Dear Jerusalem Arts Committee,
Re: Grant Proposal for Theater Performance entitled "Miflezet/Monster"
Jerusalem was still a small village when the dead bodies began turning up. One, two. Then seven and eight. It was late 1966 and all the bodies were male. The authorities did their best to contain the spread of panic and of rumors, gory and false, but they could not control the need of city residents to make sense of what was happening. Whispers, from East to West, from alley to synagogue, from market to mosque, centered around two main themes: that all the corpses were castrated. And that the culprit, hiding here, somewhere in the city, might not be human at all. They called her MIFLEZET.
Only one known photo exists of this supposed MIFLEZET. It's black and white and blurry, in the tradition of photos of this genre. It was taken at the market by Y.M., a vendor of sunflower seeds and other nuts, with his new Polaroid Swinger instant camera (It's more than a camera / It's almost alive). He had brought it to work, his wife later explained, because the prime minister and his entourage were supposed to have visited the market earlier that evening, but they never showed. It was dark when Y.M. was closing up shop. He was alone amongst the empty stalls. No one knows why he reached for his camera when he heard the rustling sounds. They had to pry it from his death grip when they found his body. He was the ninth. The photo, already developed and peeled, was draped across his torso. Despite promises that the Swinger is always in focus, all you can see in the photo is a shapeless mass, illuminating the darkness.
Loathing an item of food, a piece of filth, waste, or dung. The spasms and vomiting that protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage, and muck. The shame of compromise, of being in the middle of treachery. The fascinated start that leads me toward and separates me from them.
– Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror; An Essay on Abjection
I was vomiting when I left Jerusalem nearly two months ago. That is not a statement about the city. It is simply a fact about my body and what it was secreting, as I was leaving. I vomited mostly nothing. Clear fluids. It was the end of Yom Kippur. From my bed, where I was fasting, I had been listening, all day, through my window, to the prayers of repentance. The vomiting had begun just as the fast was coming to a close, just as they were blowing the shofar and singing next year in Jerusalem. It sounded like they were dancing. I staggered towards the toilet. I wasn't sure I'd make it to my flight a few hours later.
Now, in another city, far away, across the world, I hear trains all night. Trucks, delivering ground meat, perhaps, to the Burger King next door. And the mysterious hum of what might be a thousand aliens trying to make contact, or a nearby electric power grid.
Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a . . . divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster?
– Helene Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa
I've been thinking about the word MIFLEZET since early summer. I like it more than golem, its mutant brother or cousin or son, perhaps because MIFLEZET is in female form, or perhaps because, with its sequence of harsh consonants, I feel like I'm going through something when I say it. MIFLEZET's presence in my consciousness is gargantuan and loud and destructive, so much so that it has begun to overtake other words: I drink a cup of MIFLEZET when I wake up. I go running in the MIFLEZET every morning. I sit at my MIFLEZET all day, writing you this MIFLEZET.
Jerusalem’s skirts were dirty.
– Lamentations 1:9
The project I'm proposing explores how symbolic representations of Jerusalem, in which the city is signified by the female body as mother, wife, virgin, widow, whore and more, inform perceptions of actual women who live within this space today. I've been exploring this question over and over, for years, in everything I write. [I'm wondering: do only people who feel at home nowhere become obsessed with place?] I guess I'm asking: can a woman who lives in Jerusalem today escape identifying with or becoming an object of these mythic projections? Or does her body, over time, unconsciously, or against her will, begin to merge with the symbolic female – city – monster, in the most visceral of ways? For instance, the way she begins to vomit, just as the city is vomiting her out.
Beginning on a material and tactically simple level, woman’s sexual fluid as mucosal is a monstrosity — it is not delineated, not well defined and not present, only at the time of orgasm. Women’s desire, like the monster itself, is literally, slimy.
– Patricia MacCormack, Mucous, Monsters and Angels
I'm writing you this proposal from a Dunkin Donuts in Pikesville, Maryland. I'm not from here, either, just pausing in this space for a beat or two. I was supposed to be back in Jerusalem a week ago, but I've postponed my return until it feels less, when I imagine it, like dropping back into the jaws of a leaky boundaried-sticky- amorphous- thing. Here, they offer carefully crafted deliciousness in the form of hot lattes with pumpkin or maple pecan flavor swirls. The news breaking on my phone is about the cop who was killed yesterday, just a couple of miles away. All my talk about myths and monsters and Jerusalem seems provincial when I'm here. Outdated, over-the-top and, frankly, inconsequential. I drink my coffee bold and bitter.
Especially troubling from the political point of view were the ruptures, stretches, folds, and loosened threads of the social fabric, the potentially divergent powers and interests which were geographically epitomized by the subdivision of the city into a discontinuous terrain of holdings and jurisdictions, hidden tenements, alleys, byways, straight rooms and cellars. The attribution of a feminine persona to the city diminished these concerns ideologically, providing not only a gender-based model of obedient submission but also a transhistorical identity which absorbed and suppressed the spatial divisions and discontinuities which manifested the city's true historic dynamism.
– Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London
I know what you are thinking, dear members of the Jerusalem Arts Committee. You are wondering: Can a city be a monster?
I guess what I'm getting at, to put it crudely, is: If Jerusalem = woman, and woman = monster, then Jerusalem = monster. Are you with me?
Rabbis, of course, were quick to proclaim that those violent attacks of 1966 were sent from God as a communal punishment for sins like breaking the laws of Sabbath, or, more crucially, for being seduced by the spirit of the sexual revolution wafting over from America. Vigilante gangs were formed around the city, armed with guns and knives and stones, and they scoured Jerusalem's parks and the forest and the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, going even as far as the desert, to hunt down the MIFLEZET. But to no avail. Only the war that broke out in '67 would put a halt to the MIFLEZET's rampage. As the city twisted and burned and broke, MIFELZET faded away. She was swallowed up by new myths and new tragedies, nearly erased from history but for one newspaper article, with a copy of Y.M.'s photo, ignored by a recent digitization project, but still preserved on microfilm, stored in the underground annals at the National Library, forgotten until very recently, when rumors of a new sighting emerged.
The spatial relations are reversed here; woman does not move over to illuminate space, but rather space moves in to illuminate women.
Susan Best, Sexualizing Space
You don't remember this case, of the MIFLEZET and the castrated men. Of course I made it all up. I'm just playing around with ideas of how to make this woman-city-monster a real character on stage. What would she look like? What or whom would she desire?
You're thinking now: It's dangerous what that woman is doing, mixing fiction with real myth. I guess I would say to that: Yes, you're right. It is dangerous.
("I feel like vomiting the mother")
– Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror; An Essay on Abjection
I should probably mention here that I am not from Jerusalem, either, but it is the space where my life as a woman has unfolded. Would you understand me if I said that sometimes it feels like myths have so thoroughly hijacked my being that there is nothing else left? Maybe I am an accomplice to this crime. Because if Jerusalem is a woman and a woman is a monster then Jerusalem is a monster. And what a relief, to blame this monster for years of mistakes and missed opportunities, lost love and lost time. And I know that eventually I will run out of ways to write about this. I know that eventually I will have to pay, steeply, for this casting out of blame. I know that eventually, wherever I am, I will have to face, and own, a certain emptiness.
Whence the necessity of "reopening" the figures of philosophical discourse-idea, substance, subject, transcendental subjectivity, absolute knowledge-in order to pry out of them what they have borrowed that is feminine, from the feminine, to make them "render up" and give back what they owe the feminine. This may be done in various ways, along various "paths"; moreover, at minimum several of these must be pursued.
– Luce Irigary, The Sex Which is Not Other
In order to bestow my questions with form on stage, we're going to have to somehow bring these symbolic representations to life. Provide them with longings and passions and fears. And then destroy them, one by one. There might be a character named MIFLEZET, but she won't look like a monster, not to the naked eye. There will be secretions. Spilling off the stage. Lights will flash, illuminating the darkness. Members of the audience must experience both horror and desire. They will lose something. Maybe their sense of home. They might find themselves suddenly obsessed with place. They might feel empty at the end, their bodies drained of fluids and metaphors and myths. They won't remember when or why they agreed to relinquish so much for so little. I don't yet know if we will be able to fill the emptiness. It's going to be slimy. It's going to be expensive. We will sit in the emptiness together.
Amital Stern writes theater, film and more in Jerusalem. She earned an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Hebrew University, and studied screenwriting at the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television. Her 6-month installment on Corporeal Clamor, "MIFLEZET / Notes towards a performance," is a series of "experiments from Jerusalem, searching for meeting points between body, place and language; women, monsters and demons."
Amital's plays include: In Waiting, winner of the Fred Simmons Arts Prize; Hunger Artist, performed at the Theatronetto Festival, Jerusalem Fringe Festival, Arab-Israeli Theater and other venues; Aliza, a site specific theater production now haunting abandoned buildings in Jerusalem. Her writing has appeared in Guernica. She is currently working on her first novel.