ART, MEDIA and FLESH

musings from the disenchanted postmodern.
by Joseph Witkowski

 

 

We are standing at the end of the world once again, as each century closes down, the culture bears the voices of a new fin-de-siecle sickness, the exhaustion of our souls in the face of the future. We are quick to bury our dead with the invested vigor of an emergency room triage. There has been for philosophy a 100 year war engaged with Kant’s modern (hu)man, the manipulator of his destiny, calculator of the galaxy’s pretty shapes. Those say it began when good old Friedrich was hauled off to chew rubber for the remaining twelve years of his life and it has produced a beast, gorged on its evolutionary selection. The pursuit of this beast reached its culmination in the Post-structuralist godheads, the architectonics of language, the power formations within social systems, the phenomenology of identity. These systems have all burnt out, and what has evolved from the ashes is an iconography to bring all cults to bear, our Nietzchean legacy has but one god to answer to in its quest for unrestrained thought. The beast is the body, the center of gravity that disrupts all systems, all theories, all quests. It is within the Po-mo sect that writers, poets and intellectuals striving to undo the theory of humanity’s strategically positioned subjectivity armed with all the necessary categories and syllogisms for the unraveling of the Puzzle. Humanity’s role in existence, what we can hope for, judge and fear have revealed the flesh as insoluble, and is the only problem left in philosophy. This instrumental turn that gave us our own medium as foundation, the deciphering of the mechanisms of language, the eruption of mind/body dualism, its birth defect is that we no longer can perceive our existentiality as imprisoned spirit, creative activity in corporeal bondage obeying the laws of nature as a program for survival. Flesh is not surrounding a pre-destined animal/machine that battles a harsh brutal and short life only to bear a litter awarded with the same tedious mission, nor is it the flesh which drags down the more ethereal thought into base pleasure, the ebb and flow of higher and lower faculties , nor is it the flesh of destiny: organs, sinews, boiling blood playing at permanence and preaching decay. It is a Flesh that speaks, and can listen, it has memory, and serves many masters. It passes in and out of the framework of subjectivity, we are no longer the ghost in the machine, the machine is the ghost, the body haunts us like a diseased spectre seeking vengeance for sins remembered. In opposition, the body has also become the new clay, a place of articulation for those who would seek to mold it.
These attributes have been revealed in their historical formation, as our inventions, our more genuinely the inventions of our captors, those inspired to study the individual, the child, the family; their sexual habits, their procreative tendencies became the means of understanding, and manipulating populations, fostering work forces to toil in Western culture’s underground trog-caves. They are the fodder for evolutionists whose wide eyed authority have bastardized feminist advancements. The doctors who have built zoos for the insane the criminal, the pervert. The religious demigods, masters of media who have us flagellating ourselves, erasing the guilt so ingrained in our sexual explorations, masturbatory fantasies, and halting our tapped skill at separating pleasure from desire. Philosophy may have outed these disciplinary structures, but is has yet to award us the means to undo the body as the thing we must inevitably answer to in thought and moving. With god, logic, evolution, pragmatism, class consciousness , teleological edicts and the myths of history all fallen to the pure ontology of being, humanity cannot do as it wilt, say what it wants and live in its ideas without responding to the fixed-within-us. The body although mired in the technologies operating upon it, still manifests untraceable limits and restrictions which may have no antidotes, locks with no key. Invisible chemicals mold moods, every manner of sexual experience hungers for answers in its own language, even the progress of eastern and western medicine, our knowledge of nutrition physiological relations to the psychological, and it still threatens us with pain illness and death. We no longer struggle with an earth bound body and god like mind, it is now the difference between reconstitution of our physicality as tool and relieving us from the inherent fascism of thought.
Foucault has been this author’s only surviving gladiator. In his annals lie the tools by which we unearth ourselves of this fascism, A lifetime of work dedicated to the unveiling of the voices of those with badges and pulpits who have trained us to watch within, live as slaves to the power of those established speakers, we recite our world back to ourselves everyday terrified of inconsistency, referencing every emotion to some Oz like bureaucrat while basking in the warmth of his omnipotent eye. While perched in some San Francisco leather bar penning the credo of transformation, the lesson with no rules, freedom by critique, destroy all theory and bath in its wake. A man who was labeled a charlatan of history, a philosopher a discontinuity, a traitor to the New Left and that still respected insult as a nihilist, for is not nihilism a word for those who fear their freedom, it is in those categories of words where ‘love’ and ‘truth’ reside, found only in the dictionaries of priests and politicians. Foucault understood that we must live and explore our lives as if they were works of art, for art and a human life share similar curses, they are both strange combinations of fantasy and reality, of inspiration and work, they are rarely appreciated in their time and by a small few, and they cannot exist in memory alone but must leave a trace of itself in the world in order to survive its death. It is those who make art their life and life their art who shall overcome the limits of flesh.
A hundred years ago, the blistering spirit of this crusade was proselytized far from Parisian streets where Apollinaire and surrealism was putting together its P.R. task force, far from the libraries where Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger would discover it in the written word; but more appropriately in a Viennese jail cell, wherein sat the expressionist painter Egon Schiele, the first to reveal the body which breathes itself. The cycle of birth and death, the co-dependence of creation from destruction were the staples of European expressionism, His painting were manifestations of this power in the realm of sex and identity. The creature which pities itself humbled by his need for pleasure, the slavery of flesh to the obscured object of desire, Schiele was the first to autopsy this new flesh, his scalpel was the line, for is his mastery of the line into the portrait which expressed this interminable dis-connection. The line is the conduit which damages light, releases the movement , the potential energy, his painting are the borderlines for the toil beneath sinews pulsing with actin, this is no longer the mechanism of Manet and his figures who bleed into there backgrounds his state the blood they are made of blood, and to blood they obey nothing else. The children of his work are the pornographers, not that massive kingdom wherein satisfaction is all that dictates the image and our relationship to that image, but those that see pornography as art because it wills the pain it feels, the pain that accompanies knowledge, in this case the knowledge that the body is a liar, the desired which cannot keep its promises, but as Picasso (the most accomplished pornographer of the his sadistic unconscious) once said "Art is the lie by which we find the truth.” Schiele was more a prophet of our future than an analyst of his past, his virus is still mutating.
At the end of our century it is Cronenberg who is the true prophet of the body, a disciple of Schiele who has advanced both the message and the craft In his films we see the technology of flesh colonizing our identities, our relations, our deaths. The most subversive element of film is its ability to overlay stories onto images, countering the effects of both. David Cronenberg has mastered the tale of personality constituted in flesh for is Cronenberg’s flesh that speaks to its spinning nature, web like, interrupting, seducing. His earlier films dismissed as conventional splatter pics, are in fact attuned to the inward horror of the body, its thirst for sexual and political violence in Videodrome, its ability for decay or disease in the Fly, each film took some aspect of the mind/body fusion operating to its most terrifyingly logical end, the dialectic of Cronenberg is one where the body as a mere function of reality is given in imagery both literal and metaphorical its role in ontological attunement, how we experience the body paints our thoughts, moods, abilities sometimes perceptively, sometimes not but always present, and always unnerving. This is why eXistenZ, his opus, is strict Baudrallard from simmulcra to Chinese food to terrorism, (not to mention their preoccupation with Ballard’s Crash, the bible of po-mo sex.) Reality is now a template for the body, each a juxtaposition of space and experience. Is this tasty, are we playing out the program unaware, or is the awareness of our construction that makes the meal so palatable? This world where no line between the beginning and end of time, the erasure of place, origin, direction, motive, character as haven and hell; the amplification of the hyper-real bringing about the elimination of destiny for the game is both a existential state of being manifested in a story, a social climate directed towards as a critique. Games of truth for which the world must be obliterated; this is the inside joke behind his cameo in Don McKellar’s Last Night, one of the commemoration of the year 2000” series films depicting the last night on earth for a city of personages. His character is a psychotically anal phone company representative using those last precious hours of life to call everyone of his customers systematically to thank them for there patronage, his robotic activity done in assured principle, even though this costs him his life prematurely. In his final moments he speaks to the fundamental: it is fear, “who is afraid of themselves at the brink of judgment?”
It is now that the notion of humanity’s machine-like alienation is too horribly cliched to have resonance, perhaps the very intended state of those who prophet from the sleepiness of the average citizen. The television show shares all the elements of a Catholic mass, an hour long formula with a half assed moral watched solely for the purpose of taking your mind off of your life and absorbing them in characters you've deemed more interesting than you. Ask most people who they think should have won the 2000 presidency they are going to say Martin Sheen. Life is pissed away ad nauseam, the insipid lure of game shows, talk shows, pro-wrestling, 14 minutes of news purporting to cover the world. Critiques say that we have so inundated with stimulation that we crave it like junkies, but this is too easy an answer. I believe the answer lies in this hyper reality of flesh, we do not crave stimulation, we crave alienation, alienation from our own flesh. To achieve an audience as a model, game or show contestant, to preach or confess for the masses in the diverting gleam of the cathode ray: “I am heroin addict, I am failed transsexual, I am sleeping with my brother,” our bodies becomes the center of the world for an hour minus commercial time. This instance is one of an uncountable amount of the same, for our world does not exist as shared world until it shared in the television audience, tragedy made circus, owned by all and understood by none. In the case where one’s flesh becomes not only the forefront of one’s existence, but the irreversible symbol of one’s identity it is only the image of that flesh that can cure it of its reality. To go on television is to reverse the order of flesh, wherein the industry standard is to view from inside our bodies, and only see the outsides of others, an entity faced with an infinite possibility of entities which remain mysterious under their corporeal cloaks, when one perceives oneself in the diluted state of talk-show guest, sound bite, filler-on-a-slow-news-day sensation, the order is reversed. One sees ones own body from the outside as the Other, because one can now share the place of audience, the millions of opinions, formed in the speed of 24 frames/second
The reconstitution of ones flesh as image, story, infinitely repeated anecdote, as unit of language, its hyper saturation removes its obtrusive reality, one can make the body unreal in engineering its accessibility. This is the tantamount reflective nemesis of art’s purpose, the media as a tool for painless VR flesh. The word, the picture the symbol is unable to capture the totality of its referent, just as a moment in space time in which the body is objectified does it fail to capture the body as experienced life. This is its power over us, it is incomplete, at professes to be incomplete and we grow even more addicted to its use. It is the lie, the double deception of presenting the truth as a lie in order to make believing it believable, for what is more seductive than the lie? Postmodern philosophy preached the demise of itself, a sacrifice for an explosion of new thought, new possibilities, and yet our flesh remains, carved into it are the weakness and fears of a gluttonous society, that punishes the outsider, sedates the worker, and dilutes the rebellion. One must choose in this life the home of flesh as artistic medium, or the company of flesh as media food. Those who have chosen poorly carry only there resentment in there will to invite the rest of us to their cannibalistic buffet, no jacket required. Our resistance goes unassisted, no longer does the world offer us something outside of ourselves to guide the spirit, no longer can philosophy award us principles for the betterment of being. These is but one categorical imperative that punctuates Schiele’s oil, Cronenberg’s celluloid and above all Foucault’s work, his massive response to Kant’s third critique, and it is Nietzchean in its utmost beauty, it no longer profits us to know ourselves, we must create ourselves. This is the heart of all loneliness.

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