“It Should Never Have Occurred”: Documentary Appropriation, Resistant Reading, and the Ethical Ambivalence of McAlmon’s Chinese Opera
This essay explores the ethical dimensions of documentary appropriation by staging a “resistant reading” of Stephen Scobie’s McAlmon’s Chinese Opera (1980). By dwelling on Robert McAlmon’s documented aversion to seeing his controversial marriage transformed into literature, Scobie’s long poem effectively commits the very transgression it thematizes while also encouraging the reader to further scrutinize McAlmon’s private life. Yet Opera’s proliferation of transgressions is inextricably linked to its efforts to rescue McAlmon from historical obscurity, and to pay homage to the values inherent in his own writings. With this in mind, Opera serves as a compelling example of the ethical ambivalence often at play in the documentary long poem’s engagement with historical figures and events.