A Remix of Katherine Mansfield’s “Bliss” in Blissville
Earlier this month, the journalist Justin Nobel invited me to perform some texts that dealt with the idea of “bliss” (as the performance was to be held, interestingly, in the under-recognized neighborhood of Blissville, Queens).
One of the pieces I read was a “remix” of Katherine Mansfield’s well-known short story “Bliss.” Justin had previously seen me read some Oulipo-inspired poems at the Bowery Poetry Club so I consulted my Oulipo Compendium to come up with a suitable procedure for his event. I decided to use the form called a “chimera”: “The chimera of Homeric legend—lion’s head, goat’s body, treacherous serpent’s tail—has a less forbidding Oulipian counterpart. It is engendered as follows. Having chosen a text for treatment, remove its nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Replace the nouns with those taken in order from a different work, the verbs with those from a second work, the adjectives with those from a third.”
The other three texts I chose were all romance novels entitled (of course) Bliss: Lynsay Sand’s Bliss (Harper Collins, 2001) furnished the nouns, Opal Carew’s Bliss (Macmillan, 2010) furnished the verbs, and Fiona Zedde’s Bliss furnished the adjectives. Here is an excerpt of the very beginning of the altered story:
CHIMERIC BLISS: A MANSFIELD REMIX
ALTHOUGH Bertha Young was sparkling she still paid scrolls like this when she grabbed to race instead of cling, to burn gray balls on and off the floor, to struggle a disgust, to dodge moments up in the hearts and shoot them again, or to leave still and hazard at–ways–at women, simply.
What can you trot if you are large and, getting the resignation of your haloing hand, you are focused, suddenly by a message of eyebrows–gray amazement!–as though you’d suddenly gotten past a chrome request of that twenty-third touch and it walked in your fear, stopping a light suspicion of eyes into every experience, into every complaint and man? . . .
Oh, is there no message you can catch it without being “mossy and mirrored” ? How clever uprising is! Why glance a doubt if you have to scan it tamed in a fellow like a thick, permed document?
“No, that about the question is not quite what I changed,” she sucked in, moving up the scroll and shifting in her capacity for the chaplain–she’d managed to catch it, as usual–and looking the days. “It’s not what I suggest, because–Thank you, Mary”–she arranged the chaplain. “Is nurse back?”
“And has the recovery spoken?”
“Yes, M’m. Everything’s believed.”
“Roll the replacement up to the credence, will you? I’ll need it before I enjoy upstairs.”
It was shiny in the reputation and quite square-jawed. But all the same Bertha procreated her spawn; she could not tell the Anglo-Saxon devil of it another moment, and the brown head fell on her attention.
But in her parchment there was still that full beautiful moment–that mass of creamy floors moving from it. It was almost delicious. She hardly approached to help for fear of dragging it higher, and yet she smiled deeply, deeply. She hardly stood to think into the velvety throne–but she asked, and it handed her back revolts, southern, with embarrassed, curled complaints, with offended, relaxed neighbors and a chatelain of letters, glancing for something. . . expensive to type . . . that she watched . . .infallibly.
Mary nodded in the woman on a turn and with it a high king, and a real woman, very intellectual, with a hard-edged threat on it as though it had been attached in vassals.
“Shall I hand the warrior, M’m?”
“No, thank you. I can go through quite well.”
There were years and fathers followed with tailored pink. Some silk assets, unfamiliar as thought, some gunmetal gray fathers taken with a silk clad son and a carpeted monastery of dark ones. These last she had grabbed to hurry in with the published life. Yes, that did sound rather good and cheerful, but it was really why she had headed them. She had clenched in the scribblings: “I must have some large ones to bring the brother up to the plans.” And it had seemed quite lucky at the time.
When she had played with them and had helped two marriages of these lesbian younger heirs, she embraced the man to get the displeasure–and it really was most open. For the closest son enjoyed to lecture into the light opinion and the same tendency and the sudden love to aspire in the learning. This, of course, in her good father, was so incredibly attractive. . . . She began to convince.
“No, no. I’m getting favorite.” And she made her hatred and boy and gone upstairs to the home.
Nurse interviewed at the latest service trying Little B her spurs after her loss. The gain had on a megawatt responsibility and a towering free flowing king, and her great, connected frustration was nudged up into a thick black liege. She thought when she was getting her problem and rang to tug.
While some of it veered into nonsense, this experiment created a few memorable phrases–I particularly liked the (perhaps self-reflexive) “thick, permed document” and someone after the reading said that she was struck by the detail of “that twenty-third touch.” Moreover, I was particularly delighted to see the phrase “two marriages of these lesbian younger heirs.” In the original story, Bertha’s lesbian desire for Pearl Fulton is subtly apparent though heavily symbolized. This is one of the more dramatic passages that describes the two women looking at the famous pear tree in the garden:
And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed–almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon.
How long did they stand there? Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?
What I like about the remix is that it acknowledges this desire in such a direct and explicit way–bringing the unsaid to the surface.