Monday, January 30, 2012

Is history constrained to what we learned in eleventh grade U.S. History class? Does it admit words that were spoken but never written down? In interviews, essays, and her plays, Suzan-Lori Parks stretches the concept of history such that it grows both more ambiguous and more open to critical thinking. By exploring the history of Saartjie Baartman in Venus, Parks suggests that history as it is typically written, conceptualized, and politicized is insufficient to understanding the complexities of the human life that makes it up.
Venus follows Saartjie Baartman, dubbed the Venus Hottenton, as she seeks opportunity in London. Quickly, the city# takes her and turns her into a side-show freak. Viewers frequently cross proper physical boundaries to feel her supposedly enormous bottom. The play mimics the historical accounts of the court trial that ensued, wherein a group of concerned citizens challenged the legality of her circumstances, but the court finds that she desires to continue her performances. Eventually, a doctor offers the Venus the opportunity to leave the show-business life. A short romance ensues, but society persuades the doctor to leave the Venus so that she will die and he will be able to study her remains.
As a historical piece, viewers and critics of this play put it under extra scrutiny, and because the Venus represents a real person, critics take strong stances about the appropriateness of Parks’ representation. Some found that by putting the Venus on display within the play allows the original injustice to continue as today’s audiences gawk at Saartjie Baartman’s figure with the same voyeuristic gaze as when she was alive (63).  Though, what seems to spark the most heated controversy is how Parks characterizes the Venus’s attitude toward her own situation. Coco Fusco explains critically, “the protagonist appears not only to be complicit in her exploitation, but enjoying it”  (31).  Others applaud Parks’ characterization as “wise” for not victimizing Baartman or trying to induce sympathy (24,75).

Between the Honeymoon and Death

We only printed our wedding pictures
Last month.
On our one month anniversary
We saw our kitchen cabinets
As the before picture
In an advertisement.

I hear cockroaches
In our Married-Student-Housing
Apartment ceiling.
They chirp to each other
Mocking my cooking
But they still eat
The instant rice from
Our Waterford Crystal
Wedding Heirloom.

When I’m alone I watch
Re-runs of the show my mom
Loved when I was a kid:
A sixty-year old man
In a healthy sexual relationship
With an eighteen-year old,
And a ninety-year-old woman
Who dances on her own grave.

The last time I checked,
Jack-o-lanterns do not age well
But caterpillars do
So I’ll slink around in fuzzy green
Slippers that sweep the floor as I walk.

Before we got married
His seventy-seven year old
Grandma Inga, who always
Smells like cinnamon, told me
With a heavy Finnish accent
            You have a new home now, you know,
            You can’t be always with your mom now

When I was a child
My mother didn’t let us
Carve our pumpkins
Until after Thanksgiving.
One year we stuck cucumbers
In a jar with vinegar and dill
After nine weeks they birthed pickles.

Now I have fine lines and
I still have acne.
I hear Bruhas chanting,
((With background chanters, honeyed voices))
  Take this  
          Stay Young  
            Goodbye Wrinkles    Goodbye Sun
            Rub your face in Bubblegum ((Scented!))
            Release Bubbles
            Eternal Youth Tamed, Bottled, and Sealed
But I don’t even like Forever 21’s clothing.

Was Mrs. Robinson
Clinging to Benjamin Braddock’s youth
Or enjoying her own maturity?

(Childhood Memory)
AUNT             It needs something to shock it alive these days
MOM             Not really
AUNT             Everything sags now
MOM             I don’t know, it’s better than before… the umph’s been redistributed, and
Young wines have too much tannin for my taste anyways.

Weekly Inga-ism:
I need to feed the cat some turkey
So that he will get off the table.

One summer, I babysat
A professor’s cat,
Who was so old,
He was more like a Muppet
Than a cat,
He coughed when he meowed.
She said if Whiskers dies
Put him in the freezer.
When I die,
Don’t put me in the freezer.

We hit a meat sale at Hy-Vee
To stock our freezer.
They put stickers on the beef
“Color is not a good indication of freshness.”
The old men
Who live near the Viagra factory
Report feeling virile.

My mother told me the secret ingredient
In her strawberry cake recipe—
Feeling the right amount of cinnamon,
Based on the juiciness of the strawberries.
Adjust bake time relatively.
Still, my cakes aren’t as moist as hers.

We’ll replace our kitchen cabinets someday.