On Binding: Queen Pasiphae, Hans Belmer & the Meat Dress

by on Sep.23, 2010

Some of you may know that I recently wrote a book called Maximum Gaga (Action Books, 2009). When I wrote the book, I’d never heard of Lady Gaga, but I’m thrilled by the happy overlap, by our joint interest in gender performance and excessive aesthetics. Maximum Gaga is a book about Pasiphae, the queen from ancient Greek myth who enlists the inventor Daedelus to build a cow costume/machine so she can copulate with an enormous white bull. This machine may have been the first industrial sex toy, the first meat dress (as Danielle notes), the first mechanical abattoir.

For Pasiphae, this Miraculating Machine, as I call it in the book, is certainly about pleasure, the pleasure of inhuman cock. Like Lady Gaga’s meat dress, it is unclear what is wearing who, and the lines between live female body and corpse, skin and costume, animal and human, machine and body are thrillingly collapsed. Pasiphae’s fucking results in the birth of the Minotaur: monstrous female pleasure engenders even nastier monsters.

The Miraculating Machine detourns the traditional binding of the female body, the intense bodily manicuring that heteronormativity requires of women: the bleaching, plumping, waxing, sculpting, hiding, painting, shaving, revealing, camouflaging, highlighting, etc. All of which is on fat display in Cher’s get-up at the recent award ceremony. All of which masks the fact that, as Vanessa Place says, “We are nothing but chipped beef.”

Pasiphae hides her body in the machine. She doesn’t reveal her body, doesn’t make it available for cultural inscription. The machine binds her. And she gets herself some magnificent cock.

Lady Gaga is also out to get her some inhuman pleasure, though not necessarily cock. The meat dress is her Miraculating Machine. At the ceremony, Gaga’s queerness is wonderfully staged next to Cher in all her uber-hetero gobbledygook.

As I noted over at Gaga Stigmata, “That Gaga inserts the meat purse into Cher’s bondage princess aesthetic is totally priceless. Here, hold my organ! Gaga provides a foil for the real monster standing next to her: compulsory heteronormativity. Internalized chauvinism. Social institutions writ large on women’s bodies… Cher is overwritten with sexual cueing. Trussed up like a Christmas chicken.”

All this talk of binding reminded me of Hans Bellmer’s controversial photograph of poet and artist Unica Zurn (also trussed up with butcher’s string) “Keep in a Cool Place”:

Unica’s body is totally abject. No pleasure in sight. Gaga takes Belmer’s necrophilia and animates it, detourns it into her own pleasure. Gaga’s dress, like Pasiphae’s Miraculating Machine, is about female pleasure unbound. As I say on Gaga Stigmata, “The sheath-y quality of the meat [dress] looks oddly vaginal: the dress inverts the vagina into a costume, an external organ. Snatch gone wild! Gaga’s snatch has externalized itself and is suckering onto her body, swallowing it, shoving her head back into her torso, binding up her feet.”

Hooray for snatch gone wild!

For the binding that unbinds.

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7 comments for this entry:
  1. megan m.

    hi lara,
    i really love your reading of gaga’s dress, esp what you say here about the dress inverting the vagina – whoa. and the juxtaposition of gaga and cher in this moment and image is striking, agreed. i don’t know that i’d call cher heteronormative, though – her body/image to me has always come off as pretty queer. or cyborgian, at least. synthetics and glitter. fake it so real i am beyond fake. cher is pretty powerful and while the argument of internalized chauvinism is not without heft, i mean, i just feel like it’s another way in which to judge women’s bodies and their choices about them. LEAVE CHER ALONE!!!! that said, i love your connections to maximum gaga and bellmer here, and all the rest.

  2. Johannes

    Im with megan about this
    lets leave cher alone
    johannes

  3. Lara Glenum

    You’re right, Megan. I should leave Cher alone. I do get the cyborgian feel from her, too. No doubt she’s excessive. Campy, too, perhaps.

  4. Joyelle McSweeney

    Also about Cher: She’s appearing here as her own avatar, an extinct life form of herself somehow teleported to the present. Moreover, the iconic costume is the visual signfier for the single ‘If I could turn back time.” It’s almost as if you could click on Cher’s outfit and buy the single in your head (or with Paypal). So what kind of anachronism drag is that!?!

    And also: she herself is a costume, which is why there are so many drag performers who are also Cher. On the other hand, it seems almost beside the point to be a Gaga drag queen– when you go to Youtube it’s impossible to find the ‘real’ ‘official’ Gaga videos because so many folks have videos of themselves mocking, impersonating, dancing to Gaga (or even just showing off their makeup modelled on Gaga’s) all titled ‘Official Gaga’. I think this is awesome though it does something weird to teh ‘drag’ franchise, the cultural site normally occupied by subalterns… Here it seems like people are finding the subaltern in themselves through the pop image of Gaga– as Gaga has said (and did you quote, Meghan–) liberating their inner psychotic…

    hugs, also kisses!
    jm

  5. Lara Glenum

    I’ve been thinking about why I was tempted to read Cher as heteronormative when she’s clearly so excessive/cyborgian.

    I think it’s because when I first saw the photo of Gaga and Cher, I thought “Holy cow! They look equally outlandish and alien!” But all the commentary was like, “O isn’t Gaga totally cuckoo! And doesn’t Cher look just beautiful and ravishing for being 68 (or whatevs)!”

    In other words, most people seem totally unphased by Cher’s (wickedly overwritten) sexual cueing. But that’s hardly Cher’s fault. She seems to be making every effort to be totally overstaged and cyborgian (and I mean that as a compliment).

    My apologies to Cher fans everywhere.

  6. Danielle

    There’s a Cher Lou Reed continuum of looks. I got relations smack-dab in it. Also, where do I get this self-avatarizing machine? In the future when we have hologram faces, and unfolding hologram tableaus to frame ourselves, I would like to be an extraterrestrial version of my now self. And, Joyelle–every single time I think about my future hologram face (which is often), I think about the sparkly blue gingko leaf eye make-up from Flet. It has profoundly influenced my future (and current) cosmetics systems.

    Question: vajazzling = cyborgian?

  7. Lara Glenum

    Is there a vajazzling equivalent for cocks? Cockazzling? Anyone?