Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another quote form Charles Mee

Charles Mee was a carefree, athletic teenager when he was struck with polio in 1953. His memoir, A Nearly Normal Life, reveals how this horrible disease changed his life. In the following quote Mee explains how surviving polio shaped his writing style.

"I find, when I write, that I really don't want to write well-made sentences and paragraphs, narratives that flow, structures that have a sense of wholeness and balance, books that feel intact. Intact people should write intact books with sound narratives built of sound paragraphs that unfold with a sense of dependable cause and effect, solid structures you can rely on. That is not my experience of the world. I like a book that feels like a crystal goblet that has been thrown to the floor and shattered, so that its pieces, when they are picked up and arranged on a table, still describe a whole glass, but the glass itself lies in shards. To me, sentences should veer and smash up, careen out of control; get under way and find themselves unable to stop, switch directions suddenly and irrevocably, break off, come to a sighing, inconslusiveness. If a writer's writings constitute a "body of work," then my body of work, to feel true to me, must feel fragmented. And then, too, if you find it hard to walk down the sidewalk, you like, in the freedom of your mind, to make a sentence that leaps and dances now and then before it comes to a sudden stop."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Discovering Mee's Sources

Chuck Mee can be seen as a collage artist who works with words. He frequently takes text from books, plays, songs, and the internet to create his plays. In 1997, Janet Kinosian from The Saturday Evening Post. interviewed Lauren Bacall about her film The Mirror Has Two Faces. Mee used text from this interview to create the dialogue between Lauren and Joseph in Scene 7. You may have noticed that Joseph asks Lauren about her portrayal of "Hannah" who is Bacall's character in The Mirror Has Two Faces. Similarly, Mee takes inspiration from an interview of Allegra Kent by Robert Gottlieb from March 1997 to create the Ballerina's monologue in Scene 9. To read the entire texts of these interviews visit...

Kinosian, Janet. The Saturday Evening Post. Indianapolis: Jan/Feb 1997. Allegra Kent: Always a Dancer...
Robert Gottlieb. Interview. Mar. 1997

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A quote from Charles Mee

"I do love collage and I guess there are many things I love about it. I mean, I sort of think we live today in a global civilization of collage where one way of seeing isn't necessarily privileged above all other ways of seeing and so we walk through a world in which there are multiple competing values, visions, views of things that are juxtaposed with one another that we navigate somehow and maybe we hope even arrive at a larger understanding by being forced to reconcile these odd juxtapositions. So I love what it requires us to do... uh... in our own thinking... George Tsypin designs a set you can't stage a play on and so you're forced to be more resourceful than you otherwise would have been. And I love to put things into a play that actor's can't perform so that it forces them to do something that's more astonishing than they would have to do if it were entirely comfortable. So there are a lot of odd reasons I love collage. And some of my plays really exist just out here in the world of pure collage, and some of them are much further on the other end of the spectrum on having a story line that seemed more like.. uh... normal dramaturgy."

If you would like to watch the entire Charles Mee interview on YouTube, click here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Obsessed yet?

As I study the play, Hotel Cassiopeia, I find myself thinking about the imagery of the play more and more. I'm drawn to things I see out in the world that make me think of the play or the artist, Joseph Cornell. So... for the Hotel Cassiopeia super fans, I have some ways you can make your world look a little bit more Cornell-like.

1. Decorate your house. How about movie posters from Algiers or To Have and Have Not? Maybe fill a bowl full of yellow balls of cork. Perfect for your coffee table!
2. Decorate yourself. Watch parts, shells, cockatiels, little bottles of blue sand, feathers. Turn yourself into a Cornell shadow box with Cornell-ish jewelry. Or... get the t-shirt (???)

3. Decorate your desktop. The Joseph Cornell Box website has three different downloadable wallpapers for your computer's desktop. Here's mine...
4. Decorate a shadow box. The Joseph Cornell Box also has pictures, text, and textures you can print out and cut out to make your own Cornell shadow box. Or, you can buy the complete package at
Have fun showing your Hotel pride!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Key Terms: Surrealism

One of the most well-known and popular Surrealist artists is Salvador Dali. Most college students would recognize his painting "Persisitence of Memory" (although they may only know it as "the one with the melting clocks.") One night, when Joseph Cornell was screening one of his collage films, Dali flew into a jealous rage, overturned the projector, and called Cornell a skunk. Dali later said, "My idea for a film is exactly that... I never wrote it or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it." While Joseph Cornell was never a card-carrying member of the Surrealist movement, Surrealism did provide a context in which his art was accepted and understood.

The founder of Surrealism, André Breton, defined Surrealism as "Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought's dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations... Surrealism rests in the belief in the superiorreality of certain forms of association neglected heretofore; in the omnipotence of the dream and in the disinterested play of thought. It tends definitely to do away with all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in the solution of the principal problems of life."

In other words, surrealists:
  • Strive to allow the impulses of the unconscious mind to guide the production of their art
  • Believe in Freud's idea of analyzing dreams to explore the subconscious
  • Strip images of their meaning and allow the unconscious to assign them a new meaning
Joseph Cornell was first inspired by the work of surrealist, Max Ernst. Cornell began making collages that were similar to Ernsts. After he developed his own style of art - his famous shadowboxes - Cornell exhibited his work with Surrealists and became friends with many of them. Cornell's work was dreamlike and certainly used images to evoke feelings from his subconscious, however, he never truly fit into the Surrealist mold. He was a "mama's boy who spent his Sundays in church and quavered before visions of fleshly sin." Many aspects of Surrealism such as "their call for revolution, their hatred of the church, their furious loathing of the parental generation... made him a most improbable disciple." Cornell once said that he felt Surrealism, "has healthier possibilities than have been developed."

  • Utopia Parkway: The Life and work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon
  • Manifestoes of Surrealism by André Breton
  • Giornal Nuovo

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cornell and Christian Science: Part 3

Continued from Cornell and Christian Science: Part 2

3. God’s infinite goodness, realized in prayer and action, heals

Before Joseph began making his famous shadow boxes, he experimented with small paperboard pill boxes. Cornell would buy pill boxes similar to the one in the picture, empty out their contents, and refill them with "tiny shells, sequins, red ground glass, rhinestones, beads, black thread, scraps of blue paper", and other bits of ephemera. It is unlikely that Cornell used any of the medicines that came in the boxes, as Christian Science preaches against the use of medicine. Cornell made other works that explored his interest in spiritual healing. His pharmacy boxes included small bottles filled with the same type of items that he put into his pill boxes. Could Cornell have been trying to find a spiritual cure through his art?


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cornell and Christian Science: Part 2

Continued from Cornell and Christian Science: Part 1

2. The true nature of each individual as a child of God is spiritual

Christian Scientists believe that that human beings were created in the image of the God as stated in the Bible in Genesis 1:27. Christian Scientists have an interpretation of this that differs from other Christian religions. Being that they believe that God is spiritual (and not in any material form), humans, too, are purely spiritual beings. This being true, pain, disease, and other ailments associated with a physical body are not possible and therefore must be manifestations of a troubled mind. These ailments would, consequently, disappear if the sufferer could truly believe that the pain did not exist.

It makes sense that Cornell would be attracted to a religion that would deny the existence of the physical world. It must have been hard for Cornell to see his intelligent, kind and lively brother incapacitated with an incurable condition - Cerebral Palsy. To stumble upon a religion that not only claimed to be able to heal Robert, but that also insisted that his condition was all in the mind, must have been something that brought Cornell hope and a sense of relief.


  1. Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon
  2. Joseph Cornell's Vision of Spiritual Order by Lindsay Blair
  3. Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy
  4. The Church of Christ, Scientist website -