Errata. Erotica: A Rant
These are stupefying times. Our political life seeps from a cesspool of rotting monsters. Venial technocrats reign with ecocidal policies for no mandate other than satisfying an opaque greed and / or the gluttony of whoremasters with deep pockets. Spin-doctors have infiltrated the social labyrinth and wander among us. Squint-eyed desk-jockeys mash buttons and twirl the dials shaping smug opinion. Teeming dreck saturates our general sensorium — calculated to distract, trivializing any modicum of private autonomy and authentic judgment. Smirking egomaniacal commentators, mired in prurient wisecracks, derange the carrier waves with puppetry's synthetic pseudo-clarity. Dyspeptic yahoos from a shrill-correct left and the moronic inferno on the right, dump their polemical shit while worlds burn — literally. Demimonde hustlers mingle among drooling masturbators in and around ghastly metallic, neon porn-pavilions, which, by some perverse geomancy, invariably locate near the midtown core of any municipality of any size worth noting. Money merchants play paddy-cake while Gresham's law grinds square-jawed in whirlwinds of accelerating armed violence, famine, plague, and environmental decay. Pontificators of psychobabble smear their greasy platitudes amongst the effusive glut of new-age suckers seeking cheap salvation. Legions of dazed scavengers roam grim streets plucking spent cans from garbage, acting out the cruel reality of trickle-down economics. Marauding bandits, equipped with flimsy ideological dogma and automatic weapons, inflict horror upon terror on subsistence level native populations in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, puffed up socialites and their trust-fund babies, junk bond kings, beauty queens, preening drakes and scam-jesters bloat themselves in the floodlights at charity balls. Meanwhile, significant precincts within the relatively tiny subculture that is the art world's establishment, smarting from the market collapse of 1990, squirm to placate sanctimonious, victim-centric, P.C. coaxed deadbeats clamoring for a place at the shrunken table. Welcome to our Fin de siecle.
The question of the limits of complexity has often been raised. Indeed, the more complex the
system is, the more numerous are the types of fluctuations that threaten its stability.
-- Ilya Prigogine
Time's heavy freight appears to be crashing down with endless short sharp shocks on the collective neck of those generations assigned to usher in the third millennium. It’s pay-back time with a vengeance. From individual's immune-suppressive symptoms related to "life-style" choices, to rampant ecological dysfunction resulting from reductionist instrumentalism — from micro to macro, to the accelerating and novel complexities that characterize the reigning trash originating in private and collective past behavior. The ironclad law of unintended consequences has arrived. Token gestures, palliative solutions and perpetual delay, ingrained in the world's politics and the protocols of policymaking bureaucrats, nevertheless continue to create and proliferate the toxic conditions they are meant to cure.
Taking this state of affairs as an ineluctable given, how are the visual arts (their various agencies, institutions, critical bodies and clans) expected to react? What possible difference can they make?
Several strains of implicit response have registered themselves within the art-world's confines — generally restricted to the modality of protest. Among them, the exclusive focus of this rant: an apocalyptic compulsion for issues of sexual identity, gender, body parts, and the voyeuristic "other."
From Robert Mapplethorpe's elegant morbid images of groveling masochists with stomping sadists swished in chains with blackish leather and chrome tools, to Cindy Sherman's upscale cibachromes depicting medico-dummies and sterile dolls in lascivious repose; from Jeff Koons' snide faux dumb pornographic tableaux of his and Ciccolina's posed frolic in the grass, and Karen Finley's chocolate-as-fecal-matter via bare-breasted performances of disfluent rage to Andreas Serrano's aestheticized cum-shots, and Marilyn Minter's painterly transfers of commercial cum-shots, spread- shots and their oral variants — the spectrum of sexually charged imagery haunts and titillates end-game players while they collect their interest and dividends. Desperate times call for desperate, even caliginous, measures...true enough. Yet, most, if not all of these motifs terminate in exhausted petrification. Things freeze in the presence of such hot stuff. Pro bono and puritanical rationalizations aside, the real blast lies elsewhere, beyond the nervous grasp of sex and buck-naked gender politics. It resides, instead, in the dawning, largely subliminal appreciation for the authentic possibility of species extinction — la petite mort substitutes for la grande mort.
We are surrounded by emptiness, but it is an emptiness filled with signs.
-- Henri Lefebvre
Much has been printed about the predicament of the body in postmodern culture, particularly the female version, and its representations. Scopophilia, voyeurism, rape, hard-core exploitation, seduction, fetishism, the male "gaze," and desire...all have become grist for deconstructionist mills. The thread that runs from gazing at an image through arousal to possession and beyond is subject to many distinctly separate modes of interpretation, hermeneutic treatment, and psychological explanation. However, recent post-modernity's theorizing on the nature of this thread has laid very heavy emphasis upon the function of sustaining male dominance in the setting. From within its sullen purview, Manet's Olympia and any Playboy centerfold can be read as essentially two versions of the same extended text, since both (supposedly) share the cheerless burden of objectifying female sexuality for purposes advancing male manipulation and control.
To explicate and enthuse over vile, craven motives held by dominant Euro-Hereto Males is tantamount to conceding one's helplessness in the face of awesome self-doubt. Heavy breathing has never before enjoyed such tenacious attention to its nuances, its fantasies, its permutations, its banalities. Seldom has so much been written about so little for so few. Consider this noisome morsel: "The love of or desire for or obsession with a sexual object is, in male culture, seen as a response to the qualities of the object itself. Since the first preoccupation is with the form of the object, men make great claims for the particular forms that provoke lust or the ability to fuck in them [sic]." (Andrea Dworkin)
Fuck in them? Here's another nimiety: "The sperm are male. The vagina will destroy them. Pregnancy is the triumph of the phallus over the death-dealing vagina." And yet another: "...women's sex is appropriated, her body is possessed, she is used and she is despised: the pornography does it and the pornography proves it...The power of men in pornography is imperial power, the power of the sovereigns who are cruel and arrogant...men are the army; penises and their symbolic representations are the weapons; terror is the means; violence is the so-called sex [sic]." (Andrea Dworkin)
For all its sound and fury, the whining invective of this small — but typical — sampling reveals a monotony of intent. The numbing one-note message, a mile wide and an inch deep, repeated over and over, seems to be this: To be a Euro–hereto-male, stricto sensu, is to be wrong, selfish, violent, evil.
Caricatural excess trumps reflection and analysis…while fear, apprehension, and vigilance segue into grandiose delusions out to bust the "system." Sexuality and gender, in all their complexity, are truncated to fit an otiose political agenda driven by revenge and publicly expressed rage...And, as in the texts, so in their ideological extensions into the installation's domain — which are generally characterized by logorrhea as well.
In the murky undertow driving these diatribes, swim private demons. Personal fixations ranging from nocturnal enuresis to epicene undergarments combine with sociopathic obsessions for converting recalcitrant others to the politically correct ranks. I am not amused.
One end of this strip reduces sex to a good sneeze in the loins. At the opposite end, sex is identified with mayhem, plunder, wrack, and ruin. At its nexus, this fragile mind-set is ringed with plangent bursts of finger-biting despair and self-loathing; while in the outer orbits spin countless reiterations on the theme of blame. Suspect hereto-males operate at the root and branch of all and every debauchery, crime, deception, conceit, double-cross and fraud. Their genealogy of transgressions provides for a virtually definitive supply of probes into the heart of darkness. However...
A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent...
With these six felicitous lines, Yeats' Crazy Jane sums it all up.
October 1992 / East Hampton NY