Saturday, January 16, 2016


Robin Lydenberg

This post is as close as I can come to a religious statement right now.  It is bracketed by the parentheses of two “TED” talks from the early vids before they got pulled into the vortex of popularity.  But that’s not where the thinking came from, which was only a phrase:  A language ‘lined with flesh’” which Barthes first said and Robin Lydenberg used in a review of the work of William S. Burroughs called “Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs’ fiction.”

William S. Burroughs

Other phrases are “a resistant queer formalism” and “by the light of their author’s character.”   And a paragraph:  “the 'spirit of the whole,' the Stimmung, the sense and the secret deeply interwoven with the queer and desired male authors who produced them.  However imagined, however bound to the text, there exists here a trace of a living, breathing queer, of that “Language lined with flesh” Barth called it, barely audible except to the initiated, increasing becoming, in such an economy, the male homosexual critic.”

My excursions into homosexual thought are pretty much over, but my explorations of what is Other are far from finished, nor do I exclude “Queer” from “Other.”  So I’m after the Spirit of the Whole, but insist on always including — not just "the sense and the secret" deeply interwoven with the unique person — but the senses of their bodies and the secrets of their work.  I need to do more research on “stimmung” before I can use it properly, but probably my friend Aad is coming close when he says he doesn’t watch videos for the narrative line as much as for the transient but sometimes intense moments of illumination.

The recent decade of neurological research, which is a beginning rather than some final insight, proposes that both memory and identity are created in the body by the flow of sensory information coming into us, becoming a record, and provoking a response.  This happens by the use of metaphor, which unfolds into art.  So here’s the first vid.

Art Encounters: Dorothy Cross at TEDxDUBLIN

Cross lives on the West Coast of Ireland where, as she says, dead whales wash up.  She works in a tension among the organic remnant, theological symbolism, and precious metals.  She uses the phrase “vesselized adventure” to describe what a person is and that also describes her work.

For instance, in this video she shows us a casting of the insides of two mouths kissing, what she calls “the bone of a kiss”, now cast in silver.  It is mysterious, yet recognizable, the sculptor’s constant ghost of the reverse of a mold, the space contained but not yet cast.  She also shows us a dead shark she has eviscerated, gilding the hollow insides of it to honor something normally repulsive.  She make a little family out of three crabs she found in a lobster pot not far from her house and shows the heroism of the valiant male crab who rushes out to confront danger, but cannot protect his male crest and symbol, a realistic human penis, doomed always to be vulnerable.

She had in her studio her grandmother’s shimmering silk train from her wedding dress, which she combines with a cow’s udder to make a life/death figure, beautiful but shuddering, and she takes five fingertip bones from her dead great aunt’s hand and has them implanted in oysters but only one oyster made a pearl of the bone as intended — it was the index phalange.  

Unless you’re Irish and living by the sea, I doubt you have access to your ancestor’s skeletal hand.  But Life gives us materials and so does Death.  Then we make something — an idea, something gilded or pearlized.  Cross is spontaneous, responding, but hoarding in order to transform.  by paraplegic  Janine Shepherd is entirely different: structured, focussed and controlled by a goal.  One can tell by the audience reaction that it hits the target.  The blurb says:

“We often define ourselves by things that are "outside" us: relationships, work, family — even our own bodies. But what would it mean to have your life dramatically altered and your body irrevocably damaged? Who would you be then? This talk explores the impact of loss on the human psyche and the universal quest to find meaning and fulfillment. It is only through the process of losing everything we thought we needed that we find who we truly are.”  

This is our Christian model:  “Pilgrim’s Progress” — “Climb every mountain, ford every stream.”  When I was teaching and came across a case “give-up-itis”, I would begin to sing the song, dramatically building, stepping onto my chair so I could triumphally summit on my desk.  It made the kids groan and laugh, but they didn’t just shrug it off.

Shepherd offers us one major metaphor, being smashed and then rehabilitated until flying.  Then she anchors that in the joined straws metaphor.  It works.  This is one of the principles I used when designing worship services, especially those for major holidays, as it has been done for millennia: holy water, bits of bread, candles, wine, palm fronds, and kneeling.  Because the point of bodies is to hold and create metaphor so the brain, gathering memory and identity together into consciousness, responding to the stimmung in the unconscious, and vesselizing the adventure of ideas that is unique even in so rarified a category as “male homosexual critics”.  

As opposed to “female omnisexual artists”?  We used to play a rhetorical game: if one made a generalization of that sort, the demand was to “name three” examples.  Oscar Wilde, Burroughs, and . . .  Why three?  The skeleton of Euro-African Christian theology comes poking through.  The great value of the artist named Cross (WHAT??!!) is that she lines ideas with flesh, the gilded body cavities of sharks, and bone, the tips of her great-grandmother’s fingers pearlized by oysters.  But for those less macabre, why not a Shepherd (WHAT??!!)

And so it is that religions of many sorts besides Christianity are assembled from old rotten things and newly devised things until they hold value even for those who are excluded, persecuted and misunderstood.

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