LES BIJOUX INDISCRETS, OR, PAPER TIGERS
“Les Bijoux Indiscrets, or, Paper Tigers” is the second in a series of what I’ve called “keenly unfaithful translations” of Enlightenment writings, from tragedies to pseudo-scientific and philosophical treatises. The play has a star-gazing conversation with Denis Diderot’s The Indiscreet Jewels/The Talking Jewels, Margaret Cavendish’s The Description of A New World, Called The Blazing-World, and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds.
I collaborated on this performance with six female poets—Corina Copp, Lucy Ives, Wendy Lotterman, Ada Smailbegovic, Jocelyn Spaar, and Bridget Talone—with a brief guest-appearance by Cecilia Corrigan and props by Emmy Catedral. Made of white and yellow paper, Emmy’s Platonic solids variously symbolised jewels, solar system bodies, and geometry. These paper props were sometimes used as crowns, chalices, flowers, binoculars, and pebbles-statues.
I opened our performance with a preface, in good eighteenth-century fashion, following Margaret Cavendish’s invitation: “rather than not be Mistress of a World, since Fortune and the Fates would give me none, I have made One of my own.” In this imaginary world, the ‘text’ and performative artifice were key to its whimsical, yet magical, appeal: a narrator recited all stage directions and character names, themselves written as poetry; we all performed several ‘roles’; we read from our scripts, and our delivery verged between camp and deadpan affects. This embrace of theatricality was complemented by the script’s fascination with paper and materiality: ‘writtenness’ became tangible and visible at every turn. Paper and the Duchess-as-Pen-and-Paper appeared as characters; The Child-Scribes were seen copying The Faerie Queene, and the philosophising Marquise and Fontenelle scribbled notes, like the keen scholars they were meant to reproduce.
Our stage—our feminist utopia—was delimited by Issue Project’s gridded floor and Emmy’s taped asterisms in the shape of a central hexagon and a couple of errant, starry patterns. The performance ended in an orbital dance by Jocelyn and me to some ambient music, while Cecilia read Karl Marx’s birth chart through a megaphone and the rest of the cast were laid out on the marble, merging with the stellar system.