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"Various Positions," a novel by Martha Schabas
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Sep 26, 2011 7:35 pm ]
Post subject:  "Various Positions," a novel by Martha Schabas

In the Vancouver Sun, Candace Fertile reviews "Various Positions," a new ballet themed novel by Martha Schabas.

Vancouver Sun

Author:  S. E. Arnold [ Fri Mar 02, 2012 3:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Various Positions," a novel by Martha Schabas

Authored by Martha Schabas, but narrated by the Juliet precocious and aged Georgia Slade, “Various Positions” tells the story of Georgia’s prodigal decent and redemptive return to the sanctuary, her chrysalis of ballet. And her telling style, which is as lean as she is, is as legible and as engaging as an Ivanov pas; and too, she so clearly marks the episodes and chapters of her story with the connectives of time that any member of her corps of readers can smoothly count her moves. And although, Gothic themes such as “innocence falling into evil,” “the pursued heroine,” and the “double” along with such Gothic motifs as the “past corroded present,” the “grotesque,” the “Inquisition,” and “madness,” join to vine their way about the sculptural shapes of this well proportioned work, they fail to obscure it. In fact and in spite of the narrative setting of Toronto’s wintery gloom and its horizon-less urban maze, “Various Positions” nevertheless reflects the geometries as well as the rusted gold light and promise of Parish’s “Daybreak.” And this is so because the daybreak like end of “Various Positions” hints the metamorphosis of Georgia “Aurora” Slade from caterpillar to butterfly.

Author:  S. E. Arnold [ Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Various Positions," a novel by Martha Schabas


“Grendel,” the Norn said. “I can hear you now.” The Norn was Grendel’s Aunt. “Now, why are you here,” she asked as she looked up from her book.

The natural majesty of their meeting place fit the sublimity of a Casper David Fredrick. Picture, for example, an enormous cradle of lifted stone holding a certain measure of the careless sea in complete stillness lit by an immense moon. Grendel handed his Auntie a book. Now, imagine the alarm affected by seeing the divine equanimity of a Norn bumped. “Why are you reading, Toril Moi’s "What is a Woman"?”

“I seek to sound the sensibilities of local writers.” They were, after all, in Norway- Moi’s native home. In fact, they were near the inland limit of Norway’s largest fiord.

Grendel then handed his Aunt a second book. And because the Norn named Wyrd was fond of him (it was, she felt, a shame that her young nephew had died in an accident brought by his foolish adolescent pranks) she secretly snorted rather than howled hysterically, “Why did you read, "Various Positions"? By…ah yes, Martha Schabas.

“I know that it sounds incestuous, Auntie, but, you know, I have a fondness for swans. So, I read this book because some humans claimed that it was “just another Black Swan.” You know, like the movie. Well, it isn’t. And now, I have a question for you, Auntie. Why is a Norn, a legislator that weaves that is speaks fate’s certainty reading Cavell’s Must We Mean What We Say? That’s pretty weird, isn’t it? Don’t you always mean what you say, Auntie?”

“Where are we Grendel?”

“At the pre-ruin of Wittgenstein’s hut, I think.”

“Yes. Now, to answer, “why you are here;” first, before you connect the dots or pick the knots in the tapestries of your life’s readings, you must find them. And second…oh, what was it? Odd, that I should doubt that there was a second. Hm. Perhaps…perhaps, there wasn’t one; I mean a second…oh dear. Well, in the mean time, do let Various Positions show you where to stand while you critique it and then see its philosophy from there. Bye!”

“Auntie, wait. I’ve brought you six …(She vanished)… wonderful…roses. Well, that’s Wyrd for you. I mean that even though she is always around she is never here. Creepy. Well, nevertheless, let the critique begin….”

Double, double
Martha’s parable

I am in fact very fond of swans and roses. First, because the power of their symbolism swiftly summons the ballets "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" to mind. Second, because the balletic key of Various Positions shares with these ballets a Gothic mode, it seems appropriate, then, to listen for howthe higher notes, the hinted references, of the book resonate (or not) with the bass notes sounded by the ballets. And third, because swans and roses remind me of my mother, and for those that have not heard both Lilac and Carabosse like my mother are/were Valkyries.

It is clear, I think, that the resonant correspondences of character and situation between book and ballets are allusive rather than stated. In this sense, then, one hears "Various Positions" as a contemporized "Sleeping Beauty" retold in a confessional manner from the Aurora’s point of view. Additionally and keeping the metaphor of music, that from the fundamentals of Aurora, Lilac, Carabosse, and the King the characters of Georgia, Laura, Pilar, and Dr. Larry Slade ring. And while the hubris of the King’s intent to banish chance from his domain by forbidding spinning can be seen as the act of an overprotective parent, the Doctor’s overtly cavalier attitude gives a face and a manner to the hubris inherent to the reductive materialism that flavors his specialty of neuropsychology. Dismissive, imperious, and unsupportive the Doctor is a poor partner. He pulls his youngest and rueful daughter off point and stands her surprised and helpless before the (Spanish) Inquisition of ‘Abjectomizers’. This neologism mimics the ‘Rodomizer’ double entendre invented by the young women at the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy to picture a form of sexual assault that in turn pictures the Rothbart-like school director, Roderick Allen’s teaching style. (So, Auntie, would this example illustrate Cavell’s point about how someone means what someone says? And what does it say when the Rodomizer position illustrates the cover of "Various Positions"?) The difference of action implied here, however, is that Isabel and Pilar do in fact mean to torment, that is to double Georgia over; and then to burn Georgia, Roderick Allen, and ballet at the stake of ‘feminist’ righteousness. Now the consequences of Dad’s hubris and Pilar’s and Isabel’s “helpful and caring” witch hunt is that it stops (or would stop) the becoming, the ever self-creation of Georgia Slade dead. Georgia’s mother Laura, the un-likely Valkyrie and divine Lilac, however, shields her daughter from this assault and covers her youthful will (and right) to self-determination with a thicket of spear-like thorns, which in "Various Positions" are divorce, geographic distance, and a new school of ballet rather than a century of sleep and a rescuing male. In fact, ‘Rescuing Princes’ need not apply.

A cipher a best, the loutish Kareem resonates more with the 1877 conception of the ‘would be rescuer’ Siegfried than with the soapy suites that presently populate many productions of "Swan Lake." The character of Roderick Allen, on the other hand, offers an obvious double of Swan Lake’s Rothbart. For example, Roderick insists to his female students that: if they are to properly serve the art of ballet, then they must surrender their sensitivities to personal criticisms and to reject distracting propensities such as sex. Put into Swan Lakean terms, Roderick wants the young ladies in his charge to abandon or ignore important aspects of their humanity and become (unmated) swans and then to stay that way. Yet, in spite of his resonance with or family resemblance to Rothbart, Roderick is neither a misogynist nor a pederast nor a devil, in fact he lives what he advocates; and that is a devotion, a blind devotion to the art of ballet. The double nature or aspects of his character exemplifies, then, a unifying feature of the book; and that is that its use of doubling resembles that of a ‘theme and variations’ (or seeing something from various positions) rather than a tidy chain of binary oppositions. And like a dance work, the combinations that make Georgia’s doublings are always in motion. Doublings such as Georgia and Isabel, Georgia and ‘Sixty,’ Georgia and Chantal, Georgia doing doubles, Georgia’s solipsistic remaking of Roderick into his sexually demonic double, Georgia’s attraction/repulsion to Kareem, and the double way she sees Pillar, Isabel, Roderick, her father and mother and herself as she tells her story generate continuous pictures of an always becoming Georgia. But, perhaps, the doubling that is more important than her Sorcerer’s Apprentice-like “playing with forces she didn’t understand” is that she returned from her “errand into the maze” of sexual experiments forgiven of the harm that that errand had caused. Recall that in Act IV of "Swan Lake" Siegfried pursues Odette into the underworld to seek her forgiveness, which she grants. In "Various Positions," Georgia pursues Roderick into his nether world to seek his forgiveness, which he grants. Unlike Siegfried, however, Georgia survives this perilous journey. And, the point is that…

“Various Positions" for all of its sexual aspects is not a parable of the prodigal daughter, but rather a parable about the power of acknowledgement and given the topical nature and the audience of this book particularly for young women. Although Georgia’s mother as Lilac/Valkyrie accepted and shielded her, it seems fitting and ironic that of all of the adults important to the urgent contingencies of Georgia’s life that it was Roderick’s forgiveness of her that truly acknowledged her as a human being. “Your good,” he said to her. And back she flew to create herself ever a new.

Author:  S. E. Arnold [ Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Various Positions," a novel by Martha Schabas

A discussion on the "I explained it when I danced it" episode in "Various Positions"

“Grendel, Grendel, Grendel,” the Norn named Wyrd impatiently incanted.

The moon borrowed a portion of the sea from the fjord but then brought it back.

“Grendel, goddamnit, come here!”

“I am here Auntie. Been here the whole time, you know. I am after all the Uncanny, the sudden strangeness of the familiar.”

“That is my job and you leave it to me. Now, I have a question for you. How could you….”

“Softly now Auntie, your manner does little to assuage my incipient misogyny.”

“What?” Distracted Wyrd said, “There’s something I have to tell you about your mother.”

“And your question?”

“Question? Oh, yes. I read “Various Positions” and your “review” of it.” She snorted and wanted to fusillade Grendel with the grape shot of an outrageous “ad grendelninem”, but instead she asked, “How could you ignore, critically, irresponsibly ignore the oracular statement, “I explained it when I danced it”?

It was a valid point. However, because of how well he knew his Aunt, Grendel sensed that it was a personal-political rather than a literary-philosophical matter that motivated her question. And so, doing his best to imitate the patronizing manner of Polonious, he said, “Beshrew thy jealousy of oracular’s public domain Auntie, and so be content with thy Royalty’s sustaining royalty to weird’s abundant use.” The end of her tail flicked left and right and Wyrd, cougar- like, stared at her dear Grendel. He saw the flickering tail yet knew that it wasn’t there; it was, he mused, an aesthetic aspect manifest by every visible feature of her presently aggravated being. He grinned a cherubic grin. “What’s wrong Auntie? What are you trying to tell me?”

“What! Can’t you see? My body, at this moment anyway, confesses my soul. What more do you want? Words perhaps? Here now words are but an expired gift card to the stores of weed seed that populate the cow patty Mall. Where are my roses?”

“I left them at the site of the review. Oh, that’s where are we are. Aren’t we? And so, voila, here they are. Six roses for scouring the Fonteyn point.”

“Grendel, that is not the point I wish to make; it is rather that I hear this over used statement, “I explained it when I danced it,” as a confession of intellectual laziness, if not contemplative cowardice. Now, let us grant that while words or ‘discourse,’ in the argot common to the book’s you read, can usefully explain the phenomena of the rainbow, in contrast that same sort of discourse fails to explain the human interest in, engagement with, or wonder at the rainbow. And because the language of discursive and the non-discursive talk sound alike it is possible, then, that the hapless critic that asked Fonteyn the offending question (indeed what exactly did the critic ask), wasn’t wanting a ‘discursive answer’ any more than Fonteyn wanted to give one; nevertheless, she, perhaps, heard or maybe smelled in the atmosphere of the question’s presentation the odor of condescension and so returned the favor with a counter dismissal. If that was the case, then Brava! But, in terms of what dance criticism does or ought to do, that is to open up access and passage to the possibilities of identities, affective intensities and values of a dance-work, then the encounter went deep in debt to bankrupt failure. Unfortunately, I ever hear the all too uncritical use of Fonteyn’s reply as doing little more than opening up access and passage to the intellectual vacuity of dogmatism.”

Grendel thoughtfully nodded in agreement.

“Do we know what Georgia Slade looks like?”

“No. She is as transparent as a damselfly’s wings; but as we see the wings when the damsel flies, so we see Georgia as she avigates her confession. Meanwhile, I take the “I explained it…” episode as a characterization of Roderick-Rothbart. It is not that he wants to promote rude and militantly stupid dancers so much as he wants them to be oblivious, insulated from the sort of self-consciousness that destroyed, for example, Nina Sayer in “Black Swan.” In short, he wants his young charges to be, to become fiercely conscious like swans and thus avoid the human curse of shame-ridden self-awareness. And, I think that for Roderick Allen the only place where movement that is gesture can transparently meet meaning and so banish the need for explanations is the sphere of ballet. His is a noble cause but doomed nonetheless.”

“Oh, that reminds me Grendel, you are the child the Macbeths refused to talk about. Thanks for the roses. Bye.”

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