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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jesus ◊ Judas

By Vanessa Place

The following piece is the sixth in our series on “Judas.” For the first piece, click here; the second, here; the third, here; the fourth, here; the fifth, here.

With uncanny historicism, the Judas video was released while another great cultural metaphor played on the world stage, one which also revealed the workings of terror and desire. For, in addition to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, Jodie Foster’s The Beaver was released in theaters nationwide. For those who missed the picture, The Beaver, directed by Foster, was about a “hopelessly depressed” toy manufacturer (played by Mel Gibson) who finds his way back to nuclear family happiness via his discovery of, and communication through, an old hand puppet – a cloth beaver. In a review, The New York Times critic noted that the character of the mad father was upstaged by his mouthpiece: “Take away his puppet, and the man disappears.” While this is true of Gibson and his anti-Semitism in particular, could we not also say more generally, take away his beaver, and man disappears? And what we have in Judas is a case of the disappearing beaver.

The video begins with a nod to Judas Priest/Hell’s Angels, a nod that nods twice, as the coupling of heaven and hell has been a match made here on earth at least since Blake put the two in tasty proximity. If this sounds like a candy treat, it is that as well: while the video is full of iconography, it is iconography sans bite or significance. Jesus is a very cute Latino man who mostly stares, blank and beautiful, his lips fruit-juicy and apple-pink, while Judas is the kind of bad-news-but-scruffy-cute white guy who is at home anywhere there is canned beer and Nikki Sixx. Lady Gaga, as Magdalena, wears a prescient crucifix, because there’s no future tense like the past. For today’s transgression lies in the absolute lack of transgression, in the smooth absorption of all that was once considered something worth fighting or fighting for. We’ve seen it, done it, dismissed it, embraced it; the human stain is but a birthmark, meaning nothing more meaningful than pigment. By way of iconographic comparison, Madonna’s Like a Prayer (1989) featured fistfuls of Catholic referents, played, as Madonna will play them, straight. A saint is a saint is a saint. A crucifix means something, especially when it’s set on fire, and sure enough, a person of color completes the object-circle, making sure we get the goddamn point about love or whatever. In Judas, Jesus is cute, Judas cute, a gold-plated gun is no more or less phallic than a bright red lipstick, and what’s divine is the decoupage. WWJD, indeed: J who or who’s J to you?

Lacan’s lozenge (◊) represents envelopment-development-conjunction-disjunction, the meeting of that which is greater than (>) and that which is less than (<), that which is alienated from (˅) and that which is conjoined to (˄). In the matheme for fantasy ($ ◊ a), it is the punched-out point (poinçon – being the signature punch of a silversmith on a piece of silver) between the subject and the petit objet a, the ineffable “thing” that is both the Other’s desire (never the desire of another) and the what’s left over from the process of symbolization (more accurately conjugated in the gerund). It is the desire for desire, the self-constituting itself by way of its own traumatic lack. The lack filled by the beaver. Beaver, as you know, is American slang for a slash, a slit, a hole, a rocket socket pocket, a pussy. The woman played in Judas as Gaga as Magdalena, for the story of the Magdalene in this case is not the story of any other Other. The Woman does not exist, and you can’t holla for a dolla if you’re working for fun and for free. But given that this Jesus is not appreciably different, though arguably less life-like, than this Judas, and this betrayal is not between J & J, but is a three-way with Gaga in the middle, this woman, in other words, being the only real actor – the others being simply script, something in the passé compose – the action or passion being played purely as theater, as a series of shuttling sets and crowd shots, then is it not the not that is in play? Though there seems to have been some ruffling of religious feathers after the video’s release, Judas does not offend in the heretical sense because there is no unspooling of real belief. Rather, the imagery here is excremental, sacrament as excrement, as the residual of symbolizing that looks like the shit, but isn’t it. The constituent absent.

Unlike Christ on the Cross or a crutch, or the crotch of Christ analyzed by Leo Steinberg as the Renaissance artists’ proof of Christ’s humanity (necessary for the Renaissance audience, who had no problem believing in the predicate divinity), the Judas Christ is done before He’s begun. He’s Risen and Ready to Rock & Roll. For this “king with no crown” there’s both purple and gold, buckets of the stuff, and backup guys and gals galore, but the turf is astro- and gang-ish, the music Euro synth-pop-like, not percussive or otherwise prone to beating, the break water is just water breaking, and a cistern of holy water is transcendent as a hot tub time machine. The Judas lyrics are a comparable grab-bag of Christian iconographic sound-bites stripped of iconic sense: “Even after three times, he betrays me.” Three times being incantory of something, though not of Peter, though there is a reference to a brick, which is sort of like a rock, which is sort of like an item that can be used for good or bad, though there’s nothing inherent in this or that which underscores or troubles any thesis or theodicy. We’ve got nothing but signification and a star to sail her by. But we also know this nothing is not nothing, that the beaver must be in order for it to not be (the trace of the vanishing signifier presupposes its predicate), effacing the man, any man, man being me in addition to you and whoever you happen to be beside, and thus the Gaga/the Magdalena/the Beaver subs in for saviour & sinner & the sinner who saves. It means nothing but its own allusiveness where allusiveness is simply allusion. Excremental-lite, like long sentences for minor crimes. The only thing that saves Judas from the weight of its own triviality is the way Gaga herself stands for the residual of the Symbolic via the excess of the Imaginary. As noted in the line “I just speak in future tense,” just as the players in this faux-Passion wear the talismans of that which is to come – crosses, cruciform, a crown of thorns – but it’s not bloody, but bling, cachè-4-cash, there’s no trauma in this except the punched-out hole of our desire for meaning. This is the minor note of nihilism, one not born of belief, or belief’s best friend, irony, but one thrown from a subject that only knows itself via its facebook profile. And that’s the face of real terror: the stone-cold stare into the fact there is no mirror, just mask and the nothing that lies beneath. Gaga is not a Warholian screen, for the Warholian screen fundamentally participates in our fantasy of self, that we are something, that I somehow am. Gaga is the digital surface, a composition that exists only in the act of composing, which is always an adaptation, another kind of referral without referent. “Judas kiss” is the kiss that betrays; when Gaga sings, “Judas kiss if you’re offended, you betray me,” she plays a faux mirror-move because if you take offense to this, this beaver, this punch-point, you betray the “me” of Gaga, but there’s no “me” that’s her, because, if you’ll remember, she’s monstrously “you.”

Author Bio:
Vanessa Place writes poetry, prose, and art criticism; she is also a criminal lawyer and co-director of Les Figues Press. Her most recent work is available in French as Exposé des Faits, and in English as Statement of Facts. Kenneth Goldsmith has called Place’s work “arguably the most challenging, complex, and controversial literature being written today.”

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