Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Substitutes and Stand-In's

(Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, born Winifred Shaughnessy)

Last night I watched Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand. He plays a toreador, swirls his cape, holds a sword, and poses but does no bull-fighting. Those scenes are spliced in from footage of actual bullfights. After a worrisome day, I thought it might be a good idea to have a stand-in to impersonate me during painful experiences. I could watch from the sidelines. My troubles were not serious, but if they were, would I want someone to experience them? No. The substitute would, in a sense, become a scapegoat, and I would no longer possess my life even to the small degree that I do--that we all do. In the bible, Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of his son. If I were a Christian I' would believe Christ was my stand-in. Suppose we could choose an animal for a stand-in? The thought is repellent. Freud believed that we live out our parents unconscious and unfulfilled desires. I hope this is not always the case.

My thoughts took a playful turn. Some say that every experience has already been played. We just repeat them, act them out, whether we know it or not. Those who do know are understudies waiting in the wings. Susan Sontag wrote that Gertrude Stein's work was comic because in all her writing everything was like everything else; everything had the same value, so there was no tragedy. Nothing is a big deal. I began to laugh at my little troubles.

Rather than wish for a stand-in, I'll have to be clever and avoid certain dangers. In the end I believe people can invent themselves. After all, I'm an American. Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filberto Gugliemi di Valentina d"Antonguolla became "Valentino." Winifred Shaughnessy became Natacha Rambova. No one can play them--at least not yet.


  1. ...Miss O'Shaunessy or Miss Wonderly or whatever your name is...

  2. Bluedog: Is that Bogart speaking in "The Maltese Falcon"? The lines fit!

  3. Winnifred Shaughnessey, how grand..
    I, for one, would like to be Minnie Rivers after the Red Sox player, Mickey Rivers, who hardly looked like he could get around the bases, but always could...
    much love..

  4. Minnie Rivers! Minnie/Melissa. I like your wanting someone else's abilities, but I suspect you already have Mickey Rivers' talent. Wishing you third-base hits and home runs.

  5. Trying to begin a discussion about metaphor, I once asked students to rename themselves, choosing something from the natural world, something not human. So many names already do that: Rose, Lily, Ruby, Pearl, etc.

  6. To begin with the metaphor, which, for me, turns out to be the question "which animal would you be?" I would give me the name antelope.

    If I wish to have a stand in I know I'm on the right way. At least in 'free-chosen' situations, where I think of (at?) right now.
    I hope I will never ask for a stand-in caused by a drama that happened. This is my sunday-wish.

  7. I came over from Elisabeth's blog because of your comment. I love that you said everything is like everything else. Nothing is a big deal. Just what I needed to hear today. I love your nickname, Miriam. Mim. It's so wisely concise. I'd like to change my name from Kathy to Tess, but I think it would confuse too many people and I'm too old.

  8. I just read your poem from your website. It is lovely and promotional. Now I will buy one of your books.