"[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

Monday, September 20, 2010


By Vanessa Place

And then, I thought, How could I possibly be better for you? Gaga is an illusion, no. That’s all I keep thinking: I just want to be better for you. Gaga is a fantasy, no. I want to say and sing the right things for you, Gaga is a pop star, hardly. and I want to make you that one melody that really saves your spirit that one day. Gaga is an ontological problem for which Gaga is the answer, though there is no question, or at least not one before us. Gaga is, because Gaga is. I love my fans more than any artist who has ever lived, and I mean that so genuinely. It’s about loving who you are. Gaga worries us like a bone because we do not know what to make of Gaga, how to read Gaga, whether to be pro- or con- the Lady G. But the question is not external, not a question of reading nor a matter of interpretation/translation/cultural approbation. The question is internal, a matter of epistemology, a question of knowing-being. I don’t want people to love me; I want them to love themselves. This epistemology is eco-logical and ecce-homo, it’s green with frenzy, queer-eyed friend of envy. I’ve looked at every man that I’ve ever dated in the eye and every woman I’ve ever been friends with and Monstrous in its petty jealousies, content to wiggle and prickle in one-eyed wonder. For the problem is cyclopic, technologic, historonic. The solution tautological. Remember that the (Romantic) fragment is a whole unto itself (Schlegel) and that there is no (Enlightenment) transcendent that is not singular (Kant). Remember that the (Continental) one is necessarily multiple (Badiou), and that multiplicity is (psycho-analytic) constituency (Lacan). Remember that the spirit Der Geist is a bone ein Knochen (Hegel). Remember how you (you) used to sing in front of a mirror (You). Who was there for you then—save Gaga? (Gaga) there will never be something that I put before my fans Remember these things along with this something. A number of Gaga essays posit the problem of what to make of Gaga, only to fall supine at the sublimity or to recoil against the vacuity, and, in letting go so gaga, failing to interrogate the precise Dei of which G is Imago. Note the “what to make” phraseology refrain, for this contains, like all questions, an answer, or at least a construction. To borrow from Lacan, in the trinity of Symbol-Image-Real, a trinity that is always to exist simultaneously and in unending interpenetration, Gaga plays clusterfuck, Image as trump. Face-up, that is, and holding. But don’t mistake being taken for getting took. The former is about satisfaction, the latter about duplicity. Duplicity being currently a false dichotomy, because what we know is what we know about me. Me meaning you, naturally. Someone said that intelligence only comes through the other, and it seems some of the stupidity around Gaga can be attributed to her lack of otherness, or rather, her failure to single out un autre upon which another singularity can scaffold some intelligence (or, vice versa, to single out a solitary subject in relation to which many others may thereby exist). Though this can be very convenient: in her September 12, 2010 Sunday Times (UK) piece on Gaga, Camille Paglia showed herself strangely capable of proving a point by missing it so profoundly that it was set in chunky bas-relief, for Paglia is an armchair Romantic (late), and wants her women, like her macadamized poetry, ready for service, that is to say, surfaced with common sense and commoner sensibility. She berates Gaga for being insufficiently sexual, unconventional, transgressive, now. She does not understand that now is an anachronism, as bourgeois as an antique then, that “sexy” in pop stars is as predictable as “pop” in cans, that transgression is yesterday’s news, that authenticity is pre-Benjamin, that the Real cannot be represented, and, more sinful still, seems to have simply forgotten that the honest trick of rhetoric is sophistic sincerity. Postmodernism is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the rejection of objective truth and global cultural narrative…postmodernism is often associated with difference, plurality, textuality, and skepticism. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Though Gaga is not postmodern, or post-postmodern. For Gaga is disillusioned with nothing. Not-disillusioned, that is. For Gaga is not illusioned either. For Gaga is the not of nothing; the knot of nothing, that is. To beg reductively again from Lacan: the Imaginary is our image of ourselves, the cohesive whole first fashioned by baby (heretofore experiencing its existence as fragmentary) recognizing Baby in the mirror; the Symbolic is the What It All Means (viz the big and little Os, including Father, Mother and all the to-be others); leaving the Real as that which cannot be represented or cohesively cognized, the stuff that falls outside the official or conceptual stuff of “us.” To borrow his Borromean knot, the RSI can be topologically conceived of as a set of three interlinked rings (favorite motif of the mid-90’s Celtic tattoo); sever one, and the rest will fallow. When I say that Gaga isn’t Real, that is to say the obvious, that there is no “one” who is “really” Gaga, though there is One that “is” Gaga. But something inside of me felt like I was living in a delusional world; I wanted to know what the real world was all about. Similarly, when I say Gaga is not a Symbol, I mean there is no “thing” symbolized by Gaga—unlike the icons referenced by the dumbfounding Mme. P, Gaga ¹ Raw Sexuality, Gaga ¹ Punk Priestess or The Golden Age of the Silver Screen. But there is Image, and there is Symbol. In a neat turn of the screw-you, Gaga is a tautology, ontology recapitulating epistemology. Celebrity as the very image of Celebrity, the Fame Monster as the Symbol of Monster Fame Itself. Everything Gaga says and does and is exists as the exemplar of pure Fame, of American Idolatry as American is the universal language of Fame, being the common language of abstract capital, cultural empiricism, and the interfaith of the interwebs. What we nostalgically refer to as Wall Street, Hollywood and Apple, Inc. And it doesn’t matter that none of these things are what they were, or if they ever were what they will have been thought to have been. (Empires on the decline make for lovely wakes.) What matters is that they are repositories for what we want them to be, that is to say, All-American. That is to say, Famous.  For what is fame but omniscience played as a two-way street: inasmuch as gods know all, they are known by all. And I used to pray every night that God would make me crazy. I prayed that God would teach me something, that he would instill in me a creativity and strangeness that all of those people that I loved and respected had. Faith is notoriously incongruous, incapable of full comprehension. The (famously) overt vacuity of Gaga’s lyrics, like the stone-cold fissures in her biographies (how is it that one is both petite bourgeoisie “She was the daughter of middle-class parents…” and patently privileged “Later, voice lessons with renowned New York vocal coach…”, both marginalized and mainstreamed, both poppet and puppeteer—why the same way that one can beg for the real by praying for the mad), tripled with the lack of facial/emotional performance in her videos and the hysteria of her sets-cum-costumes create a locus of singular multiplicity that cannot be read as anything other than the Image of Image, or, put another way, the Symbol of Image. (Man the Symbol of God made the Image of Man, sacrificed as Man by God as Man for Man for God.) For, as Žižek notes, “Such an empty gesture provides us with the most elementary definition of the symbolic act.” (Tarrying with the Negative) It’s so funny, though, when people say to me. “Who is the real Gaga.” Thus, the “thing” symbolized by Gaga is the Thing itself, Das Ding, the objet petit a which we all want to want. But what we don’t want is to get it or to have an it to be got. Part of the trick with the Knot is that each element ex-ists: each portion excludes the other, even as it depends on the others’ existence and exclusion for its own existence. This is why Gaga is so difficult to apprehend—the constituent parts hang together but not separately, or rather, they hang separately together. The whole of a contradiction, wherein “con” means cunt. There is something adolescent about wanting sets to come complete, when we know that things come best when they come together. I’m fuckin’ Gaga. Too, there is something dehors de la mode about decrying a lack of synthesis in a synthetic creation. Or worse, something lazy, something that’s forgotten the Thing it’s come from. Friedrich Schlegel argued for the fragment as being necessarily complete in its incompleteness, maintaining that aesthetic completeness was to be found in the animus that existed in each individual fragment, and that this kind of infinitely divisible totality was more (pace Kant) whole than that created via the formal unity born of formal utility (such as found in classical works); moreover, work which “mixes and weaves together extremely heterogeneous (heterogene) components” was the only work which formed an ethical whole (because the absolute is necessarily plural).  (Literary Notebooks 1797-1801) And where Kant would put the site of that ethical totality in the experiencing, i.e., transcendent subject, Schlegel put it in the work itself. And here comes Gaga, merging the two into the fragmented work of the transcendent subject as object sans differentiation, the Ideal “sobject.” So then I thought, Well, maybe if I show what I look like when I die, people won’t wonder. Maybe that’s what I want people to think I’ll look like when I die. What Gaga does is force a confrontation with our lack of theoretical apparatus for making sense out of our current no-nonsense. Postmodernism will not do, as it rests upon the gap for existence, and there’s no neo- for this confounding to return to. A kind of contemporary conceptualist frame works, if only because it leaves the encounter empty of direction save that provided by the one who encounters—Gaga is a concept, and as such, may be conceived any number of ways by those who choose to tarry with whatever portion of her fragmentary All. But then there is the Object, an object very much of design (a design, naturally, both equal parts designer and DIY: her “white Birkin bag covered with fan-created graffiti,” The disco bra from the ‘Just Dance’ video I made with my own two hands) and, while iterable, this site is neither fungible nor Fluxus. Gaga’s sobjectivist project is not fully Warholian because Warhol was opaque—a screen having been something for you, darling, to reflect on to—to story off of. Contrarily, Gaga is a mirror, the image of Image itself. Mirrors reflect and project: it’s the real You. I don’t know who I am if I’m not Gaga. Over and over again. This is not unlike but yet different from the phenomenon noted by Amelia Jones in her essay “The Contemporary Artist as Commodity Fetish” (in Art Becomes You! Parody, Pastiche, and the Politics of Art: Materiality in a Post-Modern Paradigm) in which the “self” of the artist is gradually effaced into the production of artist as fetish object. Jones traces this phenom through its high modernist origin (Duchamp as Rrose, e.g.) to Warhol and Cindy Sherman’s early post-modern productions of self as icon (Warhol) or iconic (Sherman) to later versions of self as fetish commodity (Matthew Barney, Nikki Lee) and as fetishized-self, either of the digital/imaginary variety (Mariko Mori, Pipilotti Rist) or of the performance/celebrity mode (Tracey Enim, Vanessa Beecroft). The real artist is replaced first by its photographic representation (Sherman, Lee), then by digital embodiment (Mori) or corporeal clones (Beecroft). The artist becoming, according to Jones, an “absent referent” for the artist. But in all of this there remains the gap that permits fetishization, the idea that the fetish object has a referent—or, to use Jones’s e.g.s, the “fact” that Barney is heterosexual, that Enim’s work presents “a package of private revelations,” or even that Mori’s digital self is a performance of “a high-tech robot cum Geisha-prostitute cum passive little Oriental girl.” And not, it is assumed to go without saying, Mori herself. Too, the artists in these performances maintain a suitably—or, with Mori and Beecroft, brutally—ironic distance from the fetish-incantation of the fetish-self. But Gaga seals the deal in all its parts: the artist is not effaced for there is no absence but presence, no presence but absence. Gaga is straight and gay and trannie and hi and lo and hot and cold and dead and alive and the point is, like the mirror disco ball which she symbolizes and which symbolizes her, a point of multiple synchronistic totalities. Silly synthesis; tricks are for kids. My real fans know who I truly am What has been forgotten or refuses to be remembered is that there is no longer any such thing as history, that we are simultaneous by virtue of our largely virtual, largely social being. I am because my facebook friends know me. Some of me is borrowed, some is new, some is very very blue. The baroque was, and is, artifice as artifice. Gaga is baroque as allegory-of-itself, allegory qua allegory. Gaga is sincerely a pop star. Paglia is stupid to want more. Where Madonna took marginal culture mainstream (Come on, vogue!), an essentially bourgeois act, Gaga marginalizes the mainstream (what does a lez prison/mass diner murder/Thelma and Louise story have to do with phoning someone at a club), an existentially ethical act. We are nothing if not fragmentary; put another way, we are everything because we are fragmentary. As pointed out quite nicely in Ella Bedard’s “’Can’t Read My Poker Face’: The Postmodern Aesthetic & Mimesis of Lady Gaga,” (Gaga Stigmata 17 August 2010) Gaga’s public personae is a performance of a public personae: her interview on Larry King mirrors a Larry King interview, she performs a Barbara Walters interview. Just as, it should be noted, her September 2010 Vanity Fair interview was a spectacular exemplar of a Vanity Fair interview, in which it was revealed that she really does care for her fans more than any thing or one, and that her fans were her and she was them, and that they were all together and separately perfect images of perfect sobjectivity. And in this, she spoke nothing but the truth of Gaga. In The Transparency of Evil, Baudrillard wrote of a transaesthetics in which there exists a surfeit of image that “replaces aesthetic pleasure” with fascination. In such a state of endless fascination, we lose the power of aesthetic judgment (pipe/not pipe), and because we no longer have the power of aesthetic judgment (good pipe/bad pipe), “we are condemned to indifference.” (what does it matter whether it is a pipe) And while he is wrong about indifference, he is right about fascination, though wrong again about the replacement, for in a coup d’oiel, fascination is aesthetic pleasure, not its substitute. (Though one might equally note how frequently aesthetic pleasure has been a substitute for fascination: ceci un blow job.) And I love fashion, but I don’t love it more than my fans. I have not seen Gaga in what would otherwise be flesh, though that doesn’t matter. I have not bought a Gaga CD, paid for a Gaga song or a downloaded Gaga video, though that doesn’t matter. Gaga the Real doesn’t matter because she is not really made of matter. She is not live to me, though there she is. Here, I mean, in my head, the site of all performativity, all totality. For there is no there, and old hats off to that. When discussing Duchamp, Dali quoted Tzara : Dada is this; Dada is that; Dada is this; Dada is that; Dada is nevertheless shit. We may profitably say: Gaga is this: Gaga is that: Gaga is this: Gaga is that: Gaga is nevertheless it. No wonder she confounds. Where Paglia is thickly wedded to old-school sexy (sex is bad and that’s good), and Baudrillard has his sentimental attachment to irony (including the irony of philosophy itself), Gaga is sentimental and asexual, iconic and unironic. Gaga cannot be ironic, for irony presupposes again the gap b(slash)w the thing and its (mal) representation, and by virtue of that gap, reconfirms the belief in the thing itself as if it could be represented truthfully. So Madonna famously struck a pose, but her real name is Madonna, and she believes, in her baby-powdered latex way, in sin (Papa don’t preach), which rests on a sense of athletic salvation (I’m keeping my baby). And Warhol encouraged real drug use and did not find it the least bit amusing when he was shot by someone who took the fame game way too seriously. (As did he.) So there they are: good and evil, the golddigger twins. (@CP: Detrietch was icon of modernism and the slo-mo sweep of WB’s Angel of History, the tired sigh of honest decadence; Madonna was icon of postmodernism and capitalism, the winking nod of the peep show gal; Gaga is the blow-up doll you love for its perfect {} mouth and fresh plastic smell—or are we still to revere the Venus of Willendorf? I.e., is art still subject to a Greenbergian thumbs up/down based upon a tingly feeling?) And Matthew Barney/Vanessa Beecroft is beautiful and was a model, and makes Art, which is necessarily finite, limited in its instantiations and thus capable of fetishistic hoarding/consumption. So there it is: glossy truth, collectable, curatable, containable as all that live in museums. Contrarily, the fully iconic Image, upon which significance and semiology has heretofore tended to stick, may be serialized or produced ad infinitium and as such a cheap-ish ($1.29 per song on i-tunes, free on youtube) commodity, can no longer be commodified except as commodity itself, and not even that. there will never be something that I put before my fans. All Gaga wants of me is my time. My attention. To plug into those two inches of socket in my face. She just wants me to look at her looking at me looking at her looking at me, endlessly. We are made for each other. As Paglia rightly notes, Gaga is a star “of the digital age” who is “almost constantly on tour,” and her biography doesn’t quite synch up, and her erotics are an erotics of death, and thus, according to CP, un-erotic, although Paglia fails to obviously conjoin the obvious disjuncts, and, again stupidly complains about The Thing itself as the Thing itself. Maybe that’s what I want people to think I’ll look like when I die. To wit, in two parts: Death is erotic. Death is the only finite thing in our infinite universe. In the www, we are all of us immortal, except for in the flesh. What is left of corporality is only its rack and rot—you can fuck everything but there’s only one that will finally fuck you in the end. Too, Wikipedia is true: all autobiography is officially autofiction, its constituent bits capable of revising or re-envisioning as need be. What is truer—historie or history? Remember the spirit is a bone, but a bone is just a cigar. To be a real-life digital star, one must present oneself in what passes (too quickly) for flesh, and prove even that’s a matter of plasticity. That is the longing: to dwell midst the waves / and have no homeland in time. (Rilke, quoted by Benjamin.) With regard to Gaga’s meat-dress, singled out by personnes as a prime (or choice) e.g. of this icky confusion b/w erotics and necrotics, there’s both this joint making/unmaking or conceptual turn of the corporeal as well as a fairly brilliant pun on the “skirt steak” (cum “meat curtain,” or, as asided by Gaga herself “meat purse”) referencing the common vault noted by all the best poets. The confusion revealed (again) as the cunt, common situ of that old sex/birth/death trinity before which we genuflect, deux par deux. I have this weird thing that if I sleep with someone they’re going to take my creativity from me through my vagina. “Man remembers the Past; Woman divines the Future; the Couple sees the Present.” (Sanit-Simonian formula, quoted by Du Camp, quoted by Benjamin) As proved by her Japanese Vogue photo-shoot, Gaga is en couple avec Gaga. It’s not trannie art, for trannie art presupposes some kernel of gender identification, the “real man” buried beneath the muff, the “woman” within. There is no within, just as there is no skin but skeins of performativity, the mirror is not real, as we know, it is just a reflection of a show. Similarly, the expression of vaginal castration anxiety plays the split right down the middle: if, as Žižek explicates in Tarrying with the Negative, man creates Woman as the abyss that he can then fill with “the mirage of soul,” such that without Woman, therefore, man has no Spirit, then Gaga flips the script forward and back, acknowledging the soulessness/bonelessness of Man, or, to put it sweetly, the too-real jouissance cached by the famously phallic female. Sontag famously said that she understood Patti Smith because she understood Nietzsche, leaving aside the quick reading of this malentendu (Smith is resolutely unironic, and has proved herself absolutely non-nihilistic, whereas Nietzche's "yes" was equal parts conscience and cruelty), we might profitably say that we can understand Badiou because we comprehend Gaga: the one as multiplicity, only the contrapuntal emptiness remaining a singularity. Like opera, Gaga is everything as everything is entertainment: the libretto cannot be critiqued as separate from the music as separate from the staging as separate from the singers as separate from the sets as separate from the language as separate from the audience as separate from the place of the performance as separate from the time of the opera. (It is perhaps important to pause and note that Gaga is impervious to deconstruction as well, for there are no discursive readings of her, or rather, the surfeit—particularly of the text—is, like opera, consciously a void or a mere surface, so that any Derridean analysis simply recapitulates the fundamental crime of not seeing the wood for the forest.) When I look into the crowd [at my shows], I feel like I’m looking into tiny little disco-ball mirrors and I’m looking into myself. And when I wake up in the morning, that’s what makes my heart tick. When I said earlier that Gaga was a mirror, I was right, but now I am wrong: Gaga is a screen. Today’s version of a screen, that is, which is the mirror that moves, the thin portable computer upon which I reflect my projects and projections and upon whom I am reflected and project, that digitally sculptured version of me that is the only real proof of my existence, and yours, because that’s all you are as well, another screen reflecting back and on my own. What I see mostly before me are screens, but I don’t seem to see them anymore. Or at least no more than they see me. Reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image. (Baudrillard, Simulations) Baudrillard was right, but now is wrong: there is no reality that is spectacular, not even the simulacrum, because there is not a nothing left over of which to imagine this is its simulation. Pace et contra Valéry: God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through. Now there is everything and everything is me. No guises but reality, no reality but the imaginary, no imaginary but the symbol, and the Symbol is of the Imaginary. Because, the truth is, I don’t exist either. Not really. My real fans know who I truly am, and they know what I represent and what I mean, and my music and my performance is what really speaks.

Author Bio: Vanessa Place is a writer, lawyer, critic, and co-director of Les Figues Press.


  1. Little Monsters


  2. Brilliant! Thank you.


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