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Sexualités américaines

Claudine Raynaud

Contemporary Art Exhibitionists1

Linda Kauffman

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  • 1 This paper will be included in Kauffman's forthcoming book, Bad Girls, Sick Boys: Fantasies in Con (...)

1June 27, 1995. Washington. D. C: The Christian Action Network stages a "degenerate art" exhibition in the Rayburn Building, sponsored by Representative Robert Dornan, to drive the final nail in the coffin of the National Endowment for the Arts. They hand out black-bordered death certificates, which they urge guests to sign and deliver to their congressmen before the 103rd Congress departs for summer recess. The death certificate reads:

Decendent's Name: ΝΕΑ. Sex: Anything unnatural. Father's Name: Lyndon Johnson. Mother's Name: Jane Alexander. Decendent's occupation: Attacking religion, tradition, morality. Funding left-wing causes. Promoting homosexuality. Lying to the media and Congress about its activities. Cause of death: using taxpayer funds to depict Christ as homosexual, a drug addict, and a child molester.

2The event demonstrates yet again how expert the religious Right has become in its own bizarre brand of theater. Jane Alexander, the mother of the NEA? What specific "left-wing" causes did the agency fund? If homosexuals could "promote" homosexuality, wouldn't they be less beleaguered today? To these people, homosexuality, drugs, child abuse, and blasphemy are all synonymous, the moral equivalent of the Antichrist.

  • 2 Mawyer sounds like John Ray Jr., the sociologist in Lolita's preface, who is morally and aesthetic (...)

3I pause to collect some of the propaganda, opening a book by C. A.N.'s President, Martin Mawyer, entitled Silent Shame: The Alarming Rise of Child Sexual Abuse and How to Protect Your Children From It. Mawyer claims that Lolita "provided pedophiles with many rationalizations favoring child sex," although he confesses that he read the novel solely for the sex scenes. Sounding remarkably like a high school sophomore, he writes: "The story drags on... [and] becomes tiresome.... Though the story... has no socially redeeming value, it did provide child predators with common arguments and language: A "Lolita" is a female nymphet."2 If this is the caliber of criticism applied to Vladimir Nabokov, I shudder to think what Mawyer will make of contemporary performance artists and photographers. Soon, I find out: the guilty artists include the usual suspects — Joel-Peter Witkin, Ron Athey, Annie Sprinkle, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe. And some unusual ones: Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Bruce Naumann, Mike Kelley and Bob Flanagan. Why, I wonder, does C. A.N. consider Naumann's clown or Sherman's photo of dinner leftovers "patently offensive"? It is as if some bright undergraduate researched all the most interesting artists working today, then reached all the wrong conclusions. One corner of the room is devoted to sexually explicit gay videos, some of which come from Highways, an alternative performance space in Santa Monica, California, where I first saw Annie Sprinkle, which hosts an annual 'Ecce Homo" festival. I'm amused to see hordes of grim, white, heterosexual, mostly male Christians and twenty-something Republican staffers primly studying each image. Which ones, I wonder, are amazed, amused, secretly turned on? Someone with a videocam asks me what I think. "I fully support C. A.N.'s right to express its prurient interests," I say on camera. I've infiltrated the meeting to investigate whether C. A.N, violated Bob Flanagan's copyright. (They did.) Ironically, Flanagan has never received ΝΕΑ funds.

Bob Flanagan's Sadomedicine

4Bob Flanagan is a forty-three-year-old poet, writer, and performance artist who suffers from cystic fibrosis (CF), a hereditary disease that affects the glands and lungs and makes breathing and digestion treacherously difficult. It usually kills those afflicted before they turn thirty. While enormous advances in gene therapy have given hope for a cure for CF, it won't come in time to save Flanagan's life.

5"Visiting Hours," is a site-specific installation he and his partner, Sheree Rose, exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 1992-3, the New Museum in New York City in 1994, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1995. Re/Search books published Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist in 1993, and Kirby Dick's feature-length documentary film Sick about Bob and Sheree's life is scheduled for release in the fall of 1996. "Visiting Hours" transforms the museum into a pediatric hospital ward, complete with a waiting room filled with toys, medical X-rays of Flanagan's lungs and video monitors of his naked body. In one chamber, one comes upon Flanagan himself, propped up in a hospital bed, his home-away-from home.

  • 3 "Bob Flanagan's Sick," New York, Art in the Anchorage, August, 1991 and Los Angeles Contemporary E (...)
  • 4 Flanagan and Rose are frequently invited to address the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex. T (...)

6Bob Flanagan is a live model of the posthuman, for he illustrates step by step how the human senses — taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight — have been utterly reorganized by technology. Just as microscope, oscilloscope, speculum, X-ray not only altered what we saw but how we perceived of the human body in the past, today, sophisticated imaging techniques (CAT scans, PET scans, MRI, etc.) raise scores of questions: "What is pathology?" "What is'sick'? (One performance is called "Bob Flanagan's Sick"; his cheerful motto is "Fight Sickness with Sickness.)3 Flanagan juxtaposes the pathology of CF with the "pathology" of masochism. He traces his masochistic proclivities back to infancy, when he spent long hours bound in his crib so he wouldn't hurt himself. From infancy forward, he was prodded and probed, X-rayed, transformed into a medical "specimen.'No part of his body was immune, in any sense of the word. With Sheree Rose, his dominant "mistress," Flanagan takes s/m into the art museum. While Robert Mapplethorpe's exposure of the forbidden world of gay s/m was an important precursor, Flanagan and Rose make us realize how little theorizing has been devoted to heterosexuality, which for so long has been presumed to be "natural."4 Male heterosexual submissives, moreover, constitute a substantial subculture, unacknowledged because their existence defies too many taboos. Flanagan exposes one of commercial s/m's best kept secrets: the majority of customers are not sadistic men seeking submissive women. Instead, a growing number of men are willing to pay substantial sums to be clothed in diapers, put in playpens, suckled with bottles. On the one hand, such playacting permits men to return unashamedly to the preoedipal bliss of harmony with the mother. On the other hand, they enjoy being punished, spanked, made to clean house, do dishes. Since these men are often highly successful in public life, their sexual proclivities suggest a strong compulsion to repudiate masculine authority and privilege privately (McClintock, 1993, 87-116).

  • 5 I'm indebted to Shelley Pasnik's unpublished paper "Are you Experienced? Advertising's Exploitatio (...)

7The regression is not, however, limited to men. Men are not fleeing from masculinity — they're fleeing from adulthood — adult responsibilities, failures, impossible social problems, unhappiness, complex relationships with women and with other men. Women are fleeing too. But where men pay to act out fantasies of babyism privately, women prance down fashion runways in baby doll dresses. How else can one explain the current fashion phenomenon of pre-teen waifs carrying baby rattles and pushing other fashion models in prams? If the'80s were about "power lunches," and "dressing for success", the stock market 57 crash of 1987, the recession, and inflation in the 1990s has made many long for Mommy. Not to be a mommy, to have one. Advertising has seized this trend: Nike pastes childhood photos over adult faces; Volvo appeals to "all those who continue to be a kid, even when they have one." Even Nuveen Municipal Bonds gets in on the act, promoting "the human bond": "Sometimes she holds me like she did when I was a child. (Pasnik, 1994).5 Pop psychology's promotion of "the inner child" has migrated to Madison Avenue.

8"Visiting Hours" explores head-on what fashion and advertising explore at one or more removes: the fulfillment of childhood wishes unidealized by Madison Avenue. Those childhood wishes turn out to be considerably more sexual than advertising is willing to admit. Flanagan places particular emphasis on the preoedipal stage, before the infant is socialized, before the unconscious is censored. Mike Kelley explores this same stage. In Kelley's universe, however, the infant seems to have crawled away momentarily, leaving the detritus of his existence (toys, excrement, bottles, messes), whereas Flanagan installs himself firmly, like all babies, at the center of the universe. Kelley shops in second-hand stores for stuffed animals, then sews them all together, to signify the Lacanian mirror stage of oneness, harmony, wholeness. His found objects and threadbare stuffed animals are normally considered too trivial or unworthy to be art — they've been called low, infantile, white trash (Taylor, 1993, 68).

  • 6 Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist (San Francisco: Re/Search Publications, 1993), p. 64, hereinafter cit (...)

9Mike Kelley and Bob Flanagan have worked as collaborators, dedicated to dismantling the penis's prestige and the phallus's authority. Kelley photographed Sheree Rose, eerily humping a stuffed toy rabbit (appropriately, since she's dominant, she's on top), while Bob, a "bottom," is smeared with excrement, wiping his bottom. Flanagan revels in narcissism, exhibitionism. He is a psychic omnivore: everything revolves around his needs, his demands, his libidinal dynamism. He is aggressive in his passivity. All his life, Flanagan confesses, he has been "nothing but a big baby and I want to stay that way, and I want a mommy forever, even a mean one, especially a mean one; because of all the fairy tale witches, and the wicked step-mother."6 The "mean mother" is the phallic mother who punishes, spanks, disciplines. Far from being terrified of her, Flanagan wants to be her slave. When he met Sheree, he got his wish. Instead of ostracizing him, she relished her role. Who wouldn't let a man who lusts to vacuum have his way? He scrubbed the floors with a toothbrush (inspired, perhaps, by Mommy Dearest).

10Signs of infantile existence litter the museum: a portapotty, pacifiers, blankets, a crib that seems more like a cage, toys like a Superman doll and Visible Man, which is designed to teach children anatomy, although this one excretes shit, mucus and sperm. "Visiting Hours" evokes a scene the spectator has visited long before, but as with the psychoanalytic session, its buried content only comes to the surface when restaged. Everything about the exhibit is uncanny, at once strange and disturbing, hysterical and hilarious. A toy chest contains s/m paraphernalia and stuffed animals sit in one corner. The writing on the toy chest confirms the exhibition's fairytale quality:

Mine is the bittersweet tale of a sick little boy who found solace in his penis at a time when all else conspired to snuff him out or, at the very least, fill his miserably short life span with more than its share of pain, discomfort and humiliation. The penis seemed to thrive on whatever shit the rest of the body was subjected to and rose to the occasion of each onslaught, soaking it up like a sponge or, to be more succinct, the corpus spongiosum became full of itself and my stupid prick danced in the spotlight of sickness and suffering. That first swat on the ass from the obstetrician's skilled hand not only started my diseased lungs sputtering to life, but it also sent a shock through my sphincter, up my tiny rectum, and straight into the shaft of my shiny penis, which ever since then has had this crazy idea in its head that pain and sex are one and the same.

11Flanagan satirizes the quest for rational explanations of his twin "maladies," CF and SM, by using medical language ("corpus spongiosum"), comic colloquialisms ("snuff him out," "whatever shit," etc.), and puns (the penis's crazy idea in its' head'). Flanagan's narrative evokes the Hobbesian notion of life as "nasty, short, and brutish," as well as Tristram Shandy's account of a prolonged and difficult quest for and through birth. In Flanagan's case, the journey toward inevitable death is equally prolonged and painful. Linguistically, the chest (of toys) parallels the chest (of the body).

12Metaphorically, the toy chest suggests Pandora's box — the vehicle that will unlock all the mysteries (and miseries) of sexuality — female sexuality, that is. By identifying with Pandora, he deftly disposes of the stereotype of Man as Oppressor, Woman as Victim, the anti-porn crusade founding premise. Reading The Story of O, Flanagan doesn't identify with Sir Stephen but with Ο herself: "how desperately I wanted to be her." Such reversals raise the following questions: is Flanagan's sexuality' feminine' because it is masochistic? Or has male masochism simply received short shrift in the discourse of sexuality?

13"Visiting Hours" is thus saturated with a strange sense of initiatory power, an initiation that begins in childhood. Neither money, success, fame, nor possessions bring happiness, Freud warned; the only source of satisfaction comes from the fulfillment of childhood wishes. "Visiting Hours" evokes scenes of infantile satisfactions (oral and anal, passive and aggressive). Since antipornography activists always argue that pornography must be banned so as not to sully the "impressionable minds" of children, it is particularly interesting how much "Visiting Hours" concentrates on childhood. Childhood, the exhibit implies, is tinged with sexual curiosity. Children concoct their own theories to explain birth, sexuality, and sexual difference, as Flanagan illustrates in vivid detail. One of the many fascinating things about Flanagan is that he seems to have almost total recall about the images in popular culture that sexually excited him in early childhood: he remembers cartoons of Porky Pig in bondage, force-fed, with his bare bottom and open mouth, always being punished for his insatiable orality. Cinderella, sexily disciplined by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. As a child, Flanagan instinctively recognized the latent obscenity and violence in fairytales and cartoons. They turned him on and he turned his "play" into art.

14Freud was among the first to take child's play seriously. In "Creative Writers and Daydreaming," he shows how fantasy functions on three temporal levels simultaneously: 1) "the present provides the context, the material elements of the fantasy; 2) the past provides the wish, deriving from earliest experiences; 3) the dream imagines a new situation in the future, which represents the fulfillment of the wish. Fantasy is a unique concept in psychoanalysis first because it refers to a psychic process which is both conscious and unconscious and second because it juxtaposes the social with the psychic (Freud, in Kaplan, ed., 1986, 419-28; Cowie, 1984, 71-105).

15Speaking of the trend toward "babyism" in the commercial s/m industry, Anne McClintock notes:

Babyism may also grant men retrospective control over perilous memories of infancy: nightmares of restraint, rubber sheets, helplessness, inexplicable punishments, isolation, and grief.... In their secret nursery for Goliaths, babyists ritually indulge in the forbidden, nostalgic spectacle of the power of women.... The land of Fem-Dom is frequently described by men as a 'feminist' Utopia, a futuristic paradise in which women are 'fully liberated and universally recognized as the Superior Sex. (McClintock, 1993, 101-2)

  • 7 Camille Paglia and her lover, Alison Maddex, curated "True Phallacy" at the Clark Gallery in Washi (...)

16Ironically, such a world (which sounds exactly like J. G. Ballard's dystopic novel Rushing to Paradise) may be what Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin want, but the laws they have drafted would ban Flanagan's art as degrading to women. The foundation of the antipornography campaign is that man is the oppressor, woman is victim. Pornography is the theory, rape the practice. Flanagan turns such clichés on their head. If s/m is the practice, Flanagan's art is the theory: he places our assumed ideology before our eyes. Femininity arid masculinity are cultural constructs, neither innate or natural. Flanagan's art audaciously exposes the process of gender construction, particularly its weird ridiculousness. Rather than disavowing castration anxiety, Flanagan acts it out — he performs it. Rather than fetishizing the female body, he pokes and pierces his own. He was inspired in part by Rudolf Schwarzkogler, who "had himself photographed (supposedly) slicing off pieces of his penis as if it were so much salami" (Rose, 1993, 82-87, 125). Schwarzkogler's acts, however, are fake, whereas Flanagan's actions are real. He pierces the penis, attaches weights, clothespins, and nails it to a board. His acts are at once too literal for art, too visceral for porn. While Camille Paglia worships the penis and Andrea Dworkin damns it, Flanagan deflates it and them both.7

Dead or Alive?

  • 8 Peggy Phelan, in Unmarked, 130-45, describes how the Right systematically erases the woman in orde (...)
  • 9 Between September 1990 and January 1991, eleven out of fifteen fundraising letters from three lead (...)

17Needless to say, Flanagan's masochism is equally threatening to men. At a Pro-Choice benefit, he shows up naked, impersonating Randall Terry (leader of the anti-abortion Operation Rescue campaign). Toy babies dangle from fishhooks in his flesh and penis, to show what it would mean — and how it would feel — if men had to bear children. But even here, his role is feminine, for being "attached" to babies by flesh is very different from the abstract concepts of paternity and patriarchy, which are what Operation Rescue really wants to shore up. The fetus has come to symbolize everything that is Right about America.8 (Not surprisingly, this was one of the photos the Christian Action Coalition found most objectionable.) It should be clear by now that their research targetting transgressive artists did not come from the bottom up, but from the top down, as Senator Jesse Helms's 1989 letter to former ΝΕΑ chairman John Frohnmayer illustrates. The list is particularly interesting because it targets book publishers V. Vale and Andrea Juno, who not only published Modern Primitives, but (since 1989) have published J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, J. G. Ballard, Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist, and Angry Women, which features (among others) Annie Sprinkle, Valie Export, Carolee Schneemann, Karen Finley, Kathy Acker, and Diamanda Galas. The bias against homosexuals that provides the driving momentum for both C. A.N.'s and Helms's campaign is evident in the letter's request for information about "Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing."9 But even affordable housing is suspect (as Communist?), as item 2 — a grant to the American Institute of Architects — reveals. Items i) and k) refer to Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan ("comedian Bob F."). In the late 60s, Bob and I attended the same high school in Orange County, California — cradle of crackpots, including the ultra right-wing John Birch Society. Senator Helms is from the other Orange County — in North Carolina. Deep assignments run through all our lives: there are no coincidences.

18If Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are "living phalluses," displaying the pumped body in/as excess, Flanagan's display of his puny body is a Freudian textbook definition of "the uncanny." Freud defines the uncanny as ambiguity about the extent to which something is, or is not, alive. But even while satirizing macho bravado, Flanagan's acts require endurance: in "Visiting Hours," a pulley occasionally hoists him from his bed to the ceiling. On the opening night at the New Museum, an awed hush fell over the crowd of jaded New Yorkers as Bob slowly ascended to the ceiling. Was he a combination of a tableau vivant and a nature morte, or a cross between Mantegna's St. Sebastian and Chaim Soutine's butchered carcass?

19Flanagan identifies with "ordeal artists," like Chris Burden and Vito Acconci. In Seedbed (1971) Acconci masturbated under a ramp, while amplifiers projected the sound of his breathing throughout the museum. In 1990, his "Adjustable Wall Bra" consisting of two mammoth cups, permitted visitors to curl up in the fetal position and watch cartoons. The cups pulse with music or with the sound of a woman breathing. Acconci, like Flanagan, brings babyism into the art museum.

20Flanagan's transformation of physical pain into sexual pleasure might be understandable from a clinical perspective, but is it art? Put another way, how do fantasies work personally and for a public audience? By acting out his fantasies, Flanagan preempts the psychoanalyst (the authorized interpreter of fantasy). First, he evokes fantasies that involve original wishes which are widely shared (the wish for health, sexual satisfaction, mommy, etc.) Second, they are contingent. This is where the emphasis on everyday life becomes crucial, for Flanagan demonstrates how we draw on events of the day to produce our own fantasies. Third, we also adopt and adapt the ready-made scenarios from cartoons, television, movies, etc. as if their contingent material had been our own (Cowie, 1984, 71-105).

21Flanagan exposes medicine's regimes as well as psychoanalysis's. He builds a wall of 1400 alphabet blocks juxtaposing the letters CF and SM, as if to evoke the DNA codes, alphabets, letters that have become crucial in the gene therapy that will one day provide a cure for cystic fibrosis. The alphabet wall also reminds us that pornography (from the Greek pornographos, meaning the writing of, on, about, or by harlots) has a linguistic component too. The alphabet blocks memorialize two simultaneous landmarks in childhood: the acquisition of language (a system built on differences) and the discovery of sexual difference.

22Thus if Flanagan had not existed, Lacan would have invented him, for his art is a glossary of Lacan's ideas about the Symbolic and the Imaginary. He embodies "The Mirror Stage's" exploration of libidinal dynamism, narcissism and aggressivity. Flanagan explores the effects of what Lacan calls "an organic insufficiency in his natural reality"; in his case, cystic fibrosis "merely" makes the "organic insufficiency" literal. What Lacan calls the fragmented body's "aggressive disintegration" recurs not only in Flanagan's dreams but in his art. Lacan's description of a Hieronymus Bosch landscape, with its "inner arena and enclosure... dividing it into two opposed fields of contest where the subject flounders in quest of the lofty, remote inner castle" is identical to Flanagan's twin obsessions with such confining apparatuses as cages, ropes, etc., and his invented persona as a sexualized Superman. Flanagan thus fuses medicine with s/m to problematize the relationships between the social and the psychic, between disease and desire. The sterile medical environment is itself a "perverse implantation." That is an important point, because, as J. G. Ballard suggests:

Bizarre experiments are now a commonplace of scientific research, moving ever closer to that junction where science and pornography will eventually meet and fuse. Conceivably, the day will come when science is itself the greatest producer of pornography. The weird perversions of human behavior triggered by psychologists testing the effects of pain, isolation, anger, etc. will play the same role that the bare breasts of Polynesian islanders performed in the 1940s wildlife documentary films (Ballard, 1990, 68).

23As if confirming Ballard's prophecy, Flanagan is the subject of a forthcoming photo-essay not in a porno magazine or even an art one, but in National Geographic, which plans to devote an issue to the phenomenology of pain.

24The anti-pornography campaign is sometimes called "the redemptive sex project." That is why Bonnie Klein's exposé of the sex industry on 42nd Street was called Not a Love Story: sex should be about love, though this film is not. Ironically, one thing every single commentator who sees "Visiting Hours" fails to mention is that Flanagan and Sheree Rose's relationship is a love story too. To defend s/m as "consensual" does not begin to describe the subtlety of their dynamic, shaped by two strong wills, two wicked wits. While sexually submissive, for instance, Flanagan is completely in control where his art is concerned. Sexually, moreover, he points out, "I am ultimately (this is what every masochist hates to hear, or admit) in full control" (BF, 32). Sheree Rose's role of dominatrix is equally creative. Before meeting Bob, she was in a very traditional, constraining marriage, so part of her pleasure with Bob had a "certain revenge aspect of ordering a man about." While dominating him, Bob reports with a laugh, she gets this little smirk on her face. S/m, moreover, is not about pain per se, it is about stimulation and heightening of the senses. Flanagan explains, "I want to give something up and be part of somebody else"; for him, s/m is the ultimate closeness (BF, 32-34, 39-40). Bob and Sheree try to explain how s/m has created an astonishing bond, but it is only apparent to those who know them well.

  • 10 A recent Minnesota Review issue on "The Politics of AIDS" is symptomatic; not one contributor disc (...)

25The two greatest taboos Flanagan violates involve both sex and death. Flanagan forces us to speculate about the unthinkable: the sexuality of diseased bodies. Does anyone doubt that this topic is taboo? AIDS comes immediately to mind, and while much as been written about public policy and AIDS activism, the notion that those afflicted go on feeling sexual, or having sex, or being desirable to others is still wholly taboo.10 The Benetton condom advertisement is illustrative of such a stance. Had I been able to reproduce this illustration in color, you would see the entire spectrum of the rainbow. The multicolored condoms float freely, detached from any tangible bodies, any tangible: sexual acts, any sexual desires. While implying that the only color that matters is the color of your condom, the ad glosses over the reality that people of color are dying in disproportionate numbers from AIDS. The rainbow coalition of condoms ignores all such painful injustices and realities cashing in while seeming to cultivate a social conscience.

26Disease feminizes Flanagan, since historically women were the first to be "hystericized" by the medical establishment (Foucault, 1980, 121). I am not implying that Flanagan's doctors are evil scientists; in fact, they support his art, visit his exhibitions, and cooperate with videotaping, etc. But as medicine becomes increasingly technological, death becomes more and more abstract. We know we must die, but the knowledge remains theoretical until "the end." Flanagan maps this uncharted country with considerable courage, since the terminal disease is his own.

27One of the surprising effects of "Visiting Hours" is that museum visitors turned him into a father-confessor, sitting by his bedside and sharing stories of their own experiences with cancer, leukemia, and other diseases. He gives new meaning to the idea of "social work," for there is something about his utter frankness that inspires strangers to confide in him. One could argue that strangers confide in talk show hosts all across America every day. The difference is that Flanagan does not titillate and tease; where talk show hosts are shamelessly manipulative. Flanagan is fascinating because he lives without shame.

Colored condoms, United Colors of Benetton.

28Flanagan works annually in a CF summer camp, but he objects to CF foundations that sensationalize "cute little dying kids.... And I'm like the poster child from hell saying 'Don't give us money because we'll grow up to do things like thisV" Nevertheless, many of the "children" at camp see him as a hero. After he appeared in Modern Primitives, one boy hailed him: "Hey — saw you in that magazine, manl" Asks another, "Where'd you get your nipples pierced? Do you have anything else pierced?" The "Make a Wish" Foundation recently asked Bob to fulfill the dream of a seventeen-year-old girl named Sarah, described by the foundation as a "'nineties hippie and talented artist" who sees Bob as a mentor. Her dying wish was to meet him. Young CF campers warm to him because he refuses to condescend to them or to reduce them to some stereotypical "Impressionable Young Mind." They are grateful that he refuses to sentimentalize death. Wallace Stevens was right: sentimentality is the death of feeling, and all Flanagan's art is about living with heightened feeling, sensation, consciousness.

29"Visiting Hours" thus destroys the spectator's repertoire of received ideas about the transcendence and immortality of art, the nobility of suffering, the Romanticism of death. "The basis of horror," David Cronenberg observes, "is that we cannot comprehend how we can die" (Rodley, 1992, 79). If on the one hand, Flanagan demonstrates how conceptual death has become, on the other he confronts spectators with a "terminal case" — theirs, as well as his own. Amid the s/m paraphernalia and the video monitors of Bob's naked, splayed body, the most stunning object in the New Museum exhibition was an expensive, full-size casket, decorated with wreaths. When you peer inside, Bob's face suddenly pops into view on a video monitor, placed where his head would be — (will be) — in the coffin. As you peer more closely, suddenly your own face appears on the monitor, thanks to a hidden, "candid" camera. The effect is startling, uncanny. Death, not sex, is the last mystique — and doctors seldom pull back the curtain to give us a peek.

30Flanagan stages the horror, but his mordant wit thwarts every cliche about death: he undermines pity with satire, fear with fervor. He confronts visitors with their own voyeurism by turning the tables. He, after all, is propped up in bed, watching you watch him. By actually moving into the museum, Flanagan deconstructs the cherished concept of the human by staging the elemental, alimental body. He simultaneously deconstructs the concept of the museum, irrevocably transforming the pristine, inviolate art space with the messy debris of everyday life, sex, and illness: intravenous tubes, bedpans, food, and the ubiquitous oxygen tank nearby.

31From Poe to de Palma, horror often has a fiendishly funny streak. "Visiting Hours" captures that macabre comedy through surreal juxtapositions of objects: a bed of nails on a gurney (upon which Flanagan occasionally reposes), a portapotty with a pig pillow beneath it, "for someone's weary head." Since he got his start as a stand-up comic, he is mercilessly satirical about sentimentality. So wicked is his perverse humor that, after his cameo appearance Michael Tolkin's film, The New Age, the producers borrowed his black comedy for the film's advertizing campaign, after he dubbed it "a shopping spree for the morally bankrupt." He has also composed a song, to be sung to the lyrics of Mary Poppins' Supercalifragilisticexpilalidocious":

Supermasochistic Bob has cystic fibrosis
He should have died when he was young but he was too
[ precocious...
Now 40 years have come and gone and Bob is still around...
With a lifetime of infections and his lungs all filled with
[ phlegm
The CF would have killed him if it weren't for S&M.

  • 11 David Leslie, New Museum brochure for "Visiting Hours"; see also C. Carr's discussion of David Les (...)
  • 12 In the same breath, however, Dole praised True Lies, which is filled with sex and violence; could (...)

32David Leslie, a performance artist known for his deconstructed recreations of heroic moments in media, compares Flanagan to Amelia Earhart and Evil Knievel in terms of his courage.11 Bob and Sheree have also appeared in heavy metal rock videos by Godflesh; Danzig's "It's Coming Down," (1993), produced and directed by Jonathan Reiss; and "Happiness is Slavery" by Nine Inch Nails, which Senator Robert Dole helpfully catapulted to fame when he damned it in a speech on May 31, 1995.12 By showing the link between sex and technology, Flanagan does for medicine what J. G. Ballard did for cars:

their deviant technology... Provided the sanction for any perverse act. For the first time, a benevolent psychopathology beckoned towards us, enshrined in the tens of thousands of vehicles moving down the highways, in the giant jetliners lifting over our heads, in the most humble machined structures and commercial laminates. (Ballard, 1973, 128)

33In Men, Women, and Chain Saws, Carol Clover observes that adolescent fans of slasher films shift their allegiances from villain to victim while watching the movie (Clover, 1992). Similarly, in his short story, "Body," Flanagan describes hammering a nail through his penis, blood flowing everywhere: "I methodically cleaned everything up, just like Tony Perkins, my blood swirling down the drain like Janet Leigh's'." Flanagan not only recognizes how weirdly comic Hitchcock's Psycho was, he adeptly shifts his own identifications from villain to victim, male to female. When he reads this story to a live audience, men faint. Women laugh. Sexually, Flanagan may be a "bottom," but when he performs, he relishes the opportunity to go over the top, to control the action and confront the audience with their own psychic investments in penis (the piece of meat) and phallus (the symbolic privileges masculinity confers). He opens himself up to expose the ills flesh is heir to. Flanagan, the "sick boy" in my title, is a stoic comedian.

The Physical Self, Posthuman, Abject Art

  • 13 Typical of this partial list is the mixture of art and performance. In conjunction with the Abject (...)

34Literally hundreds of other recent art exhibitions besides Bob Flanagan's demonstrate that experimentation with the body is the aesthetic at century's end.13 Three exhibitions, The Physical Self, Posthuman, and Abject Art are particularly notable because they so amply illustrate the motifs Bad Girls and Sick Boys is tracing: the interaction of High theory with Low culture; the debt to psychoanalysis, multimedia experimentation; the emphasis on technology's reorganization of body, senses, psyche. They take nothing for granted, nor do they see anything natural, innate, or universal about the human, the body, or humanism. Instead they concentrate on the constructedness not just of gender, but of all experiences, from birth to death. As with J. G. Ballard and Bob Flanagan, they ask what it means to see the human as an organism, to see that organism as an "atrocity", to see that atrocity as an "exhibition" — on display like an artifact in a museum. The human body is a methodological field, one that has to be revisited, revised, memorialized for the millennium.

The Physical Self

35Filmmaker Peter Greenaway (The Draughtsman's Contract, The Belly of the Architect, Prospero's Books, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover) curated a series of exhibitions all over Europe between 1991-1994: "Flying out of this World" at the Louvre; "100 Objects to Represent the World" in Vienna; a series of live landscape exhibitions that travelled to Geneva, Tokyo, New York, Berlin, and Moscow, followed by simultaneous events in Bilbao, Madrid, and Barcelona in 1994 (Guardian Weekly, January 24, 1993).

  • 14 Peter Greenaway, "Introduction," The Physical Self, catalogue for exhibition at the Boymans-van Be (...)

36The Physical Self, in Rotterdam in 1991-92, featured live humans in plexiglass cases, naked. The exhibition is made up of items and images from the Boymans-van Beuningen collection that Greenaway rearranged to comment on the body from youth to old age "with a mingled sense of humour, surprise and some nostalgia, those intimate mortal traces that consciously and unconsciously, it has left behind."14 The first "item" to confront the spectator is a naked woman, "presented and illuminated like a consciously exhibited museum-object" (PS, 11). Greenaway's aim is consciously to withhold the "value judgement connotations" of the terms "naked" and "nude." The live humans are "the markers, the templates" to which all the paintings, sculptures, drawings and artefacts relate. Two of the figures are male, two are female; one stands, two sit, one reclines. These naked people make particular demands on the viewer to look and to see, as does Bob Flanagan. Far from being obscene, they remind the viewer of the process behind the "product" — it is as if one has stepped into a life-drawing class. Greenaway consistently highlights the material base of artistic production, stripping away its mystique in the process.

37The next image to arrest the viewer is a just-delivered bloody newborn, still attached to the umbilical cord. In place of an artist's signature, the image has a corporate logo: "United Colors of Benetton." Greenaway takes pains to point out that this image was banned in Britain. Ironic reversal: Bob Flanagan is censored for portraying death; Benetton for portraying birth. As with the multi-colored condom ad, the message here is that we are all alike, united at birth, but — as in the condom ad, all the material differences that point to ugly realities (like the disproportionately high infant mortality rate among people of color) are effaced here too. By effacing the mother's body but including the obstetrician, the ad implies that mothers no longer matter — only the right to life matters — and only doctors "deliver." By installing an advertisement in an art museum, Greenaway's aim is to subvert the distinction between High Art and commercial products; he points out that:

It is an advertisement making reference to manufacture, propaganda, sale, price and commerce which are conditions to be recalled in the substance of every one of the artefacts on display in this exhibition, both at the moment of their manufacture and now. Every image is an advertisement for a concept, or an attitude, a presentiment, a belief or a desire and every object in varying degrees of consciousness, bears a signature — a consciously placed design label. (PS, 14)

Newborn baby, United Colors of Benetton.

38Whether that label is signed Benetton or Braque, it reveals the contingency, arbitrariness, and ideology at work in the culture industry. Priceless monuments do not form an ideal order among themselves — someone constructed not just the monument, but the ideal, the order, and the art space. Greenaway deconstructs the human and the museum simultaneously. He highlights "the artificiality of a museum display... fashioned by many subjectivities — collector's taste, national dictates, financial pressures, academic eclecticism" (PS, 15).

39As a curator and a filmmaker, Greenaway's abiding obsessions are with classification, taxonomies, taboos. He approaches the human as an artifact, a remnant of an organic age that already seems long ago and far away. He combines the obsessive-compulsive mind of a taxonomist with the perversity of a fetishist, organizing the exhibit metonymically, so that a display on "hands" includes all the objects that bear the marks of hands, including the fetishist's leather glove. Under "feet," one finds the Magritte painting, "The Red Model," of metamorphosing feet, "a familiar password, like soft watches, among surrealists" (PS, 82). Greenaway notes:

They bear, more than any other human garment, the intimacy of the individual, and can make a strong identity of the physical self.... Pitiful reminder too perhaps of the collections of the poorhouse... and the Holocaust — they mark the autobiographical step and tread of more than two hundred individuals walking more than ten thousand miles. (PS, 83)

  • 15 As we can see in chapter nine, Bret Easton Ellis similarly uses cannibalism as a metaphor for Reag (...)

40As the Benetton newborn illustrates, Greenaway is particularly interested in what comes out of the body (like babies) — and with what goes in, especially food. Few detractors recognized, for example, that two of his films, The Cook, the, Thief, his Wife, her Lover and The Baby of Macon. are meditations about the history of painting. He is a classical filmmaker known for his rigorous intellectual control; each frame is composed like a painting. He shares his fellow-Briton J. G. Ballard's gift for allegory The Draughtsman Contract exposes the British as predators who suck the creativity and lifeblood from the Irish. The Cook, the Thief, similarly, is a Jacobean revenge tragedy, a fact that most reviewers failed to recognize when they condemned it as pornographic. Food is a metaphor for the Thatcher era of conspicuous consumption, which is why the finale features cannibalism: the State is eating its citizens alive.15 As with Ballard and Flanagan, Greenaway's work combines wit, irony, black humor, perversity; he has an abiding obsession with the interpenetration of word and text, flesh and text, sex and text. His most recent film, The Pillow Book which is about a Japanese woman with a life-long erotic fascination for words painted on skin, premiered at the 71 Cannes Film Festival in May, 1996. At the press conference, Mr. Greenaway (whose fascination with numbers is legendary) suggested that the millennium might have been miscalculated (Maslin, 1996, C13, C16), a rumination very much in keeping with the issues that preoccupy him as curator, for The Physical Self is an elegy without nostalgia for the idea of the human.

The Posthuman

41If The Physical Self looks back elegiacally, the Posthuman show looks forward. We may not quite ready to embrace the idea that the human organism is made, not born, but Posthuman examines the implications of that radical proposition. Curator Jeffrey Eeitch boldly asks whether a new model of the posthuman person is emerging, constructed from images in new technologies and consumer culture. Plastic surgery and "genetic reconstruction are adding a new stage to Darwinian human evolution," Deitch argues: "our children's generation could very well be the last generation of pure 'humans"'(Deitch, 1997, 15). The posthuman person's predominant interactions are with machines rather than with people. To describe that phenomenon, the Japanese have already invent a new word — Otaku.

42Post Human also assembles a dazzling array of commodities: televisions, stereos, shoes, clothes, food, compact discs, and toys point to the insatiable demands of consumption. Just as Peter Greenaway highlighted the materialist base of artistic production in The Physical Self, labor is omnipresent here too: the cage-like confinement of alienated labor is the subject of Damien Hirst's "The Acquired Inability to Escape" (1991), a steel and glass enclosure for a white workspace and office chair. Why is the worker unable to escape? Because he is a slave to his acquisitions, a theme repeated in Bret Easton Ellis's America n Psycho.

43The babyism Bob Flanagan evoked recurs throughout the Post Human show: Mike Kelley's "Brown Star" consists of undifferentiated blobs of stuffed toys sewn together, dangling from the ceiling. Kelley takes trivial objects and trivial labor (sewing is women's work), and melds them into a metaphor for the preoedipal bond of mother and child, although mother and child are both absent from the scene. Tao Chiezo assembles five little dresses, which march smartly down a Tokyo street, but they remain uninhabited by girls'bodies. Martin Kippenberger's "Martin, Stand in the Corner and Shame on You" (1990) is a witty bronze sculpture of a grown man (presumably the artist) standing in the corner like a bad boy. It conveys the same poignancy of George Segal's plaster casts, combined with the erotic energy of Bob Flanagan's scenarios of discipline and punishment. Charles Ray's enormous female "Mannequin" (244 cm) makes a male onlooker look like a child, thus deflating the legendary power of the male gaze. Cindy Sherman's photographs of male and female mannequins with interchangeable, obscene body parts are as disturbing as the Hans Bellmer's dolls so admired by J. G. Ballard, with their reversed orifices and paradoxical anatomy. Indeed, as with "Visiting Hours," this exhibit memorializes all the nastiness, curiosity, and cruelty of childhood: Yasumasa Morinura's blood-red color photograph features "Brothers" pointing toy guns and toy howitzers at each other on a devastated battlefield, an atomic mushroom cloud in the background.

  • 16 Quoted in Art Futura 94: CiberCultura, catalog for the exhibition at the Estadio Olimpico de Madri (...)

44The show demonstrates that the new construction of the self is conceptual rather than natural, aided by computer morphs and plastic surgery. Since the new concept of self is devoted to surfaces rather than depths, Deitch maintains that the Freudian model of the psychological person is dissolving into a new model that dispenses with analysis of how the subconscious molds behavior; there is a new sense that one can free oneself from the past and the genetic code. Orlan seems to echo this when she proclaims, "The body is obsolete. I fight against God or DNA!"16 Orlan, however, realizes that one cannot simply repudiate psychoanalysis. In fact, the very fact of being in love with one's own image, as Orlan confesses, brings one right back to Lacan's mirror stage, with its emphasis on the agency of the ego being located in a fictional direction.

45Yet many of the artists in the Post Human show consciously evoke Freud, Lacan and Julia Kristeva. Indeed, amid all the technological toys in the exhibition, numerous works highlight the elemental, alimental body. The pristine space of the gallery is defiled with simulacra of sperm, feces, undigested food, blood, dirt. For example, Kiki Smith's "Tale" is a sculpture of a naked woman on all fours, feces trailing from her anus, as if she were in the midst of some evolutionary metamorphosis from animal to human. Helpless, vulnerable, exposed — the sculpture epitomizes abjection. It also historicizes it: the five senses are historically determined, shaped and reshaped by evolution. Prehistory perhaps marked the most radical evolution. The sculpture reminds us that one of the earliest innovations that reorganized the human senses was the ability to walk upright; in exchange, humans sacrificed the sense of smell. Freud speculates:

In the nursery... excreta arouse no disgust in children. They seem valuable to them as being a part of their own body which has come away from it. Here upbringing insists with special energy on hastening the course of development which lies ahead, and which should make the excreta worthless, disgusting, abhorrent and abominable. Such a reversal of values would scarcely be possible if the substances that are expelled from the body were not doomed by their strong smells to share the fate which overtook olfactory stimuli after man adopted the erect posture (Freud, 1961, 56n). [Freud notes: With man's adoption of an erect posture... events... proceeded through the devaluation of olfactory stimuli... to the time when visual stimuli were paramount.]

46Freud cites this as evidence of how quickly civilization marshals its forces to enforce a repression that begins by being "organic." To repeat, I call the artists in my study "boys and girls" because they revisit the time before their infantile values — what one might indeed call their objectivity — were reversed — a time before objects became invested with the values of "purity and danger" (Douglas, 1969). I said earlier that many of the artists, filmmakers and novelists in my study are like anthropologists, investigating an alien culture. They are also engaged in a recovery project: to restore and record what the media sanitizes. Smith's "Tale" is thus the perfect antidote to all those commercials advertisements for "feminine products." "Tale" was created in the same spirit that led J. G. Ballard, in "What I believe," to say "I believe in the body odours of Princess Di." Since the media capitalizes on cultural amnesia, these artists specialize in the opposite: memory, history, material production, evolution.

47How exactly does advertising capitalize on cultural amnesia? One has only to turn to Allure Magazine. It features a Chinese-looking young woman in drab, Maoist, totalitarian garb. The grainy gray photo is only offset by one vivid slash of red lipcolor. The copy reads:

Why 6,000,000 who used to carry a little red book now carry a little red lipstick. Beauty makes a statement. And. when nail polish becomes political, and fashion becomes philosophy, Allure magazine will be there. With reporting about fragrance and fitness, cosmetics and culture, travel and trends. Allure: the revolutionary beauty.

48The ad "works," (by which I mean it does invisible ideological work), by conflating six million Jews with six million "fashion victims" and by destroying any sense of history as struggle. Most ironic of all: few people under thirty even know what the little red book is! Thus for many consumers, the ad does not need to make sense to be effective. I had this image in mind when I said in my introduction that we are moving toward a very different understanding of what culture might be, for the historical referent is continually receding to the point of extinction. I think J. G. Ballard had a paradox like this one in mind when he noted that someday soon, Warhol will no longer make sense; not just the referent but even what the copy referred to has already disappeared. That awareness gives the art in Bad Girls and Sick Boys its singular urgency, for these artists refuse to forget or repress material conditions of production and historical specificity.

  • 17 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia U (...)

49Their investigations are indebted to Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger, a pioneering anthropological study that analyzes how different cultures define dirt and cleanliness. They are also indebted to Julia Kristeva (whose own work draws on Mary Douglas). In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Kristeva says that the distinguishing characteristics of abjection include fear of the female in general, the female body in particular — menstruation, lactation, sexuality, and reproduction.17 Fear of the vagina dentata isn't the half of it: the devouring maw, the messy involvement with babies' bodily functions, the myth of omnivorous sexual and reproductive capacities are all signs of the abject. Above all, the abject signifies the lack of differentiation, the permeable boundaries (as in pregnancy) between self and other, inside and outside, life and death (as Freud described the uncanny). The maternal is the realm of the Imaginary; it precedes the oedipalization process of socialization into the Symbolic, and has been repressed by Western culture, buried beneath the myths of femininity. Kiki Smith's "Tale" is clearly a study in abjection: the prostrate woman exposes the flayed body beneath all our defense. Genetic manipulation may create outward perfection, but inner neuroses, instincts, and bodily functions are not so easy to mold, and Kiki Smith's flayed bodies bear witness to the emotional wreckage that festers below the plastic surface, as Deitch points out (Deitch, 1997, 43). Smith's sculpture also evokes the Wolf Man case, Freud's study of infantile neurosis, for the Wolf Man only became sexually aroused when he saw a woman on all fours, and he suffered from an obsession with feces. Smith's "Tale" returns us to the primal scene: when the Wolf Man witnessed his parents making love from behind, he made a bowel movement in his bed. The primal scene inaugurated his fear of castration and the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex is one of the "tales" Western civilization tells, one that has captured the imagination of artists throughout the twentieth century. Another tale, one that is equally pervasive, is the tale of femininity, which relegates woman to a pedestal (elevated but confining). Smith provokes the viewer by dispensing with femininity's vestigial pedestals. She kicks the foundation away from the feminine mystique. Beneath that mystique, Smith illustrates, lies a deep revulsion and repression of the female.

Abject Art

50The 1993 Whitney Museum show on Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art continues the dialogue on Abjection that Physical Self and the Posthuman show began. Just as Greenaway's declared aim was to display live, naked humans "presented and illuminated like a consciously exhibited museum-object" (PS, 11), this show's title is a pun on object art, with an emphasis on found objects, degraded materials, absurd juxtapositions. The show investigates the fundamental premise of psychoanalytic object relations theory: the paradigmatic "good object" is the mother's breast; once weaned, the psyche substitutes supplemental objects (makes good and bad object choices) to fill a lack that by definition is unfillable. The defiant choice of "bad objects" is celebrated in all four exhibitions discussed here; the compulsive search for supplemental objects is one explanation for the emphasis on fetishism in all four exhibitions.

51One of the exhibition's aims is historical: it juxtaposes such objects as Duchamp's urinal, Claes Oldenburg's "Soft Toilet," and Louise Bourgeois' "Nature Study", with its pendulous bronze balls and breasts, with more recent works. Some of the same artists in the Posthuman show appear here: Mike Kelley's photograph of Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose; Cindy Sherman's mannequins, Kiki Smith and Robert Gober. Here too, the exhibition's theoretical foundation is Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror. Kristeva writes as a psychoanalystsemiologist; she analyzes both Freud and Lacan, as well as writings ranging from Leviticus to Derrida. She traces the process by which the maternal feminine came to be constructed as monstrous in the Old Testament, and analyzes the semiotics of biblical abomination. She then shows how that monstrosity was reinforced through the ages. The mother/child relationship is the paradigm for all subsequent subject/object divisions; she is interested in object relations theory, its application to linguistics, how that original process results in viewing others as objects. Abjection dismantles Western civilization's dichotdichotomies: self/other, male/female, inside/outside, subject/object, life/death. Abjection is closely related to desire and to the death drive. Kristeva shows how these themes recur in the great masterpieces of Western literature; in addition to her stunning exegesis on religion, anthropology, and psychoanalysis, she offers brilliant insights into Dostoyevsky, Artaud, Proust, James Joyce, Celine, Bataille, Borges. Each writer represents a different typology of Abjection, different psychic, narrative, and syntactic structures (PH, 26). She defines abjection as the recognition of want on which any being, meaning, language or desire is founded.

52The artists in the Whitney show explore all these facets of abjection. Some, like Hannah Wilke, simulate body scarification to subvert the phallic power of the male gaze; others explore ways of coming to grips with death. Some of the artists approach sadomasochism as a means of dissolving the boundaries between self and other. Still others use their art to highlight the images of the mirror stage, which —as mentioned in discussing Flanagan above Lacan described as having a Bosch-like emphasis on fragmentation, dismemberment, dislocation, devouring. The "armor of the I" and its vulnerability to shock, trauma, and horror is the artists' topic.


53With the exception of Bob Flanagan's and Joe-Feter Witkin's work, most of the work the Christian Action Network highlighted that hot June night was from the Abject Art show. On a big easel, they quoted the catalog's introduction:

Our goal is to talk dirty in the institution and degrade its atmosphere of purity and prudery by foregrounding issues of gender and sexuality in the art exhibited. Such a project was deemed urgent partly because of a disturbing trajectory of "politics" in America... through the Reagan and Bush administrations. (AA,7)

54The highlight of the evening was a debate between Cal Thomas, former NBC journalist, representing C. A.N., and Paul Begala, Clinton campaign advisor, on whether or not to kill the N. E.A. Begala's position was the "one bad apple" argument — don't throw out opera and the New York Philharmonic just because of a few "mistakes." He steadfastly refused even to look at the art in the adjoining room, much less to defend it. Cal Thomas began by mentioning that William Faulkner never got a federal grant.

55I asked Thomas if he realized that Faulkner's fiction featured idiots in love with cows (The Hamlet)·, castrated black men (Light in August), incest and miscegenation (Absalom! Absalom!), necrophilia ("A Rose for Emily") and a sociologist who rapes a girl with a corncob (Sanctuary). Faulkner was no stranger to censors; he knew that in their view, the only good genius is a dead one. Indeed, booksellers of both Sanctuary and The Wild Palms were prosecuted for obscenity; these were among the books Judge Jerome Frank defended in Roth υ. U. S. (1956).

56July 29, 1995: One month after this spectacle, Congress voted to cut the N. E A.'s budget by forty percent in the current year and phase it out entirely by 1998 or 1999. C. A.N.'s lobbying turned out to be enormously effective; when Senator Nancy Kassebaum voted against the N. E.A., she singled out Highways'Ecce Homo exhibit as particularly (and patently) offensive. N. E.A. Chairman Jane Alexander said the attack will hurt the 1. 3 million people who work as artists in America, since grants to individual artists are now a thing of the past.

57Two women's photos dominate the front page of the Washington Post today: Jane Alexander's and Susan Smith's. When Smith confessed to drowning her two babies on November 3, 1994, Newt Gingrich blamed the Democrats for the breakdown in "family values" that led Susan to murder. When testimony showed that Susan was sexually abused for eight years by her stepfather, a Bible-toting Republican prominent in South Carolina politics, Gingrich was silent. Perhaps J. G. Ballard was right: the insane can see the sick souls of their caretakers.



Ballard, J. G., 1973. Crash. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

— 1990. The Atrocity Exhibition. San Francisco: Re/Search.

— 1993. Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist. San Francisco: Re/Search Publications.

Brame, Gloria G., 1993. Different Loving. New York: Random House.

Carr, C., 1993. On Edge: Performance at the End of the Twentieth Century. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.

Clover, Carol, 1992. Men, Women, and Chain Saws. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.

Cowie, Elizabeth, 1984. "Fantasia", m/f no. 9.

Crimp, Douglas, 1988. AIDS: Cultural Analysis Cultural Activism. Cambridge: MIT Press.

— 1988. "How to Have Promiscuity in the Midst of an Epidemic," in Crimp, ed.

— 1992. "Portraits of People with AIDS," in Grossberg et al, eds., 117-33.

Deitch, Jeffrey, 1997. Post Human. New York: Distributed Art Publications.

Douglas, Mary, 1969. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Flanagan, Bob, 1991. "Body", in Scholder and Silverberg, eds Foucault, Michel, 1980. The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley,, New York: Vintage.

Freud, Sigmund, "Creative Writers and Daydreaming", in Kaplan, ed., 1986.

— 1961. Civilization and its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey, New York: W. W. Norton.

Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler eds., 1992. Cultural Studies. London: Roudedge. 117-33 Kaplan, Charles, ed. 1986. Criticism: The Major Statements. 2nd ed., New York: St. Martin's Press Kristeva, Julia. 1983. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press.

Maslin, Janet, 1996. "How to Rate Cannes: The Festival is à la Folie". New York Times, May 14, C13, C16.

McClintock, Anne, 1993. "Maid to Order". Social Text, 37.

Petchesky, Rosalind, "Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction". Feminist Studies, 13 (2).

Phelan, Peggy, "White Men and Pregnancy". Unmarked.

Rodley, Chris, ed., 1992. Cronenberg on Cronenberg. London: Faber and Faber.

Rose, Barbara, 1993. "Is it Art? Orlan and the Transgressive Act". Art in America, 81:2 (February).

Scholder, Amy and Ira Silverberg eds., 1991. High Risk. San Francisco: City Lights.

Taylor, Simon, 1993. "The Phobic Object: Abjection in Contemporary Art". Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art. New York: Whitney Museum Working Papers.

Washington Post, 1995. July 29, A1, A10.


1 This paper will be included in Kauffman's forthcoming book, Bad Girls, Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Unfortunately most of the illustrations could not be included.

2 Mawyer sounds like John Ray Jr., the sociologist in Lolita's preface, who is morally and aesthetically obtuse (Mawyer, 1987).

3 "Bob Flanagan's Sick," New York, Art in the Anchorage, August, 1991 and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions [LACE], Los Angeles, California, May, 1991. All quotations by Flanagan and Rose are from my interviews with them. My first interview took place on February 19, 1993, Los Angeles, California. Between 1993-1996, numerous subsequent conversations took place in Irvine, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, New York City, and Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where Bob died on January 4, 1996.

4 Flanagan and Rose are frequently invited to address the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex. They have also collaborated with sexuality expert Robert Stoller, who substantially revised his views on perversion as a result of his discussions with them. Only recently have books devoted to heterosexual s/m begun to receive serious widespread attention (Brame, 1993).

5 I'm indebted to Shelley Pasnik's unpublished paper "Are you Experienced? Advertising's Exploitation of Americans'Nostalgia for Childhood" for this idea.

6 Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist (San Francisco: Re/Search Publications, 1993), p. 64, hereinafter cited parenetically in the text as BF, by page number.

7 Camille Paglia and her lover, Alison Maddex, curated "True Phallacy" at the Clark Gallery in Washington, D. C., December, 1993, which glorified penises in bronze, photography, and painting.

8 Peggy Phelan, in Unmarked, 130-45, describes how the Right systematically erases the woman in order to accentuate the fetus, who is always described as "a little guy." Rosalind Petchesky argues that the fetal form functions symbolically to compensate for a series of losses men have experienced in the past twenty-five years, from sexual innocence to compliant women to American imperial might, (Petchesky, 263-9).

9 Between September 1990 and January 1991, eleven out of fifteen fundraising letters from three leading Religious Right groups targeted homosexuality as the most dangerous menace within America today. See Right-Wing Watch 1: 4 (February 1991): 2.

10 A recent Minnesota Review issue on "The Politics of AIDS" is symptomatic; not one contributor discusses the sexuality of diseased bodies. Safe-sex videos, similarly, usually focus on avoidance of infection, rather than desire. I know of only a few exceptions to this taboo:
Isaac Julien's "This is Not an AIDS Advertisement," (New York: Third World Newsreel, 1987). See Crimp, ed., 1988.
Douglas Crimp's "How to Have Promiscuity in the Midst of an Epidemic," in Crimp ed., 1988
Starshu Kybartas'video Dani, which depicts his sexual attraction to a man with Kaposi's sarcoma in Douglas Crimp, "Portraits of People with AIDS," in Grossberg et al, 1992,117-33;
David Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives (1991);
Ngozi Onwurah's The Body Beautiful (1991), featuring the sexual fantasies of an aging mastectomy patient.

11 David Leslie, New Museum brochure for "Visiting Hours"; see also C. Carr's discussion of David Leslie, (Carr, 1993, 239-42). It's interesting that Carr compares Leslie's re-creations to J. G. Ballard: "I think of J. G. Ballard, whose characters read primordial messages in the technology that surrounds them, whose heroes crack through the veneer of official reality with the aid of some violent act. In Ballard's world, images are more real than real life. Someone in Crash collects footage of automobile collisions and dreams of dying in one himself— an act finally so real that he won't he able to watch the replay (Carr, 1993,241).

12 In the same breath, however, Dole praised True Lies, which is filled with sex and violence; could it be that he did not wish to antagonize the film's star, Republican campaign contributor Arnold Schwarzenegger?

13 Typical of this partial list is the mixture of art and performance. In conjunction with the Abject Art show, for instance, the Whitney sponsored a series of programs and videos, featuring Vito Acconci, Carolee Schneemann, Maria Beatty, Annie Sprinkle and others. Although it is impossible to compile a comprehensive list of all the shows that illustrate this point, a partial list includes: Bad Girls at the New Museum, New York, 1994; Hors Limites, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris, November 9, 1994-January 23, 1995; "The Illustrated Woman," The Lab and San Francisco Cameraworks, February 4-5, 1994; "Addressing Herself," The Lab, February 2-March 5,1994; "Hannah Wilke,'Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York City, January-February, 1994; "Up with People," Hudson, Feature Gallery, New York, July 7-August 6, 1993; "Artists' Writing Reading Room: An Exhibition of Visual Artists Who Write and Writers Who Make Visual Art, " Side Street Projects, Santa Monica, California, May, 1993; Nayland W. Blake, "The Philosopher's Suites," Thread Waxing Space, New York, 1994; "Body and Soul," Baltimore Museum of Art, 1994; "Dissent, Difference and the Body Politics," Portland Art Museum, 1992.

14 Peter Greenaway, "Introduction," The Physical Self, catalogue for exhibition at the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, October 27, 1991 December 1, 1992, p. 7, hereafter cited parenthetically as PS.

15 As we can see in chapter nine, Bret Easton Ellis similarly uses cannibalism as a metaphor for Reagan's America.

16 Quoted in Art Futura 94: CiberCultura, catalog for the exhibition at the Estadio Olimpico de Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, September 28-October 15,1994.

17 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 135, hereinafter cited parenthetically as PH.

Table des illustrations

Légende Colored condoms, United Colors of Benetton.
Fichier image/jpeg, 384k
Légende Newborn baby, United Colors of Benetton.
Fichier image/jpeg, 167k


Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of Discourses of Desire: Gender, Genre, and Epistolary Fictions (Cornell University Press, 1986) and Special Delivery : Epistolary Modes in Modern Fiction (University of Chicago Press, 1992). She is the editor of three anthologies, all published by Blackwell: Gender and Theory (1989), Feminism and Institutions (1989), and American Feminist Thought at Century's End (1993). The article for this volume is part of Bad Girls and Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Culture, University of California Press, 1997.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1997

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