Media Bleeds Through Apertures: Necropastoral, Pornography and Insectoid Psychosis

by on Jan.25, 2011

Found out about Peggy Ahwesh’s wonderful “Color of Love” from HTML Giant a couple of days ago. You can see it here at World Picture.

I think this piece is quite beautiful; it reminds me of the quote I from Bakhtin’s “Rabelais and His World (I posted it a couple of days ago):

Contrary to modern canons, the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits. The stress is laid on those parts of the body that are open to the outside world, that is, the parts through which the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world. This means that the emphasis is one the apertures or the convexities, or on various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose.

These apertures that open up to the world reminds me of Joyelle’s “body possessed by media,” which applies to both the quote and the Bakhtin’s quote. The degeneration (a term Bakhtin uses to describe the act of making material all that is spiritual and abstract) of the porn opens up these wounds, apertures in the film, in the cinematic bodies. But it seems to me that in the contorted syntax of Bakhtin’s quote, the text itself becomes a kind of medium-wound that perhaps doesn’t go out to meet the world, but open up a wound in the medium of the text.

Joyelle’s concept of media is distinctly grotesque: the inside becomes outside and the outside inside, like Bakhtin’s grotesque body.

In the same issue (the “Arousal” issue notably) of the online journal World Pictures, Rosalind Galt has an interesting article about: “Perverse Aesthetics: Maria Beatty, Masochism, and the Cinematic.” Galt argues that film theorist have had a problem dealing with “bodily excitement” and, in particular, masochism.

This is a similar line as in “The Cinematic Body,” the book by Steve Shaviro I keep on quoting on this blog. And it’s the same trend I’ve noticed in poetry and study of contemporary poetry – whether quietist or experimental poetry, there is a distinct skepticism about excitement. I think this has to do with an insistent valorization of self-reliance and agency and free will and such. There’s the anxiety that if you’re swept up in something, it must be bad, you lose your “free will,” you become, in Joyelle’s terminology, “possessed.”

Anyhow, the part I love about Galt’s essay is when she makes a turn to how masochism lead to the ornamental and decorative:

Loss of self meshes with the aesthetics of decoration, for it ushers in a movement into objecthood, where the submissive becomes decorative; desirable and even arousing in the material qualities of her bodily arrangement. But a move into materiality raises other questions in film, where materiality, the ontological, and the fetishistic pleasures of seeing people as things lead us to the grounding qualities of the medium. Beatty’s films eroticize the decorative as a form of cinematic materiality, making the spectator aware of the closeness of their pleasures and, indeed, provocatively staging the masochistic as the cinematic.

The anxiety about/seduction of the ornamental was part of the scandal of the grotesque in the Renaissance: a seduction of a kind of excess, a kind of dangerous COMPULSION, a and a flatness that seemed unwholesome. For Galt, Beatty’s decorative excess (full of props) is a kind of queering of aesthetics and sexuality.

I’m also thinking – in terms of Ahwesh’s film as well as Joyelle’s body possessed by media – of the relationship of media, ornament and Bataille’s fellow Documents contributor Roger Caillois’s idea of INSECTOID PSYCHOSIS – when insects mimic their surrounding so well that the distinction between FIGURE and GROUND is lost:

The individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other side of his senses. he tries to look at himself from any point whatever of space. He feels himself becoming space… He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar. And he invents spaces of which he is ‘the convulsive possession.’ (from Rosalind Krauss’s book Formless)

Caillois is especially interested in the Praying Mantis because it can be decapitated and DEAD and still continue to imitate living for several days. I’m interested in this imitating; the very thing so many people in poetry want to eliminate or control (images are low-brow, you have to earn your image etc). And I’m interested in the way the Awesh figures are opened up by the material degradation of the video: the lovers blend not just with the background, but with the medium. I’m of course also interested in the way this plays into Joyelle’s Necropastoral: the membrane of death and life is traversed. But the idea of self-agency, self-determination, free will, those All-American democratic ideals, are lost, it seem to me.

[Or: I should say, the media-posssessed figure is something *like* the praying mantis, afterall, the picture is not flat, it’s quite convulsively coming out of itself in its wounds.]

6 comments for this entry:
  1. Joyelle McSweeney

    Joh, I love this analysis and I love how you are expanding and applying my ideas about the ‘body possessed by media’. I’m also very intrigued by Callois’s idea of the similar.I had a recovered memory of some anachronistic use of the word ‘similar’ as a noun, ie. the similar as double. I remembered this as an occult term, but in fact it’s a medical term (i bet they’re linked historically). Anyhoo, a quick check with the OED turned up this:

    1896 T. C. Allbutt et al. Syst. Med. I. 222 Hippocrates pointed out the occasional value of similars, that is of drugs which produce symptoms similar to those observed in the disease for which they are given.

    This links Callois ideas and your notions above to a whole set of thoughts about drugs, the pharmikon, the body’s permeability/borders, doubles, media, membrane, the Theater and the Plague, etc

  2. Christopher Higgs

    Hi, Johannes,

    I’m so pleased you picked up on my post at giant about Ahwesh’s film, and added such interesting ideas to the mix. I have been a quiet observer here at Montevidayo, but I’ve really benefited from your ideas and Joyelle’s ideas about the necropastoral, grotesque bodies, woundings, art as anachronism, etc. (I actually read Shaviro’s Cinematic Body because you mentioned it a long time ago at exoskeleton.) Anyway, just wanted to finally speak up and let you know I pay close attention to what you and Joyelle have to say, and that I get a lot from it. Thanks!


  3. Lucas de Lima

    It IS interesting to think about poetry dissolving the myth of the sovereign subject, which theory got over doing a long time ago. Along with the headless moth that can continue to lay eggs for days, the praying mantis inspires me.

  4. James Pate

    This is a great film…for some reason it reminds me of certain images from Hammer horror films. The mix of the feverish and the garish.

    I think a lot of David Lynch deals with the “body possessed by media.” Again and again we see characters watching other characters on a movie screen (as in near the end of Lost Highway), or characters engaged in films that bleed through to reality (especially in Inland Empire)…or rather, media dissolves reality in its own acid. The hallucinatory nature of experience, to use Borges’ phrase, is brought to the foreground of experience….

  5. Johannes

    Right at the beginning of Montevidayo, I actually posted on this topic:


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