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  • Writer's pictureSam Baldwin

Getting to know Kyle Riper

And we now come to Kyle Riper. Kyle, we've been beginning these last few posts by discussing what makes the Greeks compelling. How have they drawn you in?

I guess the thing that really drew me into the Greeks were the works of Sappho. Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter, to be exact. Sappho came up in a literature class I took my freshman year of college when we were talking about Greek mythology, but we never really got around to talking about her or her works, and she kind of just kept popping up in other facets of my life. Eventually, I had a little bit of free time and blew through all of If Not, Winter in the span of an afternoon. I was completely immersed in the way Sappho knew that her work would still be talked about so many years later (I’m here referring to poem 147 in If Not, Winter). I’ve always been drawn to poetry, and while theatre and poetry aren’t exactly the same, I’ve always found them to be inescapably intertwined. Both platforms are highly cognizant of how words are performed. Because what is poetry but performance? And theatre the same.

Additionally, over this past winter, I saw Ellen Margolis’s Pericles Wet, and have been haunted by the (Greek-inspired Shakespearean) tragedy ever since. In this adaptation, Margolis made a concentrated effort to tell the story of the abuse of Hesperides by her father. This haunting, as I view it, has been rather fortuitous for me as I’ve been on a Shakespeare (and other early-modern dramatists) kick for a while now. In fact, I’m currently working on a long-term project examining the changes editors have made to Pericles and Thomas Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy.

I think that the Greek greats, Sappho, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and the like, were so good at (to borrow the words of sam sax) using language to touch the ineffable, using words to humanize the universal. And I want to be in any way possible a part of that. I’m excited to see how this adaptation deals with the way words can and do personalize characters from a completely different culture than ours, and how that language can also be used to personalize our own culturally-specific concepts. I saw how Margolis dealt with the originally barely-mentioned abuse of Hesperides, and I’m itching to see what happens in this adaptation of Agamemnon.

You know that I'm an Anne Carson fan as well, and am particularly fond of her translation of Sappho. And I think now is a great time to share with our readers that we'll be using her translation of Agamemnon as our base text for this project.

You've had a chance to read it. What in it excites you?

I've been thinking a lot recently about the punishments, particularly those placed upon women, in the Greek stories. Take, for example, the story (or maybe a story) of Medusa; she was punished by Athena for the actions of Poseidon. A couple weeks ago I saw a picture of Luciano Garbati’s Medusa With the Head of Perseus, wherein the story of Medusa and Perseus is flipped. In this sculpture, Medusa is still punished for Poseidon’s actions, but she isn't killed for Athena’s gain. It was startling. I wasn't sure what I thought about it at first, but I knew it would be important. I also read a poem online where Icarus wasn't drowned for flying too close to the sun, for reaching too high. (Like I said, I've been thinking about Greek punishments recently, and could go on for ages about this type of thing.)

In a similar vein, I think in this iteration of Agamemnon, Carson is also interested in punishments from the gods. The most apparent example is, I think, the prophet Kassandra. She is, as many know, punished by Apollo, cursed with foresight that will never be believed. In this first reading, I was struck by how the chorus claims that they believe her, even as she explains her curse. I'm not sure where exactly the similarities begin and end, where our (Carson’s and mine) interests in the punishments exist on the same and separate planes, but that will definitely come in time.

Additionally, on a more mechanical level, I've been interested in the compound words that Carson uses in this translation -- griefremembering pain, firstblush bride, crimsoncovered and the like -- and how they are somehow, just by being linked into one word instead of two, more powerful than the sum of their parts. This type of word choice (and, in a sense, word creation) is one of the reasons why I trust Anne Carson’s translations, and why I'm excited that we'll be working with her texts on this adaptation.

Punishment and curses, and their variations from telling to telling, are fascinating. That's definitely going to be rich territory as we get into working with Agamemnon. But as you say, that will "come in time."

Right now, though, let's talk about her compound words. I find those very striking as well. I wonder about the sound of them, read aloud.

I think that these words are more powerful spoken than read. When I read theatre and poetry, I try to read them out loud. It makes more sense in my head like that. In this case, the compounded words -- usually spoken separately -- are here spoken in the same breath. It’s faster, isn’t it? When you read “make his path crimsoncovered! purplepaved! redsaturated!” aloud, you can’t help but accelerate your speech (even outside of the exclamation points). It almost begs for urgency. These compounds are important, visually, orally, and aurally. I really think Carson was cognizant of how the words are said, not just read. Because there’s such a key difference between the two, isn’t there? Words aloud hold a different meaning than words silent.

Yes! And the speed, the urgency that you identify, causes a jump in tempo. But I don't think it would just wash over an audience's ears. There's a lot contained in these.

I think the way I put it earlier -- somehow more than the sum of their parts -- is my base feeling regarding the compounding. Take, for example, the phrase “griefremembering pain.” This pain isn’t just a normal pain, it’s the pain that brings along with it memories of grief. A wisp of a thought, a connection that belonged to a lost loved one, maybe, where you feel the pain before remembering the cause. The compounding adds a new dimension to the base word, like a built-in adjective or adverb. But no less important than the noun or verb. The compounds are their own individual thing, separate and unique from what the words would be on their own.

It’s almost, I feel, a type of epithet -- not the insulting type -- but rather a culturally specific descriptor. Almost, forgive the oxymoron, a formal version of slang. By which I mean, it’s the type of slang one could imagine the Queen saying, where you would be surprised at first, but then realize that it’s not completely out of character. In this context, the compound words are Carson’s way of playing with modern language while translating from an ancient one. It’s refreshing, to me. It feels like the opposite of some other translated texts I’ve read, where the translator was really trying to translate truly to the letter of the words, rather than the spirit of them.

Well said. And we have a similar aim to Carson, I think. Orphic is all about pulling out the "modern" from the "ancient." And I'm really curious to see how Anya might further distill what we find in this translation, and how the three of you might guide her in that work.

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