Before I read Marquez– Kate Durbin, Anna Nicole Smith and the unreal heal

Dear friends —

I have not yet read 100 years of solitude. I know. It’s a schande, as we say in Yiddish. How can a writer who works in MR, NOT have read this novel? I own it now, and I keep looking at it. I keep trying to start.

But I can’t start, because I’ve got a mechanical baby voice crying in my head. That voice was delivered to me two weekends ago by Kate Durbin, who read her scary, strange, and oddly poignant Anna Nicole Smith monologues at the second evening of SGVLitfest in Pomona, CA.

In my last post, I wrote about the use of MR to access traumatic representation. Durbin’s work uses blatantly unrealistic takes on reality tv shows, transcripts of same, photographs, and other sorts of mass media documents to dismantle spectacle, and to — against all odds — excavate fear and pity, in particular for women, in particular for women who have been spectacularized to the point of inhumanity. Disney Princesses for one. Playboy bunnies, for another.

I remember Kate Durbin saying quietly, “I love Anna Nicole Smith. I felt sorry for her.”

If feminism is about anything, it’s about re-stor(y)ing the humanity of people who identify as women.

But what I experienced was more personal than that. Because, listening to Durbin and watching her utter over and over again with Hugo Ball-like automatism, the cry of the mechanical doll, I became at once the unreal baby and the monstrously cosmeticized and drugged-out mother. I became the neglected child that I was and the deeply disturbed person that my mother was. And I felt terror and pity for both. As both.*

The unreal allows us to be in at least two places/times/subject positions at once. In the eye of the storm of that kind of vertigo, we can glimpse something. Feel something. We cohere. If only for a moment.

To learn more about Kate Durbin, click here.

To view a rendition of the Anna Nicole Smith monologues click here.


*I also accessed my own desperation as a young mother, as well as pity for my child, who grew up with an intellectual, professionally driven, and often absent mother. All of this. At the same time.


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