Body Possessed by Media and Bataille’s Solar Anus

by on Sep.17, 2010

Meat Purse

My thinking about art, writing, media and genre, lately coming together under the rubric of the Body Posessed by Media, is heavily indebted to Bataille (a connection I’ve drawn before in my essay “Expenditure, or Why I’m Going to Die Trying”, which was an AWP talk and also appeared in Fence).  In showing how the idea of the Body Posessed by Media links to Bataille, I’d like to consider this quote from George Battaile’s essay, Solar Anus:

“Everyone is aware that life is parodic and that it lacks an interpretation. Thus lead is the parody of gold. Air is the parody of water. The brain is the parody of the equator. Coitus is the parody of crime.

Gold, water, the equator, or crime can each be put forward as the principle of things.

And if the origin of things is not like the ground of the planet that seems to be the base, but like the circular movement that the planet describes around a mobile center, then a car, a clock, or a sewing machine could equally be accepted as the generative principle.” [“Solar Anus,” Visions of Excess]

In this, ahem, passage, ‘parody’ is held up as an alternative to interpretation. I see parody as a kind of syntactically horizontal alternative to a kind of vertical orientation of meaning.  With interpretation, the surface is the ‘just’ the mask meaning wears; it must be discarded for meaning to be revealed. In the interpretive model, meaning is the source of absolute value and it must be extracted from the surface of the text like gold or ore.  The surface may then be discarded.

The Process of Extraction

Parody, to me, is different; it is a mimicry that insists on not likeness but difference, something extra that makes the equation not work. The difference is a kind of antagonism, an antagonistic surplus which insists that “A (the parody)” is not like “B(the subject of the parody)”, because it’s more than B; and in fact “B” may not be like “B” either. After parody, “A” and “B” now crowd the place in the world “B” previously occupied alone.  The surplus produced by parody may be looked at any number of ways—a surplus of exaggeration, of non-likeness, a surplus of antagonism.

Parody is the parody of interpretation. It makes bad copies, and it doesn’t respect the meaning as the foundation of the text. Skin deep’s enough for parody; it pulls its schtick on the surface.  Parody adds itself to the world, but the world can’t get any bigger. Distortion results, uneveness, convulsion, decay.

But the second aspect of this passage that interests me is the way “Gold, water, the equator, or crime can each be put forward as the principle of things.” And “a car, a clock, or a sewing machine could equally be accepted as the generative principle.” I’m drawn to these two lists which with their multiplicity already cause a dizziness which refutes the idea that their could be  “a” principle or “the generative principle.” Any one of these “things” could do the role of organizing whole universes, or generating new ones—but only temporarily.  This is possible because there is no ground or base but already an oscillation at the would-be center of things. All terms are in circulation and may temporarily organize the whole—but only temporarily.

“Temporarily” because, as Bataille’s translator, Allen Stoekl, notes in the introduction, speaking of Bataille’s oeuvre,  “Even if it may seem that one term is momentarily privileged(sun/anus),  the term itself only signifies the failure of all the other terms to stand clearly in relation to a “higher” signified.”  Indeed, Stoekl continues, “Bataille’s project must be seen as a kind of allegory of the fall of allegory itself.”

It’s interesting to me how ‘failure’ keeps arising this thinking of Bataille– allegory fails, parody is a kind of ‘failed’ mimicry (it doesn’t pass for the ‘real thing’). Failure might be another surplus parody generates.

Bataille’s headless allegories do allow—not for a leveled sameness—but for burgeoning, mestastization, spasms of intensity that make interesting things happen.

Or, as Lady Gaga remarked again last night on TV again when the MTV video awards were re-aired again, again, “I never thought I’d be asking Cher to hold my meat purse.”

Continuous loop, reaired.  Ga, ga, gag. Uh, oh, it’s “Never,” again! Quote the Gaga “Never! More!”

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2 comments for this entry:
  1. Tasha Matsumoto

    From Bakhtin’s Grand Theory III:

    “The particular genres of the parodic-travestying word of the sort we have enumerated here are unstable, compositionally still unshaped, lacking a firm or definite generic skeleton . . . All these diverse parodic-travestying forms constituted, as it were, a special extra-generic of inter-generic world.”

    I’m interested in your idea of parody as corruptive and excessive, and how that relates to genre. Bakhtin argues that parody/laughter destroys the epic, eliminates distance, and engenders contemporaneity, creates a tactile world where the epic genre can be dismembered.

    Is parody not a genre unto itself then, but a parasite of genre? Does is warp, suckle, and distort genre?

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Tasha, thanks so much for this lead. It seems really relevant to what I’m groping towards. J