Some notes going into today’s puppet conference at UConn:
What Soulographie is.
The series in 500 words.
Soulographie is a set of 17 interlocking plays on various 20th century genocides in which the US was complicit. Key events center on the Tulsa Race Riot of 21, Bosnia, Rwanda, and our persistent genocidal colonialism in Central America.
A note on genocide: it is not mass killing (civil war, spontaneous violence); it is a strategic policy involving the collaborative planning of all elements of society. It’s aim is to purge a group from the vehicle of history – to render a group invisible to memory, and to pollute that group’s own memory of itself, barring them from the fundamental human right to story. Genocide is a cultural enterprise in the service of concentrated power, e.g. capital. A concentration of force distributes killing authority to a population continuous with the targets. The killing is done in theatrical fashion, a scripted and flamboyant way. This guarantees that survivors will find memory repellent and their human inheritance disgusting – this is true both of the targets and the basic labor force of perpetration… The proxy killers deputized by the privileged class will break themselves with self-loathing after the killing’s done, thus deactivating them as a risk to renewed authority. So not everyone is killed – overall, labor is re-domesticated and power is refined. The rich get richer. America, subservient to global capital, is in favor of genocide, except when it needs to dry-clean its costume as moral virgin.
The Soulographie plays were written over twenty years. About five years in I began to conceive of them as a linked series. I believe genocide needs to be understood on interdisciplinary terms. The evil at the heart of it is indescribable, so one must approach it obliquely and spherically; one describes it by getting as much around it as one can. As a journalist in Rwanda told me: only the language of poetry can be specific in a broken world. I don’t know why I write so much about genocide. I think it is because I was born with broken language, and it suits.
A number of the pieces in Soulographie are puppet pieces: Hidebound, Architecture of Great Cathedrals, Star, Double Aspect Bright and Fair, and Yermedea. Other plays make heavy use of puppets. Puppets are of great use in addressing trauma and disaster, because they are patient and indifferent.
I mean they are patient not with disaster, but patient in the way disasters like genocide are patient. They break time; they withstand, and defeat history. A puppet is a nurse (and is nursed) but is also a genocidaire of minutes. A puppet can walk into a furnace, like Daniel, and sing. Like Daniel, both a victim and a perpetrator.
By indifferent I mean loving on an angelic level. Terrifyingly fair. A parent perfect in love will prefer no child above another. A person perfect in love will not prefer their own child above their own, or themselves over anyone else. Per Ignatius, all must be discerned in light of the will of God. Armed with the absolute indifference of perfect love, puppets can share a way through trauma and to reconciliation. They don’t care that they are powerless, that they are moment by moment broken; at all junctures and ruptures they retain the right to be, to be with us, and give us equal opportunity to persist in being, and being with.
So I like puppets in genocide plays.
All seventeen plays in order, down to 500 words:
Jack’s motel, a still-drunk Clair. Jackpot. Nickel rats.
Neon serpents, diamond backs, abstract themselves through sand.
An ear in the mouth you are deaf; unwritten as a prostitute autobiography.
Let the house fall. It does.
Fill our hearts with suffering
Break our hearts with suffering
And open us to joy.
Sovu –Bible time. I was 29.
I smell burnt cinnamon, my lips are fennel.
O God, oh God this morning is so beautiful, I am so obviously spared.
My heart is radio crystal
In my heart is the thistle
In my pocket a fist of dirt
From before anything happens
The kerosene they used to kill lice on her head in quarantine catches fire. Her hair is fire and she is giving birth. Coma, comet. The baby comes, her name: Chicotte.
And the final words of the priest were:
Esta es una injusticia.
They are sleepy in heaven
In heaven they never sleep,
They pray without ceasing
They don’t want to miss anything
Heaven’s everything is perfect.
They are crazy, and they are
Over the world
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
How long will you kill, Papi?
‘Til the whole country is shit.
What will you have then?
How will you have money?
After we cut off their hands and stuff them in their pockets, they will not be able to beg for it. After we cut off their genitals and stuff them in their mouths they will not be able to breed a generation to beg for it or speak their need for it or jerk off and ruin my view of it. After it is all shit, out past the shit the money will have fled and I will retreat there covered with shit. I will hose you off me and money will grow from shit all around like fucking weeds. [The Father kills his Son.]
Rope rape bayonet place where sons live in the trees. Child in fields, eaten by dogs, hide in hole – snake won’t bite – fends off dogs. Church of St. Famille – no need to kill her. HIV. Dead child in heaven, witnessed all the rapes. Ever knew only dicks and dogs.
Mary comes to beat you, daughter. Mary comes to beat you, mother. Mary comes to beat you, father.
Salvador: Christ. Eye-twitch coffee
Conquistador approaches the bar-b-q shack down. He comes down from out of the rain. He is a container truck. He carries three human heads by their hair. The eaters circle their shoulders around their food. He sleeps with all their wives.
She is setting a hive in a tree; she sees the nuns of the school trapped inside and burned. She falls from the tree. She is forced to kill a young boy with an arrow. Her brother. She is abducted for a year.
Open and the inside is not a reveal but a ruin; its secrecy was maintaining the whole.
Remember what you held in your red hand.