I visited the Old Operating Theatre in London, to see the oldest medical theatre still in existence (although no longer used for operations, it’s now a museum!). Set in the top of St Thomas’s Church the Operating Theatre itself is a small room with an old operating table, a wooden slab, surrounded by a gallery of stands to observe from. Beside this is the Herb Garret, a fascinating and sometime disturbing array of medical equipment (the gynacological in particular) and herbal remedies, from Snailwater to the relationship between Pufferfish and Zombie legend.
One of my favourite programmes this year has been the French series ‘The Returned’ (in French ‘Les Revenants’). Set in a quiet, beautiful small French town in the alps?, the premise is that the dead have come back to life, “returned”, several years later, all at once. It’s exquisitely shot, connecting with the Zombie genre or ghost story premise but plays it out very differently (the character Camille mockingly says “je suis une zombie” but it’s the only mention of it). None of the “returned” look any different, they are not rotten, insubstantial or ghostly, but they do appear to have some special powers that are never completely explored, and they eat a lot. This openness is fascinating. Things happen but are never fully explained.
I’d been thinking of ‘The Returned’ in relation to the patient simulators. Simulators are also able to die and return, endlessly. Unless they break. Serendipitously, I came across the term “Les Revenants” in the recently exhibition “Witches and Wicked Bodies”, at Modern Two (The Dean Gallery), Edinburgh. It was mentioned in an old text, I think from the 1500’s, about witches, witches Sabbaths and other witchcraft practices, and so I discovered the term has historical relevance and currency. As a result, I’ve been researching the meaning and uses of the term “Les Revenants”.
Translations of revenant include:
Interestingly, a poem was written by Baudelaire in the 1800’s entitled “Le Revenant”, as part of his “Fleur de mal” (Flowers of Evil) poetry collection .
Comme les anges à l’oeil fauve,
Je reviendrai dans ton alcôve
Et vers toi glisserai sans bruit
Avec les ombres de la nuit;
Et je te donnerai, ma brune,
Des baisers froids comme la lune
Et des caresses de serpent
Autour d’une fosse rampant.
Quand viendra le matin livide,
Tu trouveras ma place vide,
Où jusqu’au soir il fera froid.
Comme d’autres par la tendresse,
Sur ta vie et sur ta jeunesse,
Moi, je veux régner par l’effroi.
— Charles Baudelaire
Multiple translations exist of this poem and the Fleur de mal website hosts a number of these. I’m looking for a text to hinge the performance on and maybe this poem with its multiple translations could be that text…