… (the body’s insanity and desire, all that is most fragile and alive, most deeply shameful) …
Is it possible to describe a person without destroying her? Without confinement, capture or betrayal? Isn’t it descriptions that alienate us from one another, make us shun, despise, defile, kill?
… Writing in a literary way perhaps means trying to find a language beyond descriptions, find words that twist their way out of the alphabet, lose their value, scatter … like children … like clouds … in the sky.
… One night, just before the snow falls over Stockholm, I dream I am holding one of those big art books of Cindy Sherman’s photographs in my arms, like a large, awkward, recalcitrant child. Between the covers there are worms and massacred bodies crawling among vomit and earth from graves, and through the covers of the book I can feel something squirming, something alive, a snake or an evil doll attempting to twist out of the sides.
… The first time I read the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek I felt as though the book I was carrying around with me had a life of its own, as if I had some live, predatory animal in my handbag.
… “I do think that the seeds of full-scale war can always be found in peace-time civilization,” writes Sarah Kane. The threat that is always there, like a constant pressure somewhere near your cochlea, a deafening roar, like an undercurrent, a dark river, a secret, violent underside to the world.
… To me, Sherman’s pictures are like eroticism: that vestige of the animal in us, the desperation, aggression, that strange and wonderful thread of insanity and violence that runs through the life of a human being and seems absurd in our ordered, rational world. And maybe it is precisely that wound which Sherman likes to prod. The fact that this uncontrollable element within us (the body’s insanity and desire, all that is most fragile and alive, most deeply shameful) is also represented everywhere in our culture, though in distorted form, reproduced drearily and interminably, in strictly checked, well-produced images, in the intensely choreographed violations of pornography, in the coldness of the fashion world.
[ … ]
… When I was twelve, in 1984, some plastic bags were discovered by the highway not far from the place where I grew up. One of them was found to contain the lower part of someone’s trunk, half a torso. In the other there were two thigh parts that had been cut off. And the ground beside the bags was scattered with garbage, empty milk cartons, toilet paper, dog’s mess, and an old porn magazine. A few weeks later, more bags were found a short distance away. They contained a breast, two arms, and two lower legs. No head, no face, no sexual organs. It was said she had been killed by a butcher, or an architect, or a forensic expert, no weapon, no clues. All they had was the absence of something, something inhuman.
[ … ]
… There is a long history of attempts to capture the essence and character of woman. If her character were to be described, once and for all, then her future and her fate would be sealed. Julia Kristeva describes woman as some kind of cultural outsider. In ancient Greece, marriage constituted a refuge of sorts for woman, a sanctuary. Without marriage she lacked protection and a homeland, without a husband she had neither a state nor any rights. For a long time, woman was also a stranger within culture, someone standing outside, outside words and power, and if she ever made her presence felt in art it was not with an easel, and paintbrushes in her hand, but as the image: an oddly depicted, naked animal.
[line break added to make this easier to read online] Since then, thousands and thousands of years of revolutions, transformations, wars, kings, princesses, and political utopias have passed. In this part of the world, soil became town, poverty became prosperity, prosperity became raw consumption. The old hunger for food turned into a hunger for commodities. And if man endures — as I think of him now, he is standing there unmoving and unchanged, untouched by time, like a statue — then woman changes, floating in and out of a succession of varying ideas about her: permanently new, always other, in and out of new costumes and creations.
Cindy Sherman is an Orlando, with a rapier, a crinoline, and a leather jacket, moving through time and letting herself be sullied by it, and her disguise constantly conceals another disguise. A girl who beneath her girl costume conceals an ape, which under its ape costume conceals a big white bird that suddenly flies away. Out of history, out of the mirrors.
[all photos (above) are by Cindy Sherman]