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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 441-442
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Infinity (Stage). By Spencer Golub. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999; pp. 276. $49.50.
Spencer Golub's latest book is a performative meditation, or a meditative performance, on the boundaries of performance, death, memory, and disappearance. Writing in the wake of his father's death, he has taken images and ideas recurrent in his mind and drawn them together in a work whose paradigm is metonymic substitution. Classifying the field of this work is impossible: Golub clearly owes a great deal of credit to other writers who have attempted this melding of images into a coherent single work--Peggy Phelan's Unmarked and Joseph Roach's Cities of the Dead are both similarly structured. Golub's book stands as one cohesive unit, and the chapters fit gracefully into the whole.
Images recur throughout Infinity (Stage), from Cary Grant in Hitchcock's North by Northwest to various representations of (Tiny) Alice (through the looking glass), Sherlock Holmes, Fred Astaire, Howard Hughes, Danny Kaye, David Bowie, and Orpheus. Golub slides nimbly through ideas, basing his associations on metonymic proximity or exploded visual and linguistic puns. The introduction claims, "I seek to reimagine and reconstitute the stage as an interior domain via the mechanism of the cinema as a mind screen in which no body and nobody is altogether real, least of all 'Me'" (4). Perhaps Golub's project might be better understood, in light of the psychoanalytic terms which frequently frame his argument, as a return to a pregenital stage of eroticism in which the Freudian "little man" (who here becomes the author's stand-in) at his father's side sits in Laura Mulvey's darkened cinema/theatre learning to imagine himself in the place of the on-screen subject with its recurring trope of mistaken identities.
Golub replaces the renaissance stage's single vanishing point perspective with his own perspective; the theatrum mundi vanishes at all points, every spike-mark (stage marking that designates the positioning of set pieces and actors) an edge and every edge a disappearance in potentia. "To the (Il)limit: An Introduction" begins with the image of a stage and an extremely theatrical fall, that of Gloucester's "fall" off the "cliff" to which his son Edgar leads him in King Lear. This image succinctly prefigures much of the book's exegesis: paternal relations, representational reality, disappearance, death, amnesia. The first chapter, "The Flies and the Wings," is organized around the idea of the unseen (un-scene?), whether it is beyond the [End Page 441] borders of the stage or too small to be viewed at a normal distance. Golub begins to focus on the concept of the man marked for death and the ways in which these deaths are avoided and re-presented; this concern will become one of the multiplicity of organizing principles for the book. Golub's trains of thought are fascinating to follow; although he occasionally gets mired in the depths of his metaphors, the reader is usually carried along and drawn into them.
There is frequently a tendency to view such writing as narcissistic, as purely a writer's masturbatory exercise. Golub's own writing may be used to accuse him of this, "[the primal sin] is really narcissism, which brings to the image seen in the mirror the dread and desire of permanent disappearance" (204). Golub's fascination with the disappearance of the character, with the vampire/invisible man and the questions of mortality surrounding his autobiographical musings, can be read simplistically as the desire to sidestep the inevitability of his father's death both phenomenologically and as rehearsal (répétition) of his own. "Writing offers 'proof' that 'what's in the photographs was what was there'" (169). The project here, however, is to create an exploratory landscape in which he and the reader can examine the ontology of the performative nature of death (or possibly the deathlike nature of performance). "Writers have always wanted to create cinema on the blank page: to arrange all the elements and let thought roam among...