Saturday, 15 September 2018

Guest post: Rent Asunder

Guest post by Misha Penton

I

“This was the darkness in which ghosts and monsters were active, and indeed was not the woman who lived in it… -was she not of a kind with them?”¹

A thunderhead churns in slow-motion, its high clouds billow white against a darkening blue expanse. Bats chirp a chorus under a bayou bridge and a falcon circles a slow descent. Thousands of grackles gather on powerlines to watch the end of day: the last rays of sun move across the city as it rises from the desert plain.

“…in 'visible darkness', where always something seemed to be flickering and shimmering…”

Her abdomen hovers above the sparkle of twisted skyscrapers and her thin, long legs easily navigate between metallic buildings: one furry claw here on the pavement (barely missing a sidewalk crack), and one claw there, next to a man asleep on a bench (he doesn't wake).


“The darkness wrapped around her tenfold, twentyfold…”

Now, beyond the buildings, she rests at the edge of a concrete-lined waterway. Above her, blue lights hang from the underside of a bridge, signaling the coming full moon. Between her two front legs she holds the remnants of a shattered porcelain bowl. Its glaze is a galaxy swirl of greens and blues—tiny bird silhouettes lift from its fractured surface and merge into the surrounding darkness.

With mother-like coaxing, she gathers the shards and makes her way to a deserted avenue. She ascends a slick glass tower. A shimmer of silk spools out from her spinnerets and wafts high on the breeze, sticking to the steel building across the street. One glimmering thread at a time, she crafts a magnificent web. At last, she settles in its center and starts to work on the shattered bowl: with silk and gold, she adheres each broken piece to its match, and makes what was once broken, whole—and more wonder-full and splendid than before.²

II

I find myself searching for examples of transformations that occur through physical trial—like the shattered cup renewed and made whole through craftsmanship and patience.

The wedding of tech and biology is often physically arduous, and a beautifully rendered example of such tech-craft is Star Trek’s iconic Borg, Seven of Nine. Too numerous to name, cybernetic transformations abound (not always physically difficult but always cool): from the Maschinenmensch (robot) in Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis to Darth Vader. I'll count Hugh Jackman's Wolverine transformation, too: physically difficult and very high-tech.

Mary Shelley's monster in Frankenstein is another grim physical transformation. Though her book gives few details of the physical trial, the many ensuing iterations of the work are full of state-of-the-art details of his making. Other ordeals that come to mind include the contorted physical changes of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, and the pack of movie werewolves from Henry Hull and Lon Chaney to David Naughton³ and Michael J. Fox.

Angelina Jolie's Maleficent is one of my favorites, and her wing-cutting and reintegration is a dramatic and powerful symbol of dismemberment and wholeness regained.

Is losing oneself through transformation possible? Isn't that the fear? or the gift?—that through some monumental change we become unrecognizable to ourselves and to the world?

References
Tanizaki, Jun'ichirō. "In Praise of Shadows". The Art of the Personal Essay. An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Phillip Lopate, ed. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, trans. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Notes
  1. Quotes in italics in are from Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows” translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (1995).
  2. Inspired by the Japanese art and concept of kintsugi: broken pottery mended with lacquer and gold to create something new and perhaps more beautiful than the original.
  3. H/T to Djibril al-AYAD for pointing out the painful lycanthropic transformation in the film American Werewolf in London (1981).

Misha Penton's projects blossom in many forms: live performances, audio and video works, and writings. She has produced and directed over 16 original evening-length performance works and more than six music video projects. Professional affiliations include Houston Grand Opera, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Bath Spa University, and University of Houston Center for Creative Work. Upcoming projects: a new media monodrama celebrating the magnificent monstrous feminine. mishapenton.com. On Twitter: @divergencediva

Misha's flash story “Eclipse” can be found in the Making Monsters anthology.

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