An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey: A Play and Two Essays

Selected quotes:
The mind is a razor, it cuts sharp and deep and final. There is a world within the world. Mind ripens there, feeding on touch. The only language is touch and touch betrays us — into what we dare not know and can't forget. But you don't want to hear about that, do you?

Book cover: “An Evening With JonBenét Ramsey”

So it didn't take me long to learn that to fall in love only one condition must be met, but it's an absolute one. You've got to find someone whose disorder matches yours. That's love — perfect symmetry.
Touch: all the ways we ooze betrayal. Touch: what the body knows and must sustain or die. The way you touch me tells me everything: what I am for you. What you are. Everything we invent words in a vain effort to conceal. Touch knows. It is the future in the instant.
…to raise one's voice in the torch-light of dusk and dawn, to summon, if only oneself, for the insistent plunge beyond all why and what for.
I remember, in high school, I'd lie awake — after — rigid but my mind racing, unable to halt the rush of images that projected themselves on the ceiling above me like pictures on a screen, a home movie superimposed on the idiot wallpaper Mitzi'd chosen for my room, a collage of Disneyfied monkeys, ducks, and mice grinning. It was like I was exploding out onto the ceiling, thrown from myself then coming back at myself in a whirl of images. But as dark shifted to shadow and become dawn I'd slow it down until there was a single picture, a snapshot preserved, refined, and stored here (tapping head) as a tablet against forgetting.
That I did it — to myself. The pageants. To myself, ten cents a dance. That I would do anything — to win your love. That you let me do it. Saw I was doing it and couldn't stop yourselves. I was a child, how could you let me do that to myself —
“…there is a question of whether this is the work of the darkest evil imaginable or a more or less random act of malice and greed gone awry. Evil on this scale is impossible to comprehend. To know who murdered JonBenét Ramsey is to know what world we live in, where we are.”

So ended an editorial that appeared in TIME magazine shortly after the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey is an attempt to know the psychological truth of what happened to JonBenét Ramsey and to use that knowledge as the basis for discussion of what the Ramsey case reveals about conflicts central to American society.

Sometimes literature offers the only way to understand a traumatic event. Sometimes it also provides the only Court where the violated can attain justice. Certain events leave a traumatic residue in our conscience. Resolution of the painful feelings that the event has awakened in us only comes with an in depth exploration of the human psyche. To that end the book begins with a full-length play, "Cowboy's Sweetheart," which imagines the life of an abused and murdered child as it might have evolved had she lived. The play explores the character's experiences and her struggle to deal with the memories that haunt her. The play is followed by two essays. The first essay, "There is Another Court," employs a psychoanalytic framework to cast fresh light on the many issues raised by the Ramsey case: the sexualization of children, the voyeurism of the media, the failure of police investigators to bring to their task the psychological knowledge needed to comprehend what happened in the Ramsey household, and the inability of the legal system to provide a forum capable of addressing the widespread public concern for the social and moral issues raised by the Ramsey case. As Walter Benjamin pointed out: "the dead remain in danger" — often because the social institutions called upon to bring them justice are paralyzed by their own inherent limitations. The Court holds, however, that it is then the duty of other public forums to provide other ways of reasoning capable of producing warranted conclusions. Tragic drama is such a forum. As Arthur Miller put it, "every play is a jurisprudence," a place where those denied justice can seek it through that probing into the inner places of the human heart which is the hallmark of tragic drama. The second essay, "Casting the Audience: Toward a Theatre of Primary Emotions," develops a new view of the social function of serious theatre. Theatre is that unique social institution in which audiences come together to witness the public airing of tragic secrets about our most intimate institutions — such as the family. That process offers us a way to confront the buried emotional conflicts central to our society and to achieve thereby a cleansing that is genuine because it derives from an honest confrontation with ourselves.

Additional Information:

The Davis Trust for Aid in the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Purchase details:

ISBN 0-595-30968-2, iUniverse
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“Raising JonBenét,” review & interview by Adam Engel, CounterPunch newsletter


Essay: “There is Another Court”

Related work:

Art and Politics, Chapter 7:  "An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey: A Monologue"

Table of Contents

Cowboy's Sweetheart — A Play in Three Acts 11
Acknowledgments 15
Cast of Characters 17
Act One — Do Roses Know Their Thorns Hurt? 19
Act Two — To Walk On Something Alive 47
Act Three — The Door To Summer 79
There is Another Court107
Casting the Audience: Toward a Theatre of Primary Emotions159
Appendix: Legal Memorandum201