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Renaissance du théâtre médiéval

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Véronique Dominguez

Partie IV. Le théâtre médiéval, chance de la scène contemporaine ?

Whipping up community. Reworking the Medieval passion play, from Ron Athey to Mel Gibson

Marla Carlson

Texte intégral

  • 1 P. Meredith and J.E. Tailby (eds.), The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ag (...)
  • 2 Cl. Davidson, Sacred Blood and the Late Medieval Stage, in Comparative Drama 31.3, 1997, p. 436-458 (...)
  • 3 M.B. Merback, Living Image of Pity: Mimetic Violence, Peacemaking and Salvific Spectacle in the Fla (...)

1That bloody special effects were popular in the medieval theatre is well known. They range from various apparatus that left bloody marks during the scourging of Christ or flagellation of a saint to a suit of pigskins pre-painted with Christ’s wounds and the marks left by flogging. Dummies spilled blood, guts, and bones when cut open or ripped apart.1 Medieval saint plays feature a standard series of torments followed by decapitation – the only way to kill a saint. The torments replicate the Passion of Christ and provide a means for the spectator’s compassionate suffering. As Clifford Davidson and Veronique Plesch both argue, the suffering in Passion plays was intended to draw the spectator into the scene, to produce a visceral and emotional engagement with the Passion while watching, and furthermore to provide a memorable image for later contemplation.2 Mitchell Merback proposes that medieval flagellant processions provoked a similar response, arguing that the spectator would assimilate the penitent to Christ by means of intervisual analogy.3 The spectacle of either real or simulated pain was understood to have a beneficial effect for the individual spectator, the immediate community, Christendom at large, or all of these.

2Since the middle of the twentieth century, artists have included self-inflicted pain in performance events, quite often as a form of social and political critique. In some cases, the suffering explicitly took on both sexual and spiritual overtones. This essay gives a brief introduction to three male performers – Ron Athey, Fakir Musafar, and Bob Flanagan – each of whom became the subject of a documentary film shortly before the end of the century. I will explain the various contexts that inform this work: the art historical context that created a genre and an audience; the punk and neo-primitive movements that nurtured participants; and the marketing of male masochism that facilitated a crossover between marginal art performance and mainstream culture during the 1990s. The essay finishes by examining conservative Christianity’s reclamation of the suffering male body in the twenty-first century and argues that the queer and the conservative are intimately related. As it did in the Middle Ages, the body in pain remains a focus for community formation and spiritual striving.

  • 4 C. Carr, The Rite Stuff, in Village Voice, 15 December 1998, p. 81.
  • 5 Unless otherwise identified, Athey’s statements and details about his life and work are cited from (...)

3Ron Athey’s work exemplifies a trend in performance by male artists during the 1990s that I characterize as queering the Passion. Athey was born in 1961 to a family that were Pentecostal Christians for generations back, and the grandmother and aunt who raised him in Southern California believed that he was born with a “calling” to fill the role of John the Baptist for the second coming of Christ. His aunt was to serve as the new Virgin Mary. As a child, Athey cooperated with this plan by speaking in tongues, having visions, and preaching, but his faith collapsed at fifteen.4 He missed the kind of psychic transport to which he was accustomed and began to self-mutilate both in order to connect with reality and to dissociate while praying. Athey spent ten years addicted to heroin, tried to kill himself a number of times, and was finally redeemed by a vision of himself covered with black tribal designs. He began getting tattoos and also began to perform again in 1990, but in a venue much different from the revival tent – that is, he began go-go dancing at Club Fuck in Los Angeles among “a lot of extreme people who were extreme for private reasons, and the private went public.”5 Before long, he began to include live piercings, and his new performance career was underway.

  • 6 Public response to Four Scenes focused not on the pain but on the blood: the NEA was attacked for i (...)

4Invited by Dennis Cooper to present work at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Athey compiled scenes he developed at Club Fuck into Martyrs and Saints (1992). He describes the piece as an attempt to understand why his HIV-positive status makes him feel like a martyr and how that relates to his religious upbringing. Four Scenes from a Harsh Life (1994) includes multiple varieties of piercing and cutting, as well as dancing with bells and limes stitched to the skin with fishing line.6 Deliverance (1995), dealing with death, healing, and mysticism, zips its martyrs into body bags and buries them under a mound of dirt. Although the narrative content of these pieces is drawn from Athey’s life experience, he does not perform alone and is not the only one to suffer. For example, Four Scenes begins with a naked, arrow-pierced St. Sebastian figure (an androgynous but genitally female performer identified as Pigpen) trembling next to Athey in “Holy Woman” drag, as he tells the story of a faith healer from his childhood who supposedly bore stigmata and his disappointment that she did not actually bleed when he met her. Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance (1998) documents this trilogy of performances from the 1990s. In the absence of religion, a functional belief system, or an effective support system, borrowed ritual practices provide Athey and his fellow performers – a dozen friends from the body modification world – with the means to perform communitas on stage in defiance of a homophobic culture. Athey brought onstage just the sort of modern tribe that other so-called Neo-Primitives were talking about, and both the tribe as a whole and the individual performers were remarkable for confounding any binary gender analysis.

  • 7 See “About Fakir Musafar: Father of the Modern Primitive Movement,” n.d., <http://www.fakir.org/abo (...)
  • 8 D. Jury and M. Jury (dirs.), Dances Sacred and Profane (1986), released for home video as Bizarre R (...)

5Athey was hardly alone in staging ritualized spectacles of pain in the 1990s, and a brief examination of two other masochistic performers will help to place his work in context. Fakir Musafar, commonly called the father of the Modern Primitive movement, does not call his body play “art,” although he has avidly documented his body modifications and ritual performances since his early teens. He has piercings all over his body and various genital modifications, sometimes severely constricts his waist or inserts close to a hundred spears into his torso.7 The documentary Dances Sacred and Profane shows his version of the Lakota and Mandan O-Kee-Pa suspension ritual.8 After extensive preparation, including the search for an appropriate cotton-wood tree in a favorable location, a companion hoists Fakir into the air by means of hooks through his pectorals. Fakir describes in voiceover his sexual and spiritual transcendence.

  • 9 R. Mcclean Novick, Skin Deep: Interview with Fakir Musafar, 1992, <http://www.levity.com/mavericks/ (...)
  • 10 F. Musafar, Body Play, in A.R. Favazza, Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification i (...)

6Fakir grew up with the name Roland Loomis on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and in his early teens began secretly to experiment with body modifications gleaned from encyclopedias. He discovered that painful body play produced a tremendous relief from intense experiences of dissociation, hallucinations, and loneliness. His first out-of-body experience, alone and lashed to the wall of his family’s coal bin at age 17, produced the insight: “Your body belongs to you. Play with it.” Repeated dreams convinced him that he was the reincarnation of an Indian mystic who died in a gruesome accident, and he took the name Fakir Musafar. By “coming out” as both masochist and spiritual seeker in 1977 at a tattoo convention and continuing to proselytize for body play, Fakir changed the context for his own subsequent actions and for anyone self-consciously performing within the context that he helped to establish. Rebecca Novick describes him as “a misfit who, unable to find a mold to fit into, simply fashioned one for himself.”9 The “mold” took some time to fashion, however. Notably, Fakir did not find his way into the conceptual art world; rather, he met like-minded spiritual seekers when he moved to San Francisco to do graduate work in technical theatre. (As he tells the story, the connection to theatre is purely incidental.) In the 1970s he became involved with the Janus Society and with tattoo and piercing “show­and-tell” parties in Los Angeles. Charles Gatewood, a photographer documenting the tattoo-and-body-modification subculture, brought him wider attention.10

  • 11 Ibid.
  • 12 Gl. Brame, Interview with Fakir Musafar, in The Internet Companion to Different Loving: The World o (...)
  • 13 F. Musafar, op. cit., p. 327.
  • 14 D. Sussman, Fakir Musafar: A Theory Full of Holes, 1995, <http://www.paloalto online.com/weekly/mor (...)

7Interest in Fakir is to some extent a product of cultural trends, but he has been instrumental in promoting these trends. His career as an advertising executive should not be overlooked. The release of Dances Sacred and Profane and publication of Modern Primitives in the mid-1980s fed into a growing interest in body modification within youth culture.11 At the time that the film was made, Fakir felt it necessary to tone down his conversation and to couch his pursuits in primarily spiritual terms reminiscent of Joseph Campbell. Even “neo-pagans” perceived the pursuit of pain in negative terms, as mortification of the body. Only within S/M circles did Fakir find understanding and acceptance. But by the mid-1990s, he could talk openly and enthusiastically to audiences of young people searching for “new ways to reclaim their bodies, to do their own rites of passages, to do group rites of passage”12. Fakir began to publish Body Play and Modern Primitives Quarterly in 1991 and instituted the Fakir Body Piercing and Branding Intensives in 1993. By 1996, Modern Primitives had been reprinted six times and 60,000 copies were in circulation13. Fakir retired from advertising to devote himself to publishing and teaching, with workshops filling up far in advance14.

  • 15 R. Mcclean Novick, op. cit.
  • 16 J.W. Bean, Magical Masochist: A Conversation with Fakir Musafar, in M. Thompson (ed.), Leatherfolk: (...)
  • 17 Ibid., p. 313-317.
  • 18 R. Mcclean Novick, op. cit.

8Fakir calls pain a “prejudicial word” for intense sensations which, if actively sought and expected, are not aversive.15 He describes the pursuit of intense sensation as a form of spirituality and observes that people engaged in sadomasochistic sex “seem to go someplace, to unseen worlds that are disconnected from the time and space of the seen world.”16 Pain alone is not sufficient for the type of spiritual experience that Fakir describes, nor is it reliable. He stresses the need for an experienced guide and proposes that a modern-primitive shaman (such as himself) can provide much-needed new rituals for modern tribes.17 His “body-first” spirituality is dualistic: the “shamanic” state is reached when “you know your body, you can feel everything there is in the body but you also know you’re not the body. You can be totally spirit and just be an observer.”18

  • 19 Re-issued, A. Juno and V. Vale (eds.), Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist, New York, Juno Books, 2000.
  • 20 D. Cooper, Flanagan’s Wake, in Artforum, 34.8, 1996, p. 77.
  • 21 Santa Monica Museum (1992); New Museum, New York (1994); Boston School of the Arts (1995).
  • 22 K. Dick (dir.), Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super-Masochist (1995). Linda Kauffman po (...)

9The Modern Primitives volume also includes a profile of Sheree Rose, who discusses her transformation from discontented Southern California housewife to happy dominatrix. In 1993, Re/Search published a volume dedicated to Rose’s slave, Bob Flanagan.19 Flanagan (1952-1996) described his sexual masochism as a way to take control of his bodily experience – that is, to feel pain that he controlled, in contrast with the painful and depersonalizing medical treatments for cystic fibrosis (CF) that he endured from his earliest childhood. Dennis Cooper describes him as “a complex man who wanted simultaneously to be Andy Kaufman, Houdini, David Letterman, John Keats, and a character out of a de Sade novel.”20 For Flanagan and Rose’s installation Visiting Hours (1992-1995) he was present in the museum, sometimes talking with visitors as he lay in a hospital bed, at other times hoisted up to the ceiling by his ankles, naked. Aside from the suspension and whatever may have been going on due to his illness, he performed pain only in video and photo installations.21 To Flanagan’s surprise, strangers sat by his bedside in the museum and talked about their own experiences with grave illness, inspired to such intimate exchanges by the charm and humor that were even more notable than his masochism. The documentary Sick turns S/M into the everyday backdrop that makes it possible to communicate about the normally hidden, even taboo, experience of terminal illness and grief. Sick presents Flanagan’s illness as, finally, wrenching and unmitigated by his attempt to control bodily experience through volitional pain.22

10All three of these men began self-mutilating privately during adolescence and then came out into the performance genre that had been prepared by conceptual and performance artists. All three have subsequently been the subject of documentary films with enough commercial potential to warrant a home-video release. I propose that these suffering male artists caught the attention of documentary filmmakers in part because they fit into a heroic (or antiheroic) mold and in part because of a more general interest in male masochism on the part of the news media. Perhaps more importantly, instead of criticizing the marketplace, these performers either created a new market or brought an underground market into the open. Although they are obscure by industry standards, even an obscure film gets more exposure than an art performance. The Blockbuster website listed all three in 2005, although none was available for rental. I was able to rent Sick at a commercial video store, and it’s now available from Netflix. Amazon is selling both Sick and Hallelujah! in 2008. Neither the live performances nor the films occupy the central position that we imagine for the saint play in medieval culture, and they have not created a participatory vortex on the scale of the lay flagellant movements; however, they are remarkable indications of a general trend that peaked in the 1990s and has since become contested ground.

  • 23 Das Ohr (1967), Otto Mühl and his Direct Art Group with Peter Weibel, Oswald Wiener and others; cam (...)
  • 24 See M. Green (ed.), Brus, Muehl, Nitsch, Schwarzkogler: Writings of the Vienna Actionists, London, (...)

11The history of twentieth-century art performance provides a crucial framework for understanding the genre within which Athey, Fakir, and Flanagan’s performances took place. In disparate locations during the 1950s and 1960s, people who identified themselves as visual artists began to perform actions instead of or in addition to making objects. Although body art’s roots clearly extend back at least to the historical avant garde of the early twentieth century (especially Futurist and Dada performance), art historians typically acclaim Jackson Pollock as the progenitor: Pollock’s action paintings of 1949 begat environmental installations, which begat Happenings and Fluxus events, Vienna Actionism, and the Gutai group in Japan. The four artists associated with Viennese Actionism, in particular, link Pollock’s reluctant performance to the artists with whom I have been concerned here. Aghast at a growing complacency and conformism that seemed likely to restore the cultural formations that led to World War II, Hermann Nitsch (b. 1938), Otto Mühl (b. 1925), Rudolf Schwarzkogler (1940-1969), and Günter Brus (b. 1938) exuberantly degraded themselves and others in the course of more than 150 actions between 1962 and 1974. Like Pollock, these four artists moved from representational painting to action but remained grounded in their work as painters. Brus and Mühl describe their desire to expand painting off the wall, incorporating the human body in it as material but also fracturing the signification process. The jam that splats onto a visually isolated ear looks like blood, for example, but some time is required to recognize the ear as an ear.23 The actions create unexpected physical associations through proximity, while they disrupt symbolic associations. Often working with Kurt Kren, the Actionists filmed group sex, acts of bestiality, bondage and discipline (which looks more silly than painful).24

  • 25 P. Schimmel, Leap Into the Void: Performance and the Object, in Out of Actions, p. 94. For all of B (...)
  • 26 Chr. Burden, Chris Burden 71-73, Los Angeles, Chris Burden, 1974, p. 24.
  • 27 ID., Documentation of Selected Works, 1971-1975, New York, Electronic Arts Intermix, 1975.

12Mid-century bursts of radical art experiment such as these in turn begat diverse conceptual art actions, exemplified by the early career of conceptual artist Chris Burden. By the time he started college in the late 1960s, Happenings and Fluxus had changed the academic art curriculum. Burden spent five days in a locker as his thesis project at the University of California at Irvine in 1971.25 Shoot (1971) remains his most widely known work, and he describes it in typically clinical fashion: “At 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket 22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.”26 220 (1971) was a group event: After Burden flooded a room with six inches of water and the three participants climbed onto wooden ladders, he dropped a live 220-volt line into the water. The piece ended at 6:00 a.m. when, by prior arrangement, someone cut the power to the building. For Bed Piece (1971), Burden got into a bed in the Market Street Gallery and stayed there for 22 days. He gave no instructions, leaving it up to gallery personnel to figure out that they should provide essentials such as water and toilet facilities (which they did). He said that the first two days were very difficult and painful but that he began to enjoy the peacefulness by the second week and to consider staying; however, he knew that he would not be able to do so, even if he tried, and that people would think he was crazy. During Bed Piece, Burden noticed that he seemed to have a kind of power, like a repulsive magnet: there was a sort of invisible bubble around him, and people seemed afraid to come close.27

  • 28 See V.E. Taylor, Contracting Masochism, in M.C. Finke and C. Niekerk (eds.), One Hundred Years of M (...)
  • 29 K. O’dell, Contract With the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s, Minneapolis, Universi (...)

13Burden’s early actions bring the social contract into question, as Kathy O’Dell argues, not only by requiring the participation of others who are not always “performers” or “artists” but also by pushing the relation between performer and spectator into the foreground. In most cases, spectators did not participate physically in Burden’s self-endangerment, but their presence and failure to interfere implied consent to his actions. O’Dell uses Shoot to introduce and explain the label “masochistic” because of its implicated contractual relationship, not Burden’s subjective relation to pain. The masochist sets the terms of the S/M contract; therefore, in a peculiar and paradoxical way, the masochist suffers only physically but produces emotional suffering for any non-sadistic participant or spectator who doesn’t enjoy filling the dominant role. Unwitting or naive spouses of masochists often enough end miserable, drafted into dominance against their own inclinations.28 According to O’Dell, these artists used the masochistic contract as a metaphor for other contractual arrangements, those that structure political and domestic relationships. By causing spectators to question their participation in his self-damage, Burden stimulated a questioning of “the everyday agreements – or contracts – that we all make with others but that may not be in our own best interests.”29

  • 30 See P. Schimmel, Leap Into the Void, op. cit., p. 17. For a full discussion of Pollock, see A. Jone (...)
  • 31 A. Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollack, in Art News, Oct. 1958, p. 24-26, 55-77.
  • 32 A. Jones, Body Art, op. cit., p. 80.
  • 33 R.L. Goldberg, Performance Art: Futurism to the Present, revised ed., New York, Thames and Hudson, (...)
  • 34 Of the Viennese Actionists, Shwarzkogler best fits the stereotype of the suffering artist but is le (...)

14Burden represents a transitional stage in the action artist’s changing masculinity between 1949 and 1994. As Paul Schimmel describes the causal chain, Pollock’s paint flinging was an action intended to produce an object (a painting), but Hans Namuth’s photos and films of Pollock emphasized the action itself (and with it, the artist’s body). Other artists took this focus shift farther, emphasizing the process of creation instead of the object and eventually eliminating the object entirely.30 The narrative of descent from Pollock, centering on America and promulgated by Alan Kaprow during the generative phase, remains influential because of its coherence and explanatory value.31 Its truth is almost irrelevant, because so many artists have understood the movement in these terms. The genealogical narrative also highlights the role of the artist as hero, as maverick, as suffering genius. According to what Amelia Jones calls a “melodramatic myth,” the completion of Namuth’s film precipitated Pollock’s descent into alcoholism and eventual death by car crash.32 The European progenitors of action art also died prematurely, contributing to the appearance of a pattern: Yves Klein, the French artist who used models’ bodies to transfer paint to canvas in the early 1960s, died of a heart attack at age 34 in 1963, the same year that Piero Manzoni, the Italian who sold balloons filled with Artist’s Breath and cans of Artist’s Shit, died at 30 of cirrhosis.33 During the last year or so of his life, Rudolf Schwarzkogler wrote prescriptions for ascetic purification regimens with an aesthetic orientation, seeming to withdraw from life into art before leaving both through a window in 1969. The public was quite ready to believe the persistent myth that he died by amputating his penis bit by bit.34

  • 35 A. Jones, Body Art, op. cit., p. 82.
  • 36 D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture, P (...)

15None of this is exceptional: Romanticism and Modernism typically deployed the image of the tortured artist or poet as hero. If Pollock is the father of the postmodern pain artist, Vincent Van Gogh must be the grand-father. Yet something had changed. A critical component of Pollock’s creative crisis was that the film caused him to see himself “as a performer” and his actions as “histrionics” instead of as authentic acts of painting. Furthermore, his body was displayed not only in Art Journal but also in mass-market magazines such as Life and Look, alongside performers proper. The media fit Pollock into the mold shaped by (or for) Marlon Brando and James Dean; that is, “nonconformist hypermasculinity.” Conceptual art and popular culture are never as far apart as the practitioners of either might wish to believe. The display of virility for mass-market delectation in the 1950s paradoxically feminized these rebels and cowboys.35 David Savran argues persuasively that the phantasm of the white male as victim plays a central role in contemporary American culture, beginning with the Beats imagining themselves in the 1950s as “white niggers”; developing into the hippie and the political radical of the 1960s; and culminating in “the angry white male, the sensitive male, the male searching for the Wild Man within, the white supremacist, the spiritual male.” By the 1970s, says Savran, the formerly dissident and marginal position of the masochist had become central and hegemonic.36 One might also say that the media began queering its rebels in the 1950s by positioning them as masochists, a queerness that remained veiled and contested until the late 1980s.

  • 37 A. Jones, Survey, in Tr. Warr (ed.), The Artist’s Body, London, Phaidon, 2000, p. 32.
  • 38 P. Schimmel, Just the Facts, in Chr. Burden, A Twenty-Year Survey, op. cit., p. 17-18.
  • 39 Chr. Bedford, “This Boy’s Toys: Chris Burden’s Bridges and Bullets,” Angle: A Journal of Arts + Cul (...)

16Amelia Jones says that “Chris Burden’s body woundings act as tests to ensure and reinforce the ultimate impermeability of his masculine subjectivity.”37 Like the story (or myth?) of Jackson Pollock’s alcoholic post-performance regret, Burden’s unemotional descriptions reinforce his gender conformity. With deadpan voiceovers that make his actions sound like science projects, he posits that his “experiments” gave him “knowledge that other people don’t have” and asks, “How do you know what it feels like to be shot if you don’t get shot?”38 He has gone on to create art from the toys of a typical mid-century American boyhood: Erector sets and electric trains. Popular culture has even provided a new conceptual framework for his dangerous acts: an article about this more recent work referred to Shoot as a “proto-’Jackass’ gesture.”39 The clean and controlled, intellectual nature of Burden’s actions is far different from 1990s performance by Athey, Flanagan, and Fakir. Burden’s art may have been masochistic, but it emphatically disavowed queerness.

  • 40 M. Green, Writings of the Vienna Actionists, op. cit., p. 9-11.
  • 41 “Actionism,” Baron/Boisanté Gallery, New York, 18 April-13 June 1998; “Kurt Kren: Film, Photography (...)

17Unlike Burden’s work, Viennese Actionism was overtly sexual. Actionism is in many respects a product of the 1980s and 1990s, in spite of the fact that Nitsch, Mühl, Schwarzkogler, and Brus performed their actions thirty years earlier. There never was a unified movement as such at the time the actions were performed, generally with a photographer and perhaps a few guests present, ignored or derided by art critics. Peter Weibel first used the term “Vienna Actionism” in 1970, but he applied it more inclusively, and it did not became a clear label for these four artists until the mid-1980s. As Malcolm Green notes, the late 1990s transformed the Actionists “from personae non gratae to ‘state artists.’”40 Two New York gallery shows in 1998 were my introduction to their work, the same year as the exhibit Out of Actions in Los Angeles.41 As part of the resurgence of painful art in the mid-1990s, Brus, Mühl, Schwarzkogler, and Nitsch shared an audience with Fakir, Flanagan, and Athey.

  • 42 See Ph. Liotard, The Body Jigsaw, in UNESCO Courier, July/August 2001, p. 22-25. As Margo DeMello p (...)

18Conceptual and performance art genres and venues thus prepared an audience for masochistic performance; however, Flanagan, Fakir, and Athey were nurtured not by art school performance programs but by the S/M club scene in Los Angeles, which Hallelujah! helps to place in the context of post-punk alternative culture. Piercing, branding, and tattooing were logical extensions of the punk body-marking of the late 1970s and early 1980s that claimed unhappiness, disenfranchisement, and lack of a viable future and displayed them as quasi-virtues. Turning to “primitive” sources made sense, particularly given the birth of punk in late 1970s Britain: What better affront to neo-conservatism than to honor the civilizations that the British empire tried to eradicate?42 In contrast to the primitivism of the high modernists, those who identify as Modern Primitives generally recognize the complexity and sophistication of the cultures that inspire them, and Athey and his company acknowledged that their tribal tattoos and ritual dances are a form of imperialistic stealing. Yet there are limits to willful recontextualization; for example, Athey finally covered the Tibetan swastika tattoo on the back of his neck because he couldn’t bear having it misinterpreted as a hate symbol, an interpretation all too easily reinforced by his shaved head and leather jacket.

  • 43 D. Harris, Metamorphosis of the Modern Dungeon, in The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, 4.2, 1997, p. (...)
  • 44 D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man, op. cit., p. 229. Savran points out that the top’s masculinity is (...)
  • 45 R. Melzack and P. Wall, The Challenge of Pain, London, Penguin Books, 1991, 2nd ed., p. 169-173. En (...)
  • 46 See, e.g., G. Mains, Urban Aboriginals: a Celebration of Leathersexuality, San Francisco, Gay Sunsh (...)
  • 47 L. Bersani, Homos, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 93, 99.

19Even as the acerbic body markings of punk culture rewrote the tattoo and the nose ring, they were themselves gradually domesticated and became fashion rather than culture. At the same time, they mixed with S/M culture, which had itself been transformed by processes of commodefication. The gay leather community got its start in the late 1950s, inspired by Brando in The Wild One, and revolved around motorcycles until the focus switched to clothing in the 1970s. According to Daniel Harris, early leather functioned as “a social fetish, an acquired fetish that [had] little to do with an inherently kinky predisposition for alternative erotic practices.”43 Until the 1970s, “leather” was not about pleasure and pain or even dominance and submission: it was about masculinizing homosexuality and unifying a community.44 The gay movement to rehabilitate leather coincided with the human potential movement, and pain science provided useful tools starting in the late 1970s, when the discovery of opiate receptors on nerve cells, endorphins, and enkephalins led to research on endogenous pain-control systems.45 The term “endorphin” quickly found its way into popular discourse, from the “runner’s high” to S/M.46 Leo Bersani observes that biochemical descriptions of leather-sex in effect de-pain masochistic pain. In other words, an emphasis on the release of opioids as a result of painful practices leads to the conclusion that “the masochist, just like everyone else, pursues only pleasure”; in fact, the masochist wants more pleasure and is willing to tolerate the extreme pain needed to reach “that biochemical threshold.”47 Harris describes the discursive shift in power from the dominant partner (top) to the submissive (bottom):

  • 48 D. Harris, Metamorphosis, op. cit.

In traditional accounts of sadomasochistic sex, the burden of sexual responsibility rested squarely on the shoulders of the slave; it was his duty to wait hand and foot on the sensual needs of his master, who, in some cases, professed disdainful indifference to the erotic fulfillment of the contemptible creature stretched out like a doormat before him. In more recent accounts, however, the recipient of erotic pleasure has moved from the top to the bottom; it is the master’s responsibility to arouse his slave, to play the role, not of a callously detached torturer, but of an empathetic sensory engineer who plays on his subject like a musical instrument until he cries out in ecstasy, with billions of firing neurons inducing in him a trance-like state of sensual intoxication.48

  • 49 See G. Deleuze, Masochism, Coldness, and Cruelty, orig. pub. Le Froid et le Cruel, in Presentation (...)
  • 50 See V.E. Taylor, Contracting Masochism, op. cit., p. 62, quoting G. Deleuze, op. cit., p. 134.
  • 51 See, e.g., A. Mcclintock, Maid to Order: Commercial S/M and Gender Power, in P. Church GIBSON and R (...)

20Note that the “sadist” has disappeared from S/M, which has become a safe and loving role-playing game. Gilles Deleuze plays a significant role in changing conceptions of S/M. He first published his translation of Venus in Furs and accompanying essay in French in 1967, with an English translation in 1971 and a second edition in 1989.49 Deleuze separates masochism from sadism and negates the combined term, sadomasochism. He argues that masochism is contractual, reciprocal, and exists in dialogue, whereas sadism is indifferent to the other except for the desire to annihilate.50 After being transformed into a positive force for social and psychological health, S/M was further recuperated as politically subvertsive, fueled in part by Michel Foucault’s explication of power relations and Judith Butler’s work on gender performativity.51

  • 52 See D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man, op. cit., p. 218, citing L. Segal and M. Mcintosh (eds.), Sex (...)
  • 53 D. Kennedy, S&M Enters The Mainstream, in San Francisco Chronicle, 21 December 1992, D.3.
  • 54 I Was a Middle-Aged Suburban Dominatrix, in Redbook, August 1994, p. 64.
  • 55 A.D. Smith, Game for a lash? One minute Madonna was in rubber and the next a spanking good time was (...)

21S/M is a frontier (if probably not a last frontier): The battles for women’s rights and gay rights made queer practices increasingly acceptable to many and increasingly visible to everyone. Yet visibility is not fashion, and S/M became fashionable in the 1990s. Interestingly enough, the gay “leatherman” of the 1980s faded away in the 1990s, morphed into neo-primitive “leatherfolk” and kinky (but not gay!) executives in need of release. Leather liberation and community formation led to criticism from mainstream culture and the psychiatric establishment, followed by feminist condemnation. The “sex wars” within feminism during the 1980s linked anti-S/M with anti-pornography efforts. Gayle Rubin, an anti-anti-S/M feminist, notes the further connection between these efforts and overall repression resulting from social, political, and economic instability. Paradoxically, the Meese Commission’s collaboration between anti-porn feminists and political conservatives, followed by the attack on Robert Mapplethorpe (and other transgressive artists) by Jesse Helms, promoted acceptance and visibility for S/M as a form of liberal backlash.52 Mapplethorpe’s photographs came to much wider attention than their fine art context would otherwise have occasioned when the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati was tried for pandering obscenity in 1990. The right-wing attempt to crack down on NEA funding for “obscenity” paradoxically brought bondage and discipline into many American living rooms, where Madonna’s 1992 combination book (Sex) and CD (Erotica) followed them – again, if not the book itself, at least awareness of its contents. S/M was central to the film Basic Instinct, released the same year, and to one storyline on ABC-TV’s “One Life to Live.” Fashion shows featured leather harnesses (Jean-Paul Gaultier), chain-mail bracelets (Perry Ellis), and studded collars (Claude Montana). Celebrities wore leathers by Gianni Versace to benefits. Vogue published a “Women in Chains” layout and Cosmopolitan paired a bondage-wear cover with an article on S/M.53 Before long, Redbook found practitioners in its pages,54 and reporters could make fun of the banality, noting that an annual European gathering was “more like a convention of Dracula extras than a scene from Caligula.”55 Mental health professionals identified AIDS and the recession as primary reasons:

  • 56 D. Kennedy, S&M Enters The Mainstream, op. cit., quoting Dr. Barry Lubetkin, clinical director of t (...)

“You have a lot of men under a tremendous amount of pressure, trying to hold onto jobs, trying to run companies in trouble. They’re exhausted. They go to these women and give up control for an hour.”56

  • 57 L. Bersani, Homos, op. cit., p. 89-90. Lynda Hart attributes the emphasis on power to the long hist (...)

22As Bersani notes, the “political rescue” of S/M depends upon the claim that it is a game, within which the master-slave relation is aesthetisized.57 He suggests that the inversion of power relationships in such representations of S/M simply solidifies the existing order of things:

  • 58 L. Bersani, Homos, op. cit., p. 87.

The transformation of the brutal, all-powerful corporate executive (by day) into the whimpering, panty-clad servant of a pitiless dominatrix (by night) is nothing more than a comparatively invigorating release of tension. The concession to a secret and potentially enervating need to shed the master’s exhausting responsibilities and to enjoy briefly the irresponsibility of total powerlessness allows for a comfortable return to a position of mastery and oppression the morning after, when all the “other side” has been, at least for a time, whipped out of the executive’s system.58

  • 59 D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man, op. cit., p. 33.
  • 60 Ibid., p. 36-37.

23In a similar line of argument, Savran notes that masochistic fantasy “allows the white male subject to take up the position of victim, to feminize and/or blacken himself fantasmatically, and to disavow the homosexual cathexes that are crucial to the process of (patriarchal) cultural reproduction, all the while asserting his unimpeachable virility.”59 He suggests that “the masochistic male subject is both a function of the rise of capitalism and a necessary cog in the process that reproduces patriarchal, heterosexualized relations.” Far from seeing masochism as a route to radical subversion, Savran calls it “a kind of decoy,” and points out that “the cultural texts constructing masochistic masculinities characteristically conclude with an almost magical restitution of phallic power.”60 In short, placing oneself temporarily in the victim role makes it easier to cope with one’s actual role as victimizer. Note also that mainstream S/M is largely heterosexualized, something that carries over into the cultural fringes. However “queer” Flanagan may have been, he is reassuringly inscribed within a loving male/female relationship. Fakir is similarly coupled, although his public persona is less thoroughly defined by a private relationship. For some, these two men might provide a relatively safe ground for identificatory fantasy – a “walk on the wild side” that unsettles but does not derail standards of normalcy. Athey is much more difficult to assimilate within the heteronormative bounds. Bersani’s and Savran’s analyses do not explain away Flanagan’s, Fakir’s, or Athey’s sexuality; however, they do explain something about the fascination with masochists that opened a tiny niche for films about them at the end of the twentieth century.

  • 61 See A. Glucklich, Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul, New York, Oxford Universi (...)
  • 62 V. Plesch, Etalage Complaisant?, op. cit. [online edition, n.p.].
  • 63 E. Cohen, Towards a History of European Physical Sensibility: Pain in the Later Middle Ages, in Sci (...)
  • 64 Cl. Davidson, Sacred Blood, op. cit., p. 20-21.

24Although post-Freudian explanations of masochism have generally treated it as a psychological problem, Fakir’s extensive commentary about his own experience of pain makes clear that it can also serve as a spiritual technology. Scholarship has only begun to explore voluntary suffering as an effective way to reach an altered state of consciousness within a religious framework. The arguments are persuasive, equally fitted to Fakir’s modern primitive shamanism and to the heroic ascetic practices of medieval Christians.61 The framework makes all the difference, though, especially when one tries to understand what cultural work performances of pain accomplish. Plesch argues that scenes of torment became longer (in lines) and larger (in number of actors) over the course of the late Middle Ages not because they appealed to the debased tastes of the crowd, as some have assumed, but because they are meaningful. She further asserts that the goal of this development was post-performance meditation, aiming to produce “an almost sensory identification with the holy figure,” being thus “intensely private” rather than communal.62 Although late-medieval theology held that saints were exempt from physical suffering,63 spectators were not. That was the point of contemplating devotional images or watching dramatic performances – as Davidson argues, it was intended to provoke the free choice to perform the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy. This suffering was to be in fact joyful, because it would result in freedom from the eternal suffering occasioned by the Fall.64

25Unlike the medieval Passion or saint play, however, performances of actual physical suffering by the artists I have discussed here do not support a coherent theological doctrine. Against a backdrop of rejected and reworked Christianity, they counter-pose bodily practices borrowed from non-Western traditions. As private practices they may be spiritual and sexual. As performances, though, they are resolutely political, new rituals to form new communities. Athey and Fakir work with but are not entirely encompassed by the body-modification commodity culture. They remain too radical for complete assimilation, not explicable as a game or a pose, quite distinct from the 1990s S/M vogue.

  • 65 See the Performa 05 festival website at <http://05.performa-arts.org/about>; also T. Nikki Cesare, (...)
  • 66 K. Butler, The Art Issue; Ron Athey; In Extremis and in my Life, in Los Angeles Times, 28 January 2 (...)

26Athey now works alone or in collaboration with one other performer, having found the financial strain of producing and touring with large-scale theatrical pieces too much to manage. He collaborated with Juliana Snapper to create an operatic duo named Judas Cradle (2004) after the so-called medieval torture device upon which Athey impales himself. The piece premiered in Ljubljana and received another full production in Manchester in 2005. The excerpt that I saw in 2005 was Athey’s first New York performance since 1998.65 Although he has been teaching in Los Angeles, he has mostly presented his work outside the United States since 1995. In 2007, London’s Chelsea Theatre and Birmingham’s Fierce! Festival commissioned a collaboration between Athey and Dominic Johnson that uses the story of Philoctetes in an exploration of queer relations across generations.66 May 2007 also brought Fakir’s Spirit and Flesh tour to London, with shamanic piercings, a suspension event, and a panel discussion that included Athey and Johnson. The context for these events is quite different from what it was in the 1990s.

  • 67 S. Sontag, Regarding the Torture of Others, in New York Times Magazine, 23 May 2004, p. 27.
  • 68 Fr. Rich, It Was the Porn That Made Them Do It, in New York Times, 30 May 2004, 2.1, p. 16, quoting (...)

27Since 2004, with photos of torture by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison informing the public imaginary, S/M images are no longer fashionably sexy; instead, their sexual component has been a source of widespread consternation. Conceptual categories have once again been reshuffled in the public imaginary. The hooded figure was posed not by Robert Mapplethorpe but by Pfc. Lynndie England. The picture was not gorgeously printed on high quality paper with fine-grained emulsion for display in an art gallery but circulated digitally via email before hitting the mass media. The fact that the soldiers took pictures of sexual humiliation “interleaved” with pictures of their own sexual activities certainly speaks to the overwhelming presence and wide-spread acceptance of pornography and self-documentation in popular culture.67 Having moved from the transgressive underground to mainstream culture, S/M has now further shifted from high-style naughtiness to appear glum, mundane, and working-class. Yet as Frank Rich points out, attempts to blame these photos on the soldiers’ “steady diet of MTV and pornography” shifts blame away from the Bush administration.68 And at the same time as S/M was losing its gloss, the suffering male body was being reclaimed for conservative religious and political agendas.

28As an actor, Mel Gibson fit the macho but suffering male stereotype as outlined by Savran. The fetishizing camerawork of Mad Max (1979) introduces him in bite-sized portions for visual delectation: tall black leather boots, leather-encased midriff, hands pulling on leather gloves. The film progresses to a climactic confrontation, with “Max” shot in the knee, his arm run over, and a long straight-on shot of his leather-clad buttocks as he pulls himself up from the ground, legs spread wide, and drags himself towards his car. The motorcycle gang overtly echoes The Wild One, and both the bikers and the police force to which Max belongs look like the denizens of a late-1970s San Francisco leather bar. In one particularly curious scene, Max delivers his resignation from the police force to a boss who is wearing leather pants but no shirt, with a black silk scarf around his neck. The 1981 sequel Road Warrior manages to seamlessly combine homoeroticism and homophobia. Here Max’s antagonists are done up in full dungeon drag, sporting various masks, chains, and bottom-baring leather chaps. The most agile and angry of them carries a blond boyfriend on his bike.

  • 69 J. Frueh, Bloodred Beauty: a Meditation on Mel Gibson’s Midlife Allure, in Art Journal, 60.3, 2001, (...)
  • 70 P.J. Boyer, The Jesus War: A Reporter at Large, in The New Yorker, 79.26, 15 September 2003, p. 58.
  • 71 Ibid.
  • 72 M.B. Merback, The Thief, the Cross, and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval (...)
  • 73 Th.H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Texts and Medieval Society, Philadelphia, Univ (...)
  • 74 M.B. Merback, Thief, Cross, and Wheel, op. cit., p. 47.
  • 75 D.J. Wakin, A Season of Faith and a Film: Gibson’s Movie Goes to Church, in New York Times, 9 April (...)
  • 76 Matt Stone and Trey Parker, dir. Stone, Episode 804, 31 March 2004, Comedy Central, <http://www.sou (...)

29After this auspicious beginning as a cinematic body in pain, Gibson worked through numerous iterations on and behind the camera. In an outrageous meditation on age, blood, and sensual allure, Joanna Frueh writes, “Mel’s extravagances of blood entrance me. He bleeds from just about anywhere. Because he doesn’t have my sex’s gift, he does the best he can. I do my best to forgive him for savagery. I am not a proper man.”69 She was writing before Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), which Peter Boyer notes is not a religious movie but a war movie.70 I propose that Gibson waged this war at least in part to take back the suffering male body from the queering to which critics like Frueh and performers like Fakir, Flanagan, and Athey have subjected it. In keeping with time-honored tradition, fame brought Gibson to a point of crisis in his mid-thirties, “a desperate, horrible place” out of which he “had to use the Passion of Christ and wounds to heal [his] wounds.”71 Quite apart from Gibson’s personal spiritual relationship to the Passion, his film’s unrelenting laceration provides a community-building focus for Christians. Groups and churches bought up tickets and distributed them free to anyone who would attend a prayer meeting. One result inverts the imaginative exercise that spiritual guidebooks advocated in the high Middle Ages, which was startlingly similar to the technique of substitution familiar to any modern Method actor: When meditating on the Passion, one was to imagine familiar people in the roles of Christ and other Passion players, in order to fully enter into the experience.72 A twelfth-century treatise recommended “that the meditator place himself as though actually present at the events, forming detailed pictures through the faculty of the imagination.”73 As Mitchell Merback puts it, devotional imagery “furnished a literalized space for the imagination’s deployment,”74 and the theatrical suffering at the center of late-medieval saint plays persisted in the form of memory images that remained available for imaginative contemplation. After watching Gibson’s Passion, devout viewers said that it was hard to get the film’s images out of their minds. Invoking another star who has flickered through this essay, one young woman compared it “to visualizing Marlon Brando when reading ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’”75 Some priests commended its persistent memory images; others resented them. Attacks on Gibson (motivated by fears that the film would incite anti-Semitism) enabled Christian spectators to feel like they were supporting a brave warrior for the faith: he became the Mad Max of evangelical film. His production company went on to produce Paparazzi (2004), replaying the masochistic revenge scenario in a frenzy of paranoid amorality, with the bikers transmuted into unscrupulous photographers of celebrities; the policeman hero, into an action-movie star. South Park: The Passion of the Jew, which manages to combine Road Warrior, The Passion, and Paparazzi, offers up a surprisingly insightful comment on Gibson’s spectacular masochism. This cartoon also presents a broad panoply of spectator response, from devotional tears to antisemitic frenzy to vomiting and demanding a refund.76

  • 77 T. Eagleton, Spiritual Rock Star, in London Review of Books, 3 February 2005, p. 19-20.
  • 78 “Salvifici Doloris,” quoted in Chr. Dickey and R. Norland, “Precious” Suffering, in Newsweek, 28 Fe (...)
  • 79 Quoted in Chr. Dickey and R. Norland, “Precious” Suffering, op. cit.
  • 80 See S. Poggioli, Ailing Pope to Sit out Easter Ceremony, in Morning Edition, 25 March 2005 <http:// (...)

30The brand of Catholicism to which Gibson returned from despair has not been exactly doctrinaire. He is a traditionalist who rejects the reforms of Vatican II (1962-1965). But Pope John Paul II rolled back those reforms and returned suffering to the center of the Catholic faith, demolishing liberation theology and discouraging debate but failing to address the scandal of sex abuse by priests. Early experience as an actor and playwright in Soviet-bloc Poland helped Karol Wojtyla to understand the “iconic nature of power” very well indeed, as Terry Eagleton points out. Long before becoming pope, he presented an “odd mixture of the theatrical and the ascetic.”77 After surviving a 1981 assassination attempt, he wrote in 1984 that “human suffering evokes compassion,” but “in its own way it intimidates.”78 Although the Vatican denied reports of illness until very close to the end of his life, the pope announced a change in leadership style as early as 1994, saying that he would lead the church with suffering: “The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.”79 As he “serenely abandon[ed] himself to God’s will” during the weeks before his death, the Vatican issued no statements but broadcast images of the physically frail pope in pain, explicitly glossed as reminders of Christ’s passion.80

31Both John Paul II and Mel Gibson understood the performative power of pain and worked to wrest its mainstream incarnation away from the overtly sexual, openly pleasurable masochism so visible during the 1990s, providing renewed opportunities for bonding among fundamentalist spectators of every stripe. But they have not simply revived the medieval Passion play. Their pain exists in dialogue with queered Passions as well as with Christian tradition and also with the ever more revitalized tradition of martyrdom within Islam. There is no single meaning for the voluntarily suffering male body. The difference between Ron Athey and John Paul II is huge, but so is the difference between Athey and Chris Burden. We can quite easily see these performances of pain as contentious, even struggling to invalidate one another. In contrast, distance allows us to imagine that the citizens of York or Arras watched one of their number playing Christ, meditated upon the images that lingered in their memories after the performance, and were inspired to ecclesiastically approved devotion. Valuable as such an understanding of the medieval Passion play’s purpose undoubtedly is, we should not lose sight of the fact that these plays were being performed and written down during times of increasing dissent and finally against the backdrop of the sixteenth-century wars of religion, as the protestants began recording their own martyrology. Perhaps the recent and ongoing struggle over masochistic masculinity can remind us just how fractious its medieval antecedents must have been.

Notes

1 P. Meredith and J.E. Tailby (eds.), The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ages: Texts and Documents in English Translation, Kalamazoo, Medieval Institute Publications, 1983, p. 102, 104-105, 109-111.

2 Cl. Davidson, Sacred Blood and the Late Medieval Stage, in Comparative Drama 31.3, 1997, p. 436-458; ID., Suffering and the York Plays, in Philological Quarterly, 81.1, 2002, p. 1-32; V. Plesch, Etalage Complaisant? The Torments of Christ in French Passion Plays, in Comparative Drama, 28.4, 1994, p. 458-486. Davidson catalogues the likely torments staged in lost English saint plays in Violence and the Saint Play, in Studies in Philology, 98, 2001, p. 292-314.

3 M.B. Merback, Living Image of Pity: Mimetic Violence, Peacemaking and Salvific Spectacle in the Flagellant Processions of the Later Middle Ages, in D. Higgs Strickland (ed.), Images of Medieval Sanctity: Essays in Honour of Gary Dickson, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 2007, p. 159.

4 C. Carr, The Rite Stuff, in Village Voice, 15 December 1998, p. 81.

5 Unless otherwise identified, Athey’s statements and details about his life and work are cited from C. Gund Saalfield (dir.), Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance (1998). See also R. Athey, Gifts of the Spirit, in N. Panter (ed.), Unnatural Disasters: Recent Writings from the Golden State, San Diego, Incommunicado, 1996, p. 70-80.

6 Public response to Four Scenes focused not on the pain but on the blood: the NEA was attacked for its $150 contribution in support of performances at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and conservative hysteria over purportedly dangerous bloody towels generated increased attention in the mainstream liberal press for a short time. See St. Cash, Ron Athey at P.S. 122, in Art in America, February 1995, p. 99-101; J.E. Mcgrath, Trusting in Rubber: Performing Boundaries During the AIDS Epidemic, in The Drama Review, 39.2, 1995, p. 21-39; P. Cambell and H. Spackman, With/out An-aesthetic: The Terrible Beauty of Franko B., in The Drama Review, 42.4, 1998, p. 56-67.

7 See “About Fakir Musafar: Father of the Modern Primitive Movement,” n.d., <http://www.fakir.org/aboutfakir/index.html> (accessed 10 April 2005); A. Juno and V. Vale (eds.), Modern Primitives: An Investigation of Contemporary Adornment and Ritual, San Francisco, Re/Search Press, 1989.

8 D. Jury and M. Jury (dirs.), Dances Sacred and Profane (1986), released for home video as Bizarre Rituals: Dances Sacred and Profane.

9 R. Mcclean Novick, Skin Deep: Interview with Fakir Musafar, 1992, <http://www.levity.com/mavericks/mus-int.htm> (accessed 10 April 2005).

10 F. Musafar, Body Play, in A.R. Favazza, Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, 2nd ed., p. 326-327; Modern Primitives.

11 Ibid.

12 Gl. Brame, Interview with Fakir Musafar, in The Internet Companion to Different Loving: The World of Sexual Domination and Submission, 2001, <http://gloriabrame.com/ diflove/fakir.html> (accessed 10 April 2005).

13 F. Musafar, op. cit., p. 327.

14 D. Sussman, Fakir Musafar: A Theory Full of Holes, 1995, <http://www.paloalto online.com/weekly/morgue/news/1995_Mar_29.PEOPLE29.html> (accessed 24 April 2005).

15 R. Mcclean Novick, op. cit.

16 J.W. Bean, Magical Masochist: A Conversation with Fakir Musafar, in M. Thompson (ed.), Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice, Boston, Alyson Publications, 1991, p. 309.

17 Ibid., p. 313-317.

18 R. Mcclean Novick, op. cit.

19 Re-issued, A. Juno and V. Vale (eds.), Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist, New York, Juno Books, 2000.

20 D. Cooper, Flanagan’s Wake, in Artforum, 34.8, 1996, p. 77.

21 Santa Monica Museum (1992); New Museum, New York (1994); Boston School of the Arts (1995).

22 K. Dick (dir.), Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super-Masochist (1995). Linda Kauffman points out that Flanagan focused attention on two aspects of sexuality that are usually denied: the sexuality of children and of those who are sick and dying. Bad Girls and Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Art and Culture, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998, p. 33.

23 Das Ohr (1967), Otto Mühl and his Direct Art Group with Peter Weibel, Oswald Wiener and others; camera, Helmut Kronberger.

24 See M. Green (ed.), Brus, Muehl, Nitsch, Schwarzkogler: Writings of the Vienna Actionists, London, Atlas Press, 1999; Ph. Ursprung, “Catholic Tastes”: Hurting and Healing the Body in Viennese Actionism in the 1960s, in A. Jones and A. Stephenson (ed.), Performing the Body/Performing the Text, London, Routledge, 1999, p. 138-152. R. Ferguson (ed.), Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979, New York, Thames and Hudson, 1998, includes many photos of their work, and essays by Paul Schimmel, Hubert Klocker, and Kristine Stiles all discuss them at some length.

25 P. Schimmel, Leap Into the Void: Performance and the Object, in Out of Actions, p. 94. For all of Burden’s work, see esp. Chr. Burden, A Twenty-Year Survey, Newport Harbor, CA, Newport Harbor Museum of Art, 1988.

26 Chr. Burden, Chris Burden 71-73, Los Angeles, Chris Burden, 1974, p. 24.

27 ID., Documentation of Selected Works, 1971-1975, New York, Electronic Arts Intermix, 1975.

28 See V.E. Taylor, Contracting Masochism, in M.C. Finke and C. Niekerk (eds.), One Hundred Years of Masochism: Literary Texts, Social and Cultural Contexts, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2000, p. 64; E.V. Welldon, Sadomasochism, Cambridge, Icon, 2002.

29 K. O’dell, Contract With the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1998, p. 2. Most central to her analysis are Th. Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, in Of Love and Lust: On the Psychoanalysis of Romantic and Sexual Emotions (1949); reprint New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984, p. 206-254; G. Deleuze, Masochism, Coldness, and Cruelty, New York, Zone, 1989. Many of the relevant psychoanalytic texts are now conveniently collected in M.A. Fitzpatrick Hanly (ed.), Essential Papers on Masochism, New York, New York University Press, 1995.

30 See P. Schimmel, Leap Into the Void, op. cit., p. 17. For a full discussion of Pollock, see A. Jones, The “Pollockian Performative”, in Body Art/Performing the Subject, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1998, p. 53-102.

31 A. Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollack, in Art News, Oct. 1958, p. 24-26, 55-77.

32 A. Jones, Body Art, op. cit., p. 80.

33 R.L. Goldberg, Performance Art: Futurism to the Present, revised ed., New York, Thames and Hudson, 2001, p. 149.

34 Of the Viennese Actionists, Shwarzkogler best fits the stereotype of the suffering artist but is least typical of the group. Reluctant to get as dirty as actions devised by the others would have entailed, he participated in only one. He staged his actions privately for the camera, generally photographing the artist Heinz Cibulka rather than himself to produce startling images such as the simulated penis amputation for which he is best known. See Kr. Stiles, Uncorrupted Joy: International Art Actions, in Out of Actions, p. 290-296; M. GREEN, Writings of the Vienna Actionists, op. cit.

35 A. Jones, Body Art, op. cit., p. 82.

36 D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 5.

37 A. Jones, Survey, in Tr. Warr (ed.), The Artist’s Body, London, Phaidon, 2000, p. 32.

38 P. Schimmel, Just the Facts, in Chr. Burden, A Twenty-Year Survey, op. cit., p. 17-18.

39 Chr. Bedford, “This Boy’s Toys: Chris Burden’s Bridges and Bullets,” Angle: A Journal of Arts + Culture 1.8, October 2003, <http://www.anglemagazine.org/articles/ This_Boys_Toys_Chris_Burden_2132.asp> (accessed 10 April 2005); also see D. Colman, Art and the Zen of Garden Trains, in New York Times, 25 January 2004.

40 M. Green, Writings of the Vienna Actionists, op. cit., p. 9-11.

41 “Actionism,” Baron/Boisanté Gallery, New York, 18 April-13 June 1998; “Kurt Kren: Film, Photography, Viennese Actionism,” Janos Gat Gallery, New York, 31 May, 1998; “Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979,” The Geffen Contemporary at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 8 Feb-10 May, 1998.

42 See Ph. Liotard, The Body Jigsaw, in UNESCO Courier, July/August 2001, p. 22-25. As Margo DeMello points out, the discourse of the modern primitive movement denies the working-class history of tattooing in the United States. A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community, Durham, Duke University Press, 2000, p. 182-183.

43 D. Harris, Metamorphosis of the Modern Dungeon, in The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, 4.2, 1997, p. 29.

44 D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man, op. cit., p. 229. Savran points out that the top’s masculinity is reinforced because he dominates; the bottom’s, because he “can take it like a man.”

45 R. Melzack and P. Wall, The Challenge of Pain, London, Penguin Books, 1991, 2nd ed., p. 169-173. Endorphins are “endogenous morphine-like substances.” Enkephalins are “opioid substances ‘in the brain.’”

46 See, e.g., G. Mains, Urban Aboriginals: a Celebration of Leathersexuality, San Francisco, Gay Sunshine Press, 1984; Id., The View from a Sling, in M. Thompson (ed.), Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice, Boston, Alyson Publications, 1991, p. 233-246.

47 L. Bersani, Homos, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 93, 99.

48 D. Harris, Metamorphosis, op. cit.

49 See G. Deleuze, Masochism, Coldness, and Cruelty, orig. pub. Le Froid et le Cruel, in Presentation de Sacher-Masoch, Paris, Éditions de Minuit, 1967.

50 See V.E. Taylor, Contracting Masochism, op. cit., p. 62, quoting G. Deleuze, op. cit., p. 134.

51 See, e.g., A. Mcclintock, Maid to Order: Commercial S/M and Gender Power, in P. Church GIBSON and R. Gibson (eds.), Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power, London, British Film Institute, 1993, p. 207-231.

52 See D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man, op. cit., p. 218, citing L. Segal and M. Mcintosh (eds.), Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the Pornography Debate, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 1993; G. RUBIN, The Leather Menace: Comments on Politics and S/M, in Samois (ed.), Coming to Power: Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M, Boston, Alyson, 1981, rev. ed. 1987, p. 194-229.

53 D. Kennedy, S&M Enters The Mainstream, in San Francisco Chronicle, 21 December 1992, D.3.

54 I Was a Middle-Aged Suburban Dominatrix, in Redbook, August 1994, p. 64.

55 A.D. Smith, Game for a lash? One minute Madonna was in rubber and the next a spanking good time was being had in suburban bedrooms everywhere. So why has S&M moved into the mainstream so fast? We visit the Europerve ball in Amsterdam and find that the Brits are undisputed kings of kinkiness, in The Guardian, 16 December 1994.

56 D. Kennedy, S&M Enters The Mainstream, op. cit., quoting Dr. Barry Lubetkin, clinical director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in New York.

57 L. Bersani, Homos, op. cit., p. 89-90. Lynda Hart attributes the emphasis on power to the long history of denial within psychoanalytic theory that masochists actually desire pain. Between the Body and the Flesh: Performing Sadomasochism (Between Men-Between Women), New York, Columbia University Press, 1998, p. 134.

58 L. Bersani, Homos, op. cit., p. 87.

59 D. Savran, Taking it Like a Man, op. cit., p. 33.

60 Ibid., p. 36-37.

61 See A. Glucklich, Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul, New York, Oxford University Press, 2001; J. Kroll and B. Bachrach, The Mystic Mind: The Psychology of Medieval Mystics and Ascetics, New York, Routledge, 2005.

62 V. Plesch, Etalage Complaisant?, op. cit. [online edition, n.p.].

63 E. Cohen, Towards a History of European Physical Sensibility: Pain in the Later Middle Ages, in Science in Context, 8, 1995, p. 52-61.

64 Cl. Davidson, Sacred Blood, op. cit., p. 20-21.

65 See the Performa 05 festival website at <http://05.performa-arts.org/about>; also T. Nikki Cesare, and J. Joy, Performa/(Re)Performa, in The Drama Review, 50.1, 2006, p. 170-177; A. Jones, Holy Body: Erotic Ethics in Ron Athey and Juliana Snapper’s Judas Cradle, in The Drama Review, 50.1, 2006, p. 159-69.

66 K. Butler, The Art Issue; Ron Athey; In Extremis and in my Life, in Los Angeles Times, 28 January 2007, p. I.26; ID., Ron Athey and Dominic Johnson: Incorruptible Flesh (Perpetual Wound), n.d., <http://www.chelseatheatre.org.uk/ron.htm> (accessed 22 March, 2007); also see the “History” section of Athey’s website, n.d., <http://www.ronathey.com> (accessed 31 January 2007).

67 S. Sontag, Regarding the Torture of Others, in New York Times Magazine, 23 May 2004, p. 27.

68 Fr. Rich, It Was the Porn That Made Them Do It, in New York Times, 30 May 2004, 2.1, p. 16, quoting Charles Colson, “Watergate felon turned celebrity preacher.”

69 J. Frueh, Bloodred Beauty: a Meditation on Mel Gibson’s Midlife Allure, in Art Journal, 60.3, 2001, p. 28. Frueh pays particular attention to Braveheart (1995) and Payback (1999).

70 P.J. Boyer, The Jesus War: A Reporter at Large, in The New Yorker, 79.26, 15 September 2003, p. 58.

71 Ibid.

72 M.B. Merback, The Thief, the Cross, and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 45.

73 Th.H. Bestul, Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Texts and Medieval Society, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996, p. 147, quoted in J. Enders, The Medieval Theater of Cruelty: Rhetoric, Memory, Violence, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1999, p. 187.

74 M.B. Merback, Thief, Cross, and Wheel, op. cit., p. 47.

75 D.J. Wakin, A Season of Faith and a Film: Gibson’s Movie Goes to Church, in New York Times, 9 April 2004, B.1.

76 Matt Stone and Trey Parker, dir. Stone, Episode 804, 31 March 2004, Comedy Central, <http://www.southparkstudios.com/show/guide.php?season=8> (accessed 28 April 2005).

77 T. Eagleton, Spiritual Rock Star, in London Review of Books, 3 February 2005, p. 19-20.

78 “Salvifici Doloris,” quoted in Chr. Dickey and R. Norland, “Precious” Suffering, in Newsweek, 28 February 2005, 24, 5 pgs.

79 Quoted in Chr. Dickey and R. Norland, “Precious” Suffering, op. cit.

80 See S. Poggioli, Ailing Pope to Sit out Easter Ceremony, in Morning Edition, 25 March 2005 <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4560705> (accessed 25 April 2005).

Auteur

University of Georgia

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