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MEREDITH MONK'S RECENT RUINS The Archaeology of Consciousness: Essaying Images Bonnie Marranca beginning again For the overture the singers sit in a "magic" circle that is the consecrated space from which their incantation calls up the spirits of the past. Is Recent Ruins the dream of these people who revisit their primitive past and envision their future? 39 The solo and choral singing (female voices dominate) is of a pre-verbal order that is a kind of poetry, but it is the body of the voice that attracts attention . In this dance opera (there is no spoken language) it is the landscape of the body that reflects its geography of dreams. The singing is not the "beautiful" kind that hides all the work and shows only the refined surfaces , but "crude" singing that incorporates the journey theme of the piece by showing how sound travels in and through the body. Sometimes you can hear it curling up and over the teeth, in the nose, the back of the throat, and in the diaphragm. Certain letters of the alphabet are prominent--"w," "a," "o"-the nonaggressive , soft sounds, and the singing sometimes incorporates talking, as if language is on the way to becoming. The sounds are birth cries, animal noises, screams, lullabies-undifferentiated sound in a universe that does not yet have names for things. It is primal sound whose dominant quality is the echo: as if these tones always existed and will always exist in space. Musical motifs of the overture will re-echo in other sections of the work, startino as the acoustic sound of earliest life and ending as recorded sound after the world moves from primitive to technological society. The phenomenology of sound is conceptualized musically to define a world in which all harsh sounds are excluded and only those (w, o, m, b, a) which take in and give out the life breath find a space. 0 writing a performance Section 11. While the twentieth-century couple sits on the upper stage in front of a projection screen behind which someone is drawing examples of ancient and modern artifacts, pairs of "archaeologists " write equations and calculations all over the floor. When this segment concludes, a film made by Monk at Ellis Island details the 40 classification and documentation of immigrants on a screen directly across the space from the position of the couple. This section of Recent Ruins represents the modern obsession, begun in the Renaissance, with codifying and documenting everything in the world: the world is viewed in terms of its Objecthood . The performance text itself is written in theatrical time, not only literally, but in narrative codes that are spatial, acoustic, iconographic, chromatic, diagrammatic, kinesic, symbolic. The huge anonymous hand (reminding us that these objects were first handicrafts, later industrial objects ) draws a "lesson": that objects, like people, have a history. The "language" of the humanistic perspective is written on the floor, on the screen, on the film frame (an immigrant's nose is circled as a hand writes "Serb" across the film strip-no photograph). This then is the culmination of the humanist view Galileo summed up in his dream "to measure everything measurable and to make what is not measurable capable of being measured." Monk's repertory of images exposes a geometry of emotion in which the materialism of humanism is displaced by the dematerialist world spirit she proposes. C-0 a change of perspective Everytime I look at these two "archaeologists" (section 11) in Victorian dress roaming about, measuring, and making calculations in chalk on the floor, I think of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas who undertook many amateur 41 archaeological expeditions in the European countryside. (A generous theatre experience always allows the spectator some time to dream.) Stein's intellectual excavation of the visible and invisible in the world led her to conceive of a work of art as a "landscape"-it would reflect everything in it in a state of continuous present. "The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything," she once said in another context. the portrait and...


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pp. 39-49
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