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The Pandemoniac Junk Shop of Solitude: Kitsch and Death*
To the memory of my father

Kitsch begins in emptiness: a hollow, suspended silence extending without horizons, suddenly occupied by an implacable rush of images. An epileptic seizure.

«I'd like to have wings, a carapace, a rind, to breathe out smoke, wave my trunk, twist my body, divide myself up, to be inside everything, to drift away with odors, develop as plants do, flow like water, vibrate like sound, gleam like light, to curl myself up into every shape, to penetrate each atom, to get down to the depth of matter--to be matter! » Saint Anthony's last temptation is to become one with a concrete universe by way of religious transcendence, to overcome the insatiability of desire (the phantasms of gluttony, lasciviousness, avarice--all excessive, all physical) with a supreme effort of will, mind over body. This contradictory desire is shattered by the impossibility of its paradox: the blinding light of Jesus's smiling face finally whites out the iconographic cornucopia indefatigably produced by Flaubert's play. The symbol protects the herd from straying onto the allegorical gratification of kitsch: terrestrial abundance and imaginal saturation retreat to the underworld of death, fire, and evil--back to emptiness.

Excess and artifice, like single women and pets, are considered unproductive, sterile, ornamental, superfluous: all single women have pets, a man once wrote sarcastically. Single women, like kitsch, are treated as freaks of nature, travesties, unreal things: art should recreate a pure aesthetic experience and women should procreate men. Women and kitsch are emotional, sentimental, and | melodramatic.

SALOME: I am amorous of thy body, Jokanaan! Thy body is white like the lilies of a field that the mower hath never mowed. Thy body is white like the snows that lie on the mountains of Judaea, and come down into the valleys. The roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia are not so white as thy body.Neither the roses of the Queen of Arabia, the garden of spices of the Queen of Arabia, nor the feet of the dawn when they light on the leaves, nor the breast of the moon when she lies on the breast of the sea. There is nothing in the world so white as thy body. Suffer me to touch thy body.

JOKANAAN: Back! Daughter of Babylon! By woman came evil into the world. Speak not to me. I wilt not listen to thee. I listen but to the voice of the Lord God.

SALOME: Thy body is hideous. It is like the body of a leper. It is like a plastered wall where vipers have crawled; like a plastered wall where the scorpions have made their nest. It is like a whitened sepulchre full of loathsome things. It is horrible, thy body is horrible.

Salomé's metaphorical language is loaded with her displaced erotic desire in the same way that her incestuous stepfather, King Herod, constantly replaces his lust for her with wine and food. Salomé partially succeeds in possessing Jokanaan by orally transforming him into all those wordly things that he despises in the name of a higher order. This "debasement" of a spiritual domain is at the heart of the attack on kitsch. Similarly, women are rendered inferior by virtue of what is referred to as their whimsical nature, which would behead, like princess Salomé, those they cannot have. If they are not mothers, women are feared as potentially deadly. Like a memento mori, kitsch is constantly reminding mortals of their terrestrial nature and ultimate perishability.

"Deathjoy in repetition." Kitsch compulsively accumulates signs until it produces an overkill of signification, covering every surface, invoking all possible textures. Uninhibited by copies and quotations, it seeks to make everything into a baroque scenario, stifling life in an asphyxiating, claustrophobic, figurative condensation. In kitsch, everything is always and foremost a narrative: « Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet that still clings fast to the heel that crushed it. » Fragmentary, kitsch creates metonymic associations, using parts instead of wholes, establishing meaning by syntagmatic continuity instead of paradigmatic reference. Pleasure is fleeting and transitory: it occurs in the moment of recognition like a plunge into an imaginary, underwater world that has always been there. It is free from logical causality and rational functionalism, existing only for the intuitive encounter of dissimilar registers in a black hole.

«The firework spectacle of Rome in flames and the human torches of Christians impaled in the imperial gardens was prized artistic currency for the aesthetic emperor Nero, who showed how he could remain deaf to the screams of pain coming from his victims, or even appreciate them as an aesthetic musical accompaniment. »

Decadence as a surplus of signs, a fruit that rots after bursting ripe, uneaten. Cruelty destroying life as an excess in space, only to recreate it forever in time, rejoicing more in the memory of life than in its actual existence. Rococo as a rich perversion of those straight lines that shoot forward with no clear direction, sustained only by a definite impetus to keep moving and producing, moving and producing, as if there were such thing as an end. Kitsch collecting all the residue discarded by a culture of certainty, reconstructing them into a disfigured looking glass, a pandemoniac junk shop of solitude.

The hidden door that leads to paradise opens in a place without fissures where everything radiates, sustained by the mysterious vapor of imagination. It is inhabited by unicorns and charming princes. Without realizing it, time suddenly folds like a fan: the enormous red roses obscurely begin to putrefy, the ethereal bodies hang like golden skeletons, and the trees are invaded by stuffed birds and snakes whose skins short-circuit with every kiss. A girl escapes in terror, taking cover under the dry leaves and the barbed wire. She pretends she is an impenetrable rock, concealing herself so she can never be touched, and always longed for.

*First published in Lusitania, vol. I, no. 4 (1993).

 

 

 

 

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