Sunday, March 21, 2010

Convulsionagraphy: Spasm Aesthetics

[I started to write this post yesterday and then I posted it and then I revoked it because I wanted to add to it. It's basically a response to Max asking why I liked the Lady Gaga video.]

One of my most *influential artistic experiences* was going to see Jean Genet's "The Screens" at the Guthrie Theater in 1989. Here's a good analysis by Don Schewey, written for the Village Voice. That performance totally blew me away; and I've been pretty much plagiarizing it ever since. I found that review above because I was trying to find a clip of that performance, but I can't seem to find it anywhere - even though the entire Nirvana show I blacked out/through in 1992 is on youtube!.

And that's not unrelated. This post will have a lot to do with Catherine Clement's idea of *syncope* (warning: I used this quote in my post about My Own Private Idaho a while back):

“Surprisingly, this glaring weakness contains a raging force. This frustration is creative; from its disorders, unknown energies are often born… the world in which I have lived until now idolized power and force, muscle and health, vigor and lucidity. Syncope opens onto a universe of weakness and tricks; it leads to new rebellions."


The reason I was looking for a clip about the Genet performance was actually because I wanted to use it as a way to explain why I like that new Lady Gaga/Beyonce video. Throughout The Screens, the main character, the thief Said (played by a guy who was in the TV show Fame, which struck me as very interesting at the time) moved in this intensively spazzy way. I loved the exaggerrated costumes and I loved the story and the stage etc, but what stuck with me most of all was the spasmodic way Said moved, even as he carried his bride through the desert (the "ugliest woman in the world").

And toward the end of the gaga/beyonce video, that spazziness is evoked, especially at the end.

Costumes + spasmodic movements. I'm absolutely into that.

There's no reason for Beyonce and Lady Gaga to kill everyone in the diner. No reason for the video to keep going. Beyonce should kill the boyfriend and that's it. Instead they kill everyone. Make everyone vomitup. And it doesn't end there. Then they go into a big dance number. It's supposed to be over but it continues.

It's in that aftermath state, after the video/movie is supposed to have ended, that Beyonce goes all spazzy.

Look at around 8:00-815. Things begin to get incredibly spastic. The interesting thing about that is that Beyonce and Gaga poison the diner-eaters, but the singers are the ones that go spastic. The poisoning vomit-fest is presented in an ultra-montage of poisoned people convulsing. That montage then comes back in to interrupt up the dancing, and then the dancing gets spasmic, and then we go to Beyonce in that motel room going totally spazzy. It's as if the montage is equated with death spasms; as if this montage energy then invades the two main characters, who become less and less natural (compare Beyonce's spasms in the hotel room to the much more naturalistic dancing of Gaga in the prison; two heterotopias no less).

In his book The Cinematic Body, Steven Shaviro writes about Kathryn Bigelow's "Blue Steel": "Blue Steel exhibits a flagrant, salutary disregard for normative standards of plausibility. It displays a logic of contamination and repetition, rather than one of linear, psychological causality."

This video seems to move according to an extreme sense of "contamination and repetition."

Gaga accompanies her poisoning fantasy with German text, which of course leads me back to last week's post about Plath and Lady Lazarus, another text that utilizes montage-effects to evoke an un-dead energy (and, notably, a gender-inflected revenge fantasy of mass murder).

Like in Plath/Grahn, the spastic motion has to do with imagery. And more specifically the cinematic and more specifically the cinematic body. Shaviro: "Images are condemned because they are bodies without souls, or forms without bodies. They are flat and insubstantial, devoid of interiority and substance, unable to express anything beyond themselves."


When I was about 8 or 9 I went to the hospital and I couldn't eat the food and I grew weak and while walking over to the x-rays I collapsed, fainted and the nurse carried me in her arms. This, as I note in my entrance wound/pageant (forthcoming from Tarpaulin Sky) is how I invented erotics. It was beautiful. They heaped me up on the x-ray machine and it buzzed away while I had visions of doctors in gas masks.


In Lukas Moodysson's "A Hole In My Heart" the main characters fuck and pass out and vomit and eat etc over and over. The title suggests an old fashioned epiphany but it's instead a medical condition. The constant crisis as a nervous condition. A crisis that won't be survived. That will just be repeated. The spazzing out won't be contained in the well-made text. It's the effect of an excessive text. A shit-and-puke text. The movie moves toward a "real story" by evoking their inner traumas etc, but that movement is always overwhelmed by the grotesque spectacle of their bodies. The "narrator" on a meta-level is fittingly the gothic teenage-son who harbors his own violent fantasies in the next room (rooms seem important to this spastic body).

Something about the unwieldiness of the film goes into the bodies convulsing in the porno room. This perhaps goes back to the Genet play which is 6 hours long. Almost un-producible. It's as if the spasmodic movements (and here, this is about the actor/director more than Genet, but who cares) were a result of the un-producible play, an unhealthy play; the play that won't stop, generating this frazzled energy.

Another Swedish artist, Aase Berg, from "Mork Materia" (Dark Matter, in other words "syncope"):

"Beneath the shell crawls, beneath the shell crawls a frenzied and orgiastic bulimia. To eat into the meat puke beloved and be eaten into the meat puke beloved in merciless bloodthrobbing meat's helpless return... It's not death it is the edge folds down the visor we will tear loose the dark mass from each other's outer halo crack apart and close eyes move toward the glaciality Ivo climbs me away and I down beneath the surface shoal of song fish between the pillars I form submarine feel the violations of the flesh but do not emit any warning signals..." ("4.5 In Reactor)

Here a poem infected with montage-twitches: words and sentence-parts are cut and pasted together into an unsutured mess of bodies and words and sentences.


And going back to my post about Marilyn Monroe and Sylvia Plath, it's of course a very cinematic body. But it's the cinematic body gone bad, the bad cut, the twitchy cut. The way Lady Lazarus is montaged after she's been dragged out of the sack (in fact Berg's poem alludes to, or better, reworks Lady Lazarus, I'll write a post on that later). Or in Kenneth Anger's occult "performance" in "Invocation to My Demon Brother":

According to the myth, Bobby Beauseuleil (sp?), the main actor of "Invocation" got into a tiff with Anger and (with the help of Charlie Manson no less) destroyed the film. And supposedly, Anger re-assembled the movie from leftover clippings in his cutting room. A kind of Frankenstein text in the very medium (see Leonard Davis on Frankensteinfor more insight about this).


From Kate's Delirious Hem manifesto:

"Say there is subversive power in the abject surrender of possession. The teenage girl’s body can be culturally uncontrollable in its unnatural movements, defying laws of god, state & the natural order. From levitation, vomiting gold coins, and inappropriate noises—speaking in tongues, barks, grunts, and mocking imitations of a male voice. Merge that with the anarchy of rapid bodily changes, a wild libido, death-glorifying fashions (fashion by its very nature is a celebration of the body’s fall from glory—I will be buried to decay like Marchesa Luisa Casati, along with my lace), and occasional self-induced starvation (a la Catherine of Sienna & Anneliese Michel), and you have a grotesquely gorgeous panic body, disrupting culture by over-literalizing its ideals, turning itself into a corporeal embrace and critique, an alarm bell and a sonata screaming in skin, tits, black painted eyes and lips....Say all good art—bad girl teen poetry included—is a fraud... Say the boundary between “life” and “art” is mocked in performance, whether a performative text (see Helene Cixous), a parade of unnatural fashions (high school halls become the theater), or a false fit of demonic possession."


Joyelle's homage to Judy Garland in "Summerstock":

"The figure of an accounting is obviously central to the model of expenditure vs. capitalism built up in Bataille, and it's a nice fit with what we're here to discuss today: story-making. The making of an account. The accounting. Should the accounts be measured? Should the balance hold? I think they should take the form to destruction and beyond. Mine will be poorly made, willful, death-leaning. Spend, spend, spend. This does not mean it will be drab, minimal; but maximal, desiccated, well dressed for death. I like archaic things which have already failed or are not destined to survive, failure to thrive, shrift instead of
thrift, a shrivening, a mourning, the lack of sturdiness that pertains to minor genres, the eructations they engender instead of children."

The spastic movement is an uneconomical movement. Wasteful in the Bataille-ean sense. It is not form as an "extension of content" or the "wellwrought urn." These images were not earned because they were not images, they were spasms.


This spazzy body has everything to do with the Immigrant, a very spazzy figure indeed. Here's a link to Caroline Bergvall on Ubu, doing "About Face." Another example: Cathy Park Hong's spazzy "Dance Dance Revolution."


I suppose the spasm has something to do with: "Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all" (Andre Breton, 1928).


And of course you can see the dynamic of spasmodic body and enclosed room here:

The enclosed to me suggests the way the spasms move against the strictures of form (the room echoing the now archaic idea of the film "frame").


I'm starving. I just taught a class on Charles Olson, in which the energy must be accounted for, in which form must be an extension of content, in which once perception MUST follow another. It's very economic. We're back to Ron's solid structures and visions of rigorous mastery.


Anyways, these are just some thoughts I had while thinking about Genet and Lady Gaga.


Blogger aL min said...

By your description of the Lady Gaga video, I'm guessing you missed the Kill Bill parody?

5:05 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

No, it's pretty hard to miss that. And I think I mentioned that in my first description of the video - which is in the comment section in response to Max somewhere. I dont' see why it excludes the rest of my interpretation.


6:25 PM  
Blogger aL min said...

Sorry, didn't mean for that to come off like I was calling you out on missing the obvious. I didn't see the original comment and was just curious because I had started to think about how the parody plays into all of it.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I agree, it's actually interesting, and I think in part that is because it's not exactly a parody. Tell me what you think.


6:39 PM  
Blogger aL min said...

I actually didn't feel right about calling it a parody, but used the term out of laziness. I watched the video first without reading your whole post (which I have to admit, I still haven't done entirely) but am right on board with the costumes and spasmodic movements. I guess I also loosely have an impression in my head of Tarantino as spazzy in style and personality, from what I've seen of him.

This and the relationship of the spasmodic to the foreign (which I could've sworn I'd just read in a past post a second ago) all kind of ties into my reading Kim Hyesoon's Mommy Must Be a Mountain of Feathers alongside several of her collections in the Korean. I've been jumping back and forth between the originals and the translations, partly as an attempt to get a better handle on the Korean language (as I've grown up mostly in the US), but also partly because I just loved the translation and found myself trying to imagine what the originals read like.

Anyway, the whole thing has been a very spasmodic experience jumping back and forth between multiple books and a Korean/English dictionary, trying to match poem to poem, all while also attempting to take notes on a shaky bus.

Which is all to say, your post just hit me at the appropriate moment--even as I read it spazzily, moving up and down, reading bits and pieces.

Speaking of lazy, I had meant to ask whether you had heard (or heard mention of) a recent NPR On The Media episode about The Uncanny Valley.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

It seems critical that it is Beyonce who is having the intense spasms in the hotel room and not Gaga, since Beyonce is the one, pop culturally, who has the more fixed image (also, the racialized image). Gaga said the video was supposed to change the way that people viewed Beyonce, and that is not a video about Gaga.

Also, I tried Joyelle's prescription for viewing and it was definitely spasmagasmic.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

aL min,

That looks like a really interesting report, will have to check it out asap.

Loved your reading of Mommy. Have you written about this (I don't know if you have a blog); I'd love to learn more about your translation experience.


8:42 AM  
Blogger aL min said...

I think blogging my experience is a great idea (if only for my own record), and I hope to get to it soon enough. I am utterly fascinated by your thoughts on kitsch/foreignness/etc., especially since I've never felt quite at home culturally or linguistically. I don't know whether I'm imagining it or not, but I've always felt that it takes me longer than native speakers to process the words I hear. I've definitely spent more time actively with English, but my first language was Korean, from which I was estranged early on but, I'm sure, retained its associations and grammatical structures.

And can I just say for a second that I sympathize with your criticisms of Ron Silliman's views (even while appreciating his work) and the glorification of lineages, of depth vs. surface (am I remembering correctly that you had expressed such views)? Curious how the act of marginalizing spreads even to the marginalized (I am sure that, by no means, am I exempt from this effect).

7:08 PM  

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