Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What does this Represent, What do you Represent

Today and in the pictures I perused of myself in New York I feel like Hannah Wilke as she's bloated and dying of cancer, not sexy lolita Hannah Wilke as she's naked and pert tits and high heels posing with a gun (by the way, I was blanking on Hannah Wilke's name, so I googled "vagina gum," extremely educational). I guess I'm becoming the later Hannah Wilke especially with my illness (I don't have cancer, I'm being a drama queen, I know) so I'm looking with a more critical gaze at my younger self and the body artists I always fawned over. The pregnant hag Bakhtin uses as his muse of the grotesque (yet we are not senile we are clear no we are foggy maybe we are senile).

Then I think of the devastating photo of Hannah Wilke posed with her mother dying of cancer, how she would come to mirror her later.How I've always felt ambivalent with this picture, admired Wilke but have felt at times confused with her project. The smirk on her face. And I think her later cancer images are braver. For a woman to bare herself to the gaze while bandaged and bloated and broken. The abject body. The woman body as ugly, as grotesque, as messy - how often is this represented in self-portraits? Cindy Sherman's ingenue film stills versus her later grotesque works.

The mirroring. In Book of Mutter I wanted to put a photo of myself next to a photo of Helene Cixous, who is the closest image I have of my mother with short hair, my chemo mom. I want to pose as one of the camp woman with shorn hair, the Joan of Arcs looking stoically at the camera. To the side. 

Lately. phantom twinges. I keep on wanting to call my mother, tell her, tell her, tell her.  about things.
All these mothers. All these mothers and my ambivalence.

A critical essay I recently read on Wilke defended her earlier pin-up photos, stating that Wilke was actually subverting this, making a commentary on how this is the only way women are allowed to be represented in visual arts, as the beautiful figure, and she is somehow arresting and subverting the gaze, taking herself back from being object. I get that. But it's been unsettling me lately that these female body artists were all really really smoking hot and fit the body ideal, were in many ways these objects of desire—Wilke, Abramovic, young Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama posed and purring like a porn star on her polka-dotted couch, Carolee Schneemann, certainly Karen Finley, think of Karen Finley performing with that perky tit out. I thought of this when strolling around the Marina Abramovic show. Startled and unsettled at how passive Abramovic is in her Rhythm endurance pieces, especially Rhythm 0, I stood and watched the video of spectators dressing and undressing her still and unmoving as a statue, as they placed a gun near her head, that creepy man kissing her cheek. At the MOMA the table laid out a sadistic banquet of weapons and food, then I think for some reason of O trembling naked in her owl mask then I think of Robin Vote a cipher going blankly from lover to lover in Nightwood pulled by others' desire for her. Also smooth pretty Yoko Ono doubled over, allowing spectators to violate her, to cut clothes off her body. The photos of Unica Zurn the cords digging into her pretty young flesh that Hans Bellmer took for the model for his poupees.

In many ways I get and admire Abramovic's project - an attempt to escape the limits of the body perhaps? a commentary on femininity on passive training? I watch the video of her with a hood over her head, very Abu Ghraib the rest of her naked as she attempts to jump up and down to exhaustion. The marker at the museum tells me in this piece she's trying to escape or transcend the body. But is that possible? Is it possible for the young beautiful woman with the young beautiful breasts to escape her beautiful body, to be anything else but an object? And is her earlier work an ironic commentary on this? In some ways I identify more with Karen Finley's aggression, I get in her earlier pieces that she is this nubile young thing sprung to life, become quaking devouring id (like cool blonde Sophie in Jelinek's Wonderful, Wonderful, Times who wants to get in a mean kick) or Valie Export's Action Pants piece, subverting woman as the passive object. Abramovic's passivity frightens me, although I feel compelled by it, for in many ways my project has been to critique the passive self-destructive girl libertine— Maggie in O Fallen Angel, my Ruth in Green Girl, Monkey in Under the Shadow of My Roof.

But perhaps I'm being a bad critic (very possible, certain, actually), but while a spectator at the MOMA show I looked at her earlier Rhythm works and confused autobiography with her project, which is dangerous, maybe as dangerous reading as people thinking Maggie is me, or that Janey Smith is Kathy Acker, although these are alter-egos aren't they? I look at Maggie from a distance of my former damaged-girl self. I have been reading through When Marina Abramovic Dies, the biography of her, and Abramovic too had an extremely strict mother, who she was rebelling from, who disapproved of her performances, who kept her under lock and key, so she administers her own punishments, her mortification of the flesh. She too is exploding against the family like Artaud (but she is imploding isn't she internalizing the violence swallowing it allowing it to destroy her this is feminine training yet is she commenting on this?)  Ambivalence now when considering her earlier performances, the flaming star she lied down in the middle of the performance when  Joseph Beuys was present (no he didn't save her that is myth), the performance where she cut herself the star on her stomach and drank vodka and laid down on an ice cube a protest against a lover who had abandoned her and Valie Export got worried and took her to the hospital.

I admire deeply the way Abramovic's work tested the limits of the body, the limits of performance, were about transcending the body through pain, through ritual. A sort of mysticism, the self-flagellation, the burning. But how much does she subvert this? In terms of the crowds milling about at the MOMA, their reception? Some of the earlier images look so fashion ad  - the fashion model as doll-corpse, you know, those ads that look like a naughty girl is going to be gangraped by a group of Russian businessmen. I'm now thinking of Deneueve the epitome of the stone goddess, the passive girl-mystic, her fantasies of being whipped by Michel Piccoli in Belle de Jour. My Ruth in Green Girl based so much on Deneuve, the beautiful cipher of Deneuve. I'm confused today about the politics of Abramovic's earlier Rhythm performances. Was she trying to subvert the notion of woman as passive object by performing a grotesque uncomfortable passivity? I think maybe. Was she trying through masochism through self-destruction to escape the body, to escape being the girl? Can one ever escape being "the girl," except through growing older, becoming the hag? (don't D&G write something about "the girl"?) I notice in later images her body thickening, becoming one I more recognize in the mirror. And perhaps wrongly I think of how Marina Abramovic and Karen Finley as still extremely well...preserved, are still these extremely glamorous women, and their image now and hence their work so bound up in glamour and celebrity. There is Abramovic posing in a slideshow in Vogue for a summer benefit. Finley on the cover of Playboy. Wealthy, beautiful, celebrity women. Popstars in a way. Actresses.

Yesterday on the commentstream on HTML Giant I was responding to someone's comment about Sasha Grey and stated that I was weirdly passionately obsessed with her, and someone stated that they were really surprised by my comment. I mean, I don't know why they were surprised - am I supposed to be weird about beautiful women? Is that statement somehow objectifying Sasha Grey? Anyone who has ever read my fiction(al) writing or this blog would know that I am obsessed with this sort of postfeminist libertine character, that I see embodied in Grey, and in a way earlier Karen Finley and Marina Abramovic (although the question yes is that Finley/Abramovic were commenting, critiquing, attempting to subvert their representation). And that some of my work deals with pornography. Sasha Grey was my main muse behind my Monkey character in Under the Shadow, just like a young Catherine Deneuve/Jean Seberg/Mia Farrow was for Ruth in Green Girl. I find Sasha Grey such an intriguing character, a character that contains such intriguing contradictions (and yes I am situating her as a character, and by that I am objectifying her, I am author, she is character, like Clarice Lispector with Macabea).

I am intrigued by how intellectual Sasha Grey is - she is quite well-read, her MySpace page claims that she loves Nietzsche and Guy DeBord, she loves New Wave film, Anna Karina especially (I once read in a profile her citing the scene in Pierrot Le Fou where Anna Karina turns to Jean-Paul Belmondo and says simply "fuck me" as the most erotic scene in cinema, I completely agree). In some ways she is an Anna Karina character (that film where she plays the stripper, which one was that?) although without of course  Karina's charisma and allure (Karina was a muse too Godard's muse the muse-as-object). And I think it's really interesting what Sasha Grey has said about sadomasochism, and about sexuality and liberation, and think in many ways she's a very aware performer, intellectually if not in her actual presence, in some ways she situates her pornography as performance art, and in some ways she's a very creative performer, her first film she is 16 she asks Rocco Siffredi to punch her in the stomach as she's sucking him off she shocked him so can we link Marina Abramovic's early Rhythm to Sasha Grey? Both performing for a male idol (Joseph Beuys, Rocco Siffredi), both shocking them by outrageous acts of self-destruction.

Although like most porn that I've watched, Sasha Grey is a pretty boring performer, and her performance is basically one of passivity (I will open my holes I will grunt helplessly while you plow me). Female performers in that realm are usually regarded as daring and adventurous based on the daringness of the implements they allow inside of them (the porn star who does S/M while 8 months pregnant, knives, baseball bats, etc., how is this different from Abramovic's table of sadistic delights?). Porn is basically pretty silent (a contrast: the loquacity of Sade's women, who are basically porn stars/celebrity hookers as well). Most of Sasha Grey's acting is confined to being as much of a cipher as possible,  disappearing as much as possible, again I think of Marina Abramovic, they look similar in a way as well, the dark glossy hair, the high small breasts. Perhaps Abramovic in her early works is playing a sort of porn actress in a sadomasochistic film, but in a different setting, invoking the audience's discomfort through their arousal or desire?

Speaking of Sasha Grey versus the charisma of Anna Karina (twins in a way as well), I was very disappointed by her performance, or lack of it, in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience. My first thought was that Sasha Grey would in real life be a terrible escort. For being an escort, especially at that level, which I don't know as much about, is more than being a mirage, a girl on an arm draped in luxury goods. She looked expensive. She looked the part. But she couldn't make conversation worth shit. She was boring. She looked completely bored, as if she wished to escape into the scenery, sink into the designer sofa. I didn't buy her as an obscure objet of desire, as a Surrealist muse. That someone would be so intrigued by her that they'd want to shower her with money, run their fingers through that shiny dark curtain of hair, seduce her so that she'd drape open her legs for them. Sasha Grey in most of her films looks pretty deadened to fucking, there's none of the ecstasy of Bataille's whores. For all of her intellectual bravado Sasha Grey comes off as pretty passive in her films. I'm struck by the contrast. Sometimes I think she really is a performance artist well-read on her Hannah Wilke and Marina Abramovic. And maybe she is.

I am reminded now of Marina Abramovic's performance where she traded places with the Amsterdam prostitute, the prostitute went to her gallery show, Marina Abramovic traded places with the prostitute (but did she actually sell her body? this is unclear. does anyone know?) These daring-dos, these tightrope acts. It's an interesting performance.The artist as commodity, the artist as prostitute. This links to Jeanne Dielman again, eternally, the housewife as prostitute. But a film is different than a performance that uncomfortably skirts the "real." I find the prostitute-switching performance quite intriguing, although it does seem like many of Abramovic's performances she was always in danger of needing to be saved, the damsel in distress, putting herself in harm's way, in the path of destruction.

And perhaps the messiness is interesting. I'm not interested in rigid feminism, I want to subvert feminism, problematize it, confuse it, cover it with body fluids.  I am not a pure feminist. I am a messy feminist.

The messiness. Karen Finley slipping ecstastically on honey.  A subversion of women mud wrestling.

These characters - these actresses - these performers - link back to me to the novels of Jelinek's that are most important to me, The Piano Teacher and Wonderful, Wonderful Times. Jelinek THE writer critiquing and examining feminism and femininity and its relationship to desire.

Erika finding her student browsing nudie magazines, she lectures sternly her student on respecting a womans' body, but then at night she slums, like Vivien Leigh in the red light district, she goes to the porn shops, she wants to watch too, she gazes too, such a dangerous decision Jelinek makes, she watched the woman the beautiful naked body she takes a crumped cumtissue from the floor she smells it she wants to understand bodies and messiness. And me too in my writing I want to smell the cumtissue, I don't skirt that ideological line that I toe when I teach. Erika who craves to be beaten and humiliated, like Sasha Grey who wants to be punched in the stomach, like Marina Abramovic begging audiences to hurt her like she has been so hurt before, yes, let's reenact pain and suffering on the body, these men she's allowed to destroy her, she carves into herself, like Erika carves into herself her little bag she hides of executioner tools. And a question - where does eroticism fit into feminism? Even a masochistic eroticism? Where does the messy disordered body fit into feminism? I think this is why I've aligned myself more with the New Narrative, queer theory. The films of Catherine Breillat, about the messiness of female sexuality and violence. Bataille on Sade: The domain of eroticism is the domain of violence.

And Sophie and Anna in Wonderful Wonderful Times, Sophie's the sadist, the cool blonde cipher who Rainer and Hans destroy themselves over, she is the Surrealist muse, the object of obscure desire who is all coldness and cruelty. And Anna is the masochist, Anna who makes herself vomit, Anna who loses her brain over Hans who loves Sophie, Anna who destroys herself over love, who confuses sex with love, Anna who fucks Hans so he will love her, Anna who pretends sex means nothing, she takes a twerpy boy into the bathroom at school to fuck just so she can get her virginity over with, Anna who is muted, Anna who turns her violence inwards.

And I think this is my project. Looking at female masochism and passivity critically, looking at it as part of the culture. How do we look at rape as sexy in our culture, in our romance narratives? How does gendering encourage women, or girls, to internalize violence as opposed to externalize it? Jelinek makes her characters grotesques, cliches, to examine how cliches, in our language and in our roles, oppress us, make us not free, reduce us to the immanence of our bodies. How does the psychology of love for women subordinate us, make us slaves? This is what Jelinek writes towards. This is what I tried to write towards in my Maggie character, in my Monkey character, my Ruth.

But also, can one subvert this? Can woman be the one who gazes? Can women subvert passivity by making it grotesque in representation? (like Abramovic does?) Can women subvert the gaze by making oneself the image, the object, self-consciously, unsettling the viewer?

And perhaps also the desire towards abjection, can be both oppressive and freeing. The abject as a potentially transgressive and transformative space. To disrupt. To disorder. "what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules." What revolts us can be the source of our greatest pleasure. Can one escape from the body if one is a young beautiful woman? the girl? That is the question. Freud's Eros and Thanatos fighting against our self-preservation. And can't our desires be formed out of our traumas? The destruction of the self as a sort of ecstasy, a transcendence.