When sent Anthony Burgess’ translation of Oedipus the King to consider for the “Burgess Issue” of Open Letters Monthly, I envisioned a short piece made up of unedited notes—whatever I wrote in the margins as I read the play.
For instance, alongside the text on page fifteen I wrote a description of a dream. Taiwanese twin sisters, very petite, left in my mailbox a copy of the version of Oedipus they directed for a guerilla filmmaking collective, along with an essay, its thesis being “you do it to yourself.” This was an invite to attend a 3am festival where the film would be shown. I go. The twins carry bags filled with confections for the audience. I dreamt this shortly after I read Alexander Neville’s 1563 translation of Seneca’s Oedipus Rex. I thought maybe I’d start my piece for Open Letters Monthly with that, maybe slightly expanded or psychoanalyzed.
And I thought I’d end the piece with the following coda: Why translate the word Tyrannus? Tyrannus = king. Everybody who reads Sophocles either knows this or their professor is about to tell them. Oedipus Tyrannus sounds right. “The King?” Oedipus thuh is a dull rhyme and Oedipus thee is all wrong. Rex is okay. Oedipus Rex has a quick, slangy ring to it. Okay Romans, not bad.
Neither note fit. What happened is a couple of the notes—on fate and on knowledge—blossomed into the little essay I finally did submit. Read it here.
Before I began work on Burgess’ Oedipus, I imagined an essay about the music Bono and The Edge wrote for a stage production of A Clockwork Orange. A cut from that soundtrack, “ALEX descends into HELL for a BOTTLE of MILK KOROVA 1,” appeared in 1991 as a b-side to “The Fly”—but that’s all. The Edge said, in an interview for U2’s fan magazine Propaganda, “There are no plans to release the soundtrack and I like the idea that this music only exists in the theatre context—that's what we wrote it for and I don't think it would make a great record without major reworking.” If anyone knows of a bootleg, I want to hear it.
In the same interview, The Edge talked about Burgess’ reaction to the soundtrack, “Anthony Burgess didn't seem to like the score that we wrote for Clockwork Orange, nor did he like the production itself. I don't know—he's very old, it would have worried me more if he had liked it. He's written 17 symphonies, you know—no one has heard them but he says they are brilliant.”