This Property Is Condemned: Elegy 671

How lighting effects are used, both in theater productions and in movies, can drastically effect how we view characters and their actions. An individual can be lit to look effective or ineffective, sensuous or plain, emotionally well-rounded or flat, sans affect, and drab. In the context of the Cheltenham Elegies, textual devices are often used as lighting effects, lending splendor, ambiguity, or psychological nuance to both the Elegiac Protagonist and the ancillary protagonists arrayed around him. How, for example, the protagonist of Elegy 671 is “backlit” creates a warped, funhouse scenario, wherein everything about him is called into question, so that, by the end, confusion reigns and we have witnessed another textual self multiply. This inscribes in the poem the same dialogism in 671 we saw in 415:

Even as a little girl, she got beat down.
There was something wrong with her brains.
She couldn't relate to people. Cheltenham
guys noticed how adorably doll-like she was
(lookin’ real good, like Natalie Wood), but she
wouldn't date anyone. She died a mysterious
social drowning death. She got older and
became a Tennessee Williams heroine-as-Jewess.
I'm telling you this because I nailed her, dude.
I got her to give me a blowjob.

The first thing we notice as a textual lighting effect is that the relationship between this protagonist and the woman he is blazoning (after a fashion) is unclear. For all that the blazon (or semi-blazon) seems to be his, there is a scripted quality to it, and a rehearsed quality as well, suggesting that the entire blazon might have been composed by the woman in question herself. The reason would be simple, and shady— the two, the protagonist and his muse, are business partners, in cahoots towards the completion of illicit tasks, and ceremonious about their communications, linguistic or otherwise. The protagonist is, indeed, configured (backlit) to appear ceremonious, delivering his semi-blazon towards a climax not only absurd, but camp, in the Sontagian manner/fashion. The image of a “Tennessee Williams heroine-as-Jewess” may or may not refer to Natalie Wood in “This Property Is Condemned,” but the reference points (Tennessee Williams, Jewishness) have some associative relevance to gayness and gay culture.

A new form of dialogism in 671— precursor to “I’m telling you this…,” there is the entrance of an offstage voice, asking the protagonist why this particular, ham-fisted speech, blazon or not, needs to be delivered. The protagonist is thus caught out, and the lighting effects around him change; now he is lit to appear as absurd as the blazon or blazon script he’s been delivering. Put on the spot, and lit to appear that way, what the protagonist anti-heroically blurts out instills a final, climactic ambiguity, both around his possible gayness and whatever shady joint undertakings have already transpired— is the avowed head-giving literal, or just a metaphor for our heroine’s business deals having expanded towards a generous, ceremonious inclusion of the protagonist? The point of how the Cheltenham Elegies are generally lit is that nothing is let to appear stark or plain— voices collide with other voices, or intercede beyond other voices; images and perspectives are constantly shifting, even from or within first-person perspectives; and the singularity of the Elegiac vision is founded on a “multiplicity” textual paradigm. Unlike many of the Elegies, 671 is not set at night— the time/space coordinates are indeterminate— but the lighting effects, some bright, some dim, make clear that darkness and shade are as present as ever. If 671 is, in fact, an elegy (albeit one which, uncharacteristically, includes bawdy humor), it is an elegy which laments that dramatic conventions (scripts, blazons, metaphors) prevent Cheltenham characters from manifesting moments of truth with/for each other. Cheltenham dramas are lit to appear flaky, stagy, corny (staged corny moments), and hitched to a stilted version of camp (at least in 671) which makes, habitually, the actual truth of situations both indecipherable, and, unfortunately, irrelevant as well.