[A very inside joke, incorporating the strange and wonderfully funny language-teaching book we published years ago, Standard Albanian, in which most of the literary figures seem to have some sort of prosthesis, and various ex-employees who were fascinating for their eccentricies. But whether these are funny without inside knowledge of the people and the situations I can't promise.]
The first opera based entirely on a scholarly monograph, Prosthesis asks all those questions most pertinent to an audience of today, and then some: IS my wooden leg possible? Is mahogany preferable to teak? And what about termites, damn it? Why DO the Albanians feel it necessary to capitalize so many words entirely at random? How and by whom can these questions be asked, can they be quoted, can they be appropriate questions, and can they be asked in the appropriate moment, the moment in which it becomes more than theoretically possible that I no longer have a leg to stand on? Did I remember to get permission to use all these excerpts?
Act I, Scene I
The heroine, daughter of an Albanian woodcutter and now an Acquisitions Editor, enters from stage left, singing out these questions and making various sweeping and chopping gestures with her arms, thereby causing an amusingly lunar estrangement effect.
[lights dim appropriately]
Her fiancé, Don Carlo, a chipper young man with a pocket protector who looks a bit like young Ronald Dworkin, refuses to answer. It is a trial he is undergoing in order to become an Amway salesman, but he is forbidden to tell her this. He stands heroically silent, while she unstraps her wooden leg and shakes it at him. He stands firm, on his two good legs, ignoring her and concentrating on rolling his shirt cuffs inward. She hops around the stage on one foot, counterclockwise, shouting hermeneutical phrases at him.
A trapdoor in center stage opens, and with flashing lights and puffs of smoke, up comes the Queen of the Bite, waving an invoice and singing her famous aria in broken Engish, “I’m Going to Put You on Credit Hold” (“ha/ha/ha/ha/ha/you who think you are so Bold”). She snatches the wooden leg, claiming it has not been paid for. She is supposed to sing “No, your wooden leg is NOT possible,” but, characteristically, she puts the emphasis on the wrong word.
The heroine, undaunted, stakes out a new frontier, at which the debate with her work must take place from now on, in her lilting soprano aria “Aporias.” The debate, that is, about the national, linguistic, and cultural specificity of experience and the trans-national, transcultural law that protects this specificity; the aporia of the necessity to continue working in the tradition of critique and of the idea of critique, yet the corresponding necessity to transcend it without compromising it.
Don Carlo looks as if he is about to break his silence at this, but heroically resists—merely tensely highlighting a phrase in the bookplan he is reading, about the aporetical obligation to host the foreigner and the alien and yet to respect him, her, or it AS foreign.
[Interlude: ballet, with Heidegger, Aries, and Freud, all dressed like Albanian gypsies, while the Queen of the Bite at stage rear, with repossessed wooden legs piled high on her desk, determinedly dials a phone number.]
Act I, Scene II
As the lights go up, we see a group of shadowy figures arranging it in such a manner that the head might fall over the herbs at the foot of the fig tree.
Don Carlo has vanished, leaving behind only the cap of his yellow highlighter. Heartbroken, envisioning the destruction to his shirt, the heroine crawls into the office of the Queen of the Bite and begs for the return of her leg so she might go after him, singing her aria “Even Without Feet THERE’S LIVING, THERE’S Just NO GOING Forward That Way.” The Queen of the Bite, unrelenting, refuses to give her back the leg, singing with chilling emphasis “hee hee hee hee hee—the wooden legs travel toward ME!” Mr. Jules enters on crutches, questioning his October Statement, and the scene ends, with the rousing Chorus of the Albanian Accountants.
Act II, Scene I
Don Carlo, who has met with an accident during intermission and is now without legs himself (which he mourns especially since he can no longer turn his socks inward), is sitting with a half-yellow shirt among a number of Barnes & Noble employees who have had their wooden limbs repossessed and are singing the haunting sextet, “IF WE [ONLY] HAD the Prostheses!” They are despondent, and curse the evil Queen of the Bite. They are thinking of faxing her, but don’t know her number because they can’t read her handwriting.
The heroine arrives, accompanied by Jacques Derrida, and Don Carlo prostrates himself at her foot.
She sings the aria “LISTEN TO ME and do not BE ANGRY with me. I have but one bit of advice for you: don’t SURRENDER, don’t let go [“RELEASE the self”); I know that you lost your legs, but don’t SURRENDER.” She convinces him that she will get the account of his accident through EBUP, disguised as a Henry James monograph, and the Barnes & Nobles employees are greatly cheered to hear her promise that they will be able to get it at a 50% discount, and that their credit limit will be extended to at least $4,000 upon the downfall of the evil Queen.
Derrida, who turns out to be the heroine’s woodcutter father, makes new wooden legs for everyone. They dance around him with festive garlands, singing “yes, it’s POSSIBLE!”—“oui, oui, oui,” all the way home.
Act II, Scene II
Cutting across the terrains occupied traditionally by the history of medicine, field studies, art history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary theory, and fiction, the heroine and Don Carlo find an artistic or cultural pre-text for each of their expositions, that connects thematically or theoretically with the question of prosthesis—indomitably subverting every attempt to secure their status by means of theoretical fiat.
[The fiat should be red, with a convertible top.]
All the returning phantoms work through lunch; and when the Queen of the Bite gets back from Nuts & Mud, Don Carlo, finally released from his vow of silence, and with his shirt now completely yellow, informs her in the aria “At This Particular Point in Time” that she, too, must lose her legs—and they sweep the pile off her desk into a brown leather briefcase and disappear, amid fireworks. Don Carlo shouts triumphantly that this is the beginning of the epistemological revolution. As military music is heard in the distance, and Mr. Jules and Heidegger go by arm in arm waving banners casually referring to the coming of “theory,” he returns to his highlighting.
As the curtain falls, the heroine acquires another manuscript.