by Joyelle McSweeney on Jun.27, 2012
Above is a little track of me reading the “Do-it Duet” from a play in progress, Glock Chorus. Glock Chorus is set in an electrified shower stall of the sort Halliburton built for US soldiers, gold foiled, cellophaned, crammed with the All the Dead of Iraq: soldiers, police, insurgents, martyrs, politicians, contractors, civilians, just people, probably some animals too. This is my Byzantium: overloaded, electrified, stinking, corrupt, temporary but eternal as long as it keeps singing of what is passed, and passing, and to come. This track features me reading one of the songs of Byzantium, sung by two rats of Byzantium, two private contractors who were hired to exterminate the pet cats in the Green Zone. Et in Byzantium, extermination ego.
Probably because I was raised on a diet of Yeats, I find myself with that fantastic phrase in my head all the time now: “And gather me/into the artifice of eternity.” For me that’s like a prayer, that’s what I want from Art. But to enter Byzantium isn’t to be swept entirely clean of all traces, or to be clean at all. This is a decadent Byzantium, where the pleasure loving and the sage somehow inhabit the same instant, the same golden unbearable instant of eternity, a molten gold that has to be swallowed to be dwelt in, which damages the throat.
When I think of Byzantium, not as a historical location but as an imagined one, a sublime decaying one, a supersaturated one in which gold and garbage fumes pours out of every orifice, a stinking glamorous temporary eternal. Like this:
Or like this:
There’s no leaving Earth. But we don’t have to live here like (mere) humans. I inhabit both Indiana and Byzantium at the same time. Gather me.Into the Artifice of Eternity. Rats of Byzantium.
2. Of all people, I’ve found a collaborator in William Empson, whose article “Yeats and Byzantium” hooked me up with this quote from Yeats:
Aristotle says that if you give a ball to a child, and if it was the best ball in the market, though it cost but sixpence, it is an example of magnificence; and style, whether in life or literature, comes, I think, from excess, from that something over and above utility which wrings the heart. In my later poems I have called it Byzantium, that city where the saints showed their wasted forms upon a background of gold mosaic, and an artificial bird sang upon a tree of gold in the presence of the emperor; and in one poem I have pictured the ghosts swimming, mounted upon dolphins, through the sensual seas, that they may dance upon its pavements.
A dime store Byzantium. A false Byzantium. A misquote and a paraphrase. An impersonation. Chocolate box foil and a toy ball. A Byzantium both saintly and sensual. Wasted forms and gold mosaic. A frantic Byzantium of excess, like a heart attack. It wrings the heart.
Corrupt and excessive and gold-sequined and ultimate and pentultimate and shredding away Byzantium.
5. Here is the costume for Nijinsky when he danced Le Dieu Bleu
And here are some saints dancing on the pavements of Byzantium. They have crossed the sensual sea.