Live Art, Stone Heart: Claudia La Rocco’s Medusa

In her book The Best Most Useless Dress, published by Badlands Unlimited, Claudia La Rocco writes the following ‘Fable’:

When she grew very old the Medusa decided to give her true heart away. It was, of course, made of stone. She was, again very old, and unlovely, though not in an unhandsome way.

She saved up her courage to ask the Moon if she might come for a visit, and clear her head. “This country,” she wrote, “this country is a disaster The gay bars play the History Channel. Stream of consciousness turns out to be a gutter.”

She packed light (other than her heart). She had no particular needs. Only to find a Star Man, to explain to him The Desperate Scene.

The Moon was put out, and shrank to a sliver. The Medusa drank ouzo, and signed for all deliveries. She turned a few satellites to stone, but her heart – forgive the pun – wasn’t in it.

No suitable Star Men came. The Medusa decided to die. She found an asteroid for a grave. She gave her heart to the Moon before leaving. The Moon, typically, did not know whether to be irritated, or relieved. They say their goodbyes. Shortly thereafter, the Moon contracted an incurable disease.

On reading this curious account of the gorgon Medusa as an old woman I was reminded of the tale in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Medusa is a young woman, and we find out how she got her snaky hair and stony gaze. I also liked how La Rocco’s fable bypasses the well-known myth of Perseus killing Medusa and using her head to defeat the monster, freeing Andromeda and then turning people at their wedding banquet into statues (again retold in Ovid). La Rocco’s Medusa, like some kind of stone-Midas, in growing old, has turned her own heart to stone.

Yet beyond tying to place ‘Fable’ within Classical mythology, I wanted to understand it in terms of La Rocco’s practice as a writer who uses language to respond and relate to performance and dance. For example, in an interview with The Brooklyn Rail, La Rocco makes the connection between writing and live art in the following way:

Looking at live art has had a profound impact on me as a writer—most specifically dance, but really all of it. The idea of artists who have time and space as their explicit material is really useful for me. There are these silly notions one can have when starting out writing, like, “I work on this until it’s perfect, and then I send it out, and I publish it, and it’s cast in stone.” And being around artists who are always working with something that is mutable, and the frustrations but also the gifts of that—for a writer, it has been marvelous.

The ‘silly notion’ of writing as ‘cast in stone’ is undercut by the mutable nature of dance and performance. Taking this idea back to ‘Fable’, we could ask if the waxing and waning Moon that stands for mutable performance, while the stone-hearted Medusa represents the figure of the writer? Yet, elsewhere in The Best Most Useless Dress La Rocco offers another option for this allegorical reading of her fable, where it is writing that maintains its mutability amid the ossifying structures of the world (the gutter Medusa wants to escape from). Amid the reviews, essays, poetic texts and other writings, La Rocco includes pages of handwritten notes (which she calls Notes (2012) and gives them page numbers).

These notes refer directly to their transitional status and how they accompany difference exercises and life-situations. For example, in Notes page 10 (page 27 of the book), La Rocco writes (as far as I can decipher her writing):

If you take notes for long enough, you will reveal everything about yourself

“I wanted to collide again”

The Horseo

The Atom Colliders

Instructions for An Almost Satisfying Encounter

Beyond the book, La Rocco uses the process of writing in more directly performative contexts. During a 2013 residency at the Headlands, La Rocca wrote a text on a white board after reading five pages of Edward Said, as a site-specific piece for the wall of fellow artist José Carlos Teixeira studio as part of his project Translation(s).

It is the Notes and these writing performances that inform the figure of Medusa in ‘Fable’, not as an allegory against writing’s petrification, but for the on-going quest for writing as a live art, as mutable and changing as life itself. Finally, I also see the challenge for Medusa as pertinent for the very act of blogging in general and for my daily posting on Minus Plato in particular: how can a blog balance the stone heart (e.g. publication, posting) of writing as itself a live art (i.e. tied to/written out of daily life?

For more about Claudia La Rocco, you can read her blog The Performance Club.

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