The first thought that came to mind as I became beguiled by Marilyn Minter’s Green Pink Caviar was a certain type of denouement, a post-climax climax, seen occasionally in a certain sub-genre of very smutty film. Minter mimics the fetishist’s precision of fixation on a very particular and very anonymous body part engaged in a very specific activity — a mouth stuck in an endless loop of slurping and spitting, like an eternal pendulum swinging between disgust and desire. Resolution is not a possibility in this post-climax world — resolution has already happened, it is already a memory, it has come but not yet gone. These languid lips continue to suck and slurp post-petite mort, as if they are attached to some beautiful, fixated, erotic zombie. As one beholder has it, perfectly and concisely, “This is sick and horny.” (A statement I interpret as high praise.)
Resolution is the farthest thing from the desiring mind. Lacan tells us that the pleasure is in the desiring itself. Desire is a want, a hunger, a void folded in on itself — lack endlessly feeding back on itself. Desire’s painful pleasure is in, paradoxically, un-attainment. Desire is insatiable — insatiability is Minter’s theme.
Then I thought of the seasons. It’s Minter’s colors that did it, and their order. In the first scene, the electric alien-green color of the goo being lovingly licked up and drooled out reminded me of springtime; the warm, shimmering metallic gold of the following scene brought to mind the colors of a late summer’s harvest; then, the orange and red, an odd and radiant fall landscape; and finally, the shimmering, metallic chill of the final scene reminded me of winter. I imagined some strange book of hours, images of a kind of fishy, oral and human devotion-compulsion, set into the eternal cosmic rhythm of the seasons. I saw a doubled temporal structure organizing Green Pink Caviar — the passing of seasons, repeating endlessly as a foil to the incessant, breath-like flowing and constantly present rhythm of licking, sucking and spitting. I saw one endless feedback cycle embedded in another endless feedback cycle, each one feeding and folding on the other.
I thought about Breugel’s seasons and the golden-ness of The Harvesters in New York. Something about the silver-chrome smears of the last act of Green Pink Caviar brought me back to a room in Vienna, filled with Bruegel’s miraculous paintings, and one in particular — the cold and wintery Hunters in the Snow. I was reminded that time, entropy, and the Earth are all insatiable, too.
A young Viennese man-about-town emerges from a frame of brilliant yellow-green. He is wearing a suit with a dark tie and a pocket square done up in an elegant crown fold. He is seated behind a desk, surrounded by papers and a bottle of wine. He appears serious, maybe a bit apprehensive.
He takes the wine bottle and drinks. After ingesting most of the wine in a matter of seconds, he retches, puking all over the desk in front of him. He gathers up the vomitus with his hands and consumes it, which causes, immediately, more spasms of vomiting, which he gathers up, chokes down, pukes up, and so on. He has put himself and his body in a precise and literal feedback loop of consumption and eruption. He concludes by breaking the loop, escaping the spiral vortex — he rubs his head and body with his own vomit, stands up and laughs with pure joy. Ende.
The film is Zeigt by Otmar Bauer, produced in 1969. He was a participant in the artistic movement, Wiener Aktionismus, which shocked that staid city during the 60s with work, films, and performances that trafficked in disgust. The human body was the Actionist canvas, and its effluvia were the Actionist’s materials — shit, semen, vomit, piss and blood — so much blood. Until recently, the Vienna Actionists were shunted off the main line of modernism, off into a critical and provincial cul-de-sac. Actionism was seen as an interesting, if reactionary, self-flagellating symptom of Teutonic guilt haunting the post-war generation of Mitteleuropa. Which, of course, it is. What Vienna Actionism is not, it turns out, is easily dismissed as a sick-and-horny, art historical dead-end. The nascent critical reemergence of Vienna Actionism in the United States provides needed context for the phenomenally popular work of Marina Abramovic, the performances of Carolee Schneemann, the interventions of the Russian collective Война, and the transgressions of Petr Pavlensky, for example. Comparing Bauer’s Zeigt and Minter’s Green Pink Caviar provides more than context or some sort of meaningless art historical primogeniture. Instead, they share a topos, each one illuminates the basic mechanics and complexities of transgression.
One of the more entertaining art historical feuds occurred in the late 1920s between André Breton and Georges Bataille. Breton, the father of Surrealism, published the Second Manifesto of Surrealism to define what the movement was, and more importantly, what it was not. In the manifesto, he describes Surrealism as a caustic ideology — one that dissolves the differences of opposition. He writes, “Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.”1Breton, André. “Second Manifesto of Surrealism,” in Manifestos of Surrealism. Trans. R. Seaver and H. Lane. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1972. 123. Surrealism’s goal is to find that point. He then goes on to call out by name, un par un, traitors to the Surrealist cause. Breton expels them all, creating Surrealism’s contradictory opposite, an amorphous not-Surrealism against which he can rail.2This divisive tactic apparently lives on in daily provocations of our current Surrealist-in-Chief, Trump. Breton’s Manifesto is also infamous for this provocative sentence: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into a crowd.” (Breton, 125.) Compare this with Trump’s surrealistic comment here. His most formidable nemesis, Bataille, he saves for last.
At the close of the Manifesto, Breton upbraids Bataille for counterrevolutionary anti-idealism, for choosing, instead, to wallow in madness and obnoxious investigations of the filthy crevices of the human mind and body. Breton attacks Bataille’s use of adjectives, condemns him for adhering to a boneheaded brand of materialism, makes an armchair attempt at diagnosing Bataille’s psychopathology, and, finally, charges Bataille with impudence for soiling the “impeccable integrity” of the heroic Marquis de Sade.3Breton. 180-86.
Bataille published a steady stream of heretical essays, and each one needled Breton. In one in particular, The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade, Bataille describes two philosophical-psychological teleologies of Sade’s work.4Bataille, Georges. “The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade (An Open Letter to My Current Comrades)” in Visions of Excess, A. Stoekl, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1985. The essay, according to Denis Hollier, was published only posthumously. In it he makes the case for his understanding of Sade, and corrects Breton’s.
In Bataille’s view, to worship Sade as a demonically sub-human or divinely super-human destructive force is to miss the point. This renders Sade, as Bataille terms it, a foreign body — the use value of Sade is in overloading this foreign body with exaltation and loathing — what is both beyond and beneath our comfort and human understanding– and voiding the entire mess, like sending a scapegoat out into the wilderness, or, more precisely, like taking a good shit.5Bataille. 92. This leaves one feeling lighthearted, relieved, unencumbered by troubling internal matter, whether it is physical, metaphysical, or psychological. And in this excretory relief there is also ejaculatory pleasure — Bataille builds a Borgesian encyclopedia of excretory delights: urination, vomiting, defecation, ritual sacrifice of animal-gods, sexual activity (perverse and not perverse), gambling, sobbing, religious ecstasy, the laughter of exclusion, orgiastic impulses of the mob, the excessive adornment of bejeweled women — each one categorically linked by the shared pleasure, as Bataille writes, of brutal rupture.6Left unmentioned is Breton’s ejection of Bataille from the Surrealist orthodoxy. Bataille, to be sure, understood Breton’s relief and pleasure in cleaning the Surrealist house.
But this is only half of the story. Bataille opposes this notion of violent scatalogical rupture and excretion with the harder-to-swallow impulse of appropriation — fundamental urge to take in, to consume, to eat. Bataille sees, in the oppositional relationship between these two linked animal urges, a fundamental engine for human behavior — from the distant and ancient social taboos and ritual to the rise and supremacy of capitalism.
Sade’s genius, Bataille explains, is not in the destruction of the taboos and law and rationality that serve as limits to human experience, although there is perverse pleasure in expulsion — whether the foreign body is a troubling person, a troubling idea, or an entire troubling race — but rather in closing the loop between appropriation and excretion. Bataille cites an illustrative passage from Sade’s Justine:
Verneuil makes someone shit, he eats the turd, and then demands that someone eat his. The one who eats his shit vomits; he devours her puke.7Bataille. 95.
Sade sets these two fundamental and oppositional forces — appropriation and excretion — into a rhythm. Each one feeds the other — they are set into a feedback loop that defines, for Bataille, a natural relation — a dialectic of transgression. Foucault, writing about Bataille, amplifies this interdependence of limit and transgression. Limits are meaningless unless transgressed, and transgression needs a limit in order to exist. Each one gives form to the other. Foucault writes, “Transgression, then, is not related to the limit as black to white, the prohibited to the lawful, the outside to the inside[…] Rather their relationship takes the form of a spiral which no simple infraction can exhaust.”8Foucault, Michel. A “Preface to Transgression” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. D. Bouchard, ed and trans. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1977. 35. In other words, Foucault’s spiral is another feedback loop — limits and their transgressions are caught in a relationship of twinned insatiable desires — order and disorder, continuity and rupture, coherence and incoherence — folded endlessly upon each other. In this process of consumption and expulsion, unspeakable worlds are consummated. Green Pink Caviar is one of those worlds — a world that is all orifice, stuck forever in a Sadean feedback loop.
— Michael Westfall
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Breton, André. “Second Manifesto of Surrealism,” in Manifestos of Surrealism. Trans. R. Seaver and H. Lane. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1972. 123.|
|2.||↑||This divisive tactic apparently lives on in daily provocations of our current Surrealist-in-Chief, Trump. Breton’s Manifesto is also infamous for this provocative sentence: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into a crowd.” (Breton, 125.) Compare this with Trump’s surrealistic comment here.|
|4.||↑||Bataille, Georges. “The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade (An Open Letter to My Current Comrades)” in Visions of Excess, A. Stoekl, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1985. The essay, according to Denis Hollier, was published only posthumously.|
|6.||↑||Left unmentioned is Breton’s ejection of Bataille from the Surrealist orthodoxy. Bataille, to be sure, understood Breton’s relief and pleasure in cleaning the Surrealist house.|
|8.||↑||Foucault, Michel. A “Preface to Transgression” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. D. Bouchard, ed and trans. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1977. 35.|