Tuesday, October 30, 2007


You may have guessed, based upon some of what has appeared here and in other places, what my favorite holiday might be.

Yes, it's Labor Day.

But my second favorite is Halloween. In answer to that burning question "In what costumes does a medievalist's children dress for October 31?" I offer this year's selections.

Kid #1, who last time around frightened the neighborhood as the Whoopie Cushion of Doom, will this year be a banana. Because he must give this internet-purchased costume his own twist, however, he has added a very frightening clown (that may be redundant) mask and will in fact be The Rotten Banana. A future Bruce Nauman? Beware.

Kid #2, AKA Princess Buppy, will seek candies from strangers dressed elegantly as Belle (from Beauty and the Beast). In a nod to the fact that Halloween may be about more than elegant yellow gowns and tiaras, she will in fact be MEAN BELLE. Presumably she will grab her candy and not say thank you. She has also told me she will step on my feet and possibly punch me, but gently.

Happy halloween! And by the way: what are YOU dressing as? (You may not answer "a scholar").


Karl Steel said...

I'm not sure I'm dressing as anything this year, what with the holiday falling on a Wednesday. ALK and I are still planning on going someday as Herzog (her) and Kinski (me).

Some hits from the past: a recent costume karaoke event (here) and last year, I think, where I was the nervous system (here).

Eileen Joy said...

Up until this moment, Jeffrey and I were the dream couple, but it appears a divorce, and a painful one at that, is imminent. Halloween is, I'm afraid, my least favorite holiday. We're already, all of us, already wearing costumes. Yeah, yeah . . . I know: don't be such a spoilsport, but I just hate Halloween. I can't help it. Yes, I *do* dispense candy from my front stoop, which is, in fact, decorated with pumpkins and orange mums: I actually love that part, but I actively shun parties that demand dressing up and intellectuals often spoil the potential fun by pretending to be Marianne Moore or Sartre with only a black turtleneck in tow and then calling it "conceptual." Puh-leeze. So seriously, Karl, you *will* not be Kinski one day: I forbid it.

Karl Steel said...

So seriously, Karl, you *will* not be Kinski one day: I forbid it.

I know what I'm wearing to our Kzoo panel....

Seriously, though: I bought a cheap white suit years ago for when ALK and I went as a couple of characters from the Cremaster cycle (I went as this guy and ALK went as this guy: I wish it had been mine, but it was her idea). Now every year I have to use the white suit. I went as a color photo negative the next year, then the nervous system, and for the next fullon costume event I have in mind Kinski (from Fitzcarraldo; with ALK as Herzog from My Best Fiend but especially from Burden of Dreams, as she says, "when he was fucking hot.").

Those Sartre costumes? You're right: they're pathetic. It'd be better to go as Simone Weil (or Zizek! Why haven't I done that one yet?), although it'd take some doing. I do know a guy who went one year as "himself," which is, yes, normally the most pathetic costume (regardless of how plugged into performance studies it is): but he did it with the assistance of an enormous paper-mache caricature of his own head. Brilliant!

What I'm saying, EJ, is: far be from me to teach you have to have fun, but we can learn ya if you let us.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Eileen, I break with you. I break with you. I break with you.

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Evil wizard here. My students said it was type-casting.

Liza Blake said...

A Rotten Scholar.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I am dressing as a king, for those who are interested. Last year I was a monk. Before that, a Grim Reaper (my son was the Assistant Grim Reaper).

To give Eileen's response a fuller answering, some of the reasons I like the holiday are:
1. It's silly.
2. It has very little religious content, other than (vaguely) its origins.
3. It's one of those pagan survivals that I'm always obsessing over.
4. As far as harvest festivals go, it's a lot better than Thanksgiving, with its consumption of large dead birds and forced family enjoyment.
5. It's one of the few spaces in American culture where death seeps back into what is an otherwise hermetically sealed system of adoring youth, beauty, health -- as if we were all eternal, as if death has somehow been vanquished. To put this another way, most Americans encounter death as media images of foreign bodies destroyed by war, or when a relative dies in the sanitary confines of a hospital. Halloween is at base about mortality.
6. Eileen says we're always in costume; what reader of contemporary performance theory wouldn't agree? What I like about Halloween is that the contingency of identity, its non-naturalness, becomes obvious and embraced, at least for a few hours.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Dr Nokes: an EVIL wizard? You're too jolly to be evil.

Liza: OK, I have to ask, how does one dress as a rotten scholar? With an evil clown mask?

Eileen Joy said...

JJC: just because you say "I break with you" three time doesn't make it real [haha].

Okay, okay, I get it. Halloween is fun, and maybe also culturally useful.

meli said...

Nothing. But Leeds city centre was scary tonight. I felt like I was in Dawn of the Dead.

Karl Steel said...

Re: death and Halloween:

Schools ban "cult of death" Halloween:

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow schools have been ordered to ban students from celebrating Halloween despite the widespread popularity of the imported festival to Russia.

Halloween is being forced underground because it "includes religious elements, the cult of death, the mockery of death," a spokesman for the city's education department Alexander Gavrilov said Wednesday.

"It's not an attempt to block the celebration of this holiday completely, just in schools and colleges," he added.

Pumpkins and images of witches are widespread across Russia, with many bars organizing special fancy dress parties, despite the efforts of the Kremlin, and especially the Russian Orthodox Church, to curb enthusiasm for non-native festivities.

"This is destructive for the minds and the spiritual and moral health of pupils," said Gavrilov.