'we're decoys, baby!'
A CUnT-UP in torn parts
Author’s note: I was reading Elfriede Jelinek while watching Johanna Went videos, and at the same time writing an article in response to Dominic Fox’s Cold World, an eloquent but boy-centered rave in praise of extreme adolescent male nihilism which, in severely criticizing Ulrike Meinhof, the only woman mentioned in the book, also subliminally, and without naming it, criticized Chris Kraus’s piece on her in Aliens and Anorexia, and I just thought, well fuck you, why aren’t women allowed to express their admiration for each other without being accused of triviality, repetition, or obsolescence, all of which he attributed to them both; and I just wanted to express my rage at that constant critique, which is exactly the same as the one hurled at Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, and by extension all people who identify as “women,” by another set of boy-geniuses who love to admire each other in public, when they performed “Foulipo” at the n/Oulipo conference (you can look up their names, should you care to). And simultaneously, and alternatively, I wanted to explore the currents of extreme violence that can subsist between and around women, especially the very young ones, and even the daughters, and their mothers, and I just love the way both Virginia Woolf and Juliana bring together in writing the two extremes of war and the home, and also Fiona Banner’s Nam, which is a mashup of her verbal transcriptions of five Hollywood movies about the American War in Vietnam, and I wanted to sort of do a Nam on innovative women writers about women, violence, and domesticity, and I included Johanna because her performances fall into this territory, and it was an experiment in the Cunt-Up, which I had never tried before, and I do so love both Dodie Bellamy and Kathy Acker, and of course Laurie Weeks’s Debbie’s Barium Swallow is one of my all-time favorite pieces of late twentieth-century writing. And Valie Export comes in because Jelinek wrote a wonderful piece about a recent performance she did, that you can’t see, because at last she is copyrighting her work, but Jelinek’s text says it all, even though it’s in German and my only access was through Google Translate. But I really enjoyed the process, and expressing all that rage. And I hope this helps …
In Paula’s head there appears a bulb, might not dressmaking after all have been better than Erich. “I don’t do what I do willingly,” she says. The bud is immediately torn out and trampled underfoot. Meanwhile, mother perceives herself as an angry martyr, though she picks up very little. Powerful currents charge these creatures with feeling, shocking them like divine interventions. We do not presume to know the mind of Ulrike Meinhof, and what follows is not a séance.
1984, Knife Boxing, I was bordering on a frenzied antiaesthetic love psychosis. The head of a four-year-old is thrown back. Legs break, sinews tear, veins burst. A view from above, by a mother’s pregnant slap. everyday, Everyday, EVERYDAY, a female abyss. She moves exhaustedly, mute, rattling pots, steam lifting lids, singing out, cooking our emotions. Wakey! Wakey! The rebellious voice, the split voice, the voice as suture, the voice as seam. And all the while the anchorman stirs, soberly, above his tie, like a roly poly losing its balance, and a hard time getting it back up. The rebellious voice, the split voice, the voice as the kingdom of corpse. But what of those battered by the threat? For a moment, the head rotates helplessly, her fine skull encased in timeless amber, while the voice leans straight towards the passage. Eventually it’s vertical again. But now emitting a terrible sound, half buttocks, half vagina, manufacturing itself. A vile excremental love substance. Whereupon the impatient mother promptly knocks it out again. Who can rival these scenes for pain? The voice as tear, the voice as split, the voice as my identity.
Monstrous vaginas appear stage right. She extracts more tampons, and the voice says. The voice says. The voice says, itself. Completely at one, the audience hurl these back. Those who are cast out have to cast about for themselves. Everywhere, meat guts spin in circles, just like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. She abandons her costume when language no longer resists, and the mother sees her thoughts. Race like an express train through the stations of her mind. But no one else’s, for she does not recite anything. Neither does she narrate.
Meanwhile lurid vinyl scraps of pain-soaked pantyhose screech a nighttime babel of unfathomable wounds. But the head is marked by invisible ink and ordained for much worse fate. Sex dolls trawled from dumpsters seep down the arm. She brings her face close. The mother has heavy bags to struggle, with deformed holes, piercing limbs, and giant blood-soaked tampons. She hears her feelings rumble, close like thunder, cutting the air with knives. But she’d much rather see her daughter, vanish down the sewer. Though not unwillingly, some already cringe. Others laugh, for the child has to learn somehow, the language of the voids, lost among the sobs. And other threats. The great thing about girls is: you shoot one down and another pops up in its place.
At first they are beautiful, then they are merely secondhand: all used up! At any rate they are washable and easy to care for, thanks to the fibers the Creator used to make them. Sometimes they are set in pots of gelatin on which you can suck, as if on a stone, or repeatedly stab like a prop. Vague figures crafted from card with a knife they can bang on their heads. Or, against walls, which the mother may write off when they don’t turn a profit. But the less they talk the more they lose. Jets of blood release, and the neighbors aren’t even envious. “It’s as if they’re alive,” she said, with a single nod of the ballpoint; “Lust.”
Still, the girl is not a role model. Though she lingers already. In the glare of the morning’s meat race. And the voice, shamelessly rolling around in the hands of its caressers? The voice says nothing, whilst tacking baby doll idols and fluffy toys onto crude shifts. For the voice is only interested in what It has to say. Barbarella nightmares pushed to extreme, where the mother, like a guard, constantly spies and controls. Quickly she pulls on a costume, bad conscience reflecting. A huge mask-headed shawl covered in sex, and other detritus sucked from the grind. All the while screaming, “Next come the watersports.” Crude bridalesques formed by yards of net thrown over heads secured by plastic fried eggs, in this season of decay. Nightmare dreamscapes of fluctuating loss move sluggishly. Legs break, sinews tear, victims of the so-called “undead,” tape loops screeching. Those who will not die heave each other into the mesmerized mosh pit speaking to the living who are dead without knowing.
The girl too is immediately gripped. But surely, she has to live somewhere? By the violence of the tongue, though not without pause. So she stays in the gorge where she meets Language, on the verge of exploding. Somehow they survive. A pure dark pool of vehement rage carved from gutter grime, a babbling hell, channeled through Lolita. Cum-Medea. While mewling vicious love spawn haul into sight. And bodies hold sports like pizzas on drugs. And loud a percussive racket emanates from the woman, drubbing on trash. But the tongue is not aware of this, since the passageway is void. And all around, alternately or simultaneously, we still can’t see anything. Of the woman. Because she is not, by this passage transformed into a some-thing. Reluctantly she bawls, as pools fill with speechless drone. The less they speak the more they matter, hitting record highs as she restlessly taps, her foot, because the grinding gets her. And a mother’s rage beats its daughter senseless, adding only to the voice, though she can barely stand among the drudge. Barely STAND it, amongst the drudge and other shite.
Meanwhile, stressing delinquent teens over prison cells, the brain of Ulrike Meinhof, grapples with the seemingly inexplicable fact that a well-brought-up bourgeois young woman with a good job and much public esteem could cross the line from learned critic to armed activist, by literally trying to penetrate a young girl’s mind.
every day, every day, EVERY day, the daughter arrives punctually baked inside a cake pan. Where she belongs. But she was not part of the roster, mother worries. You see, in order to mistreat her daughter, she has to keep putting down her bags. Unfazed, the child performs her own Dionysian celebration, flanked by headless stockinette figures replete with genitalia parodying the elegant cast metal kouroi made to decorate the stand. This is after all the Olympics. For the first time, a proprietor learns, and painfully at that: Trust is fine, but control is best. And the woman’s organs do not recite anything either. They can’t, because they do not represent her. Neither does the voice. But her greatest anxiety is to keep her property immobile, tie it down so it can’t run away. That’s why they have the TV.
Suddenly the flow of tampons stops. Prefabricated packages and home deliveries, lovely images, lovely actions. Time passes. A hOle appears. Erika is an insect encased in amber, spewing blood-soaked objects, and evil secretions. An insect that has long since lost its ability to crawl oozing down her arm. From the woman herself, we see nothing, we look into her, but we see, nothing. They are enclosed together in this hell: Erika and her fine protective mama. We look into her, but we do not see Her. We see the NO-thing, an insect that is not quite so ignored in our society as antisocial teenage girls. Who do so make a fuss.
And the voice laps hungrily at the tonguewhile a side table sports an exemplary wealth of colorful bowls, and an empty plate is promptly filled. Yet the extra effort is somehow worth it, for the failure of symbolization that these girls manifest — containing goodies and gumdrops of which the ladies partake — is the very essence of their being, in Meinhof’s uncompleted documentary, where Nothing ends and Nothing begins.
All around the oppressed fall, and ornate porches fly into rails, against the machine where instantly the warmth of love is yanked away. But some of these girls, tame-spirited creatures that they are, embrace their invisibility, and willingly step into the space of angelic nothingness, beyond the uncertain consciences of their oppressors, where not even an apparatus could shed light on their voidse, or grope about their lives to dirty their precious belongings. There, there! Nothing happens. The NO-thing, that rivals the senses for pain. Yet, in order to represent itself, because no-one else will, the voice must bawl it’s time uncalled for, while Meinhof craved. And what she finally achieved, according to Kraus, Wakey! Wakey! in death is this, (the very same) No-thing! battered by the threat of redundancy. And what she finally achieved, in death is this, (the very same) No-thing, according to Kraus, battered by the threat of redundancy.
Edited by Divya Victor