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EURIPIDEAN ASSEMBLAGES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2021

Nancy Worman*
Affiliation:
Barnard College/Columbia University nworman@barnard.edu

Extract

In the final scene of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight (2015), Daisy Domergue, the sole female character among the titled eight, hangs suspended from the ceiling of the cabin in which they all have fought an operatically violent battle to the death. From her cuffed hand a chain dangles, at the other end of which is another cuffed hand, minus the rest of the body to which it had belonged. Its owner was her bounty hunter, who spent most of his time onscreen physically abusing her, including struggling with her over the control of weapons (e.g., machete and gun). We meet her with a black eye, to which are soon added a broken nose and teeth and a face repeatedly doused in her own blood and that of others. Two equally bloody antagonists string her up, pitting their injuries against her near-dead weight, so that for a time her body is triangulated by her attachment to them as well as to the remaining bit of the bounty hunter.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Ramus 2021

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References

1. See Worman (2020).

2. Williams (1977), 19, 131.

3. Deleuze and Guattari (1987); cf. Deleuze and Guattari (1977); also Wohl (2005), Grosz (2008), Cull (2009), Bennett (2010). Seely (2012) discusses such transformative aesthetics in avant-garde fashion designers, claiming an ‘ontological’ fusion in the ways in which fabrics ‘endlessly fold in and out of the surfaces of the body, as skin and cloth, organic and nonorganic, body and thing become one’ (describing designs of Rei Kawakubo). He terms this mode ‘affective fashion’.

4. This is central to the ‘anti-Oedipal’ model in Deleuze and Guattari (1977) and (1987).

5. See Lattas (1991). See also Goulimari (1999), Haraway (1988), and further below.

6. Lattas (1991), 107; Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 153f., 253f., attribute the notion of ‘becoming’ to Spinoza; cf. Deleuze (1988c). We may note that Lattas’ own language appears to preserve the theorists’ deploying of ‘woman’ as an abstraction, treating it and ‘animal’ as monolithic categories as opposed to (e.g.) ‘sorcerers’.

7. For assemblages in Greek tragedy more generally, see Worman (2019); as I note there, among the three canonical tragedians, Euripides’ imagery sets up the most alienating confluences. See also Worman (2021), ch.5, for greater elaboration of his bodily alterations and machinations.

8. See Artaud (1958), Derrida (1978), 232–50, Cull (2009), and cf. Deleuze and Guattari (1977).

9. See Deleuze (1988c); also Thrift (2004), Classen (2005), Clough and Halley (2007), Paterson (2007), Purves (2017).

10. Zeitlin (1985).

11. Irigaray (1985). From her perspective, not only do such appropriations subordinate the feminine, as instantiated in the case of tragedy by female characters, to masculine dynamics and regimes; they also subsume the feminine within the masculine order as the ‘other’. See further in the following section.

12. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), Chapter 6; cf. Deleuze (1990b), 153. He first formulates their conceptualization of this Body in the same The Logic of Sense (1990b), 86–93.

13. Deleuze and Guattari (1987).

14. Cf. their overt acknowledgments of the influence of Plato's chora on their thinking; they regard him as entertaining a model of ‘becoming and heterogeneity’ only to exclude it ‘in the name of royal science’ (Deleuze and Guattari [1987], 361; cf. 369).

15. e.g., Tim. 49a, 50c–52d. See Kristeva (1980) and (1984), Irigaray (1985), Butler (1993), Bianchi (2006). Note all translations are mine.

16. Irigaray (1985), 168–79; Butler (1993), 35f.

17. See Jardine (1985), Braidotti (1991), Goulimari (1999).

18. See Spivak (2010) for a parallel critique that treats Foucault and Deleuze (but not Derrida) as insufficiently attuned to such problems in the theorizing of the ‘other’ (here framed as female and subaltern).

19. Butler (1993), 4; but cf. also Lorraine (1999), who argues for convergences between Irigaray and Deleuze.

20. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 235.

21. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 276f.

22. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 278f.

23. That said, at one point Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 276, capture this subsuming of the ‘girl’ thus: ‘the body they steal from us in order to fabricate opposable organisms. This body is stolen first from the girl’. It seems both crucial and ironic that this formulation—with its deployment of ‘us’ as including male experience (and thus male theorists), and the ‘they’ being (presumably) the state, habituation, history, etc.—comes in another engagement with Woolf, as well as that they both implicitly include men with their use of ‘us’ and invoke Irigaray's conception of sexual difference in the phrase ‘fabricate opposable organisms’.

24. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 273.

25. On the political cast of Electra's situation, see Wohl (2015); on her ‘corporeality’, see Segal (1985). Zeitlin (2003), 262f., notes that many scholars have commented on the fact that her appearance is her choice, despite how she deplores it; Zeitlin quotes, among others, Grube (1941), 301, who attributes this choice to ‘the perverse pleasure she takes in enlarging upon her poverty’. See also Torrance (2013), 17f.

26. In relation to Electra's presentation of herself as a stalled cow, we might note here the centrality of cattle to Deleuze and Guattari's formulation of ‘nomadology’ (1987), 380–7, for which they cite Homer.

27. As Denniston (1939) notes (ad loc.).

28. Cf. Hec. 836–40: εἴ μοι γένοιτο φθόγγος ἐν βραχίοσι / καὶ χερσὶ καὶ κόμαισι καὶ ποδῶν βάσει (‘If there were a voice in my arms and hands and hair and stride’, 836f.).

29. On the ‘dismantling’ capacities of the blazon, see Barthes (1974), 214f.; Bakhtin (1984), 426f.; Bourdieu (1991), 88; also Worman (2008), 62–120.

30. Cf. Heracles’ threat that he will cut off the tyrant Lycus’ head and ‘toss it out as prey for dogs’ (ῥίψω κυνῶν ἕλκημα, Her. 568); also Ajax's fear ‘that he will become such’ (μὴ… / ριφθῶ κυσὶν πρόβλητος οἰωνοῖς θ᾽ ἕλωρ, Soph. Ai. 829f., cf. 164f.). The threat and fear both are Homeric (see esp. Redfield [1975], also Worman [2008]), but Euripides’ emphasis on macabre play is distinctive.

31. The messenger announces just before Orestes’ entrance that he is coming with the ‘Gorgon head’ of Aegisthus (El. 856f.); Electra calls out for decorations so that she can ‘crown the head of her victorious brother’ (στέψω τ’ ἀδελφοῦ κρᾶτα τοῦ νικηφόρου, 872); and when Orestes and Pylades arrive she directs them to accept wreaths for their heads (882, 886–8). Aegisthus had been gathering myrtle to crown his head for sacrifice when Orestes intercepted him (777f.), so that the messenger's reference to his dead head in the hands of his killer, who is soon to be crowned victor, has an awful resonance. Scholars have long been worried over whether Orestes enters with just the head or the whole corpse, but the references to his present corpse (895, 959) and the concatenation of ‘head’ metonymies support the sense that the Gorgon reference serves this figurative purpose, rather than indicating the severed body part. Not only does Electra later order the servants to remove the body (959–61), so that her mother will not see it when she arrives, but, when she and Orestes enter after killing their mother, he gestures toward the ‘twin corpses’ (1179). Cf. Raeburn (2000), with bibliography.

32. Cf. Deleuze and Guattari's disruption of the Freudian scheme by the formulation of what they call—following (sort of) Melanie Klein—‘partial objects’, meaning not only the bits and pieces left over from myth that the subject absorbs, but also the fluidity and fragmentation that for them characterizes the production of such objects through the workings of desire. See, e.g., their initial critique of Klein's notion in Deleuze and Guattari (1977), 44–6.

33. See Lamari (2010), 23–9, on Jocasta's multiple narrative modes.

34. Euripides’ play is also aesthetically engaged with this one, but more at the level of visual imagery.

35. Deleuze and Guattari (1977), 278.

36. Cf. Jocasta's earlier ‘dance’ around Polyneices (312–16); and note that Antigone will next enter as a bacchant. Swift (2009) argues that this and Antigone's taking of her father's hand at the end constitutes a perversion of marriage ritual. Cf. Cassandra as bacchant bride in the Trojan Women.

37. See again Swift (2009), 62–9, who regards this emphasis on traditional virginity as evidence of Euripidean realism, which would then throw into sharp relief Antigone's rejection of its mandates and her self-sacrifice to the familial curse. For her this conversion shows character development, even though the earlier scenes are so fleeting that others have considered excising them; cf. Mastronarde's (1994) discussion ad loc.

38. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 252, quoting Woolf (1931), 139.

39. Cf. her focus on Polyneices in the final mourning scene: ‘O name dearest to me’ (ὦ φίλτατον…ὄνομα…ἐμοί, 1702).

40. Zeitlin (1991). See also Michelini (1987), 158–80; Rabinowitz (1993), 113f.; Meltzer (2006), 104–45. Segal is alone in his emphasis on Euripides’ use of clothing imagery, (1990) and (1993), 158–69, arguing that it signals transformation and contrasts between ‘outward appearance and true character’ (168).

41. Cf. Polymestor's description of being attacked, which also features threatening proxemics and female manipulation of dress.

42. Cf. Polyxena's lamenting that Hecuba will see her ‘torn from her arms’ (χειρὸς ἀναρπαστάν, 207) like a calf of the hills (205–8).

43. Michelini (1987), 174f., notes Hecuba's posture in this scene, but associates it with the desperate postures of the suppliant.

44. See Beaney (2009) on the Romantic aestheticization of death, especially of young female death. Her prime example is Antigone, whom Hegel and Hölderlin (among others) championed in this way.

45. Cf. Segal (1990), 306.

46. See Stieber (2011), 145–50, on the aesthetics and conventions of sculptural representations of female nudity in relation to this scene; also Mossman (1995), 158–60; Scodel (1996), 121–6; Gregory (1999) ad loc. Cf. the compelling argument of Pucci (2003), 158f., that the statue reference has a ‘remedial’ function insofar as it enables Talthybius (and by implication the Greek army as well as the tragic audience) to replace the arbitrary violence of the sacrifice with aesthetic pleasure, a move Pucci regards as aiming at the ‘domestication and control’ of tragic horror.

47. See Loraux (1987), 56–61, who argues that Polyxena's offering of her sternon has a warrior's bravery and thus contrasts with Talthybius’ aestheticizing of her breasts. My phrase ‘at the ready’ translates εὐτρεπής; an alternative reading is εὐπρεπής, which Scodel (1996), 122–6, thinks is evidence of Polyxena's ‘deliberately manipulating’ the aestheticization of her body.

48. Some commentators take the phrase πολλὴν πρόνοιαν εἶχεν (569) to mean ‘took much care’, but ‘had the great foresight’ would contribute to the incongruous cast that many think attends Talthybius’ detail.

49. Michelini (1987), 163f. with n.127, deems the gesture ‘bizarre’, noting the disparate scholarly reactions (e.g., Radt [1973], 122: ‘die unglaublich geschmacklose Hervorhebung’; vs. Pagani [1970], 57f.: ‘tutta la semplicità e la sublimità castissima’ – full details for these publications can be found in Michelini); Mossman (1995), 142, quotes Schlegel's approbation and calls the scene ‘moving and brilliant’; and cf. Stieber (2011), 147, who notes that the passage is ‘one of the most admired in tragedy’.

50. This is in keeping with Michelini's fine analysis (1987), 163–8, although she does not consider affective or gender dynamics. Contrast Mossman (1995), 144f., 155, 157–9, who denies that there is any sexual element (as opposed to pathos and aesthetic appeal) in the scene.

51. Michelini (1987), 167f., points to lovers of statues and the like, as well as regarding Hecuba's fear as a product of the contrast between her dark worldview and that of Polyxena's.

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