Radical Unto Death – Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ #1

A dinner party question: What is the most radical work of Art – Literature, Film, Music, Architecture, et al?

Firstly, what is meant by Radical? In short, it is when a thing is most unlike itself whilst still recognizably remaining so. In other words, it is the farthest point into its own non-existence leaving whatever trace or quality we know it by to recognize it as such. I also take radical to be the most stomach-churning, mind-numbing, thought-provoking, viscerally-unbearable thing. And to anyone’s ears, this might sound like a description of something deeply disturbing, horrifying and gory; an analogy to the spectacle of what has come to be known as horror, but that would be a mistake. Because whereas the attempt of Horror is to provide you with an Image that is irrevocably Outside, so unlike anything we’ve come to know as to be the epitome of conjuring a deep nausea. On the contrary, I say, the Radical is the thing that is most known to us, most familiar, most gone unseen, most me. And in this respect, it sits closer to feelings of uncanniness. A zombie is an artificial re-creation of what we think is the Human, yet the Un-Human is something deeply connected to what it means to be Human yet still not quite. The line between Non-Human and Un-Human is a concavity where the uncanny lives. It is to recognize oneself in the image of the other as something deeply not-me, yet-me. As we will come to see, the radical reveals a horrifically curious Truth only known to ourselves.

And so, what is it to Art? Well, Radical Art is not to radicalize and make uncanny those objects with which we consider to be Art, but Art itself. The question here is: What is an Artwork most farthest away from being Art yet still considered as such? 

There are certainly some worthwhile contenders (the irony here being that its even a thing to contend with..). But whats important about an era for which we have yet to escape its grasp – beginning with Duchamp’s infamous transgression of 1917, taken seriously into 60’s conceptualism and finally flourishing and stiffening with the 90’s YBA – is in what can be salvaged from a wreckage that is PoMo-Injected Contemporary Art if and, more importantly, for when we are to dispose of it? Nothing, really. But it would be unfair to suggest the wreckage itself, with all its mangled corpses of nostalgically re-engineered movements, isn’t worth something in and of itself as a study of Radicalism – in very much the same way we might study any kind of radicalism, be it surgically/cosmetic, commodities/design, and even violence/beliefs, without endorsing them.

Artworks under the siege of the Museum (which will be my focus) produced between the 60’s and now are examples of Art at its most radical, remaining for us today an apocalyptic vision, a glimpse towards the End of Art. And therein lies objects at their most radical, provocative, and severe always with a slyly smile as it voyeurs upon itself a steady decline towards its own non-existence.

Among others, John Cage’s 4’33, Piero Manzoni’s Artists’ Shit, Jeff Koons’ Made in Heaven, Damien Hirsts’ A Thousand Years are all notable works that come close to what I mean by Radical Art, yet the topic of this discussion focuses on Tracey Emin’s My Bed. 

What Emin has managed to achieve – not necessarily through creation but of the acceptance of an audience – is to provide something so unutterably common to the masses, so commonplace as to be invisible, so familiar as to be un-worthwhile, so close to our own lives and reeking with banality that it provokes within its spectators, its witness to tragedy and its voyeurism to somatic and fantastic traces of the erotic left over in the sheets, a ferocious jittery sensation of rage and anguish as to acknowledge that something so close to our hearts, our laurels, had even the slightest of capacity of making for itself wealth, fame, status. The content of the Bed is not important, any object would have worked; but the point is, to speculate, art for the non-artist is a thing out of their potential, out of their grips, reserved only for those who dine on themselves as artist; beyond themselves. Yet Emin has broken this social contract to what it means to be both Artist and Art. She presents, first of all, that art-making is not exclusive only to the ‘Artist’, and nor is Art reducible to its capacity for conceptual/technical brilliance. Emins’ bed shows that to be is to be Art – by presenting to an audience an object that lay in their back pockets, under their bottoms, under their noses. It also reveals another fact to art-making which is exclusive to the Artist; to be an Artist is to be a manager and provider of the spectacle and the Event. And it is the Event which gives rise to the status of the artobject. The creative potential thus revealed to the audience first and foremost resolves in a self-reflexive disgust – a guilty imagination. Its transgressive in the pure sense because it turns its problem back unto yourself – you become the thing that is most disgustful as the reflection of the image that provides it for you. You’ve let yourself down. One is felt to be a unfettered disappointment once realizing one has gotten up from their own bed, bright and early, traveled wide and far, paying for food/drink/transport/tickets, to climb all the way upstairs into a little room to just be presented with yet another bed except more valuable. We are presented here with the ontological inequality of beings.

Emin’s Bed is Art most unlike Art. Yet what difference is there from Duchamp’s Fountain?Because his piss-pot has nestled its way into history as to never be able to crawl its way out. It has been stylised by historicity and sentimentality. 

And it is because of Style that the Artists I mentioned above do not travel into the radical concavity that Emin does. I will now briefly explain why:

What could be more radical than John Cage providing Nothing itself? It does seem to be the very brink of self-destruction, except it doesn’t conform to the kind of radicality i’m referring to. Instead, in place of silence, it presents a background of transcendent mystical appearance’s which does exactly the opposite to the kind of radicalism I hoped to explore. Instead, like Emin’s Bed, of providing you not only with the image of your own discomfort, your own mortality, revealing an uncanny truth both eerie and enticing, Cage’s 4’33 takes you away from yourself into a kind of secular prayer. Ironically, one would think the moment of self-redemption would be in the form of empty silence disguised as prayer but the artifice of the Artistic Event capitalizes and stylises the process. It becomes then an in-genuine search for an experience of an experience.

Stylisation also looms over Koons with his large scale hyper-realist glam photographs with him and his then former pornstar ex-wife participating in display’s of overt sexual acts. Pure, unadulterated performances/spectacles of vivid organs coupled together. No eroticism, just bodies. Pornography. His images are alluring, fetishistic fantasies with which we wish to be drawn too without the repercussions of guiltily toying with taboo.

And if Koons’ Made in Heaven plays with the moralism of its audience, Hirst makes immoralism his work. It may be the first time any critic would decide its not a work of Art based on Ethics. And of course, Hirst is all style, all glam, pop, punk, rock & roll, death, mortality, religion/atheism/belief, ambiguity, vulgarity, excessiveness, factory production. Hes Capital C Capitalism. Now, A Thousand Years in my opinion is a good work. The only good work by Hirst, maybe. Yet the merit, in this context, to his other sculptures is in their re-imagination of the readymade. They’re are what I would call Post-Industrial readymades. Highly polished, factory made constructions that only have quality or artistic value solely in their looking good – in their ability to be made using lots of money. Hirst presents to us just what money can do!

To conclude, the uncanniness of art is not in its content (what artists provide us), but in its form (of where we are comfortable in saying this does not conform to art). Yet the content of Emin’s Bed is its Form. Its a direct disruption of what it means to be art that shakes our very understanding of it and our inability to make and organise meaning from. Unlike the stylisation of other works, it doesn’t take you anywhere, to some Other experience, other reality. It presents you with itself as your reality. Not only does it exist in the same symbolic universe as you, but that it has ontological priority over you – for why else would your bed be at home and this one here? The uncanniness to this radicalism of art reveals a Truth within ourselves, a truth for which we yet do not know. Maybe a temporary symbolic emptiness or angst. Much like the feeling of Anxiety as presented by Heidegger resulting from not feeling at home in the world. The anxiety we will as response to radical things is in the not feeling at home with oneself. Again, its presents the uneasiness as belonging to you! The object of the uncanny is thus only a mirror to the unfamiliarity of ourselves, the un-recognisability of our bodies, the mystery of the riddles to our deep unconscious.

If Art is escapism then Emin doesn’t set you free.

 

Aesthetics, or, The Capitalist Production of Cultural Logic __

The Transfiguration of Objects

Capitalism is the corporal management of attitudes set and made standard practise under its own manufactured conditions.

I.    The Dead Flesh of Ouroboros:

Artists and their Art are deeply concerned with themselves. Not only do we take their megalomania as a symptomatic corruption by the ideal goal set by the self-initiating exploration searching for the sublime, but, conversely, their Art too has and now does only ever exist in spite of itself. All Art is born to be itself. Yet how at this point, tethering on the end of the history of Art, do such objects come to be conceived? The answer lies in what Art, as it has come to be know distinct from ‘mere’ craft, has preoccupied itself with, namely, the hysterical self-conscious questioning of its own existence and what it really means to be Art and in what way. The very moment Art began to question itself with the infamous hysterical insight “What is Art?” is the moment it began to dig its own grave. In short, Art has adopted the appearance of the pathological Artist-as-Human who seeks nothing more than to try and define itself. And if we take answers provided by the likes of Stirner, Hegel, or Lacan etc. that the subject is nothing but a void – and if Art is only just a hysterical projection or transference from the Artist – then the artobject too is nothing but a void. And quite rightly. Contemporary Art has still yet to shake off the dominant and persistent artistic movement of the 60’s; Conceptual Art. The artobject here is really only the many layered appearances apprehensively masquerading its own void by way of shrouding itself with ideas or spooks. In fact, so eager to disallow anyone from believing that Art is nothing, Artists frantically inject too many concepts into the work that it reveals to us the ever more potent fact that what they are hiding is literally just nothing itself. The eagerness to repress the secret is a sign of the Artist’s own acknowledgment – and cynical denial – of the void of the work itself. In psychoanalytic terms, it could be seen as a self defense mechanism of Reaction Formation which seeks to overemphasize what one or some thing is not in order to distract oneself and others from what it is. E.g. Homophobia could be a sign of one not coming to terms with their own homosexual desire which they seek to repress in the form of attack against oneself and (similar) others.

To reiterate, The History of Art has concerned itself with defining itself (subsequently pushing forward what it is to define art in the name of ‘progress’), and Contemporary Artists have taken what was once thought to be the end of Art – originating with Duchamp followed by Warhol – and make it their biggest strength. The perpetual pushing forwards of what defines art by creating non-art. Once thought to be a deficit and boundary of what Art can be, thus putting some limit on what can be produced, Artists have now taken this limit, and the perpetual breaching and extending of it, as their primary goal. The Artist of the 21st Century is the Transgressive Artist. Yet this transgression itself has been capitalised into a moot, flaccid and ultimately boring, myopic, bourgeois commodified fantasy. Artists of this sort eternally create for themselves an infinitely regressing attempt at creating what shouldn’t be thought of as art (as thought of in their own terms). In fact they long for such a chance to be captured and pinned to the ground, limited and confined so as to even have the motive for acts of transgression. They need reasons for breaking a cage they wish they had. As David Foster Wallace said about postmodernism: “irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage”, or better, “irony is the song of a bird whose come to love its cage”. Any chance at being the champion who ruptures and break from the status quo. It seems now that everybody wants to be the Architect and no one the builder.

II.    The Anti-reification of Contemporary Art:

If reification is the process by which conceptual processes concretise into material objects (e.g. The wedding ring is the concretised object of an abstract process – the wedding itself), then the way Art is produced now is the reverse. It takes itself as an a priori artobject waiting to be confirmed and validated and bestowed the title as such upon its very questioning of itself. Just in the way an Exhibition might host “avant garde” or “Experimental” art – placing non-art in a space ready to be reified into the status of an art object by way of its merely being presented as itself (an answer exemplified by the Institutional Theory). The Art questions itself into existence. What defines the artobject here is not in any of the qualities the artobject might possess, but in the process which enables an object to be transfigured into an artobject – It is this process we must explore.

In our attempt to think about what art is, we can no longer ignore the moments and ways in which it is produced – the production of art (commodities?). With Art and Late Capitalism increasingly intimate relationship, it’s no wonder the production of art-making itself have become at the forefront for what it means to be art. Art has become self-conscious of itself. It is a reified product created only to be created, produced only be be apart of a cycle of production. The artobject now, under the influence of Late Capitalism and the Market, exists and is defined and valued solely on its very own capacity for existing and being. In the only way the Market knows how, how we seperate, distinguish, and categorise artobjects from each other is in terms of their revenue, status, monetary value, and/or fame (The Indistinguishables alluded to by Danto). ‘Value’ can even be hereditary. In once sense, ‘great’ art is produced only by ‘great’ artists. This means that not only are there moments where the aesthetic joy given off by artobjects always has to be traced back to some creator or author, but, that ‘great’ artists are themselves produced from the status and monetary value which their artwork has acquired. In fact, it is no longer possible – if it ever has been – for a once heralded and championed artist of his time to no longer produce work that is not art, or non-art. He/She may produce bad art, but this never seems like a disqualification of what it ought to be for it be art. And yet, under Late Capitalism, is this a surprise? If bad publicity is good publicity, then any bad art produced is ultimately the successful route on towards being an artist if art is to be defined by its ability to have fame, status and subsequently, monetary value. Is it any surprise then that a place like Tate reveals once every year a series of bad artworks? Bad in the sense of knowingly causing public upset under its own rubric of middlebrow transgression – eager and in anticipation of the very publicity stunt that’s used in order to up the ante and status of the work in question. “Quick, come look at all the Bad Art we are showing”, “Just look how terrible it all is!”. Media Commentators storming in through the entrance lapping up all the delicious content to booster their own ego wherein they are merely playing into the fantasy role of the puritan. Capitalism interpellates us as brutish and puritanical in order to paradoxically keep us in control from our selves whilst exposing us to its own transgression. At one and the same time, the image of the people in the eyes of Capitalism is one of either the transgressive and barbaric violent individuals, or, when it comes to culture, of that of the prudish lower class philistine who doesn’t know any better. And all this remains so, however, for as long as we judge the quality of the artwork, its artness, in terms solely of fame and monetary value.

The status any artwork achieves is through an anti-reification process of a very neatly constructed Event. It is the Event which allows us to see anything in this circumstance as becoming art. The Event is, in some respects, an ideological tool for propaganda used for profit.   

III.    The Artistic Fallacy:

Under this logic of Contemporary Art, an Artistic Fallacy is born out of the consequence of judging art only by its globility, recognition, status, fame, money and value is that we are no longer able to discern the difference between what is art and what isn’t. Now, although it is my project that any object – whether created with intent or not – can have the capacity for being art, this does not mean everything is art at one and the same time. And yet, under the Capitalist criteria, what stops something such as the iPhone from being Art? The point is not really to say iPhones ought to be considered Art but that this reveals yet another contradiction and hypocrisy to the function of Capital by subverting what it appears to be providing on the surface whilst secretly providing for itself new rules and regulations with which enables the art world to secretly manage for themselves a set of criteria for what can be considered art (or presented in a nice museum) by exploiting the system and the people who lose out (other artists and its audience). It reveals and concludes and already known yet often ignored reality; that an organisation as big as the artworld is running an exclusive club handing out vip tickets. What this means is that in fact they don’t really care about transgression, they care only for the objects which draws themselves profit, usually by providing provocative art, and refer to this as that which can be only transgressive. It is a particular bourgeoisie transgression that turns out to be a conservatism, by distancing themselves away from the more trashy, punk/pop, filthy, ‘low’ transgression in favour of a middlebrow anarchy that is all too concerned with the state of their own house after they trash it. It seems that from institution to institution – Tate to Moma to Guggenheim and back again -, they hold for themselves a private-language accessible to those who don’t speak it and barred from ever having the opportunity to learn it. The additional point is despite their agenda, they really dont have for themselves a coherent system of curating artobjects. There is no criteria with which they go by because it purposely is constricted, limited, and confined only to those who they want to be apart of it. There is nothing anyone can ever do to allow themselves to join the party because it is about controlling the heads within and without of that party. Art Institutions are scouters, picking out and thus creating and forming (or manipulating) and curating their own version of Art History. Yet the problem is not what a Institution has to do in order to contribute to a history of Art, it’s in the very way they conduct their methods to how they contribute to history. And so there are two reasons why the iPhone isnt art under their framework: 1. It wouldn’t provide them with the type of Transgression and subsequent audience provocation to produce the desired Event needed to validate it as art, and 2. That they in fact hold to some degree a standard (orthodox) quality of Art using a list of mediums and techniques we can count on our fingers; painting, sculpture, installation, performance etc. – An iphone is neither one of these things. Not even a readymade. Which means, crucially and maliciously, the production of the so called transgressive artobject is used only for the purpose of capitalist exchange for those at the top. With no real care, trading art objects like their trading cards in an attempt to satisfy themselves.

IV.    The Incentives for Creating:

Why does one (begin to) create? Certainly not with the hope of ever getting enough money to make a living from. And yet Young Artists are still nonetheless perfectly emulating the role of the Successful Artist they most admire by producing mintaure simulacrums of their works in hope they too may be discovered in a similar fashion. No single Artist – including all icons of our contemporary age – started off with the belief or motivation to create as a means to get rich and famous. It’s not that Capitalism produces the incentive for creating art but that it provides us with a map, a guide, a cookie-cutter shaped empty form, which expects us to nicely and tightly fill ourselves in – follow the path to success – in order to be rewarded with what it can offer. And as a result, all artistic production that aspires to traverse the same road laid out by the Market/Capital slowly synchronises into a single, unified, frankensteinian coagulation of dead matter made up of monotonous, boring, uncreating, bland, uninspiring, insincere parts. Yet by saying this, what alternatives am I really proposing? To not follow the path of the capitalist layed out with the assurance that this is the way towards their hopes, dreams and aspirations? By condemning them to a life of poverty? No. Although this does reveal the malign options Capitalism presents us with. Follow me and you can achieve Glory, and if not, you’re on your own kid and there’s nothing you can do that will guarantee your success because we simply won’t allow it under your terms! What is the incentive for choosing your own path in a step towards creative sincerity if what artists get rewarded for are works that are less and less uncreatively imaginative? Art is competitive, no doubt. But what are the rules for competing? These are the criteria set by the artworld. As generally conceived, it is not to create a technically brilliant drawing/painting/sculpture to be considered as a necessary criteria to be art but instead for a work to transgress and redefine itself as an art object. The more outrageous you can think to un-create art, the more likely you are to create an object to which you wish to destroy straight away, to transgress once more. Because the very moment you create art is the very moment it becomes canonized and no longer transgressive. All contemporary art is historical. In a competition like this, why should one bother to create a sincere and true to themselves artwork if one can be rewarded for doing much less and much worse? What incentive other than pride keeps me going which sinks like a ship in this economy? There’s nothing to be proud over, says the face of Capitalism. In its eyes we are the Hobbesian ideal of the brutish and nasty subject ready to terrorise and willing to fight to the top. Yet this is nothing other than a fantasy projected onto us. Another empty form is provided for us for us to fill so it can have the motivation and reason for keeping us at bay – from invoking violence. It wants to protect us from ourselves by constraining us. This empty form shows what we are and what we have to do to get out of this mess, to get out of ourselves – the only way out is through capitalism, holding its hand.

V.    The propaganda of The Museum: (And Whither Doest This Experience Cometh From?)

The means provided by the Transfiguration of the Event (The Museum) is a production and provider/host of a set of faux-aesthetic experiences received by its audience as genuine, authentic, internalised and thus ‘authentically’ attributing any feeling to the objects under the condition of the Event (Museum) itself. In other words, the ‘positive’ experience we may feel from any given artobject is then not necessarily from the object itself but, in harsh terms, manipulated and prescribed for us by the means or process of the hosting of the Event itself. Because if we agree that the kinds of Art that make its way into the golden towers of Institutions, it’s not because of what the artobject is per se – its quality and artistic value – but the very process into getting that once-upon-a-time non-art object into a process that leads to its transfiguration by way of placing it in the very conditions of the Event itself – thus allowing it to achieve its value. Which means, whatever feeling you may feel is not necessarily from a projection of the artobject itself but from the apprehension of witnessing and spectating the Event in which you are in and in which you play a key role. What this entails or reveals is the possibility of being duped into associating quality to the work itself rather than the Event which gave rise to it. For if the art object is in a Museum then it must be genuine!

An example for this kind of trickery is in the way we react to Celebrities. Much like the alchemical transformation of an object into an artobject, so too does the object of celebrity have its own transfiguration formed from an Event. Just think of how one can go about fooling a mass of people, along with their followers online, into believing one is a celebrity by way of adopting the appropriate symbolic imagery – the stereotypes, the commodities, and the attitude. The Event of ‘celebritizing’ yourself is what induces people into acquiring and adopting the false belief and experience that you are a celebrity. Where celebrity was once defined in terms of consensus and social recognition – lots of people knowing you. We now only have to adopt the image of being already-known, already a valid celebrity, by wearing its trademarks. For instance, walk into any shopping centre with some sunglasses, quality high art street wear, a couple of bodyguards and even some friends to take your picture as ‘paparazzi’ or have them sign autographs – from this you will have made for yourself an Event in which people can fall into and hook and invest their fantasies into. What’s more, the reason this works more than ever, much like the famous Contemporary artobjects, is because of the growing self-aware ego of the individual who knows full well about the nature of the Event. Just evident by the fact that they are constantly creating an Event of their own identity, presenting themselves as something they long to be. And so, it’s not that the fake-celebrity itself, as object, who affects the hearts of those who wish to interact with a celebrity (maybe some), but that people wants to be seen with the image of a celebrity for their own gain, for their own solidification of their Event. And isn’t this what Trend really is? A network of Events being created with no discernible reality to them? The Instagram stars of the world want only to appear to be in the presence of someone appearing to be a celebrity. A matryoshka production of simulations. Debord is still more pertinent than ever when all that matters is not to be, or to act, but to appear! At least he looks famous! Why else would this artwork be in a museum? The point to this is that those pleasurable aesthetic experiences we have – although real – are really only the appearance or deferral of some other entirely different experience. And it is the job of the Market to capitalise on this appearance by substituting the artificial Event for the art object. Because they cant sell processes…

The question to all this is not in asking what is an art object or celebrity, but in how those object came to be. It is not What is Art, but, What is the thing we call Art.

VI.    Low Art, Pulp, Outsider Art, Transgression and the Clean Arsehole of the Bourgeoise:

If High Art under capitalism is created in order to transgress itself – born out of its own transgression, and if low art, pulp, outsider art etc are genres of art that seek to transgress the status quo, – to be a reaction against High Art – do they then not contribute to the growing tendencies of the fetishisation of the transgressive that capitalism capitalises on? Does it not add to the continuing production of newness in hopes of only attating innovation for the sake of innovation? No, I say. Because here there are two types of transgression. Or more specifically, one real transgression and the other an subtle appearance used as a mask for some underground standards or criteria.

What does a prude, a puritan, a fake middle class citizen, or the bourgeoisie member really do when they transgress? In fact, being in the upper social sphere, what is there for them to transgress? Because they are the status quo they have to transgress themselves. Yet in such a way as to not dismantle the socius with which they rest on. And for reasons unknown why there really is a split between Low/High Art, so too do they subscribe to a distinction of Low/High Transgression. Thus, for instance, what ‘norm’ does the prude transgress? Having Sex only after Marriage? Only with one woman? Only for conceiving? Only once a week? No. Instead they use the mentality of transgression to give them the excuse of delighting themselves in the appetites of lowly forms such as polygamy, cheating, roudyness etc with the point of not being reduced to a low person who just pleases himself on these delights anyhow. What distinguished them here, in the eyes of the upper class, is in the acknowledgement of the very indulgence in the transgressive act itself. They don’t just feed off their “inner selfish” instincts. No, they have proper taste… or so they say. This reminds me of a Joke by Zizek: about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: “O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!” After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: “O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!” After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: “O God, I am nothing.” The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: “What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!”. The point here being that only the upper class can get away with being dirt! To join in on the delights dined by the working class without associating themselves with them. Spilling some tea, not having coasters, eating whenever they like, wear anything they like, never sleep, never rest, party all the time; these are there lowly indulgences. It becomes of no surprise when we read stories that confirm the secret perversity of the prudish and the abusive power of the Holy.

Real Transgression has no limits and conforms to no image, no identity. It is not a limit set by a puritanical capitalism that giggles when it farts yet covers its senses when anything else goes further. High Transgression is destroying your house with the worry of having to clean up afterwards. True Transgression is the dirty arsehole in all its full back glory! Not the squeaky clean arsehole of the Upper class.

Transgression under capitalism becomes traditionalism and made standard practice.  

A Sexy Odyssey

What can maybe be said to connect or preoccupy us all – regardless of where we are in the world, what culture we’re raised in, what race we feel we belong to or the differences in identity – is a feeling and acknowledgement of the want/need to be noticed by others. Now this isn’t a cynical comment about obtaining a sense of self-gratification but that of not being lonely, of being apart of a community and a reciprocation of identity formation.

And of course, this desire to be noticed manifests itself differently relative to the level of culture, community and individual identity itself. And while this post will refer exclusively to where I am situated in (England) and where I am enveloped in (America), I wanted to take the opportunity to semi-seriously make note on the preoccupation of the desire to be noticed, as emphasized on the media I am involved with, which in my opinion is characterized as the desire to be seen as Sexy. (and what I can extrapolate out of the seemingly trivial subject of sexiness)

This is not what is sexy but how.


 

There is no being sexy – in the same way as there is no being sincere – as it suggests intent on doing and artificially constructing a mode of being or doing and of being seen that is not true to itself (in other words, inauthentic). It is what is presumably what happens to you, without your acknowledged doing. Except, as we will come to see, such a basis for authenticity, sincerity and even sexiness is through the process of ideological cynicism and a performance for an other and oneself.

Authenticity is one of the primary and fundamental criterion for any being – having the capabilities of possessing and carrying out what could be described as Attitude – to be seen as sexy. As such, authenticity suggests a being for oneself which instigates confidence (another criterion of sexiness).

Confidence is the link between performer and spectator, an exuberance that can be spotted, if not, called for from the performer. Ideological cynicism is what allows a performer of sexiness to both act as if one were sexy and, as a result, be sexy from such action. Any act of sincerity performed enough times inevitably puts oneself into a position of sincerity (even if only from an on-looker. Yet if both performer and spectator believe in the existence of either sexiness or sincerity, does it matter at all?).

It is not only authenticity and confidence needed to be sexy, and such a rigid and well kempt definition surely goes against the lure of sexiness itself, but here is to my mind, a litany of sexiness: appeal, charm, allure, seduction, concealment/secrecy, allusion, teasing, eroticism, contentedness, and the spectacle etc.

One begins the act of sexiness by first being dishonest, insincere, inauthentic, and incomplete. Sexiness is a reenactment, a construction or playing out of being, a productivity, an action, a performative rhetoric. By literally doing the actions of sexy, one tricks oneself into believing and thus invariably become sexy (but of course, one must know what sexiness is in order to perform it, yet, in my opinion, it is not so much what is performed as it is the performance itself that is sexy. Which is to say, there is no being one way or another, there is only being).

This acting or Performative (Procedural) Rhetoric is nicely described by Levi Bryant on an idea thought by Ian Bogost as to how we learn through playing video games such as SIMS. “A Performative Rhetoric is a rhetoric that persuades not through language, but through situating an audience in an activity. The audiences understanding is transformed through the activity of doing. In this regard, games are a form of rhetoric. They change us through their play.” Interestingly, the audience described here is the one playing the game, in other words, the actor performing or ‘playing’ the role of sexiness. Yet because such an act of sexiness is characterized by its being an act for an audience, a spectator, then a second audience exists and can be said to also posses the understanding of sexiness – the receiving of pleasure – by being put, as well putting themselves through, the act of doing, the act of being a part of a spectacle or an audience.

This Performative rhetoric can also be considered along the lines of Ideological Cynicism, following the procedure of belief. The difference is, where or to who the feeling of sexiness exists, in the performer or its audience? The rhetoric allows for oneself to believe in oneself, effectively tricking oneself into becoming, in order to finally become, so others too can witness it. Ideological cynicism, on the other hand, allows oneself (the audience) for the option of having the potential to see, witness and experience sexiness where ever it may not ‘actually’, or intend to, exist.

The similarity is in a shared truism: Fake it til’ you make it! Zizek has a lot to say about Cynicism, and so I will go through two ways in which I can appropriate him for my own cause (without just referring you to him).

The first is in the way such an actor produces for themselves a sense of authority confirmed by their apparentness, attitude, confidence and supposed authenticity (to the eyes of others). This authority plays a crucial role in Lacan’s symbolic order, whereby we treat the subject of authority only with regards to their authority irrespective of what they are like without it. As Zizek says, this takes the form of a fetishistic disavowal: “I know very well that things are the way I see them /that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him”. Sexiness, then, replaces the Judge. Regardless if one is actually or truly sexy, the confidence and performance with which the subject is enacting, takes the role of authority,  receives from it all the gratification and acceptance of its audience for whom can only believe that it is a sexiness irrespective to how they actually feel.

Another example of fetishistic disavowal is, as described in one of Zizeks stories, how one can perform the same lucky ritual or superstition even if one disbelieves in it, and have its effects still ‘work’. “seeing a horse-shoe on his door, the surprised visitor said that he doesn’t believe in the superstition that it brings luck, to what Bohr snapped back: “I also do not believe in it; I have it there because I was told that it works also if one does not believe in it!”” It could be said that if only one believed what one hoped to see or experience, one would end up experiencing that very thing, if not only a fiction produced via ones own imagination. Its how the dirty mind sees sex everywhere! 


 

Sexiness is a technique of seduction, not in search for a partner to fill the gap of sexual inadequacy or to confirm its (sexiness) existence, but of acquiring an audience. Sexiness is a play of the spectacle, set up as an Amphitheater home to an all-seeing audience competing among each other over the cause of sexiness and over the acquisition of the experience of sexiness itself. It is also this competition that further emphasizes, even rarefies such a feeling of sexiness to both performer and audience.

If one were to pinpoint the sexy in the subject, one would come away empty handed and exhausted. For what we can only find is the reflection of our own idiosyncratic eccentricities and fetishistic desires that transposes the sexy from the performer into the mind of the spectator.

In his book Mythologies, Roland Barthes describes Wrestling as a spectacle of excessive, exaggerated and most importantly, grandiloquent gestures. Yet these gestures are nothing without its audience, for what makes of wrestling without them? Two people limply fighting, unconvinced of their own performance? This is to say that sexiness – and wrestling – is a direct relationship between performance and audience.

I’m inclined to say that it is with the apprehension of never being able to achieve, attain, or gain full satisfaction from the object of sexy is what constitutes sexiness itself. It is a never full-filling eroticism that goes beyond the mere illusion or caricature of sex appeal. Yet what constitutes the erotic? Barthes asks, “Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.” The slow reveal of the clothing (or obstructive toy) that masquerades the object of sexy.

This disappearance is the curiosity a spectator feels that is diminished through an eagerness to see more – such as the trouser leg raising beyond the ankle, exposing too much, yet not enough –  and yet what is more is not what is there, as it is what is not there is what we actually want. The libidinal intensification one now feels is a result of now having endured the prolonging of sexual teasing.

Paradoxically, after all, there is no audience a performer of sexiness can/does perform to directly, as if the performer were just as aware of the audience as they were of the performer. Except, one performs believing such an audience exists, even if not to be watching. Which is to say that sexiness is as much for an audience as it is for oneself.

Thinking Horrifically – A Vicintiy of Horror

I think a lot about the horror and suffering of the world, from the minute and seemingly trivial up to the all-encompassing and overwhelming — Ironically, it is these two extreme ends on a horrific spectrum that we lost sight of. Too small and we disregard or deem unworthy of being named, such as losing money, falling over, being disorganized etc, and/or too big it seems to resist such a naming, such as ecological disaster, political corruption and even ones own future self.

The inability of seeing beyond the confines of a median horror out towards the periphery of inner-self and outer-life, what we name as the experience of horror is that which is – quite literally – in our very local vicinity. For instance, depending on the severity of injury, we regard and thus associate horror based on the length of impact such an injury has on our future – how it effects our ‘local’ foreseeable future self. Or, of being aware that we are in close proximity to an outside horror, such as stabbings in your neighborhood. Its because of this short-sightedness that it becomes much easier to care for these local horrors than it is too acknowledge the wars going on in other countries, the emotional anguish of strangers, or the deep depths of our own unconscious or future self (e.g. smoking), and finally the ultimate horror that will effect us all yet seemingly none is ecological disaster – a too grand of an object to contemplate and thus tackle oneself let alone think about. It is a horror so sever that it breaches its own boundaries as to escape the very confines of what can be considered terrifying.

This post is not about the horrors of the world as such, as it it a personal rumination on horror and how effectual thinking horrifically – that is, in terms of locality (a nearness to us) – can be useful to the way we think and act in this world.

                                                                   —————

As it ought to be known, I don’t like watching horror films – or more precisely, I find myself too easily susceptible to strong feelings of sadness that I reduce all interactions to a minimum. Nor any material that readily presents itself as content uneasy for light viewing, such as the bite-sized clips naughtily posted on obscure facebook pages of tortured animals, fights between people on derelict streets, the terror that overcomes individual people of all ages – unnecessary cries of toddlers, children that are lost, adults losing someone, old people forgetting themselves. Or even watching the news or listening to talks told reminiscently. Of course, one should be aware of the suffering of others as to allow empathy to flow, responsibility to take place and care to take action, but it is not that by not watching these videos I attempt at avoiding responsibility and effectively caring for, and building relations with, others. Or relieve myself of guilty feelings by pretending pain doesn’t exist.

But it is paradoxically the nature of ‘enjoying’ the experience of emerging oneself in horror (films) that nonetheless separates us from a real horror to contemplate and explore and tackle or live alongside. It is this that one invariably loses sight of the horror that occurs on base level, at the very local vicinity of day to day, moment to moment micro-actions that have and leads to much larger longer lasting consequences. All Horror is necessarily mediated through imagery, with each level of mediation taking us further and further away, presenting to us a caricature, ideal, type, etc., from the acute reality of horror one needs to not only take seriously, but acknowledge such contemplation of micro-horrors are worth taking seriously.

Horror is reassuring.

It seems oxymoronic to suggest Horror is reassuring. That it soothes us and prevents our being fearful and scared, consoling and comforting us by presenting to us that which we might most be fearful of, mediated through imagery/films/books. But it is this mediation between us and them, our reality and that reality, that allows us to displace or defer the sense of fear we feel by transcribing it onto a different reality altogether. Wherein, I’m not so much as scared by my reality as I am of/for yours. Intuitively, this suggests an added ability to empathize for a reality that is not our own, except, as I have previously remarked, this mediation or displacement between realities is what disables us from every actually coming to experience the true horrors of an others experience. Reassurance to me means a reminder of what goes on and what could go on. It sets itself up as a marker of terror, providing us the tools of how to feel and when to feel it like a big brother – a quality with which does exist in art.

Again, Horror is always necessarily mediated through some artistic medium with the goal of allowing us to acknowledge such horrors in the first place. But my problem is that mediation is only the beginning, what it misses or what we miss from it is the awareness to an all too true unseen reality of horror that are dismissed, ignored or unworthy based on the grandiloquence of Horror that mediates in the first place. Not unseen as undocumented, but as not worthy of contemplation because it doesn’t conform to any horrific ideals. If Ecological disaster strays from our imagination as not being horrific, so too does the other end of the spectrum with the minute and seemingly trivial. The exaggeration of Horror paradoxically only cares for the means in-between the two ends of sizable horrors – from the tiny to large. This is to say that another task for Horror is to really bring it back down to reality, not focus solely on the very local and instantaneous horror that can happen but on the slow undulating unsexy horror that exists from mental health to climate change.

Like the somewhat insincere attempt to console your friend in hopes of getting them to stop crying, avoiding any attempt to help aid the cause of the crying, conversely then, horror is the insincere friend who wants for you to only cry about the subjects for which horror deems worthy of contemplation – the very local, effectual, visceral and instantaneous and filmic horrors –  and not the real underlying and overlying problems.

When speaking about believing, Zizek says it is not that we don’t believe – when for instance we say “I Love You” –  but that we believe too much. It is not that we don’t believe in the effects of saying I Love You that by not saying it we save ourselves any quarrel or burden, but that we in fact believe in it too much and its effect. We believe “absolutely” in the power of saying I Love You that any deferral or reluctance for saying it doesn’t risk the inevitable consequences of doing so. And this in some ways, about belief, is what we do when we watch a horror film. One could happily say to themselves that what they are watching is not real, that the character of the killer clown or groups of zombies isn’t real, that we don’t believe in it. But, apart from believing literally in killer clowns and zombies themselves, we do in fact believe in a kind of ‘monster’, and as such, because we believe so absolutely, we reside ourselves to the comfort of watching these imagined monsters mediated via the screens of horror films as to not allow ourselves to fall trap to the real horror of our everyday reality. That horror films literally provide a caricature and face of a monster so deeply disturbing we would rather go outright an watch it, full frontal, – as if we were the ones in control of our own sense of being scared – than be witness and victim to the true horror of the faceless unknown that is not meditated but totally real and in out periphery. We believe in monsters so much as to only confront them on our own terms. We create superstitions as to make them real, relieving us of the doubt that we don’t know of what were most afraid of (Yet how can we be scared of that which we don’t know we’re scared of?). One could say that, calling mummy or daddy to check underneath your bed at night, or in the wardrobe, is a way of creating for yourself an image of an monster that which you don’t actually believe, but nonetheless are still frightened of as the feeling of being scared itself has to be pointed towards something, yet this something is always in a local vicinity to one self as that which is outside our own reality can be quite easily dismissed. The parent then is the mediation between the child and the monster, for when the parent says nothing’s there, you continue to sleep, except that its not being there is really not a sign of its non-existence as it is more a process of being scared through something (the parent), of confronting through someone, as to alleviate any feeling of personal horror. As such, a mediation could thereby be seen as a horror for a spectacle that is quite literally dispelled and dissipated, dispersing and diluting the power of horror over its audience. Paradoxically, the child wants to prove its own disbelief. By getting its parent to check what the child already doesn’t believe is to confirm for the child that which doesn’t already exist. A parent confirms what you already believe, or not believe in. The imagination of the monster is as real for the child (and us) as the monster itself.

“Scratching an itch that doesn’t exist – thereby bringing it into existence” — Timothy Morton

This is what I mean when I say horror is reassuring. Media provides us with the scapegoat of reality, as we all know, as to not confront it head on. Of course one could say that horror films are a horrific reality in and of themselves, but I’m not talking about the realness of horror as I am the impracticality of mediation when it comes to understanding what is also really horrific – our everyday micro-actions and those action within – and contributing to – a far larger macro-horror (world). Taking cue from art, we need to quite literally give a face to the faceless monster, bring about its existence in out imagination as to dispel with it. In order to overcome the fear of Horror, what one needs is to think Horrifically.