Author Archives:

Mr. Ripley and the Banality of Talent

[Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1955]

Maria Apostolidou
University of Ioannina   

Coming across The Talented Mr. Ripley for the first time, the unsuspecting reader might anticipate a story about a central character named Ripley or, in other words, a novel that focuses on the life and opinions of a specific person. As the reading progresses, however, the reader’s expectations fall apart; the protagonist’s consolidated identity as prescribed by the title —a man, Anglo-Saxon in origin, socially reputable (Mr. Ripley)— is systematically destabilized and undermined, and, eventually, proven to be non-existent. At the end of the novel, the reader is left with a strong sense of the oxymoron that lies in the choice of a such a restrictive, bold, and fixed title for a novel which focuses on the unstable, the indefinable, the perpetually elusive.

Ripley’s shady, semi-clandestine lifestyle provides him with a first-class opportunity to unfold his talent in pretense and disguise, and to render, finally, this liquidity and this ongoing displacement into existential and ontological choices. And, although the distance between such acts as, on one hand, accounting fraud and, on the other, the murderous usurpation of another’s identity and property, may be long, Ripley covers it with a certain ease. Both cases seem to be governed by some common rules and terms, which the hero has managed to conquer to the highest degree. These rules and terms are no other than the natural, primordial laws of adaptability and camouflage, laws that, when applied in nature, ensure to the fittest organisms not only survival and longevity, but also superiority over other organisms. Thus, alternating among names, qualities, addresses, habits, physical appearance and attitude, Ripley demonstrates a unique readiness to meet the challenges of every moment. His clothes, accessories, and make-up, his astute reflexes, as well as his impressive ability to penetrate into the interlocutor’s, or the victim’s, mind and soul can only be read as evidence of camouflage, as signs of his unparalleled adaptability and alertness. Especially when he delves into his interlocutor’s mind, when he tries to read his/her thoughts, to anticipate his/her possible questions, objections and maneuvers, his virtuosity in the struggle for survival really reaches its peak; in such moments, the narration, while diffracted in the possible parallel realities devised by Ripley’s productive mind, becomes suffocating and vertiginous, illustrating thereby the trap meticulously set up for both the interlocutor and the reader.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella, 1999

Ripley’s tendency to invent realities, to elaborate possible scenarios, to camouflage himself, and to hide behind façades, should be understood with reference to his predilection for theater and performance. His overall behavior, manners, and attitude are the results of a systematic —if not voyeuristic— observation of others, and of impeccable imitation; his clothes, as well as the interiors of his personal spaces, function as theatrical costumes and sets, the presence and arrangement of which are never accidental, but rather serve a specific purpose. This way, Ripley turns out to be a director not only of himself, but also of the life and behavior of the people surrounding him; without being perceived he manipulates them through the projection of imaginary situations, encouraging the formation of specific feelings and thoughts and dictating specific reactions, always, of course, in his own interest.

If Ripley does nothing more than reactivate his innate, primordial tendencies and if, for him, the path to prosperity runs through deception and violence, then his behavior and mentality should not be measured against a morale imposed by social or religious decorum. Considered in the perspective of natural law and of fundamental animal instincts, this way of living is disentangled from the need of moral judgment, from the need to be classified as “good” or “bad”. Ripley kills, lies, pretends, forges, imitates, moves from one place to another, only to survive and to ensure his supremacy over his competitors. In so doing, he behaves, mutatis mutandis, as any other living creature in nature.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella, 1999

This amoral assessment of Ripley’s demeanor strips the hero of any degree of “satanic greatness”. His delinquent action may stem from rational and clear thinking; yet it does not serve a sublime purpose, nor is it part of a plan of common good and salvation, as, for example, is the case of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. The murders committed by Ripley and the hijacking of other people’s identities are not foreshadowed by his initial portrayal (before he leaves America), but they arise impulsively as results of his vigorous instinct for self-preservation. It is this absence of depth and of ideological background in Ripley’s criminal behavior and the dimension of primitivism it entails, that render him not an attractive villain, but an essentially banal one. Moreover, unlike the heroes of romanticism and of aestheticism, Ripley doesn’t seek in a dead or abused body any kind of morbid pleasure or of aesthetic satisfaction. From this perspective, Ripley’s activity seems to fall directly into the realm of the “banality of evil”, to invoke Hannah Arendt, not because it comes from an ordinary person in a recurring mode, but rather because it is an instinctive, mechanical reaction, almost imposed by the struggle for survival.

And yet, there is also a tender side to Ripley, aspects of which can be traced in his attitude towards Clio and towards the Greenleafs. Especially with the former, who is presented as a talented artist, he develops a fraternal, platonic relationship which is opposed to the rather shallow and —if not carnal— certainly more materialistic and sordid relationship between Dickie and Marge. His sensitivity is most fully unveiled in his childlike admiration for the various emblematic European cities. His admiration for Europe, his keenness to explore it, and the care with which he chooses to integrate European art into his everyday life, show that for him, as for Clio, Europe, taken as a cradle of art and culture, becomes a locus amoenus. This is a place where one can, and should, seek relief from misery and where one can, and should, experience the pursuit of the sublime, the elegant, the ideal. It is obvious that this idealization of Europe stems from his disdain for the “American way of life”, which is considered equivalent to conformism, materialism, and superficiality. To Ripley, Marge serves as a stereotype of the American Way with her studied lightness, her obsessive consumption (of food, perfumes, household appliances), all complemented by her insistence on having an affair and, possibly, a conventional marriage with Dickie. Dickie’s alienation from Ripley, and his reevaluation of Marge and of his American friends, could be interpreted as a progressive abandonment of the bohemian life and as a gradual shift towards the conventional, conservative, and ‘settled-down’ American lifestyle.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella, 1999

 All this fluidity and disintegration are, lastly, reflected by the narrative; as the traditional, third-person point of view is often interrupted by phrases in direct speech (often in Italian), by letters, as well as by newspaper articles. The narrating consciousness merges into a polyphonic novel that combines different registers: the elaborate diction of both original and spurious letters, the pomposities of journalism, the cold language of the authorities, the emotional language of people, the puzzling language of pretense and concealment. All these elements coalesce, but the result is not a clearer, more objective, and multifaceted depiction of reality. On the contrary, the novel offers only a hyper-realism, defined by heightened ambiguity and, finally, negation.

For the Greek version please read below

Ο κ. Ripley και η κοινοτοπία του ταλέντου

[Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1955]

Μαρία Αποστολίδου
Πανεπιστήμιο Ιωαννίνων

Ξεκινώντας τον Ταλαντούχο κύριο Ripley, ο αναγνώστης περιμένει να διαβάσει μια ιστορία με έναν κεντρικό ήρωα ονόματι Ripley, ή, με άλλα λόγια, ένα μυθιστόρημα που έχει ως επίκεντρο τα έργα και τις ημέρες ενός πολύ συγκεκριμένου προσώπου. Ωστόσο, καθώς προχωρεί η ανάγνωση, οι προσδοκίες του αναγνώστη διαψεύδονται˙ η παγιωμένη ταυτότητα του πρωταγωνιστή έτσι όπως αυτή προδιαγράφεται από τον τίτλο —άνδρας, αγγλοσαξονικής καταγωγής, κοινωνικά ευυπόληπτος (κύριος)— αποσταθεροποιείται και υπονομεύεται συστηματικά, για να αποδειχτεί, τελικά, ανύπαρκτη. Έτσι, στο τέλος πια του έργου, μένει στον αναγνώστη η αίσθηση ενός οξύμωρου το οποίο προκύπτει από την επιλογή ενός τίτλου τόσο περιοριστικού, στιβαρού και συγκεκριμένου για ένα μυθιστόρημα με θέμα το ασταθές, το μη προσδιορίσιμο και το διαρκώς διαφεύγον.

Ο σκιώδης, ημιπαράνομος τρόπος ζωής του Ripley τού παρέχει τη δυνατότητα να ξεδιπλώσει την έφεσή του στην προσποίηση και τη μεταμφίεση και να αναγάγει, τελικά, τη ρευστότητα και τη διαρκή μετατόπιση σε υπαρκτικές, οντολογικές επιλογές. Και, μολονότι η απόσταση ανάμεσα στις λογιστικές απάτες και στη δολοφονία και την υφαρπαγή της ταυτότητας και της περιουσίας ενός ανθρώπου είναι μεγάλη, εντούτοις, ο Ripley τη διανύει με σχετική ευκολία, καθώς και οι δύο περιπτώσεις φαίνεται να διέπονται από κοινούς κανόνες και όρους, τους οποίους ο ήρωας έχει φροντίσει να κατακτήσει στον υπέρτατο βαθμό. Αυτοί δεν είναι άλλοι από τους φυσικούς, αρχέγονους νόμους της προσαρμοστικότητας και του καμουφλάζ, νόμους που, στη φύση, αξιοποιούνται από τους ποικίλους οργανισμούς για την εξασφάλιση όχι μόνο της επιβίωσης και της μακροημέρευσής τους, αλλά και της υπεροχής τους έναντι των άλλων οργανισμών. Έτσι, ο Ripley επιδεικνύει μοναδική ετοιμότητα στο να ανταποκριθεί στις προκλήσεις κάθε στιγμής, αλλάζοντας όνομα, ιδιότητα, διεύθυνση, συνήθειες, εξωτερική εμφάνιση και ύφος. Τα ρούχα, τα αξεσουάρ, το μακιγιάζ, τα οξυμένα αντακλαστικά, καθώς και η εντυπωσιακή ικανότητά του να ψυχογραφεί τον εκάστοτε συνομιλητή ή το εκάστοτε θύμα του δεν μπορούν να διαβαστούν παρά ως αδιάσειστα τεκμήρια καμουφλάζ, ως αποδείξεις της απαράμιλλης προσαρμοστικότητάς του. Ειδικά όταν ψυχογραφεί τον συνομιλητή του, όταν προσπαθεί να προβλέψει πιθανές απορίες, ενστάσεις και κινήσεις του, η δεξιοτεχνία του στον αγώνα της επιβίωσης φτάνει πραγματικά στο απόγειό της˙ πρόκειται για στιγμές κατά τις οποίες ο λόγος της αφήγησης, καθώς διαθλάται στις παράλληλες πιθανές πραγματικότητες που κατασκευάζει ο Ripley στο μυαλό του, γίνεται ασφυκτικός και ιλιγγιώδης, εικονοποιώντας με τον τρόπο αυτό την παγίδα που μεθοδικά στήνεται τόσο στον συνομιλητή, όσο και στον αναγνώστη.

Η τάση του Ripley να επινοεί σενάρια και να κρύβεται πίσω από προσωπεία θα πρέπει να συσχετιστεί με την έλξη που του ασκεί το θέατρο, το ματαιωμένο του όνειρο. Όλη του η συμπεριφορά, οι τρόποι, το ύφος είναι αποτελέσματα συστηματικής —ηδονοβλεπτικής θα λέγαμε— παρατήρησης των άλλων και, εν τέλει, άψογης μίμησης, ενώ τα ρούχα του και το εσωτερικό των προσωπικών του χώρων λειτουργούν ως θεατρικά κοστούμια και σκηνικά, η παρουσία και η διαρρύθμιση των οποίων δεν είναι ποτέ τυχαία αλλά εξυπηρετεί συγκεκριμένη σκοπιμότητα. Έτσι, τελικά, ο ίδιος ο Ripley εξελίσσεται σε σκηνοθέτη όχι μόνο του εαυτού του, αλλά και της ζωής και της συμπεριφοράς των άλλων προσώπων, στον βαθμό που, ανεπαισθήτως, μέσα από την προβολή επίπλαστων καταστάσεων, τους υποβάλλει συγκεκριμένα συναισθήματα και συγκεκριμένες σκέψεις και τους υπαγορεύει συγκεκριμένες αντιδράσεις, πάντοτε, βέβαια, προς το συμφέρον του. 

 Αν λοιπόν ο Ripley δεν κάνει τίποτα άλλο πέρα από το να επανενεργοποιεί έμφυτές του αρχέγονες ροπές και αν για αυτόν, ο δρόμος για την προσωπική ευημερία περνά μέσα από την εξαπάτηση και τη βία, τότε η νοοτροπία του δεν θα πρέπει να αποτιμηθεί με βάση μια ιδέα περί ηθικής επιβεβλημένη από το κοινωνικό ή το θρησκευτικό decorum. Τοποθετημένος, αντίθετα, στην προοπτική του φυσικού νόμου και των πρωτογενών ζωικών ενστίκτων, αυτός ο τρόπος ζωής απαλλάσσεται αυτομάτως από την ανάγκη ηθικού προσδιορισμού, από την ανάγκη για χαρακτηρισμό του ως «καλού» ή «κακού». Ο Ripley σκοτώνει, ψεύδεται, προσποιείται, πλαστογραφεί, μιμείται, μετακινείται προκειμένου να επιβιώσει και να εξασφαλίσει την υπεροχή του έναντι των ανταγωνιστών και, υπό αυτή την έννοια, συμπεριφέρεται, τηρουμένων των αναλογιών, όπως ένας οποιοδήποτε έμβιος οργανισμός μέσα στη φύση. 

Αυτή η αμοραλιστική θεώρηση της δράσης του Ripley τον απογυμνώνει από οποιαδήποτε διάσταση «σατανικού μεγαλείου». Η παραβατική του δράση προκύπτει μεν κατόπιν λογικής και διαυγούς σκέψης, δεν υπηρετεί δε κάποιον υψηλό σκοπό και δεν εντάσσεται σε ένα σχέδιο κοινής ωφέλειας και σωτηρίας, όπως π.χ. συμβαίνει με τον ντοστογιεφσκικό Raskolnikov στο Έγκλημα και τιμωρία. Οι δολοφονίες που διαπράττει ο Ripley και η οικειοποίηση, εκ μέρους του, αλλότριων ταυτοτήτων δεν προμηνύονται από τη σκιαγράφηση του χαρακτήρα του πριν αναχωρήσει για την Ευρώπη, αλλά προκύπτουν παρορμητικά ως αποτελέσματα του ενεργού ενστίκτου της αυτοσυντήρησης. Ακριβώς αυτή η απουσία βάθους και ιδεολογικού υπόβαθρου από την εγκληματική συμπεριφορά του Ripley και η διάσταση της ζωικότητας, του πρωτόγονου και ενστικτώδους που εμπεριέχει τον καθιστούν έναν απολύτως κοινότοπο και καθόλου γοητευτικό «κακό» ήρωα. Επιπροσθέτως, σκοτώνοντας και εξαπατώντας, ο Ripley δεν αντλεί, κατά το πρότυπο ενός ήρωα του ρομαντισμού ή του αισθητισμού, κάποιου είδους νοσηρή ηδονή, ούτε αναζητά την αισθητική ικανοποίηση που ενδεχομένως προσφέρει το νεκρό ή το κακοποιημένο σώμα. Κατόπιν τούτων, η δράση του Ripley θα μπορούσε να ενταχθεί στην περιοχή του «κοινότοπου κακού», έτσι όπως αυτή περιγράφηκε από τη Hannah Arendt, στον βαθμό πουείναι όχι τόσο συνηθισμένη και επαναλαμβανόμενη, όσο αντίδραση ενστικτώδης και μηχανική.

Πάντως ο Ripley φαίνεται να διαθέτει και μια συναισθηματική πλευρά, όψεις της οποίας διακρίνονται στη στάση του απέναντι στην Clio και το ζεύγος Greenleaf. Ειδικά με την πρώτη, η οποία —ας τονιστεί— σκιαγραφείται ως αξιόλογη καλλιτέχνιδα, αναπτύσσει μια αδελφική, πλατωνική σχέση, που τίθεται στον αντίποδα της μάλλον ρηχής και, αν όχι σαρκικής, σίγουρα πάντως περισσότερο υλικής και ιδιοτελούς σχέσης Dickie – Marge. Η ευαισθησία του Ripleyξεδιπλώνεται πλήρως στον σχεδόν παιδικό θαυμασμό του για τις διάφορες εμβληματικές ευρωπαϊκές πόλεις. Ο ενθουσιασμός του για την Ευρώπη, η προσδοκία του να την εξερευνήσει και η φροντίδα με την οποία ενσωματώνει την ευρωπαϊκή τέχνη στην καθημερινή του ζωή φανερώνουν ότι για αυτόν, όπως και για την Clio, η Ευρώπη, ως λίκνο της τέχνης και του πολιτισμού, είναι ένας locus amoenus, ένας τόπος όπου κατεξοχήν κανείς μπορεί και οφείλει να απαλλαγεί από τη μιζέρια, να αναζητήσει την καλαισθησία, να βιώσει το ιδανικό και το υψηλό. Είναι φανερό ότι σε αυτή την εξιδανίκευση της Ευρώπης υπόκειται η περιφρόνηση του αμερικανικού τρόπου ζωής που θεωρείται ισοδύναμος με τον κομφορμισμό, τον υλισμό και τη ρηχότητα. Τυπική εκπρόσωπός του η Marge με την αφόρητα ενοχλητική, για τον Ripley, ελαφρότητά της, την προσήλωσή της στην κατανάλωση αγαθών (φαγητό, αρώματα, οικιακές συσκευές), καθώς και την επιμονή της στη σύναψη ερωτικού δεσμού και, πιθανώς, συμβατικού γάμου με τον Dickie. Σε ό,τι αφορά αυτόν τον τελευταίο, η απομάκρυνσή του από τον Ripley και η επανεκτίμηση της συντροφιάς της Marge και των Αμερικανών φίλων θα μπορούσε να προσληφθεί ως εγκατάλειψη, εκ μέρους του, του μέχρι πρότινος μποέμ βίου και ως σταδιακή μεταστροφή του προς τον συντηρητικό και νοικοκυρεμένο αμερικανικό τρόπο ζωής.

 Όλη αυτή η ρευστότητα και ο κατακερματισμός αναπαρίστανται, τέλος, και αφηγηματικά, καθώς η παραδοσιακή, τριτοπρόσωπη αφήγηση διακόπτεται πολύ συχνά από ευθύ λόγο (συχνά στα ιταλικά), από επιστολές και από δημοσιεύματα εφημερίδων. Όλα αυτά τα στοιχεία συνθέτουν, τελικά, ένα πολυφωνικό μυθιστόρημα που συνδυάζει διαφορετικά επίπεδα λόγου (τον υπολογισμένο λόγο των γνήσιων και των ψευδεπίγραφων επιστολών, τον πομπώδη λόγο της δημοσιογραφίας, τον ψυχρό λόγο των αρχών, τον συναισθηματικό λόγο των προσώπων, τον αινιγματικό λόγο της προσποίησης και της απόκρυψης), με σκοπό όχι την πολύπλευρη και άρα διαυγή και αντικειμενική απόδοση της πραγματικότητας, αλλά, αντιθέτως, την περαιτέρω συσκότισή της και, ακόμα περισσότερο, την ίδια την αναίρεσή της.

Fighting the Circle

Thoughts on Displacement in Britten’s Owen Wingrave

Bianca De Mario
Università degli Studi di Milano

1971, May 16thOwen Wingrave, an opera for television composed by Benjamin Britten, directed by Brian Large and Colin Graham and produced by John Culshaw, is broadcast on BBC Two England. Much like The Turn of the Screw the subject was inspired by an unusual ghost story of the same title by Henry James (1892), later adapted for the stage (The Saloon, 1910), and transposed into a libretto by Myfanwy Piper. 

I looked around among all the stories that I could think of immediately, for a story which would be most suitable to the medium television. […] It needed a story which would show individuals reacting, to show there are reactions to each other, where the events could be a personal, private kind, rather than big and public which obviously a big stage needs. 

As Britten explains in Extracts from ‘Music now’, a documentary about the opera making-of, he was attracted by the «bombshell» dropped by a young fellow in the middle of a family. This dramatic factor, generating an unstoppable chain of personal reactions, is Owen Wingrave’s ultimate decision to quit Sundhurst, the Royal Military Academy. As the last descendant of a glorious family, Owen will break the long military tradition of his family, thus precluding his financial future as heir and, consequently, the engagement with his self-absorbed fiancée Kate Julian. 

Benjamin Bitten

Before considering how the composer and the TV director draw their audiovisual portrait of Owen, it is worth considering how Henry James’s source text was positioned to influence the artistic choices of Britten and Large.

Owen Wingrave immediately shows the characteristics of a thinker, who finds peace in reading and intellectual pleasure, a noble spirit who has learned «the “immeasurable misery” of wars». He is a displaced soul in that formidable «family circle», a constellation built around and devoted to highfalutin military glory. It’s not by chance that, Paramore, the living temple of the Wingraves, with its stifling paintings and its uncanny rooms, conceals horrible secrets about the violent death of a father and his young son. Longing for justice, Owen Wingrave, bends his eyes on his mentor, Spencer Coyle, and confesses his feelings about Paramore. 

«Oh, the house – the very air and feeling of it. There are strange voices in it that seem to mutter at me – to say dreadful things as I pass. […] I have started up all the old ghosts». (chapter 3)

Constantly insulted by the suffocating circle of the living and oppressed by the portraits of his military ancestors which seem alive, Owen decides to challenge Paramore’s curse, by entering the ‘liminal zone’: the room where Oliver Wingrave lost his life, after accidentally (?) killing his son, who didn’t want to defend the family honor. Owen takes this action following a final argument with his fiancée, apparently to demonstrate that his pacifism has nothing to do with fear or cowardice. This explanation should be taken cautiously: first because James delivers the explanation by way of reported speech by young Lechmere – who, as his name indicates, is an inauthentic character addicted to flattery. Secondly because a payback for an insult would be too superficial an action for a character whose «superior wisdom» and integrity are constantly repeated. 

«To my sense he is, in a high sense of the term, a fighting man», answers Spencer Coyle to Kate, after a brief discussion. Owen’s extreme action could therefore be intended more as an act of rebellion, rather than a simple proof of courage: a revolt against Paramore and its family system, against this claustrophobic salon and a crushing past with its hereditary defects. The room is a haunted and liminal space, and Owen’s legitimate rage against his constricted life does not exclude, in my opinion, a need of freedom that exceeds – and probably demands – self-destruction. 

After these considerations, some excerpts from Britten’s opera for television (J. Barnes 2003) render this portrait of Owen’s existential displacement even more forcefully. The score by Benjamin Britten (in a sense, a displaced soul himself) is like a storyboard with the camera script, revealing a televisual composition thought.

Since the very beginning, the family’s attachment to military tradition is clear: the Prelude, with its martial theme, percussive and strict, resounds with the opening credits, with the Wingraves’ emblem on the back, then a close-up tracking shot starts on the family portraits. We are guided by the winds on this gallery and, portrait by portrait, the sustaining chord is enriched by a new note, till the tone row is reached on the image of colonel Oliver Wingrave, Owen’s father, dead on the field. 

After his confession to Spencer Coyle, Owen – interpreted by Benjamin Luxton – is sitting in Hyde Park (Act 1, Scene 2 – after the Interlude I). He is reading and thinking aloud:

At last it’s out. No doubt old Coyle will rage,
but in the end he’ll see I’m strong,
not mad or weak…
Strong against war,
unwilling to prepare
my mind and body for destruction.
One little word: no!
And I am released for ever from all the
bonds of family and war.

Benjamin Luxton as Owen Wingrave

The Owen put forth in Piper’s libretto is not the indistinct figure who barely speaks in James’s story. His ardent rage against war is expressed from its first lines and this scene expresses his most intimate thoughts. The image fades to Miss Wingrave, Owen’s terrible aunt, when Spencer Coyle tells her about his nephew’s decision not to be a soldier. It’s a virtual tercet, connected by the image of horse soldiers, and that’s the moment where, against the ‘war representatives’ he sings his believe against war, by quoting Book IV of P. B. Shelley’s Queen Mab:

‘War is the statesman’s game,
the priest’s delight,
The lawyer’s jest…
(always soft)
And, to those royal murderers,
whose mean thrones are bought
by crimes of treachery and gore…
Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround
Their palaces, participate the crimes
That force defends…
These are the hired bravos who defend
The tyrant’s throne… the bullies of his fear…
The refuse of society, the dregs
Of all that is most vile…
They cajole with gold,
And promises of fame, the thoughtless youth
Already crushed with servitude: he knows
His wretchedness too late…
Look to thyself,
priest, conqueror, or prince!
Whether thy trade is falsehood…

A third peculiar moment in the opera is the dinner with Uncle Philip – interpreted by Peter Pears – and the family circle (Act I, Scene 7): the bombshell Britten was looking for. The scenery is black, and the characters are lit only by the table candlelight. The camera passes from one to another, allowing us to see everyone’s trembling close-up, while they express, almost a cappella, their feeling about this uncomfortable situation. At first Owen is an embarrassed victim, in this in crescendo rhythm of wisecracks and injuries, then the collective explosion on the word «Scruples» and its obsessive echoing makes him react. 

Yes, and more…
(with force)
I’d make it a crime to draw your sword
for your country, and a crime
for governments to command it.
There’s no more to be said, I’ll leave you now.
(Sir Philip turns and hobbles off helped by a manservant. The servants bow the company out with Owen slowly following.)

Peter Pears as Sir Philip Wingrave

These are only some examples of how the score, interpretively transformed by televisual scription and filmic direction, translates the musical text into a profoundly visual rhythm. Sounds, voices, and visuals shape Owen’s physical and intellectual being, as he tries not only to survive the buffeting of familial history, but to emerge as an individual in an imposing and suffocating context.

Beyond the critics to the first streaming of the work, Owen Wingrave represents not only an interesting example of the relationship between opera and television – placed «within the boundaries of the classical Hollywood film genre» (S. McKellar 1999) – but an example of how a theme like this finds success in its following transpositions and/or remediation. In 1973, Britten was asked to conduct the opera for the Covent Garden production: the composer thus reversed the standard passage ‘from stage to screen’. Thanks to this, today Owen Wingrave is a minor almost a classic of contemporary Anglo-American opera, particularly beloved by college companies.  Owen Wingrave’s status was further underscored by the 2005 Arthaus Musik DVD release, a film opera by Margaret Williams, a real remake of the first opera for television (same framing, same fades, same references) – though unnatural it could be to consider an operatic event within the cinematic category of remake.  
Apart from all the hybrid forms opera gets in the age of media converge, a sort of displacement within the remediation – displacement of narrative after the displacement of the self – what is here in question is the way the same subject, the theme of either the young pacifist-intellectual (or simply sensitive soul), reshapes him/herself by emerging from (or withdrawing into) overwhelming societal forces. 

Summary in Italian

Fighting the Circle.
Riflessioni su Owen Wingrave di Benjamin Britten

Bianca De Mario 
Università degli Studi di Milano

Il 16 maggio 1971 va in onda sul secondo canale della BBC Owen Wingrave, un’opera per la televisione commissionata a Benjamin Britten dall’emittente britannica e prodotta da John Culshaw, per la regia di Brian Large e Colin Graham. Proprio come The Turn of the Screw, il soggetto è tratto dall’omonimo racconto di Henry James, un’inconsueta ghost story (1892), adattata dallo stesso James per il teatro (The Saloon, 1910) con esiti piuttosto deludenti, e ora rivisitato per Britten da Myfanwy Piper. 

La «bomba» del dramma, così come la definisce Britten, il fattore che genera una serie di inarrestabili reazioni a catena, è la decisione del giovane Owen, ultimo discendente dei Wingrave, di abbandonare Sundhurst (Accademia Militare Reale), interrompendo così la solida tradizione militare della famiglia. Oppresso dalle ingiurie di questa cerchia familiare ingombrante e claustrofobica, Owen, per dimostrare che il suo antimilitarismo non ha nulla a che vedere con onore e coraggio, sfiderà la maledizione della dimora dei Wingrave, Paramore, entrando in una stanza maledetta e oltrepassando il confine vita-morte. 

Uomo mite e fiero intellettuale, già descritto da Henry James come individuo totalmente estraneo al contesto in cui si trova invischiato, Owen Wingrave diviene nella sua trasposizione operistica un personaggio totalmente fuori posto. Schiacciato da un’ingombrante tara ereditaria e soffocato da quel salotto che l’opera per la televisione ha saputo ricreare, Owen canta il proprio credo antimilitare, mentre la macchina da presa ci fa entrare, con la musica, nelle nebbie dei suoi pensieri, sino alla rivolta finale. 

Interessante esempio della relazione tra opera e televisione, l’opera di Britten conoscerà, nell’epoca della convergenza mediatica, vari adattamenti, in cui il tema dell’intellettuale estraneo e isolato nella società, trova un fertile terreno di rimodulazione. 

I know where I’m going

A poem by Paul Cunningham, inspired by the movie I know where I’m going! (1945) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The movie was scheduled during INCH latest workshop on the theme of “Dispaced Selves”. You can find the italian translation at the bottom of the post .

The actress Wendy Hiller in one of the scenes from the movie I know where I’m going.

I Know Where I’m Going

by Paul Cunningham

“Oh we live off the country. Rabbits, deer, a stray hiker or two.”
-Catriona Potts 

earth is deserting the earth, and somehow
   I’m smiling       aren’t I? 
just passing through a see-through acid rain
Am I falling to my knees, or rising to my feet?
I wake up in the baggage car, in a gyre’s blur
   In love?   Apple of your Kino eye, 
you’re sure keen on knowing where I’m going
   And don’t I know it!
I know it like the copper in my bones knows
the melting point, the exclamation mark
   of our sublime climate
alone, I charge through a mist of endless night,
and you insist on stars as I begin to end 
   You and I? This is my stop. 
It’s why I maintain a sharp tenor when I travel,
like a stranger’s reflection in any mirror or knife
   I’m just passing through

So dove sto andando

“Oh, viviamo fuori dal paese. Conigli, cervi, uno o due escursionisti sperduti. “
-Catriona Potts

la terra sta abbandonando la terra, e in qualche modo
   Sto sorridendo,     no?
solo di passaggio attraverso un pioggia acida trasparente
Sto cadendo in ginocchio, o mi sto alzando in piedi?
Mi sveglio nel vagone bagagli, in un vortice confuso
   Innamorata?    Luce del tuo Kino-Eye*,
hai proprio voglia di  sapere dove sto andando
   Come se non lo sapessi!
Lo so come il rame nelle mie ossa conosce
il punto di fusione, il punto esclamativo
   del nostro clima sublime
solo, mi avventuro nella nebbia di una notte senza fine,
e tu insisti sulle stelle mentre io comincio a finire
   Io e te? Questa è la mia fermata.
È per questo che mantengo un tono tagliente quando viaggio,
come il riflesso di uno sconosciuto in uno specchio o in un coltello
   Sono solo di passaggio

(italian translation by Sara De Simone)

* Kino-eye: Tecnica cinematografica sviluppata in Russia dal documentarista Dziga Vertov


Paul Cunningham is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author of the interlingual poetry collection, The House of the Tree of Sores (Schism 2 Press, 2020). His latest chapbook of poetry is The Inmost, forthcoming from Carrion Bloom Books in 2020. From the Swedish, he is the translator of Helena Österlund’s Words (OOMPH! Press, 2019) and two chapbooks by Sara Tuss Efrik: Automanias (Goodmorning Menagerie, 2016) and The Night’s Belly (Toad Press, 2016). His creative and critical work has appeared in The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day, Quarterly WestBat City ReviewDIAGRAMHarvard ReviewKenyon Review, and others. He is a managing editor of Action Books, founding editor of Deluge, co-editor of Radioactive Cloud, and co-curator of the Yumfactory Reading Series in Athens, GA. He is a PhD candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, an invited member of the International Network for Comparative Studies, and he holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Notre Dame.

COMPASS: our journal is born!

We are happy to announce the birth of our journal!

Compass is a multidisciplinary and multilingual online journal that collects the ideas and experiences of PhDs, researchers and professors on an annual theme. Compass is born within the experience of INCH (International Network for Comparative Humanities) but is also directed to all scholars as well as non-academics with an interest in the study of art and literature. The theme on which we focus this year is Displaced Selves, and we aim to analyze it from various points of view and critical perspectives. Compass disseminates creative works and works of criticism and reflection in the fields of literature and comparative literature, art, cinema, psychoanalysis, gender studies, with a particular attention to the variety of available forms and media and to the wealth of different languages and traditions of Europe.