Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Too Have Danced On Blades: Shamanism and Stilettos

Alberto Rios teaches a Magical Realism class at ASU where the capstone of the class is to make a magical realist object. An example one of my classmates made was a bread noose. Tasty. Mine was a lame "Hairbrush," with hair where the brush should be. (For more on magical realism, Tito built a website with neat facts:

What I’ve realized recently is that many objects hold a magical realist text within their name. I was thinking about the stiletto shoe, which compares the traditional, thin steel heel of the shoe with a thin knife of the same name. It made me think how many objects, particularly clothing objects, bear names that keep them only a step away from being absurd: the Peter Pan collar, the bell sleeve, the pencil skirt. The interesting thing about these pieces of clothing is that they get their name from a strong resemblance to the absurd objects their name implies—these are absurd objects realized and normalized in the daily world.

You can take that for face value, but a human mind has already done most of the poetic work for you in creating a dynamic metaphor—a metaphor so dynamic, in fact, that it established a reality for itself in the text of the clothing. For a pretty interesting poem, the only thing a bell sleeve or a stiletto shoe needs is to be estranged from its normalized context so that it becomes obvious how strange it is that women walk around on dull knives with tiny plastic tips glued on the ends. What symbolic paydirt could this relatively pat realization hide? More than the often noted fact that some men tie a noose around their necks every morning.

When I was thinking about the stiletto shoe, it hit me that I have actually seen women dance up on blades (in a video, no, not Beyonce). Korean shamanism is almost exclusively the realm of women, and I had watched a video about a young shamaness going through her (failed) induction ceremony. In this ceremony, an offering of meat on a balancing tripod is made to the gods, who consent to descend into the shamaness. She assumes the particular god’s costume from a box she carries around with her, jumps on top of a pair of blades mounted on a platform, and continues to jump and dance on the blades as she delivers a speech from the divinity. The shamaness in the video is a chicken, however, and no amount of prompting from the woman who is inducting her can get her to jump and dance on the rusty looking blades.

My poem is about my steel-heeled Guess stilettos. What you might find revelatory in pencils, bells, or Peter Pan is yours.

1 comment:

Aimée said...

Since I'm so stuck in missing women poetry that I can't move out of it at the moment I'll have to try this later. I, of course, love the idea of poetry built out of fashion. Or fashion built out of poetry...I wonder if there's anything like that in the world. If so, I would certainly blog about it.