Roach’s chapter on “flesh” begins with Westminster Abbey’s wax effigies. Charisma and stigmata still emanate from the effigy of Charles II, “exuding the most intense of the contradictory qualities that reliably excite the fascination of It: vulnerability in strength, profanity in sanctity, and intimacy in public” (175). Here “It” is framed into slightly more of a formula than in other sections (“reliably excite…”). Later in the chapter, in contrast, Roach will invoke various chance elements in the formation of It, folding in the social dynamics and circumstances that combine unexpectedly to make “It” possible. This chapter circles around the reproducibility of It, seen again through Pepys as a modern figure, a “self-fashioning parvenu,” who emulated his sovereign by having a cast of himself made up (175).
A book that has been so passionately concerned with mimetic desire turns to “Pygmalionism, the affliction that makes creators fall in love with the images they themselves have forged” (176). The success of “It” is “charmed exponentially by the number of its copies” (177). Performers and agents are beginning to do in the eighteenth-century what will become commonplace in our time–Roach uses language like “pioneering” or “presaging” modern experience.
(In a fascinating moment, Roach refers to the “wormhole” in Pepys diary that “opens up uncannily in the 1660s and drops the reader off, as Elinor Glyn rightly intuited, at the movies in the 1920s” (176). I liked and was heartily dazzled by “wormholes” here . . . any thoughts on this?)
But I digress! The It effect depends on another strong juxtaposition, quite a fleshly one. The sacred icon is “fashioned from the detritus of the quotidian, the abject, and the profane” (180). Thus the Pygmalion story possesses a deep-seated ambivalence, very much at work in Cinderella/ Galatea/ Eliza’s ascent from utensil to ornament. Roach is also careful to stress that “charisma is an expression of shared needs . . . neither always reducible to, not ever separable from, the real or imaginary flesh of the prodigy” (187).
So how much of the It effect is created by being in the right place at the right time? As Roach notes, “there must be social as well as individual chemistry here, a volatile mixture of common needs catalyzed by special opportunities” (184). More than just the It person is in play, especially to create “It-Zones” like Covent Garden, or Hollywood–both the “worshipped and the sacrificed” are necessary. Roach’s reading of Pygmalion, which which he ends the chapter, is quite wonderful, and sheds much light on the wider meanings of performance: “By turning untutored vitality into refined inutility before our very eyes, the action of Pygmalion recapitulates the transformative act of performance itself. As synthetic experience, performance furnishes forth the products that imagination wrests from the raw material of inchoate possibility’ (192). There, in a nutshell, is one of the great concerns of the book. This chapter shows the dual nature of fleshly transformation, the combination of charisma and stigmata that marks the modern attainment of the It effect.
Above all, this chapter impressed me with its remarks about the selective nature of It (“while many are called, few are chosen,” 183). Roach lauds the efforts of performance historians to look at a wider group of performers and those who made performances possible in a variety of venues, hitherto unnoticed and unsung–but poignantly acknowledges that the It effect tends to dominate even the most historically attuned academic studies of performance.