“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the decline of degradation, or abjection kitsch

The real showstopper, though, is in Abel Ferrara’s “Go Go Tales.” As an exotic dancer — introduced as the “scariest, sexiest, most dangerous girl in the world” — she storms a strip-club stage, pet Rottweiler in tow, and proceeds to entwine tongues with the slobbering dog. – NYT

Having already provoked parents, women’s groups and the ratings board with explicit ads for the coming torture movie “Captivity,” Mr. Solomon and his After Dark Films now intend to introduce the film, set for release July 13, with a party that may set a new standard for the politically incorrect.

For starters, Mr. Solomon has ordered up what he calls the three “most outlandish” SuicideGirls available from the punk porn service, even if they’re as frisky as the ones he is told once set a Portland, Ore., restaurant on fire. Some lucky fans will get to take the women as dates for party night, July 10, on two conditions: “People take the date at their own risk, and everybody on the Internet gets to watch.”

Cage fighting too is likely. Mr. Solomon’s planners are angling for Kimbo Slice, the bare-knuckle bruiser whose vicious backyard brawls are a Web favorite and who made his Mixed Martial Arts debut on Saturday.”

I was pleased to see that IT’s KinoFist group (or here) is going to be showing Dušan Makavejev’s WR – Mysteries of the Organism, since, by an amazing coincidence, I just watched WR myself. It is impossible to take against a film in which a glacial female voice in something that sounds like Serbo-Croatian encourages all Comrades to take full advantage of the 4,000 orgasms we experience, on average, over a lifetime, as a sepia iconostasis of revolutionary fucking flickers encouragingly before us.

The film’s protagonist chief actress and protagonist – if it is possible to be the protagonist of a scrap book – Milena, seeks that moment in which the convergence of revolution and transgression produce… well, not the zipless fuck that Americans in the 70s were so bent on procuring, but a moment of bliss that would knock down the sedimented oppression of old, exploitative economic and patriarchal ties. Fucking, here, is the revolution’s sympathetic magic – by relieving the productive norms that weigh like nightmares on the fuckers, we will relieve the productive norms that weigh like nightmares on our industrial system, wedded, as it has been since Hitler’s eureka moment, to war. New War is not an accident that happens to the system, a snafu, but a positive element of the economy, a central value. The looting associated with old war is replaced with an inherently mobile, never to be realized goal legitimating all waste. Not that looting becomes obsolete, of course, but it is put on a business basis. Is it possible that this is simply a neurotic disposition writ large? Can we fuck our way to rationality?

A good question - but let's admit there is a bit of an antique glaze about the film. It was made at a time when transgression was undergoing a sea change. Where transgression had been the great weapon of the outlaw up until the sixties, it was becoming the marketer and coolhunter's great weapon in the sixties. Transgression, in other words, was being annexed by the ethos of Happiness Triumphant.

A small personal interlude. I was sitting in the University library at Montpellier in the early eighties. I had the first volume of Georges Bataille’s OC in my hand. I was reading the Story of the Eye. I’d never heard of either Bataille or the Story of the Eye before. For those who don’t know the book, The Story of the Eye involves a series of improbable events, linked together by a claustrophobic erotic urgency, in which the narrator and his lover Simone, who are in their teens, perform a number of sexual and sexually metaphoric acts, insinuate the shy Marcelle into their activities and basically turn her into a catatonic, and then flee their parents’ houses and join up with an English lord. At one point, the group arrives at a church. They lure the priest of the church from the confessional. Simone seduces him, and then the priest dies of a strangulation/ejaculation combo – at which point Sir Edmond kindly cuts the priest’s eye out and gives it to Simone. She playfully stuffs it up her cunt. The narrator says:

“Now I stood up and, while Simone lay on her side, I drew her thighs apart, and found myself facing something I imagine I had been waiting for in the same way that a guillotine waits for a neck to slice. I even felt as if my eyes were bulging from my head, erectile with horror; in Simone’s hairy vagina, I saw the wan blue eye of Marcelle, gazing at me through tears of urine. Streaks of come in the steaming hair helped give that dreamy vision a disastrous sadness. I held the thighs open while Simone was convulsed by the urinary spasm, and the burning urine streamed out from under the eye down to the thighs below.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the book with me, so I am quoting from the English translation. It is hard, in English, to convey the … the elegance of Bataille’s prose. If I were to translate that passage, I would probably write “guillotine waits for a neck”, not a neck to slice – sometimes, you have to bow to English bluntness to convey the more abbreviated sense of the French. In any case, I remember the total shock I felt, reading Bataille. The book reached out and pulled my nose, stroked my cock, and bit me on the ass, all at the same time.

After all, I’d come to Montpellier from Shreveport, Louisiana. I wasn't used to this kind of thing.

So in the early eighties, Bataille’s notion of transgression was truly important to me. However, looking back, I can see how retarded I was – I never paid any attention to what was happening in popular culture back then. Not only did I not own a tv in the eighties, I rarely even glanced at one. I just didn't care. I didn't give a fuck about Reagan kultur. Thus, I had no clue that transgression had become a sitcom norm – it was a farting, nosepicking, let’s stuff body parts up my asshole world out there, and transgression had settled in to become just a b movie plot, before one moved on to action movies and the like. The Surmale quickly became the everymale, and the everymale immediately sought out his own. While, on the one end, political correctness sent up a fog to disguise the reality of the Gated Community, on the other end, it was endless tits and ass, not, of course, as fuckable matter, but as platform for incredible business opportunities in aesthetic surgery. The time was right for rubber, for pod happiness, for a Burroughs routine that swallowed all other routines:

“But the warren of live torture rooms is a must. As Mr. Solomon envisions it, individuals in torture gear will wander through the West Hollywood club Privilege grabbing partygoers. All of which is a prelude to an undisclosed main event that, he warned last week over slices of pizza a few doors from his company’s new offices on the Sunset Strip, is “probably not legal.”

“The women’s groups definitely will love it,” Mr. Solomon hinted. “I call it my personal little tribute to them.”

Mr. Solomon, a fast-talking 35-year-old, and his genre-film company were barely noticed until outrage at the “Captivity” billboards — which chronicled a young woman’s torment, with frames titled “Abduction,” “Confinement,” “Torture,” “Termination” — led to a rare censure by the Motion Picture Association of America this spring.”

The Motion Picture Association of America finally put its foot down about torture … for pleasure. Torture, as the MPAA knows, should only be seen, enjoyed, and distributed for the sake of duty. Hence, 24. But never masturbate after you torture Moslems. We do have some codes left in this country, after all!

That abjection has become kitsch does make me laugh. Behind Bataille’s elegance, perhaps, there always lurked the gag. In Norman Klein’s Marx-y reading of 1930s cartoons, Seven Minutes, the golden age of cartoons – the age that produced the ageless diva, the Simone of cartoonland, Betty Boop - is discussed in relation to the transposition of the gag – a vaudeville routine – to the machina versatilis that produces the elastic cartoon body. The dreamlike liberation of objects from their objecthood is one way of viewing the goal of Bataille’s via negativa – one sinks as far as one can into becoming a big toe, a dislocated eye weeping urine in a teenage cunt, and at that moment one becomes … a cartoon, much like Porky Pig or Paris Hilton. For a moment, toonville characters think they can escape...

And who am I to say they can't? I was going to give this post a nice dying fall, a little pessimistic sendoff, a little hint that the system is total, we are doomed, no exit, all that shit, but really, I'm not going to take the bait, get into the outrage orgy, care... care in the least about the fast talking thirty five year old Mr. Solomon. I'm just going to collect him here, in this post, and then forget all about him.


amie said...

Ensuite je me levai et, en écartant les cuisses de Simone, qui s'était couchée sur le côté, je me trouvai en face de ce que, je me le figure ainsi, j'attendais depuis toujours de la même façon qu'une guillotine attend un cou à trancher. Il me semblait même que mes yeux sortaient de la tête comme s'ils étaient érectiles à force d'horreur; je vis exactement, dans le vagin velu de Simone, l'oeil bleu pâle de Marcelle qui me regardait en pleurant des larmes d'urine. Des traînées de foutre dans le poil fumant achevaient de donner à cette vision lunaire un caractère de tristesse désastreuse. Je maintenais ouvertes les cuisses de Simone qui étaient contractées par le spasme urinaire, pendant que l'urine brûlante ruisselait sous l'oeil sur la cuisse la plus basse......................

roger said...

Amie, thanks! I figured that, in the original, it probably did read un cou a trancher. An amazingly shocking passage, still.

roger said...

Ah, now that I have had a coffee and am more awake, I can see that the oddest choice was dreamy for lunaire. Huh. My larousse gives a wonderful definition for lunaire - sinistre et accidente, like the surface of the moon. In fact, lunar covers it. But of course Bataille is putting into that word the sense of being under the power of the moon. Dreamy strikes me as a desperate attempt to capture that. It doesn't work.

amie said...

LI, yes, "dreamy vision" doesn't quite capture "vision lunaire" - nor the latter's resonance with "spasme urinaire"!
(btw, your ealier post re um, is - hein - an elegant way of deferring the promised post re heine!?)

roger said...

Amie, okay ... the truth is, I am having a hard time de-jargonizing what I want to say about the Heine essay. You know, the rule around LI is, by indirections find direction out. So I am pacing around the battlements, so to speak. In squeaky armour.

dejan said...

A good question - but let's admit there is a bit of an antique glaze about the film. It was made at a time when transgression was undergoing a sea change. Where transgression had been the great weapon of the outlaw up until the sixties, ...

Agreeing with Shaviro here, I found the film still stupefies - not so much by the realization you state above that most transgression has been commodified starting in the 1970s, rather by the assemblage it makes of its various disjointed parts into a total delirium - and I think thus far nothing in cinema can quite parallel WR in this regard, except maybe Svankmajer's lunatic animations. When I started that whole discussion of cinematic subversion with Chabert, I was hoping that there is still possibility for a Makavejev to hit the mainstream cinemas... a hope that is dwindling though...

roger said...

I suppose I think of it as routinization rather than commodification. The latter has never struck me as a central issue in art - bread, movies and lightbulbs are going to be sold, and so it goes. However, you can fuck around with salesmanship and the whole culture of selling, and that's fun.

But I think that Makavejev is plugged into ending, as I say, war with erotic sympathetic magic. War is pretty central to that movie. This was not a fringe idea, although it did come from Reich. Mailer got it from Reich. Others got it from Mailer. The beats had it. I have it, somewhat. But no idea of the sixties and seventies generation has aged worse. It aged into self help, it aged into the prematurely senile mindset of the Maxim demographic. I think it still is in there, a prisoner awaiting some rescuer. Mostly, it is a prisoner of Happiness triumphant, the suave answer to every dissenter, forcing them to confess to the vice of (gasp) unhappiness.

Of course, this is a totally idiosyncratic reading. But even on a less personal level, surely this is a movie about the forces of eros and the forces of thanatos, duking it out under the guise of revolution, and trying to keep tab on who is on whose side.

roger said...

oh, and dejan, I wouldn't be too depressed that Makavejev hasn't hit the mainstream cinemas. The video release of this and sweet movie, which I haven't seen yet, seem like good signs to me. Hurray for commodification, since it does bring the movies, in handy DVD form, to my video store.

dejan said...

Mostly, it is a prisoner of Happiness triumphant, the suave answer to every dissenter, forcing them to confess to the vice of (gasp) unhappiness.

Yes I see your point although I feel that M. is consistently ambiguous about this in the movie; Milena is decapitated for believing in happiness, and her words ''I'm not sorry I was a Communist'' resonate equally with elation and horror.

I was not lamenting the absence of Makavejev in cinemas, rather, that there is no capitalist version of Makavejev anymore... politically challenging or ''subversive'' films are all in fact panegirics to neoliberalism.

Qlipoth said...

Er, Reich wasn't the least bit interested in 'transgression'. He was interested in work-democracy, enlightened childcare and an end to entirely unnecessary miseries. Bataille's steamy doomy tortured exalted yearning self-obsessed crowleyesque sex-mysticism is about as far away from Wilhelm Reich as one can get and still be on the same planet.


(Which is not to dismiss Bataille outright.)

Ray Davis said...

Makavejev's attempts to come to terms with capitalism in the 1980s were problematic in a less wonderful way than his earlier movies.

"Sweet Movie" was (for good reason) famously rare for a while, and I first saw it at the Harvard Film Archive. The director phoned a message to the audience beforehand: "While you are thinking of me, I will be thinking of you." It's the only time I can remember an audience booing and hissing at the end of a Harvard Film Archive show. That remains my favorite Makavejev experience.

What's stood up best to repeated viewings, however, is the straightforward silliness of "Innocence Unprotected". On DVD, I suspect "Sweet Movie" will just seem quaint.

roger said...

Ray, what a great story! One of my fave film experiences was a similar thing - watching the Man who Envied Women. I saw it at UT, and for some reason, the crowd that came to see it was apparently expecting something spicy. Within ten minutes the room almost emptied. It was awesome!

Qlipoth, I've never thought that Crowley and Bataille were much alike. The foirmer's fin de siecle diabolism is more like Huysman. However, I suppose both of them, and Reich, and Gurdjeff for that matter, were all, in the post World War I era, engaged in something broadly similar, being systematizing outliers. There's a cool interview on the dvd of WR with Makavejev, filmed for some Danish tv program back in the seventies, where he says a lot of interesting things about Reich. Whatever Reich's writings were like in the twenties, his effect, in the fifties, in the U.S., was certainly to have produced a certain way of talking about the politics of sex. By that time work democracy had , I guess, disappeared from Reich's own program, since he did seem to like to emphasize that he voted for Eisenhower, which I thought was exceedingly strange.

Qlipoth said...

"engaged in something broadly similar, being systematizing outliers."

I don't get this, Roger. Their extreme dissimilarities surely matter much more than their common interest in sex (which they share with literally everyone else) or in systematization (which they share with every thinker since Linnaeus, and indeed since Plato). It's like saying that Dante, Milton and Blake were engaged in something broadly similar, being systematizing outliers and interested in religion. That's surely the kind of generalisation that obscures far more than it reveals.

"Whatever Reich's writings were like in the twenties, his effect, in the fifties, in the U.S., was certainly to have produced a certain way of talking about the politics of sex."

Well, I have to say that it most certainly wasn't. In the US in the fifties, Reich in fact produced no way of talking about the politics of sex. By that, I mean: his influence was minimal, as good as non-existent. (Kinsey was influential, and later Masters Johnson - all of them much shallower than Reich, and indeed poles apart from him.) Only in the 60s, and then only really among European students, did Reich begin to acquire some influence. Up to and immediately after Reich's death (in a US jail) in 1957, his American followers were marginalised, ridiculed and very few in number. He was registered, if at all, mainly as a Mad Scientist who thought you could cure your cancer by sitting in a box (which he had never claimed). This was the parody version circulated in the US (with the enthusiastic support of the psychoanalytical establsihment) after Mildred Edie Brady had published her lipcurling attack in the New Republic:

"The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich", May 26, 1947:


"he did seem to like to emphasize that he voted for Eisenhower, which I thought was exceedingly strange."

It's not that strange, under the circumstances. By this time, he had of course "come a long way", as they say: expelled from the Communist Party (by vote-chasing puritans), forced out of Germany and Austria (by the Nazis), kicked out of the International Psychoanalytic Association (by the elderly Freud's worried acolytes) and dispatched from Norway and Denmark (by some outraged pillars of the local medical profession, following a fierce campaign in the yellow press).

America was Reich's last stop and his last hope, illusory of course. His end was tragic, and I use the word advisedly. And the Eisenhower thing becomes a wee bit more understandable when you realise that Reich had experienced CP functionaries first-hand in Vienna, that he had actually visited the USSR in the 20s and been appalled by what was (then already) happening to the Revolution; and that Stalin was Eisenhower's contemporary.

roger said...

Blake and Milton lived and Dante, of course, lived in different eras. If you take Bataille's papers on Fascism and Reich's - or you look at the energy paradigm in Bataille's The Cursed Portion and the energy paradigm in the orgone works - I'd say that they were working on similar lines. I'm not sure where you think the great differences kick in. Maybe you can explain. I am a mere dabbler in Reich, but I know Bataille very well.

As for Eisenhower - well, it seems to me that the course of Reich's life was not dissimilar to the course of Koestler's, or to any of the great Cold War Intellectuals. It wasn't as if Eisenhower was running against the Communist party - he was running against good old Adlai Stevenson. In the interviews with Reich's wife, she said things that were very much in the Cold war liberal-to-conservative vein. But all of that is aside from Reich's influence on American culture, which I think you underestimate. It wasn't just Mailer who found a vocabulary in Reich, but Paul Goodman, Saul Bellow, and many of the Partisan Review crowd responded to him. Bellow is one of the great postwar American novelists, and quite a connector with other intellectuals as well. William Burroughs definitely read and took a lot of ideas from Reich, and pressed him on Kerouac. You can't subtract Reich from fifties American culture. The Beats, the major novelists, and even the beginning of the drug culture - Leary definitely read Reich.

This is, of course, different from the fifties establishment that imprisoned him.

Qlipoth said...

"I am a mere dabbler in Reich, but I know Bataille very well."

Well, I'm a mere dabbler in Bataille, but I know Reich very well, so I should really read up on Bataille before I get back to you. Forgive me if I resort to Wikipedia (for the time being) for a summary of The Cursed Portion, which I haven't yet read:

"Bataille insists that an organism's growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible. The wasting of this energy is "luxury". The form and role luxury assumes in a society are characteristic of that society. "The accursed share" refers to this excess, destined for waste."

OK, Reich also spoke of the "energy-economy" or "sex-economy" of the individual human body (and indeed of any living body). The child's energy is mainly expended in movement and growth; when that growth begins to slow, adult sexuality begins to emerge - and this regular build-up of energy will require regular discharge through orgasm. If the discharge is infrequent, inadequate or merely partial, the individual will be adversely affected in its functioning. ('Neurosis'/'psychosis'/ 'depression', 'ennui', etc.) In an individual human body, any energy that can't find release will almost invariably take on a form largely destructive to itself or to others. - This is in notable opposition to ideas of 'sublimation'. Now, blocked energies in an individual will seek a way out; and the release may well take on striking and memorable forms (Poe, van Gogh, Hitler) that spectators will find fascinating; but it's likely to end in grief for the perpetrator, and indeed to take place in grief the whole time.

One stage higher, human societies are of course also governed by (varying) economic forces and structures - by the ways in which energy is blocked and released and contolled and channeled. And in his later work, Reich also observed that the earth and indeed the cosmos in turn have their energy-economies, and can be seen to function in ways analogous to the human body - with everything either in expansion or contraction, with flows and interpenetrations and "superimpositions" [�berlagerungen] of energy resulting in the 'birth' and 'growth' and 'death' of particles and galaxies. And, of course, no end of weird states and violent changes and sudden raptures and catastrophes and climaxes.

"I'm not sure where you think the great differences kick in."

In their fundamental approaches, scientific as opposed to 'literary' or 'visionary' or personal-intuitive - and thus in the ambitiousness of the respective enterprises. In the style, very strongly, and in the substance. In the depth of the investigation. Above all, in the consequences drawn. Reich would have seen the 'transgressions' described in The Story of the Eye as, at best, a very partial and dubious liberation, analogous to runaway inflation in a fucked-up economy. Or compare the liberation of Charles Manson from prison. What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin', least of all for Manson himself, who needed the caparison of prison walls precisely because he couldn't cope with the collapse of his "character-armour".

In his practice, Reich had frequently encountered such imagined (fantasised) 'transgressions', so he wouldn't have been
shocked by The Story of the Eye; he would have seen it as a vivid expression of an aborted or not-yet-completed liberation. Reich was essentially an anarchist, but he knew what anarchism was up against. If you unblock a drain too quickly, the results are likely to be very stinky and messy.

- sorry, I'm going out, so I have to cut this, er, short. It's just a sketch, and I apologise if I'm doing Bataille a terrible injustice. (N.B. And I am *not* suggesting that van Gogh was 'just sick' or that 'dirty writers' should be locked up!)

dejan said...

In his practice, Reich had frequently encountered such imagined (fantasised) 'transgressions', so he wouldn't have been
shocked by The Story of the Eye; he would have seen it as a vivid expression of an aborted or not-yet-completed liberation. Reich was essentially an anarchist, but he knew what anarchism was up against. If you unblock a drain too quickly, the results are likely to be very stinky and messy.

Well, Warszawa, in the same way Reich;s followers went ahead and unblocked their drain too quickly, resulting in Milena's decapitation, the disciples of Lacan have prostituted his concepts and turned them into something that was never meant to be.

This sort of corruption happens often when great minds pass away...