"Tonårs Jesus": Blurry X-Ray Bodies of Paul Cunningham, Francis Bacon, Pablo Gonzales Trejo

by on May.16, 2012

In response to my last post (about the blurry CROW), Paul Cunningham sent me the following image by Pablo Gonzales Trejo:

[This remind me of The Ring’s crossed-out faces and the “swarm media” of those movies: replication of pale bodies, of dying horses, with insects coming out of the video tape. But that will be the next post, about Brandi Wells’ Poisonhorse.]

Paul has just published a wonderful Internet-book called Foamghast, which is teeming with swarmy, blurry bodies:

“…an x-rayed wound in an x-rayed mouth:
salted gasp, bloodestablished
a meat of violent plum

an x-rayed wound in an
an x-rayed cavernous mouth:
one of those tastes you’re
forced to taste”

The first thing I thought about when I read this was Francis Bacon’s paintings of his lover, George Dyer, one of which was based on X-rays of the lover’s skull (I don’t know if this is it):

As you might guess, I’ve been reading about Bacon recently as part of my investigation of the wounded body and my own feelings about it. It’s notable that Bacon painted a lot of crucifixions; but they are crucifixions that do not end in a resurrection. In terms of disability studies, the body doesn’t become whole again. In Robert McRuhr’s terms, there is no ableist epiphany bringing the body back together.

In “Foamghast” the result is a “flesh-animal” and “false prophets”:

“Flesh-animal moves backwards form the window. The floor passes slowly under its shoes. Its dance-massacre has reached a conclusion. Flesh-animal’s boom box,… flesh animal’s false prophet. The music has no longer its flesh of quickening flower – flesh animal collapses to its knees as the Manta Ray oddity soars slowly toward the apartment window.”

In Cunningham’s hallucinatory world, as in Bacon’s world, the material is distorted as a form of violence. In Bacon’s painting’s there’s the sense that he paint does violence to the body; and in Cunningham’s poetry, the poetry does violence, “blurs”, the body.

In my ongoing memoir, I obviously write quite a bit about this kind of body. And since I start out with a study of 80s pop songs, here’s a very foundational song for me, Imperiet’s “Teenage Jesus”:

My tears have painted over the whole town
and my heart is a sidewalk
I have been an amusement park and a cemetery
I have waited for two thousand years
Then he came from the sky an atom-bomb-day
and he rode an electric white swan

Teenage Jesus you’re coming etc

He was born out of agony a winter night
and his heart is a hotel
He opened doors nobody thought existed
He has taken my virginity for a testube son
he is guilty of unarmed robbery

The streets have never been so long
so full of shitty snow
My mirror-life [?] is the gods’ torture
Now I dress the christmas tree in ashes and embers

First of all, note Thåström’s Jesus-like pale body in the album cover above. Just as in the crow song, there’s this dynamic that develops: who is Jesus and who is his lover? They form an occult artistic system where identities bleed together. You see the same thing in Cunningham’s “flesh-animal” and “Manta Ray” -they form a communal system of violence. Is Thåström Jesus? That seems to be the implication.

There is also in this song the sense of metaphors (or Art) as a kind of torture: the song opens up Jesus’s heart, turns the speaker into an amusement park, has an inner sidewalk. All these metaphors serves to “kind of explode” (see Johan Jönson article) the human body, the song becomes a sacrifice.


The scandal of Jesus is the male body is both wounded and eroticized. The male body is made incomplete and exposed. As Lara noted in her guy-a-go-go series, the Phallic system wants to hide the man’s naked body; except when in cases of action movie heroes their sexual bodies are identical with power; they’re allowed to be wounded if they come back together miraculously. The trouble is when the male body is wounded and eroticized as wounded.

[I’m reading this book Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-In-Pain as Redemptive Figure by Ken Brintnall this morning and that’s what he talks about so I’m being infected here. Brintnall sees the ultimate case of this in all of Mel Gibson’s movies – movies that are always based on a scarred phallic, conservative man coming back together in some way (if only as the scream of “freedom” at the end of Braveheart).]

Part of the scandal of Jesus images is that if he doesn’t come together, doesn’t become redemption and epiphany, he is a wounded, erotic male body. (And here it’s notable that Thåström was considered the extreme sex symbol of the moment in Sweden with his spassy, blurry, sweaty, scrawny heroin-pale body.)

This is part of what makes the crucifix such a site of “culture war” (whether the Republicans attacking Wojnarowicz or the Nazis attack “degenerate” German Expressionists and Dadaists). Another reason – which is related – that Art opens up the holes in Jesus’s body, subjects it to media (the art materials that blur Bacon’s bodies, the ants that crawl on Wojnarowicz’s crucifix etc), makes it art. Art makes Jesus erotic slaughter with its “blur” of paint (or ants):

Jesus rides in on the electrocuted version of the symbolists’ favorite icon of art, the swan.

9 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    There’s also this sense of “painting the town” in Imperiet’s song – literalizing that metaphor. Paint blurs. But it doesn’t make it vague, it makes it too much, excessive, physically distortive, the matter takes over.


  2. Liberty

    Taking it one step further: Antony and the Johnsons – I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy

  3. Johannes

    Or even better, this video of the song:


  4. James Pate

    Lucien Freud’s famous model Leigh Bowery used to call himself a “beautiful monster” (or maybe others called him that, I can’t remember) and Bacon’s figures always bring that phrase back to my mind.

    I know I’ve mentioned this on Montevidayo before, but there’s a fantastic book by Deleuze on Bacon called The Logic of Sensation. Not only is it one of the best books about Bacon — it’s also one of the best contemporary books about Art period, I think…

    For Deleuze, Bacon is a painter of anonymity, of the Figure, in direct contrast to the tradition of the psychological portrait. In some ways, it might be said that the healing of the male body would entail some sort of re-crystalization of the psychological self, a re-configuration of the “I” — but in Bacon the force that runs through the Figure never allows for that moment, it is never pieced back together into some transcendental ego. The faces remain nameless.


  5. Johannes

    Yes, the Deleuze thing definitely makes sense here. The I after all in all these pieces seems to move around.


  6. Paul

    Johannes, I appreciate how you’ve applied blurring/distortion to Foamghast–and specifically to the poem of the same title. This is one of the reasons I consistently refer to “Flesh-Animal” as an “it.” I did not want Flesh-Animal to have a specific gender. I did not want Flesh-Animal to be entirely recognizable as something as familiar as “female” or “male” or “human.” I guess you could say I wrote a blurring of a human. A oncehuman.

    A oncehuman with “ruined sex parts.” A oncehuman that was demolished by a relationship between sexuality and art.

  7. James Pate

    This might relate to the uncanny aspect of zombies too — in Romero’s films the living dead gain their graphic power, I think, from wounds that should cancel out “life”.” And the most often-used image in Walking Dead commercials seems to be the zombie moving around on the grass that is only the upper torso.

    Here, there’s almost a double sense of the uncanny. Bodies that were actually once alive now “alive” in parts that should not have life. So instead of a mannequin having human attributes, you have human bodies themselves, making the uncanny closer to us, all-too-human…

  8. Kim

    Great discussion. Zombies do have a trait of impotence about them, I think, as if by becoming Walking Dead, they’re capable of violence and cannibalism, but not sex. Zombies can’t fuck, reproduce. “Ruined sex parts” sounds about right. I was thinking about this impotence in regards to Johnson as not offering any solutions, or art as impotent, but also in relation to Lara’s series, where it puzzles me. I love the idea of the body as nonfunctional, posing, still I find myself wondering, what of zombies and art’s sex drive? Are they forever doomed to wander in the dark, arms out-stretched, eyes bulging, because if they don’t they will fall back into the same functional, productive, mainstream power structures. I’m not even entirely sure what I mean, but there is something (blurred) gnawing for me there.


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