the doll games
shelley and pamela jackson



home
dolls
artifacts
documents
commentary
tapes
interviews
glossary

last
next
s doll journal



stiffness
vs. pliancy


Excerpt from S Jackson's doll journal, summer 2000

With every doll there was some remainder or excess, left behind whenever they dissolved into the story, when they became their characters and were forgiven their plastic, their too-visible follicles, their 360° hip rotations. Even though almost any token would serve to anchor a new character (or is it host, or seed, or springboard? I am not sure how it works exactly, though I am sure it is something like the adoration of holy relics, icons, or fetish objects), the indigestible aspects of that object, those qualities peculiar to it as an inanimate thing, clung somehow to the character we invented, adding indefinable nuances (textures? Connotations?) that worked something like an extra personality. A prosthetic personality? Was the doll a prosthetic body for a character, or was the character an imaginary outgrowth of the doll? I suppose what I’m saying is that while our practise (ignoring doll-specific flaws, etc.) suggested the former, there was some flow in the reverse direction, too. The bendyness of Phyllis became part and proof of her frivolous nature, along with her all-over-soft rubber texture, so different from hard plastic big Josh, his trunk (thorax) a hollow carapace, a sort of container like an insect or crustacean has, but with the rubbery arms, legs, head poking out of it like a turtle’s so one might think the soft center lay inside (where you could get at it with a mallet and a fork) except for the fact you can tell by weight that it’s empty.

Big Josh acquired the connotations of shields and car’s molded bonnets, and there hung about the sense of him even a particular kind of sound, the dull clack of plastic on hard plastic—an empty sound—and the quieter clicks and rattles of his loose ball joints, from which his legs swung like clappers, turning uncontrollably from side to side, so that his feet were never pointing in the right direction, and that was also part of his personality, the fact that his body from the compacted head and neck, stiff and solid, passed through stages (the limited waist action) to the loose and frivolous disposition of his legs. This was part of the comedy of Big Josh (or Josh McBig): that all his parts emanated macho muscle-bound solidity in themselves, but they had a clownish freedom to waggle and splay and take ludicrous stances, not to mention the pratfalls they performed by coming loose altogether, because BJ was always leaving bits of himself behind, and this was such a common occurrence that it was, I bet, the reason we became so callous and amused, later on, and wrote the regular amputations or [what’s the word for when lizards strategically shed their tails?] into their conversations.
Dolls came in varying degrees of stiff, and the better dolls were soft-limbed, we agreed, like Aina and Jesse were, their rubbery arms and legs had a pathos that hard, jointed limbs couldn’t achieve even if (which was true) they "worked" better and could strike more natural, more expressive attitudes (I was amazed by the witchıs free hip action, and her twice-jointed arms). The internal structure of the soft arms broke down fast, and Aina and Jesse had no elbows (you could bend their arms, but they would spring straight again). Still, their soft shoulders were vulnerable and tender. Aina and Jesse had stiff torsos like Big Josh, so the clack of hard bodies hung around them too, but it was softened by the tender way their arms and legs bunched up in your hand, like a bunch of softening carrots. Almost all the dolls had soft heads, so being soft rubber was like being human (flesh) and with the all-everywhere-else hard dolls it was almost like their human heads were poking reassuringly out of a sort of space-suit, the vehicle by which they were able to manifest on our human plane.