Before reading Stefano Massini’s “theatrical memo,” I don’t believe I ever came into contact with the word “intractable.” Upon first read, I could gauge its meaning from the second syllable, tract—the Latin root of which means “pull” or “drag.” I had read that syllable enough in newspapers’ withdrawals of original statements to understand that any word containing the syllable carried with it a negative connotation. Retractions can undermine the efficacy of journalism and play a part in leading newspapers to their dissolution.
But aren’t retractions a sign of responsibility, at least on the journalists’ part? Don’t they aid in the public’s general understanding of the truth, as well as the recognition of falsehoods? How or why does the idea of responsibility that retractions imply for journalists also apply to government officials?
Massini’s Intractable Woman asks us to re-evaluate what at first seems like the negative connotation of the root word that signifies a “drag.” That word could be interpreted inversely as an aid to telling the truth.
The adjective intractable, whose connotative power is also interpreted negatively, has the denotation: “hard to control or deal with.” If retraction is part of the public’s responsibility to tell the truth, then intractable is part of the reporter’s conviction that their responsibility upstages the government’s objectives.
In that sense, Politkovskaya became intractable in her quest to report truthfully on the Second Chechen War in contrast to the Russian government’s controlled narrative. Becoming so, in the eyes of a government like Vladimir Putin’s that acts by autocratic fiat, marked her as a threat. By mentioning the all-too-powerful word in attempts to vilify and undermine the reporter, along with their threats and the eventual execution of her murder, Politkovskaya’s patriotism and respectability were put under the national spotlight. Could that have unintentionally empowered her further? is the real question.
Massini’s attempt to re-evaluate the word as a positive attribute can be seen to echo the response to Donald Trump’s “nasty woman” comment in a debate with Hillary Clinton during his 2016 United States Presidential campaign. Overnight, this blatantly dismissive comment towards Clinton spawned an international rallying cry for the feminist movement. By reclaiming the pejorative word “nasty” (the use of which could be measured by Twitter hashtags and merchandise sales), women had a blueprint with which they could battle injustice and inequality. As Massini contends about Politkovskaya, these women were a focal point for the ways in which the demand for truth-telling becomes a form of resistance that earns the label “intractable.”
Because of her supposed intractability, Politkovskaya, like many other women—think of Elizabeth Warren as #ShePersisted, or Malala Yousafzai’s plea for #BooksNotBullets—was able to subvert allegedly disparaging titles and invest in them values of a different meaning. Massini’s usage of the word in the play’s title further honors Politkovskaya’s work and proposes a new rallying cry for the resistance’s future efforts.
Intractable Woman begins previews September 13 and opens September 23 in the second-floor theater of 122 Community Center (122CC). For more information, please visit: http://playco.org/events/intractable-women-a-theatrical-memo-on-anna-politkovskaya/