Vanessa Stovall (Columbia University)
In Bonnie Honig’s Feminist Theory of Refusal, she postulates Saidiya Hartman’s concept of fabulation as a feminist politic of refusal centered around the city in conjunction with the female mobility in Euripides’ Bacchae. It is the final chapter of her book which includes a multimedia analysis that curiously omits musicality from its framework, despite the fact that the Bacchae was a form of theater more closely resembling the modern musical rather than the modern stage drama. In response to her use of Sara Ahmed in the prior chapter, this paper aims to disorient Honig’s section on fabulation in an attempt to not only strengthen the claim, but also to reorient musicality within her feminist theory of refusal.
First I will look at the sequence of Pentheus being made up into a woman by Dionysus (Episode 3 through the end of Stasimon 4) and analyse the gendered deployment of kosmos and sophos along with their cognates. I will also look at the uses of those terms in the first two stasima of Iphigenia in Aulis as comparanda, as the two plays would have debuted in concert. Next I will turn to Honig’s use of Toni Morrison’s “Unspeakable Things Unspoken” and her commentary on Greek tragedy and instead emphasize Morrison’s discussion of canon, where she cleverly plays on the homophonic double meaning of canon--both the weapon of the cannon and the destructive habits of canon-creation. I will then offer up a third use of canon--the musical composition technique--to situate Alice Walker’s womanism firmly between Morrison and Hartman in lieu of Honig’s use of Du Bois to orchestrate precisely such a musical canon in the fabulating practices of the three writers and how that in turn echoes back to the sequence around Pentheus “actin’ womanish”. To conclude, I will end with the musical Bacchae of Janelle Monae’s discography to add to Honig’s multimedia corpus. I argue that it should be considered alongside the other Bacchae as it reflects all three concepts that Honig anchored her theory around: Monae’s afrofuturist remix of the 1927 science fiction film Metropolis into the albums Metropolis Suite I (The Chase) (2007), The ArchAndroid (2010), and The Electric Lady (2013) all reflect inoporativity and inclination (not to mention a new dimension with the android Cindy Mayweather), while her 2018 “emotion picture” Dirty Computer catapults fabulation into new forms of media.