In the spring of 1961,
Euripides’s The Women of Troy opened at the Récamier Theater
in Paris. The first night was attended by many of the intellectual elite:
André Pierye de Mandiargue, Alain Jouffroy, Robbe-Grillet and Octavio
Paz; our party was made up of Noma and Bill Copley, Marcel Duchamp and
myself. The Women of Troy, being both anti-war and anti-misogynist,
has been produced more times than any other Greek play so that Marcel
might have seen it before, though he did not say so. The play was given
an extravagant production in New York in 1964, so he might have seen it
again at the very time he was changing the name of the foundation that
was to donate his yet secret work [Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The
Illuminating Gas] to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Euripides opens his play
with Cassandra, possessed
with prophecy, coming on stage with a flaming torch in each hand. One she
places in a sconce on the statue of Hymen, God of Marriage, and the other
she holds high in her right hand singing the marriage song, prophesying
her betrothal to Agamemnon; this despite the fact that even Apollo had respected
says Hephaestus. "In our weddings you are the torch-bearer; but this
torch-bearing is a hideous mockery."
At dinner after the
play the four of us discussed the predicament in which Cassandra had put
Apollo. Apollo appeared to her and promised to teach her the art of prophecy
if she would lie with him. After accepting his instruction, Cassandra
went back on the bargain. A successful teacher communicates the facility
of achieving certain significant results which become intuitive once acquired
by the student. So it was with Cassandra, and she saw no reason to lose
her virginity for something that was already hers. (This is heuristic
education and can at times be disconcerting.) Apollo, accepting the fact
that what he taught her was irretrievably hers, begged her to give him
just one kiss. A sentimental compliance to what seemed to be an innocent
reward was her demise. As she gave Apollo his kiss, he spat into her mouth
thus ensuring that none would ever believe what she prophesied. What he
did in spite was not instruction but a God-given gift.
Not long after this
I made a sculpture called The Torch of Cassandra which was bought
by Barnet Hodes, one of the directors, along with Marcel Duchamp and Noma
and William Copley, of the William and Noma Copley Foundation. Some years
later, Hodes told me that because of my sculpture he had investigated
the story of Cassandra, so that when Marcel presented the motion to change
the name of the foundation to the Cassandra Foundation, he (Hodes) said,
he was the only one to know her story.
Bill Copley recounted
an incident that happened in his sixty-ninth street apartment in New York.
Noma did not, naturally enough, see why the Noma and William Copley Foundation
should be changed to the Cassandra Foundation. Marcel was waiting in the
living room while Bill was in the bedroom, which was just off the living
room, trying to convince Noma to change the name of the Foundation. After
quite a time, Bill blew a cloud of white cigarette smoke out the door
of the bedroom to let Marcel know that he had been successful.
I see a relation between
Marcel Mauss’s "Essai sur le don," "Étant
donnés," "don de la Fondation Cassandra,"
the gift of Cassandra (which Marcel seemed to think was among his gifts
as well) and all that potlatch entails. Marcel spent the war in the German-speaking
part of Switzerland and had lived in Germany and so was able to add a
common Teutonic word to his arsenal of puns, "Gift": die
Gift, gift, das Gift, poison.
(In a telephone conversation,
March 1, 2000, Noma Copley would not comment on Mr. Metcalf’s remarks.
However she assured us that "his statements are all fine.")