"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion: Thoughts on a Catholic Gaga

by Joyelle McSweeney

1. I read that singer Katy Perry called Lady Gaga’s Alejandro video ‘blasphemous’ so of course I had to watch it again.
2. I was the 82, 307, 530th person to do so. That is, mine was the 82, 307, 530 viewing on YouTube. Am I a person or a viewing?
3. Je suis un visionnement (Rimbaud.)
4. Blasphemy: it is a verbal injury against the name of God. The concept of a ‘verbal injury’ is already a mixed metaphor—that is, it’s mixed media. The word hurts the flesh of the name, and the name in the flesh. That’s Jesus, after all. In-carn-ation.
5. Flesh itself, the meat dress.
6. Jesus dialed up the spirit telephone in 1843 and told Carmelite nun Sister Marie of St. Peter that blasphemy pierces His sacred heart like a ‘poisoned arrow’.
7. 82, 307, 530 poisoned arrows from this video alone.
8. The specific blasphemy Jesus was thinking of, during this timely chat with Sr. Marie, was “the blasphemies and outrages of 'Revolutionary men' (the Communists), as well as for the blasphemies of atheists and freethinkers and others, plus, for blasphemy and the profanation of Sundays by Christians.
9. In Jesus’s poison arrow imagery, we can see that Jesus/God is a word that can be injured by other words. Simultaneously, God is a body and an evil word has a body too, a poisoned arrow. The injury works in both registers at once. The wounding mixes media.
10. Don’t call my name, Don’t call my name, Alejandro. Fernando. Roberto. Don’t take my name in vain. It wounds my sacred heart like a poison arrow. Like a poison arrow in the vein.
11. Being able to think among many materialisms and see them as cognates, as incarnates of one another, is a Catholic way to think (Alejandro = Alejandro, Fernando, Roberto) (Gaga= Klein= Alejandro) but (Gaga ≠ Germanotta). At Baptism, the baby is baptized in the Name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (plural), but the baby (infans—without speech) is also ventriloquized by his godfather and godmother (not his actual mother and father), who speak for him in the first person. At Confirmation, Catholicism lets you change your name. Then the Holy Spirit calls you by your assumed name. Your business name.
12. Names, names, names. The bad name is a poison arrow. Jesus’s body is a real body that goes on being pierced every time someone sins or blasphemes him. 82, 307, 530 times and counting. Gaga is a name that repeats itself (ga. And then ‘ga’ again). Alejandro is repeated as Fernando and Roberto, when Gaga calls his name, telling him not to call hers.
13. It’s fitting that, etymologically, “blasphemy” is related to “pheme”, utterance, also the source of our word “fame.” And “blas”, to blaptikos (hurtful) or possibly “blak”, “slack (in body and mind), stupid.”
14. Slack fame. Slackjaw fame. Blah, blah, blah. Is Blasphemy. A mouth hanging open.
15. Blasphemy is a sin against Jesus’s fame. As Gaga knows, Name = Fame. That’s why we say her name so much. Also, Fame = Face, Alejandro. That’s why Jesus came to Sr. Marie to prescribe a universal “devotion to his Holy Face.” The specific image of the Holy Face to be adored is derived from Veronica’s napkin—that is, the image of His Face transferred to Veronica’s veil when she wiped Jesus’s face of sweat and blood and spit as he processed with the Cross to Calvary. A transfer from flesh to fabric. An image in spit, sweat, and blood.
16. To blasphemy Jesus is to sin against his name and his face, according to Sr. Marie. It adds more spit to his face.
17. It oversaturates the image. It clots the image with too many images, until the image is obscured.
18. Bodily fluids are a transaction in Catholicism. You can’t take them in vain. Sex without transmission of seed is a sin. But conception transmits both souls AND sin. Infants are thus born with both souls and original sin. Bodily fluids are a kind of medium here, carrying sin or holiness back and forth from body to body, from body to cloth or clothing, from soul to soul.
19. Unsurprisingly, then, Jesus also revealed to Sr. Marie that for each blasphemy, a reparation may be made. An exchange of one for another. He then dictated her a prayer which, recited, would make reparations: The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion.
20. He moreover stated that The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion will re-pierce Jesus, but this time ‘delightfully’.
21. It is supposed to balance the books—a golden arrow for a poison arrow. A delightful piercing for a wounding piercing.
22. 82, 307, 530 times.
23. But just the pile up of nouns in that prayer’s title ‘’”The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion” signals a kind of anxiety in His accounting. Because for every blasphemy, there’s now two arrows in His Heart.
24. 82, 307, 530 times 2 arrows = 164, 615, 060 arrows. From this video alone.
25. Alejandro, alejandro, alejandro.
26. Machine guns for breasts. A chest that is continually pierced with arrows. A repeating rife—I mean rifle. A Gatling gun. Go, go, Ga ga.
27. All this and we haven’t actually spoken of the blasphemies of ‘Alejandro’, the video.
28. I suppose the blasphemousness is supposed to revolve around the image of Gaga in a red rubber nun’s habit, lying in a coffin bed, holding a black rosary which one senses will shortly go into her mouth, and then it does.
29. This image calls up the mediumicity of saints, and their importance in the Catholic church as a medium of religion.
30. Let’s begin with the veneration of saint’s relics in the Catholic church. Because some saints are ‘incorruptible’, that is, do not decompose after death, their actual bodies are available for veneration. First degree relics are little bits of saints bodies—bones, hair, etc. Heads and hearts are the best, unless special miracles are associated with other parts of the body. Second degree relics are their clothes and their personal affects. Third degree relics are things they touched.
31. Obviously, there is a metaphysics (or just physics) of touch, proximity, and contiguity here which both ratifies and derives from the fact that the saint’s body is itself a medium, and that his Godly signal, concentrated in his person, may be transferred by touch and nearness, but is degraded like WiFi by distance from the source.
32. To me, the replacement of the nun’s habit with red vinyl is a metonym of this transfer from one material to another. It also calls attention to materialism of the saints—the sense that the saint experiences suffering in the flesh because he or she is a medium for Jesus’s suffering, a go-between for mortal and immortal bodies. The most obvious image of a saint as a medium or channel is the stigmata itself, a spectral (yet literal, that is, actual) wound through which the sacred blood flows.
33. The transfiguration of the nun’s habit to red vinyl for me materializes the many material transformations and transfigurations a saint encounters—an ability to change state, a total mediumicity, a vulnerability (etym: wound-ability) to both the depredations of infidels and the ministrations of God. The swallowing of the rosary evokes communion but also the rhetoric of piercing, with its troubling of interiority and exteriority, that saint’s accounts are riven with. Sister Marie processes Jesus’s definition of blasphemy through a rhetoric of piercing, while many important saints were visited with ‘transverberation’, depicted in Bernini’s infamous ‘orgasmic’ statue of St. Theresa of Avila, which involves a piercing of the heart of the saint by a seraph with a fiery arrow (again). The piercing of the heart causes unbearable overflowing of faith, as well as palpable wounds, such as the wound in Padre Pio’s side, from which his odor of sanctity leaked along with blood; the marks of the piercing of St. Theresa’s heart are apparently apparent on her extant, incorruptible heart, held up for veneration to this day in Avila.
34. And is that not a pierced, bejeweled, transverberated, made-sacred heart carried by Gaga before the funeral procession? Or some other organ, so exposed for veneration?
35. The bodies of the saints are also important as avatars that move around in the narratives of their lives. Depicted in folk art, church art, stained glass, they become mass media. The best example of this mediumicity piled upon mediumicity are depictions in word and image of the Mexican shepherd-saint, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. When the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego in a field, his skeptical bishop sent him back to collect evidence. The Virgin then directed Juan Diego to collect flowers from a bare hill (a paradox)in his cloak. The hill produced the flowers, which Juan Diego collected; when he opened his cloak before the bishop, flowers fell out and the cloak was imprinted with the famous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It’s a story of revelation, mediumicity, and inscription, as a signal or image is transferred from body to body, spectator to spectator, material to material. Moreover, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe seems almost literally contagious, having replicated itself in this story and onto Juan Diego’s cloak but also into millions of tattoos, t-shirts, sacred candles, bumper stickers, sacred and decorative art.
36. The power shifts that go on in Alejandro for me allegorize this shape shifting, this mediumicity, the image that transfers through a medium and becomes both a material and another medium in the chain through which another material might pour. The recuperation and recirculation of costumes and choreography from various referents including 30’s Fascism, the Weimer-cum-Fosse stagecraft of Cabaret, Gaultier/Madonna’s cone-bras literally weaponized as machine guns, enacts this kind of vulnerability, the wound of the image itself, that might suddenly become an aperture of transmission for something else. Jesus’s wounds, after all, are eternal, always open for business. Eternally re-opened by sin, blood and water issues from them eternally. Like images.
37. The rise-and-fall of the saints, usually drastic, convulsive, the way their stocks rise after their death, retroactively infusing their many materials with mediumicity, is also replicated in the shifting power dynamics of the video. Gaga with her goggles seems to be running the show in her spectatorship, then becomes a participant in sex, then the center of a kind of gang rape, whereupon a new spectator emerges, the blond black-hatted military figure. As the name ‘Alejandro’ is continually repeated, it begins to be invested a little more each time with this blond man’s image—and vice versa?-- until he, finally, appears to be Alejandro.
38. He incarnates the word. The name. Alejandro.
39. But the last ‘word’ in the video goes not to a word itself, but to something else. A close-up of Lady Gaga-as-the-red-nun suddenly disintegrates; what looks like drops of red blood, as from Christ’s crown of thorns, turns out to be pinpoints of fire as the image burns through itself, as if from the heat of the bulb of a film projector behind it, leaving a crude white smile among the melted element. Thus a face is transferred like Christ’s to Veronica’s veil— except this time it’s technology itself that burns through itself to make the image. It’s a kind of stigmata, a channel burned through the medium itself, and more media flows through. Media as testimony to its own sanctity, its own saintly mediumicity.

[i] http://advocate.com/Arts_and_Entertainment/Entertainment_News/Katy_Perry_calls_Lady_Gaga_blasphemous/
[ii] http://www.holyface.org.uk/content/srmariestpeter.htm
[iii] http://www.holyface.org.uk/content/srmariestpeter.htm
[iv] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=blasphemy
[v] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil_of_Veronica
[vi] http://www.holyface.org.uk/content/srmariestpeter.htm
[vii]May the most Holy, most Sacred, most Adorable,
Most Incomprehensible and Ineffable Name of God
Be always Praised, Blessed, Loved, Adored and Glorified,
In Heaven, on Earth and under the Earth,
By all the Creatures of God,
And by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
In the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Amen.” See http://www.holyface.org.uk/content/srmariestpeter.htm
[viii] http://www.holyface.org.uk/content/srmariestpeter.htm
[ix] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila
[x] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Diego
[xi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe

Author Bio: Joyelle McSweeney is the author of two intergenre novels-- _Flet_, a science fiction in prose poems from Fence, and _Nylund, the Sarcographer_ , a baroque noir from Tarpaulin Sky, as well as two books of poetry from Fence and another forthcoming in 2012. She is working on a book about genre, media, and bodies entitled "The Body Possessed by Media" and blogs on this topic for Montevidayo.com. She is co-editor of Action Books and teaches poetry, prose, and poetics in the MFA program at Notre Dame; please apply!


  1. Have long since figured that Gaga was/is surprisingly seriously religious with "Alejandro" despite the surface blasphemy (but I'm no thelogian)

    "It's the only fountain that bleeds for you" - Alejandro at MB too.

  2. Alan,

    Gaga has certainly claimed to be intensely spiritual, and says that her choice to become Gaga relates to two mystical experiences she had (one while in the womb, another when she almost died from a drug overdose). She regularly consults with New Age guru Deepak Chopra. But she is very openly opposed to religion, or at least, admits to struggling with it because she has seen how it's hurt her gay friends.

  3. Kate, can you tell me where I can find these Gaga quotes about her mysticism? Sounds like something I need to educate myself about!!

    Also, another bleeding fountain may be found in Fi Jae Lee's piece 'The Massacre of Jesus Egoiste', the piece that inspired me to start thinking along the lines of hte body possessed by media. http://fijaelee.com/section/13213_Le_Massacre_de_Jesus_Egoiste.html

  4. Joyelle!

    I wrote you a super detailed response to this, and then it got deleted. Grrr... In any case, I will have to dig around to find the anecdotes, as I think they may have been mentioned in radio interviews primarily. However, I think the story about Gaga's mom having a mystical experience when Gaga was in the womb was in the Vanity Fair article that came out recently. You should be able to read the scans at Gaga Daily or one of the other major fan sites.

    The stories essentially revolve around Gaga's relationship with her dead aunt, her father's sister. When Gaga was in her mother's womb, her mother had an experience in the night where she felt or saw Gaga's dead aunt put a hand on her womb and infuse her spirit into the baby. The aunt had died of lupus very young, and was an artist I believe--she felt her work had not been finished.

    Gaga had a mystical experience when she almost overdosed on drugs and she said that through that experience she knew that her dead aunt had infused her spirit in her. I don't know if this directly means reincarnation, though I suspect that is what Gaga is suggesting.

    Gaga also tests borderline positive for lupus, the disease her aunt died from. She chants her dead aunt's name before every show, and says she feels her watching out for her.


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