Kerith Manderson-Galvin’s Being Dead (Don Quixote) plagiarises the plagiariser
Being Dead (Don Quixote) | Review
IN her 1986 novel Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream, Kathy Acker writes, in shouty capitals: “BEING DEAD, DON QUIXOTE COULD NO LONGER SPEAK. BEING BORN INTO AND PART OF A MALE WORLD, SHE HAD NO SPEECH OF HER OWN. ALL SHE COULD DO WAS READ MALE TEXTS WHICH WEREN’T HERS.”
Acker turned plagiarism into an anarchic and scandalous art form, and piracy into a political stance. She flogged dead language while she flogged from dead male authors.
Kerith Manderson-Galvin’s Being Dead (Don Quixote) plagiarises the plagiariser, among countless others, male and female. Her opening line — “There is no art so bad that it does not have something good in it” — riffs on a line about bad books used by two of Cervantes’ characters. Her last line — “I still don’t have a clear idea of what my voice is” — is one of Acker’s own.
But while Acker set out to terrorise the literary establishment, Manderson-Galvin scavenges tinsel quotations. She tries on the voices of others like costumes. Instead of Acker’s machete-wielding pastiche, Manderson-Galvin gives us innocent ventriloquism and mimicry.
“I know who I am,” she says, echoing the Don. But we don’t believe her. At one moment, she’s Emma Bovary vomiting some of the arsenic she has taken. At another, she’s Amanda Bynes threatening to sue anyone who posts an ugly photograph of her online. The male voices are, I think, purloined from an online dating site.
While Manderson-Galvin applies gloss to her nails, Rachel Zbukvic and Millicent O’Sullivan perform the old Walker Brothers song In My Room, as if it were one of Nico’s. It seems to me that this disturbance of expectation — this phase-shift in gender and voice — encapsulates the effect that the self-proclaimed “queer femme” performer is tilting at windmills to achieve. As a piece of theatre, Being Dead (Don Quixote) is unexpectedly conservative, even diffident. We’re invited to look at discrete pieces — starry little jewels — and to make constellations out of them.
But, at the moment, there’s not quite enough dramaturgical shape, enough gravity, to enable that projection.