interesting than the original premise. In the novel and in Chris Hampton’s screenplay, Jekyll was always referred to as this sort of avuncular figure, gentle and kind and such. And somehow it came to Stephen Frears that, in a way, he’s worse than Hyde whom he manipulates and uses. I thought that was really interesting. I don’t know if it helps the film, in fact it may have ruined it, I really don’t have an opinion. If you got to do it on stage it would be just something that you tried one night to see if it worked, but when you do it as a film you kind of go through with it and that’s how it becomes frozen in time. I think Hyde was intended as evil but in the Victorian age that translated into “animal.” You know, he eats, he fucks, he kills. I mean, what’s wrong with that?
Q: For the Victorians? Everything.
A: No, I mean we say now, but you have to understand that’s a rather limited perspective. Whatever we’ve gained by saying “it’s wrong to say ‘he kills, he fucks, he eats, what’s wrong with that?’” we’ve also lost. I don’t think we can make a mistake about that. We’re not meant to be like we are, surely. I’m not making an argument for going back, I’m not a druid myself, but surely one can see that it’s not necessarily the best way. When we look at a character like Hyde we’re looking through a Victorian prism. Or a Victorian prison. And, of course, Stephen is saying that there are all these so-called dark things in our nature, well, I don’t think there are dark things in our nature, I think there are things in our nature. People kill people all the time. Today, yesterday, last week, 20,000 years ago. It’s not news. A character like that is more difficult to play now because the real life versions of him are everywhere. And they’re much more spectacular; it’s the great American quality: serial murder…our soul remaining the thing we still lead the world in…Now we have Jeffrey Dahmer, what do care about Hyde, really?
Q: When Hyde tells Mary at the end, “I always knew you’d be the death of us,” do you think he means that Mary Reilly, the character, is an intrusion in the world Stevenson created and, in a way, kills the story? Cherchez la femme?
A: Yeah…Yeah…Always. I mean, that’s the problem with girls, isn’t it?
Q: You should know…


A: It is, in a literal and figurative way, a story she doesn’t belong in. Which is something I don’t think we did well in the film. I defend the film a lot, but –

AN: Excerpt from a 1995 interview: “Mary Reilly was not a happy experience. There were problems with the story that were never solved. I’ve done better work because I’ve had better things to work with. The power has to be with the story, not with the actress or the director.”

A (cont.): I defend the film a lot, but it should have been a film more about her looking around the corner, not a film about what she sees when she looks around the corner.
Q: Part of the problem, I think, comes from the way Mary Reilly’s character is constructed. It makes you wonder where she gets her answers from. Everything she tells Jekyll is a bit too clever.
A: I really couldn’t comment on it. Not because I’m afraid to or something, but because it’s very hard. When you do a piece of work you do it with the person you do it with. In fact, I never imagine it with somebody else. If that person is terrible, let’s say, then that’s the reality of what you deal with, what your work is, what you’re faced with, what you’re blessed with, whatever the case may be – that’s all I know. It very well could be that it would be a better film with a different person performing that part, or a different person performing my part or anybody else’s. But I couldn’t say. Although I certainly wouldn’t say that that’s unlikely.

AN: “I have heard,” he said with seeming jocularity, “that you have become something of a diplomat. Not really a very nice occupation, but it seems our people are satisfied with you. Interpret that as you like. But if it doesn’t happen to be your ambition to stay in this occupation forever, then be on your guard, Joseph. I think they want to capture you for it. Defend yourself: you have the right to.” (The Glass Bead Game)

Q: Last time we talked you called Mary Reilly a fascinating failure. Why?
A: Because I would have made a film about a woman who’s where she is now, but who would have liked to have sex with her father.
Q: How would that have changed things?
A: It would have made her not a victim. It would have made her very strong and very sad. Because, you know, we’re not meant to have sex with our fathers. Otherwise one gets involved in this victim thing, don’t you think? But, again, that’s my opinion. There’s not necessarily any validity to it. It’s just a theory.
Q: I noticed that, throughout the movie, Hyde changes physically. For instance, at some point he doesn’t walk with a limp anymore. Is that because he is the stronger of the two and can now change his appearance?
A: Our opinion was this: that there was…
(Long pause. With reconsidered, and much appreciated honesty)
I was really weary of doing the kind of Spencer Tracy version where one fellow talks like this
(The Magister affects precious Oxbridge accent)
…and the other kinda’ talks like this,
(Nasal, furtive cockney)
you know, all the RSC bullshit. So Stephen and I saw it like this: there was a Jekyll, there was a Hyde, and there was a Jekyll and Hyde. So that in the end they’re mixed together. Let’s say, by the end.
Q: Speaking of the end…why did you end the film like that?
A: How did it end?
Q: With the special effects, Hyde turning into Jekyll under Mary Reilly’s eyes…
A: I don’t know. I think the last third of the movie doesn’t work. In the end she is, she remains, a victim. And we looked a lot at what she looked at, not at her looking. She is a victim up front, and I think once a movie becomes that obvious…
Q: One last observation about your characters. They seem to be best contained by certain spaces: the laboratory, or the desert, for instance. Spaces of the mind. They also are, for the most part, by themselves in films of their own. In the Line of Fire is a perfect example.
A: I think we’re all in little films of our own…so I find it natural.
Q: Once William Burroughs was asked if he needed the reader. To paraphrase: do you need the spectator?
A: No. Maybe on a primitive level, yes. In the theatre, trying to connect, in the company of strangers, surrounded by perfect darkness, maybe. They come up, and you commence this shared and collective voyage. As an actor you’re part of all that. But on another level, no. I do not need the spectator. No.

By the time you hear this it will be over…I wonder, did you kill me? Who won the game? Not that it matters. For, among friends like you and me, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, and the game is done, and it’s time to get on with your life. But I worry you have no life to get on with. You’re a good man, and good men like you and me are destined to travel a lonely road. Good bye and good luck.

In the Line of Fire

Dayana Stetco’s plays have been produced in her native country, Romania, the U.S. and the UK. In 2001 she founded the interdisciplinary physical theatre ensemble, The Milena Group. Her book, Seducing Velasquez and Other Plays, was released by Ahadada Books in 2009. Her fiction has appeared in various journals including The Means, Emergency Almanac, mark(s), Interdisciplinary Humanities, Metrotimes, Gender(f), and Dispatch. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature and Film.