Us-them dynamics of the Shooter of the Month club life-media nexus.

July 21 2015.

Twice I have posted, during the past two months, my refusal to join in the rituals of the Shooting of the Month club, as not only does incidents of shootings of a mad or terroristic sort seem like a regular monthly occurrence, but then the successive news cycle is also filled up with 1) finding out who the shooter was, and what his motivation was; 2) determining if there was a link to terror, if so then to ISIS, and how Anti-American he was; 3) finding out that he was a “loser” who through various means had lost in the game of life; 4) identifying and glorifying the lives of the victims, going through bios, pictures, picture albums, if military, all the better; 5) covering the funerals and eulogies for said victims; 6) covering Presidential remarks praising the victims, and 7) a stern and stalwart conviction that we will not let this incident change the way we live.

It is a dreary spectacle, month after month after month. The way in which the press turns a shooter into a star of the moment, a topic of conversation, a subject of probing articles as to his motivation (and, then, if he survives, to go through it all over again in a trial, which now has both trial and sentencing phases, dragged out endlessly, the sentencing phase also allowing victim survivors to have their say against the killer, as if he cares) and basically lives off of the story for at least seven days per month, strongly indicates that coverage of the shooter of the month is now one of the staples of news, and one of the major ways in which ratings are generated. This leads to the terrible suspicion that enabling the Shooting of the Month, by lax gun laws, and coverage of the Shooter of the Month, has become yet another surreptitious All American exploitation economy, that is, people making their living off of these events.

The main problem with all of this coverage, and the obvious fact that it has all now become routine and conventionalized (with some interesting, but even more intense, differences if the black church is involved) is that once sometimes becomes routine, it becomes more or less acceptable as “the new normal” and people learn to just live with it, and some to live off of it The process itself thereafter becomes a repeat-generating process with a life of its own, generating, in its coverage and even in its fate, future participants in the cult of death. It may seem, when mourning occurs, and fallen heroes are praised, that we fight back, but, in fact, we give in, and we make something that should be abnormal normal.

The deeper problem in these rituals of the shooting of the month club is that they only reinforce the deep down reasons which generated the occurrence of the shooter in the first place. All social hate of the sort that generates a desire to take revenge on society as a whole by randomly shooting a bunch of strangers is rooted in us-them group anthropological pressures. When an us group forms a group, then the them group becomes the enemy, on the other side of the line. The us group solidifies its power by demonizing the space between it and the them group, and the them group members itself. In times of war, this demonization becomes violent, and can extend all the way to a determination once and for all to exterminate the problems caused the us group by the them group. In times of peace, more common us-them group dynamics include various labelling strategies including scapegoating, bogeymanning, stereotyping, stigmatizing, etc etc., all of which entails magical thinking based on antiquated miasmic theories of the contagiousness of human values and traits. While level one racism is a firm conviction, from deeply ensconced in the us group, that the us group is human, and all thems outside of it less so, and that therefore members of the them group are less than human, level two racism simply engages in any number of the apotropaic border-protecting rituals that keep the fence between the us and them strong.

In the rituals of the coverage of the shooting of the month club, we see, in the event, a sudden rupture of the us space of the us group, by a member of the them group. Too often the them shooter is in fact a member of the us group who has by bullying and ostracism, pushed out of the us group, to become part of the most dangerous group, marginalized or them’d us group members. These marginals are particularly dangerous because in the mindset of their counterreality, turned away from the world they rejected, they have not really rejected it, and exist as it were still within its gravitational grip, meaning that any effort made on their part to set out into the world and create a new life will snap back to be taken out as revenge against the us group. They simply do not have sufficient reality, to build a new reality, and, in trying to do so, inevitably sour, and curdle, and snap back to revenge against the original group which ostracized him.

If this happens with an immigrant, in the case of the shooter of the month club of the present moment, young Muslim-original men, now American, trying to make a go of it in American life, then if there is a loss of way or failure to assimilate into American life, or even into the enclave created by their immigrant group to host their further climb on the shoulders of others into American life, the failure of their counterreality may entail a snap back to the old country, which they know nothing of, and an immigrant’s idealization of the old country as a place of truth and belonging and commitment and history. It is this snapback undertow, more than, specifically, the name of ISIS, that calls back the disenfranchised to foreign Islam, far from their American Islam mainstream life.

That is, however, the shooting was an incident in which the them group attacked the us group. It would seem that the best way to preclude such a thing happening again would be to find out what the dynamic of the them group is vis a vis the us group, and adjust the parameters of us group living, so that them group persons are more welcome. Only by making them’s into us’s over does us-them negative group dynamics give way. Only when the us group erases the lines between us and them, is progress made. It is therefore a serious problem that the immediate response of the police, news, cultural, and ritual worlds in response to a shooting, is to circle the wagons, to reinforce the safety and power of the us group, at the expense of the them group.

The police act for the us group to take revenge on the shooter, very often, in most cases, by shooting him. This makes us immediately safe, because the shooter is no longer on the loose. But then the news immediately alienates him from the us group, by finding scapegoat reasons why he might have done this. All coverage along the lines of why he did this all lead to the fact that he is part of the them group, and rejected the us group. And the attitude of the coverage is, his rejection is incomprehensible, therefore he is an enemy of the us group, by this reporting to be further ostracized by the us group.

To turn everyday folks doing their everyday jobs into heroes of us group defiance against chaos is also a wagon-circling tactic. That all the victims tend to be part of the us group, and have lives that are so similar they make all us-groupers feel like ‘it could have been my daughter, “ as the president has said several times, reinforces the defense mechanism against his threat. The glorification of the victims as heroes, only adds meaning to everyday life where it did not exist, before the shooting. This glorification is particularly problematic with military careers, where soldiers seem to receive the best treatment possible only when they are shot. Major funeral coverage of shooting victims quite literally demonstrates bee-hive circling of the wagons of one us group against the outside them groups (this dynamic made somewhat strange when the us group of white America has to peek over the shoulder of the us group of black church America, which sees itself as a peaceful adjunct of white America, its them group status counteracted by a strong enclave-originating us group ethos, when in fact it is often them group dynamics going on in the church).

To then seek for reasons for the killing by the investigation into his dark them life in the midst of the us world of the internet, meant to heighten in us fear of hacking and other sinister forms of invasion from without, only further stigmatizes the shooter as an outsider, revictimizing him in the public arena, and making it almost impossible for him, should he survive, like the film star made so much of in Boston (one wonders where the book deal is), to have no choice, for the cameras, for the ritual, for the meaning of his life, to extend his themness to more extreme forms, to irritate the us group public enough that a long drawn out punitive trial is demanded. The whole court proceedings of the us group today serve only to reaffirm the power of normal us group life. Even the provision of allowing for shooting victims to have their say in court, devised by some idiot modern psychology that such venting was good for you, or good for society, serves to further push the them out from the midst of the us group (and then for those spouters of hatred against the shooter—even worse the us-groupers who disguise their rage as forgiveness, the ultimate us group condescension against the them group’s inhumanity—to then step before the TV cameras at a press conference and hold forth with their grief and rage, all of this is all just spectacle to pat the us group on the back that it will be OK, and we are fine, they are the sick ones. (again, the participation of the criminal justice system in all this is further muddied when there is a perception of us-them group dynamic between black and white in racially tense American communities: in this case, jailhouse protest, demands for autopsies, reports on them, report responses by officials, endless press conferences, various trials, findings, the almost mob mentality of court results being listened to be active crowds in the street under the presumed threat that there will be trouble if the verdict does not go their way, all of this is a further elaboration of the problem that is even more problematic. The mere operation of these mechanisms may make young persons of one us group, white Americans, seek to erase what they see as them activities, by sentimental, affirmation-based solidarity and support, usually no more difficult that 140 characters on Twitter, or even a Tweet to a hashtag, or give in to what appear to be wider divisions aligning black and white to us-them group dynamics, making them adopt more polarized views of racism in America, as has in fact happened as a result of racial us-them dynamics related to police shootings in the past year. The new fundamentalism, or new polarism, that arises out of the heat of the moment, then would only serve to reinforce us-them dynamics in an older form. That said, each generation in the push-pull us-them dynamics of their times works out a wiggle room in which to live with some agency, they find an I-can-live-with-that middle ground, in the present time; their accommodations and compromises are, needless to say, entirely, deeply contextual, and all but incomprehensible to persons of another generation, who have to negotiate those borders and terms all over again.

This circling of the wagons, revictimizing the thems, and setting up a spiral that guarantees repeated occasion of this shooter-generative process, is finally codified by comments by the wagon-circler in chief, who countenances the whole process as valid by declaring that the way of life that was attacked in this shooting was good, and the people who were shot were good, and what the shooter did was a very evil thing, though we should try to understand him, because we, the us group, are understanding. All in all, top to bottom, beginning to end, alpha to omega, the rituals of the Shooter of the Month operates like an exploitation economy, exploiting the collateral side effect of the freedom of access of guns in the US, and thus in a way even supports the ‘way of life’ that guns makes, by making death by shooter part of the ritual of contemporary life. For me, it is all exploitation, a collateral, unconscious form of suicide by shooter, a ritual of social cannibalism, a monthly act of human sacrifice by a frightened society which each month needs another scapegoat to confirm for them how very frightened of them they are.

PS how to solve the problem of the coverage of the Shooter of the Month club? First, it makes no different what the shooter is, what he believed, who he hated, how sick he was, see my manifesto; the only thing that counts is that, for all that, he still would not have been able to have killed, had he not been able to get a gun in his hand: the gun in the hand is the reality-forcer that has the power to turn a counterreality into a reality, IT is the instrument of overriding of reality, by a new reality. IT is the linchpin of the process, and must be controlled. Second, pictures of shooters should be embargoed from the air, and from all media. Any one who gives the shooter what he wants, his fifteen minutes of even suicidal fame (which exists as regret in those he knew and met him, even his own bitter posthumous smirk,  fantasized on by him pre-decease, at the idiot neighbor who says he seemed like a nice guy!), is in the business of generating shooters. Three, study of motives etc. is pointless outside of a criminal case. Four, all criminal cases should be closed to the public, and no images of the shooter allowed. Five, funerals, testimonials, TV interviews, magazine coverage, anything that negatively ‘makes sense’ of the event by glorifying survivors, or honoring victims, must be curtailed, or at least returned to the private realm. But most of all, six, the dynamics of us-them life must be better understood, they are all magical forms of thinking, they are not rational, and the continued rational discourse that deplores any us-them action as ‘irrational’ and something to be silenced by liberal consideration is leading to further leakage and contagious spread of the very behaviors reason seeks to stem.

Ps, on a larger scale, I believe that the only way to overcome us-them violence is to diminish and reduce tension along us-them lines, and even, hopefully, eradicate us-them differences. In the dynamics of daily life, if you keep on talking about race in black and white terms, by the terms of your debate, if you are white, you are us, they are them, and no progress can be made. It is only when you find, and here I segway from Allport’s contact theory, which supports the reaffirmation of Brown v. the Board of Education in the Supreme Court in 1984, to horizontally argue, it is only when you find common grounds in which a person from an us group and another from a them group can on equal footing form a new us that us-them dynamics recede into the background. The only way to overcome racism is by reducing us-them dynamics, and, on a personal level, find various forays of us-them dynamics vis-à-vis black persons, if you are white, and white persons, if you are black, where white and black form into a new authentic affiliation (again, Allport’s contact theory) that is us. This is the only way I have ever found to overcome race in America, and to stop talking about race, and to be real and authentic in the company of persons of another race: find the us, and live within that.

I only state this at present because one of the most problematic outcomes of recent strife on police-race matters is that it appears that being white per se is now being re-reified as essentialistically privileged, and white writers are therefore being prevented from talking about others whom they have committed some form of imperialism against. This is only a new age group trying to work out their terms: whereas older age groups have worked out their us-them terms as they have, and from that feel free to write about whatever us they want, if that includes African American issues, so be it.

Anna Spengler destroyed in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969).

Rev., April, 2014.

While the traditional production spiel about the movie, Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), is that it was a successful sequel to the series, and had many strengths, but was marred by production interference which insisted that a rape scene take place, to placate American sponsors. But viewing the movie as a movie, a series of sequences with or without instrumentality that moves through time to create drama or terror or not, presents an entirely different picture of this outing.

For one thing, the movie seems turned inside out: that is, while Frankenstein ostensibly plots to recover his practice and perform another amazing surgery, and there is surgery, and the like, there is a certain spurious disconnectedness to this plot. As a result, it often feels like a pretext, only incidentally worked out. For example, the notion that he was working with a Dr. Brandt and wants to try to salvage his brain from his insane self at an asylum and transplant it into a body of a another doctor, to get that secret from him, is pretty poorly worked out. The presence and escape from the insane asylum all seems extraneous, borrowed whole cloth from other stories, especially Dracula, the surgery is a repeat of that in others, and then the resulting monster, Freddie Jones, is not a monster at all, but a human being appalled at being stuck in another body. The fact that he appears to his wife as that, and she is disgusted by this, also says something about how marriage bonds are made. All in all, the movie hardly holds together on these points.

As for the elements of the Frankenstein methodology that are introduced, they are introduced as reminders of former uses, as benchmarks to prompt memory, and elicit a carried-over or multiplied through response. For example, early on we come upon spats in the street, with that black bag

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And then we are asked to believe that Frankenstein has sunk so low as to become a sidewalk slasher, lopping the head off of the doctor, as he walks, with a scythe.

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He then comes back to a house outside of town, but a burglar has already broken in, to encounter a haunted house of setup scares, including a reminder of the standing monster in the tank, now green of course

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We get the head in the hatbox hijinks

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And then we find out that the Dr even went out in a rubber mask

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All of which represents a complete change of methodology of the good doctor, and his degeneration into a serial killer, which is not I think the intention. There is also a quote from the first movie, the acid bath, by which he can dispose of bodies, only this time it is a trap in the door, like in House on Haunted Hill, and he can drop them into the river, like in The Eyes of London

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As for the central monster-creation sequence, it makes rather a poor impression. The central shot of this whole part of the movie is, of course, the brain in the water shot, by this point a Hammer staple, causing an ew among the ladies

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But it could be said that the regularity of this has worn off some of its terror, and so it was almost as if the whole of this central plot line had to be beat about the bush about, that is, circumlocuted, to approach it, hopefully, by oblique angles that might make it of interest again. It is interesting that whenever the investigation, either by the police or by the stolen man’s widow, closes in on Frankenstein, the color comes up. In this shot, the widow is being told that her husband’s body has been stolen from the asylum

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It is to be noted that the couch, the place she sits to receive this news, is red, her rap is purple, the walls are green, and then the stained glass in the windows is a pattern of blues and greens favoring purple: purple plays a major role here. I have noted that green walls indicates a room that is more like a hothouse, where nature is eutrophicate, and some evil abundance is developing. Here too it might be that the colored glass refers to the tank in which his brain is to be put. This idea is strengthened by the next shot

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The red lamp tells her confused mind that her husbands brain is destined for that tank, to be shown red, and this distance prospect is announced by the nighttime landscape on the wall, which said that it was stolen at night, as well as saying that the brain has left this world and entered into a palliative world between here and there, a supernatural place

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The widow, as she pokes about, in a somewhat interesting weaving, is always wandering in a world of stained glass. This signals that she is partly in the land of the dead, in an unreal world, and, more specifically, in the world created by the glass in the tanks and beakers in Frankenstein’s lab, that is, the world according to Frankenstein

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Nor is it any surprise that the not very monstrous looking, rather confused looking, too calculating by far monster Frankenstein, Freddie-jones-stein, comes to trap Frankenstein seeking out from him the answer, he comes in through the stained glass, it represents the altered reality of his world

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But all in all, it has to be said, this core plot of the story is rather weakly told, and rather loosely entangled, certainly entirely without the tight instrumentation that one has come to expect from a Hammer film. When, in fact, one identifies the Hammer style by the tightness of its instrumentation, making use of certain properties or spaces in a tightly woven way, to make for high horror drama, the character that one rests upon, finally, is not the monster, vis a vis Frankenstein, but Anna Spengler and boyfriend, vis a vis Frankenstein. The core of the movie, in terms of how it works out, dramatically, is in Frankenstein’s destruction of Anna Spengler, it is a heartrending thing to watch. Interestingly enough, planning purplish brain surgery, be comes into the house in a purple smoking jacket, purple represents the stain of his plans

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Right away we are told that these men mean less to him than the pictures, and that he will scheme to get them out, the first act by which, for the disgrace, and their anger at her, marks her with the stain of Frankenstein

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Then Anna is a very pleasant person, played with bourgeoisie curiosity and innocent hope for a happy life by Veronica Carlson. Two things here. First, we see that because she has purple decorative glass and drapes to match, that she is susceptible to Frankenstein’s stain. Second, she has very nice breasts, and one might conjecture that she shows more of them as the movie goes on, to symbolize her increasing exposure as weak by Frankenstein

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Indeed, surprising as it is how much cleavage nice bourgeoisie girls exposed back then, when the topic switches to worry over his crime, stealing drugs, we are shown more of her bosom. There appears to be a correlation between the state of worry that she is in, and the amount of bosom shown

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Frankenstein discovers his crime, and blackmails them, and so the porcelain comes out, to demonstrate that this is now a house made weak by his dominance

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In this shot, a lattice shot, announcing the dropping down into a deeper state of sleep, Anna is shown being reduced to a nightmare existence, inside his mad dream

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We get almost the same shot in the asylum, to show that Simon too is now living in his nightmare world, that they are caught in the lattice spiderweb of his manipulations

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The drama of her undoing then drops down from this lattice stage to the wormhole stage, that is, she begins to go down the wormhole to full on nightmare, as it usually does, in bed, awoken by a noise. She is in her bed in a pink-purple gown

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She raises up, to listen for the noise, in this shot, comparing it to earlier shots, and then, too, microscopically, in terms of dreams, giving us an impression of even more insight, slipping our (male, or maybe female too) eye in under the strap of her gown, between it and her skin

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When she then sits back, to swing her legs around, this squeezes her breasts together, and, for that, they come out of their cups more than before, so, we are let still further into her private life

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She leans forward to grab her robe, left lying by ladies on the bed, and she almost pops out of her gown

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And finally she stands up, there is almost full exposure (the fullness of the sequencing of this shot makes this, in effect, the shower sequence of the movie).

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Then in lavender she goes to her green door past her green wallpaper

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Two cameo pictures right indicating that she is still a lady

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She goes on a gown prowl in the night, and, as per convention, it exposes her further, representing her vulnerability, as the light shines down from the moon above, a skylight presumably there, the space between her legs is shadowly referred to, one of the enduring conventions of gown prowls in the era of the upskirt universe

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Then, terribly, purely by accident, she walks in on another secret, finds out Simon’s secret, and becomes still further embroiled in all of the shit that Frankenstein has brought to her house

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That is, she knows where the bodies are buried. At this point, Simon goes back to the hospital, not to be missed, and Frankenstein, by this point treating her more as a servant or slave, tells her what he wants for breakfast tomorrow. She thinks she is done with trouble for the night, and out of it safely. Now, the rape scene in the movie was controversial, the story is that Cushing, Carlson, even Fisher protested, but the producer Carreras felt it had to be in there, to be more appealing to American audiences. This sort of extraneous reasoning may make sense to those who treat movies as a series of business decisions, but in the magic process by which a work of art comes to be and works out to the best it has to be conceded that when these decisions are made and something works out some unconscious impulse was at work that helped the movie. Certainly, if this prowl had ended here, it would have been OK, it would have been, in fact, conventional, to be filed in behind any number of other prowls just like it in a hundred other movies, except for the fact that Veronica Carlson is so physically superior to so many other night gown prowlers. But the fact that, escaping to her room, it is not over, is what makes this night into a nightmare for her. She returns to her room, and removes her robe, the light now coming up between her legs from the other side, the windows

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For reasons which are not quite clear, though it indicates that she was not fully aware of the degree to which Frankenstein would go in taking over other’s peoples lives and making them golems of his will, it signifies, we now see the open door from inside out

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This shot also identifies the pictures in her room as being genre pictures reinforcing her good girl status and self perception in the world. But now, done for the day, he thinks, Frankenstein passes by, as it had or will in so many other movies, such as The Creeping Flesh, Cushing’s sharkly pointed features the very figure of the ajar door, he peers in

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The gown is off, and the light streams now between her legs, contoured right on up to her crotch

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She is startled, and makes modest, suddenly aware of danger, because she had seen something he was up to downstairs, worried what the consequences might be, had thought it over, and, now, here he is, back in her presence, way too soon, it bodes ill, it means he has come to play his card

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Admittedly, the game Frankenstein plays with the key, is not that convincing, though Anna’s shock or disbelief, his failure to raise enough of a stink to fend him off, her apparent helplessness, is more believable

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And then when she goes for the key, on the bed, he attacks.

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I present a capture here in which he wrestles with her hair, in a blur

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He turns her over, he rips off that purple gown

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And then he rapes her. What this means is that he hitches up her gown, exposes her private area, undoes his pants, takes it out, and penetrates it. Now, it was protested that this act is out of keeping with Frankenstein. On one level, yes, I suppose that is true: though we know in Curse that he carried on a dalliance with that buxom maid, and was married, presumably involving sex; and in Revenge, well, there was no sex, the question of character is whether or not he has given over entirely to necrosis and thanatos and sadism and if so then sex is out of the question: but then that means that he would be exactly the type of person (according to modernist theory) to use the weapon of thanatoptic sex as a weapon, to beat down further, to crush further, the safe little happily married world of Anna Spengler, including her middle class dreams of a nice little sex life in a cute little marriage. What we are looking at is a beating down, a psychological war against her, and her response. Because of where her gown prowl took her, it demanded some sort of retaliation, or assurance of continued silence, maintained by his exerting his power over her, that night, and the rape makes the point. So it may be argued that it is somewhat out of keeping with his character, there is also the more basic question of whether a man of Cushing’s size would be able to manhandle a woman of such stature as Carlson, but as an event that makes a scene more effective, elevating it from conventional to instrumental, it was a good decision.

Then, too, the aftermath of the rape, the description of her further state of complete breakdown is what gives deeper depth to the middle of the movie. Perhaps the single best piece of emotional film making comes in the next sequence where, after Simon tells her that he is done, he has murdered someone, and she is there, now dressed in Frankenstein purple, his stain have remade her life as monstrous to herself, she sits in forlorn pose in the dark by the fire listening to the voices of happy people going out at night, outside her window, people without a care in the world, when all that, now, is over for her, and she lives now in a Lenten state of empurpled walking-deadness, apart from the world, trapped, destroyed by Frankenstein. The way that she has dressed up for this moment, how she sits there, strong, but lost, it’s one of Carlson’s great stage moments

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and again, as more horrors come to light, the surgery, she is in agony, her life as it was is over, again in the purple

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And she even wears purple again next day, when, out on the street, she hears about the search, and makes one last effort to go back and save herself from detection

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Her boarding house has by now become a house of secrets, all of them Frankenstein’s: she now has the job of covering everything up. So it is she who has to preside over the search of the house, sweat out the inspection of the garden, where the body is buried

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She who in this lattice pose, at the side of the camera, announcing that her life has become a deep dream, nearing nightmare, for her, who has to stand guard, to protect her house

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And again all in purple

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Later still, if she had had a thought that maybe the crisis might be lifting, and the horrors end, perhaps lightened up by the sight of her Virgin mary votive in the backyard, here she wears blue

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Nope, her nightmare continues

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The water main breaks, it flushes up the body, which seems to rise up, with its hands flushed up, out of the mud, she has no choice but to, horrors, grab the buried body and pull it to a safe hiding place, getting soaking wet, ruining her clothes in the meantime

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And then since a dad body is lying in the bushes she has to stand guard over all the work and signal Frankenstein where the body is, it is all a total nightmare. Moreover, since, early on, we saw Anna as a very proper girl who would never get involved in anything untoward, this reduction of her to a tense, stiff mess, stiffly gesturing her hands, like the bride of Frankenstein, to the dead, wet, her hair soaked, her dress ruined, it is as if she has been made into a Frankenstein monster in this pose. Adding to the complexity of this image is that, in blue, she is a Madonna, but, now, a Madonna inverted, a protector of the dead

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In spite of all this, the widow spies out where Frankenstein is, and the vulture forces them to move out in any case. Having begun with forcing her tenants out, he ends with forces her out of her own little life

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Back at the original house outside of town, it is she then who has to confront the risen monster, Carlson giving one of her precious, perfect stares of horror, she stabs him, both seeing him and stabbing him is the last straw, she goes into shock, and loses her mind (as noted too in Hammer’s twisting stirigulated style, the fact that Cushing, who has raped her, puts her hands back on her, in a familiar way, shocks her a third time, it is all—simply too much.

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And then Frankenstein, having had enough of her incompetence, or simply out of pure malice, to complete the job of destruction that he has already gone so far with, finishes her off, again penetrating her, but this time more as he might, like Dr. Frankenstein, with a scalpel, to the belly

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It could be said that the war between Frankenstein and Anna was the central battle of the movie, and this somehow made the whole monster story marginal. In this, it is likely that Anna represented respectable middle class life which Frankenstein was at war against, in this he got more pleasure out of destroying her, than in making his monster. And then the movie lurches back to the monster plot, and he goes to die seeking his answer in the fire

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It is odd: it is almost as if in trying to devise a way for Frankenstein to be more creative in a new way this time out, the writers and director fudged it, and could not quite pull everything together in a convincing way, therefore had recourse to some incidental showpieces set in over it all, to give it at least the semblance of a Frankenstein sequel. But then somewhere someone decided that if Carlson was going to be present, much should be made of her, and so the subplot of Frankenstein invading her little bourgeois life and destroying her, the idea of Frankenstein destroying lives is by far the most effectively instrumentalized sequence in the movie, stringing along as it does a gown prowl, a rape scene, a tableaux of bereftness, and then a murder sequence, it is the core of this uneven later Frankenstein movie.

 

 

Mary Shelley, portraits and Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986).

Rev., June 4, 2014.

In the uneven movie, Gothic (1986), by Ken Russell, after a night of debauchery, Mary Shelley cleans herself up, and comes down the main staircase to join her hosts and the other guests. As she comes down the stairs, in this dissolve, her eyes from the mirror, in the previous shot, hang over the portraits that line the staircase, and as she passes by, there is a kind of portrait that I traditionally have come to call a Mary Shelley portrait. What a Mary Shelley portrait serves to do in British horror is to alert one to the fact that there is a monster in the house. Here, the eyes superimposed over it, it seems to have a deeper purpose.

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When in the earlier scene, Mary is toweling herself dry, she talks about death, and that we are all dead. This appears to be the lesson that she has learned from the visions and trips of the night before.

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Indeed, right before that, the night before, she tried, according to this telling, to commit suicide, but was stopped by Shelley

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She tried to commit suicide to put out of her mind visions she had had, she was running from her dreams, as indicated by the convention of the flowing drapes, not to mention the storm.

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And as Russell formulated it, she had had a visionary experience, where in a black chamber, with doors on all sides, she dirtied by the events in the rat-infested cellar, she sees not only that her future children will die, but that her husband will die, that her sister in law will die, and that death will be all around here. It is, retrospectively, a visionary premonition of all the death that she is to experience

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And here is the chamber, it is not one of the more fortunate formulations of the movie, moving as it does into pure psychodrama effect

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and she believes this, and sees only death, because she has still not got over the death of a child earliern the year, the child having died, she thinks that everything around her will die, indeed, from the landing, she had a vision of the child’s funeral

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And so if you superimpose onto that Mary Shelley portrait, not only her eyes, forseeing death in all things, but that dream black box that she was stuck in, and her visions of death, then the Mary Shelley is given a deeper meaning as, not unlike a blackamoor lamp, a psychopomp, an Anubis formulation, to communicate to us that the person walking by it is haunted, and will be touched by death. Whether or not Russell intended for the viewer to superimpose all of these foreshadows onto a Mary Shelley portrait, there is at least suggestion that he had some notion of what the convention of that type of innocuous portrait of a lady meant in British horror as a genre. It is certainly true that the ending feels unsatisfactory, not only doing a morning after writing off of the craziness of the night before, as if we are to forget all the visions we saw, but also that by fastforwarding to a tourist guide on a boat listing all the deaths she was to experience around her in the coming few years, it is all encapusulated in her dead baby, or maybe the dead baby of her sister in law, Byron’s child, and then the somewhat unsatisfactory forcing of the issue by having the fetus sleep under the waves of Lake Geneva with the waves making its head distort into a suggestion of the Frankenstein monster, thus summing up the whole evening as leading only to the creation of Frankenstein.

But when you play back the movie, based on that conclusion, it is by no means clear that the instrumentation of the horrors and visions in it lead to that conclusion. The central event in the movie in terms of dropping it down from the glass onion phase of dreaming to the lattice phase, where we begin to zero in and focus on one character, which would be Mary Shelley, is an encounter Shelley has with a picture over the mantel of her bedroom. She has retired to her room from a series of unpleasant encounters of a sexual nature with Byron and others. Earlier, when she came looking for her loon of a husband, Shelley, we see the picture they have over their mantel for the first time

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This is of course Fuseli’s Nightmare, and one has to say, since there no evidence whatsoever that it was in the house at the time, this is a seriously suspect case of leading the witness. In any case, having put it in, the movie now feels it must make use of it. She takes, then, to her bed, lying beside her sister in law, who is lying in, asleep, having had some bad experiences earlier. She is thinking about Byron’s sexual perversions: not only his notorious affair with his sister, but the fact that, now, in this house, according to the lore here, he has a death mask of her, and calls up a maid to strip, then to don the mask, so that Byron can, through her as avatar, imagine himself having sex with his sister again, which would be doubly sick, and highly exploitational.

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She is mulling over Byron, then, and sexuality. Not unlike Edith in The Legend of Hell House, she idly picks up a book. It turns out to be a book, possibly illustrating the life of Byron, possibly just a work of 18th century erotic fiction. In any case, it has pornographic prints (and this then would be the first movie, Coppola’s Stoker’s Dracula the second, in which the exposure of persons to pornography in books is noted). This arouses her interest, and arouses her

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The fact that there is a group sex orgy depicted makes her suspect that Byron is after the same thing in the house, with her, with Shelley himself, with Polidori, certainly already with the girl, he has invited them all there to have sex with them, she might be repulsed, but when she turns the page and on the next page there are even more people involved, this signifies that she is getting turned on

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She then comes across an odd drawing on the semi-clear vellum sheet that used to be placed over illustrations in books back then, to prevent them from bleeding onto the page. Someone has noted that if you outline a scene of cunnilingus, you get a head of Byron

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The association is made, then, between Byron’s mouth, and her vagina, because that is what is depicted on the woman in the print. Earlier, in a moment, she had no trouble letting Shelley fuck her in front of the others, while the sister in law gave Byron oral sex at the window, Polidori’s eyes boggling

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They were then haunted out of that, and note that while she has her legs wide open, and Byron has placed a hand on her leg, as he is being blown, and she is being fucked, a bolt of lightning strikes a tree outside, symbolic of increased fire

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And it casts a monstrous shadow on the ceiling, which might be taken as suggesting a monster

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And since this is the second reference to lightning, and the first time involved Shelley hailing it in the nude from the edge of the roof

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And then that branch may echo of what of the girl’s hair she saw out of the corner of her eye, as she was fellating Byron, maybe seeing what he had, and this and fire relates to when Byron threatens to burn her hair in the fireplace, earlier

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All of this, then, makes her think of sex, but some other kind of sex, not the sex she had earlier, with just Shelley, but something, more. She begins to sweat, at this point she rolls over on her side, and looks out, she is looking at the picture over the mantel

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There are two shrouded figures, and then Fuseli’s picture of the nightmare. This sequence is not that different from those hynagogic half-dream sequences in Rosemary’s Baby, though not as good

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In her dreamy state, she now goes to close up

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The red curtains in the picture perhaps remind her of the red curtains in the vestibule of the house, symbolizing the fact that they are all on Byron’s stage. In a convention of horror, the picture is now animated by being strobed by lightning, xraying deeper meaning out from under its skin

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What the deeper meaning shows is that the busts on the sides are somewhat more demonic than expected, and that the demon, and its stare, is the central focused on element of the picture, indicating that she is thinking of others

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At this point, Russell does something very odd, something I am not sure I have seen done before with a haunted portrait: she has a vision in it, or of it, that is, it becomes real, she sees the imp, the manon, the dream demon of the Rhine valley, become real, and she is now looking into a mirror, as it is sitting on a live sleeping female figure

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And it is her. The suggestion here is that, looking at the painting, moving from regular light, to lightning, to the vision, she dropped down from static to lattice and then deep sleep, now she is the sleeping figure, and the demonic fingers off this imp reach down to strangle her. Note that she is covered in sweat, wet through with it, also a sign of an overheated sex dream

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And then I guess her mouth open as a sign that she is jerked by the fear of this more toward the surface of waking up, she comes up in the dream, and, in that lighter state of sleep, now sees the demon transformed into what is happening in her bed, and what is happening is that the sister who was sleeping next to her, has moved about and come to flop herself over her, and hang her hair down on her, and it was her body feeling the body heat and the hair of the sister that manifest that as a the demon

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In a way that is not entirely clear to me, when the sister wakes up, and since they are sharing an intimate moment, she confesses that she is pregnant with Byron’s child, and so what this says, her hair hanging over Mary’s belly, is that Mary will now seek to compensate for and recover from the loss of her own child by fighting for the sister’s child, and in fact she not only does that a few times, once with Byron risking getting kissed by him, recoiling at his proposal that she get an abortion, and then later there is an intensification of the battle of the sister with Byron too, that Mary gets all involved in.

But this scene is not yet over. It is a sleep, but an uneasy sleep. She has already drifting off to sleep, reading a book, had a light sleep hypnagogic vision, then it dropped into a deep dream state, engendered by movement against her body by another in her bed, then she was woken up, now she tries to settle down again, but, again, in the lightning

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It is at this stage that she sees a shadow person. A shadow person is a typical sighting by a half asleep body when a person’s eyes inside a body that has been alerted to danger or a threat activates the space about it and sees any shadow as taking a fearful figural form. Typically, she sees shadow

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And then again, the figure outside.

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In introducing a figure outside a few times, once in armor in a story, a second time cast from a burning tree during the orgy, and third time here, the movie toys with the notion that in fact Frankenstein 2000 actually worked out, the notion that Mary Shelley was being haunted in her stay by a more traditional nemesis figure, which is a dark figure that one feels following one, if the news or life or bad luck or whatever seems to be tracking you down, wishing you ill. I did not think that was a successful theme in that movie, and even when only toyed with here, it seems simplistic. However, that is what is up here.

This fairly long and coherent sequence then ends with the revelation that the girl is pregnant with Byron’s child.

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And there is it. There are a few problems. The main problem is, why would Russell go to all the trouble of hiring an actor to play out a vision of the manon coming alive, an effort that would seem to offer it instrumentation as a major element in the movie, and then nothing is done with it. I have assumed that perhaps that imp is a composite of all the people that she is staying with, all of whom somehow want to get involved in free love with her, but it does not register, I just see this face, and it does not seem to go anywhere

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It is true that later, in a sequence in the basement I still do not quite grasp, the sister crawls naked in the mud, so perhaps a simple foreshadow

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And even Shelley herself is made to crouch like a demon reaching out for a doorknob that is the voice of her child calling at her, and she is pretty dirty by this point too, but it does not seem to pan out

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It does not seem that the haunted portrait encounter by Mary Shelley lead figuratively and fully to a coherent escalation of her psychological drama, resolved in the Mary Shelley portrait at the end. It just sits there, without issue, an aborted haunted portrait, a pretext, a device, a trick, another one of the many red herrings that appear to signify something, and yet do not in the end signify anything.

And the main problem with the attempt to make use of the haunted portrait in this movie is that Byron is always getting in the way. In truth, at the beginning of the movie, there is a lavish display of English country house painting, all of it in the grand manner, some portraits, many more conversation pieces. Interpreted generally, the presence of so many paintings, replaces everyday reality with a more palliative zone of 2D thought, where things are not quite what they seem, and visions therefore may be had. It is hypnotic device, not unlike a lamp, and this would be a good load of them

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But there is a problem with this. In the traditional set up, an array of family portraits like this represents the history of the family in the house, the weight of that history, and the presence of so much influence of the dead that it is difficult to get to anything life full life in the house. There is also, usually, among these pictures, a single champion picture, of the main patriarch of the house, the primary person lording it over, from whom the haunting will come, either directly or by way of lookalike avatar. The first problem here is that, while this is a rented villa, and none of the pictures have anything to do with Byron, Byron is host, and has had put up, for the festivities, a lavish, but not very good portrait of himself. It is at the top of the landing, making him the master of ceremonies, the host extraordinary, This shot declares him the man himself, the famous man in the flesh, alive, present

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But then it also gives him the power, he has stepped out of the picture, he is not the avatar of a haunted ancestor, but himself, in the flesh, he is the host, out front, welcoming

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When the various guests arrive, it is clear they are entering into his world, and his manipulations

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There are few shots in the dining room, not soon after, which indicate that in his manipulations he is the expression of the hauteur and power of the old nobility, as represented by red jackets

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There is also the suggestion, here, ryming colors, that he is responsible for giving his guests the solution of laudanum, and thus all their visions

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And then when in a game he takes on the role of calling out, in hide n seek, that he is coming, he becomes as it were a portrait too

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The problem is this arrangement totally upsets the traditional power relations of the haunted portrait. Here the artist, modern artist, as agent, usurps the picture, which is just an advertisement for himself. The haunted portraits are in fact not haunted, they are just toys. He is always getting in the way of their power over others, his hijinks, he drug fueled dreams. It is of interest that when the others scatter during hide n seek they each end up encountering haunted art in one way or another, but in a way that negates it. Here Mary Shelley even goes down a corridor where all the portrait are covered, effaced

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And Shelley goes into a playroom where there are portraits, which are nice

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Are completely effaced by an advance on portraiture in that age, the automaton, in a scene echoing that of Casanova, but even so while this is a titillating little wonder, and watching Shelley ogle over its enticements is fun, especially when it drops its pants to its merkin, it signifies exactly nothing, and the whole theme of automatons, brought up again in relation to the piano, and Polidori, though perhaps inserted as another inference of Frankenstein, goes exactly nowhere. Of interest here is that it is contrasted with a portrait of Mary Magdalene by Reni, which might refer Shelley back to Mary

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Then, as if to try to navigate its uncertain instrumentation, the movie tosses in the famous reading of horror stories, and the contest; then a séance; and then the orgy, but it always as it was with Mary taking a break from it all back in her bed, Byron is always interfering. Since, too, Gabriel Byrne as Byron is hardly the best thing about this movie, this is doubly problematic for the survival of the movie as a coherent text. In this page, then, the movie unconsciously revealed its core problem, which it failed to overcome. Byron’s agency kept overriding that of the others, and the attempt to account for all of the others visions and madness in the context of Byron’s interferences, made them all end up poorly worked out, not well instrumented, with no suspense involved, with many a suspicion of pretext or gimmick, and then the rug is pulled out by Byron at the end, even as the movie desperately tries to drive home a conclusive point on Mary Shelley. But, overall, I do not think that the haunted portrait as a minimized reflection of a cancelling out agent, the original sin of the movie, allows of success in the inclusion of Fuseli’s nightmare as a device to ratchet us up to the lattice stage of focusing on Mary Shelley. In sum, this note has been an attempt to explain again why this movie never seems to work for me.

 

Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn (2016) and the limits of neoconceptualism: thinking aloud on its migratory/intermedial dynamics.

Rev., April 20, 2016.

Note: This is a thought piece, not a review. Graphs included are improvisatory in nature, not codified, it is not intended that they are entirely graspable–however, if in their general look they press home the fact that binary, checkerboard and even mere model-building theory must be replaced by a dynamic agency way of thinking, that is a good thing. V=Viewer; A=Agent; C=Cult/Prototype; () =in relation to; []= fixating on, obsessing over (not good); dotted line=depleted; upside down=negated; A or V feet right=countering; feet left=reverse engineering; loop over down letter=reagency, arrows=dynamics of thinking. Freely, dynamically adapted from Alfred Gell, Art and Agency (1999).

The installation of Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers an opportunity to explore the limits of the premises of original neoconceptualism, which emerged, in response, a generation later, to conceptualism, in the period between 1986 and 1993.

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Parker says that she was inspired to do the piece by the Edward Hopper painting of a house by the railroad track, as an icon of America

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And then its demonization in the American mindset by its use in Hitchcock’s Psycho, by which the house form become even more iconic.

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So, right away we are dealing with two levels of iconicity, that formed by a type of house, in a nostalgic manner, and then, further along in time, its demonization. Well, first, let’s say it was just the style of house in a certain point of time, the norm of the present, and simply agentified as safety, meeting the needs of residency, as, for example, in Meet Me in St. Louis, where the style of house in 1904 has not a trace of dating or oldness, it is quaint and lovely.

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But, then, time moves on, that is, its cult-ure retracts through time, and as it pulls away from the form it develops a taste for a new form, and as that new form relates to the original form it depletes it, through reagency, making it seem quaint and/or lonely. This then allows that general grant style house in the time of Hopper seems somewhat odd, a bit haunted, slashed through by railroad tracks, but nostalgic, true Americana, still quaint.

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But then, more time passes, and at some point the parentheses of present comprehension of housing forms is consumed in its limited extensiveness, and the original style of house drops out of history, and off the map of consciousness. At that point, it negates, becomes demonized, and scary (possibly, for its disappearance, uncanny too), and it is at this phase, following the Addams Family

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and that Hitchcock exploited the preexisting form

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So, now, Cornelia Parker comes along, and looks back at the history of the form, or trope, and sees two forms, derived from two different times, and sets the reagentified-depleted form, which is an icon of Americana, as the numerator over the negated, demonized form denominator, which is an even bigger icon, to play with the fractional line, or fissure in time, between the two manifestations of the form, and so you have that basic neoconceptual play with form, in two forms, backed and fronted to each other, played off against each other.

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But, now, the issue is more complex than that. Because it is apparent that while the Hopper Railroad house is in the background, and fractioned off her Psycho house, she also must have become aware of the fact that, in fact, in the telescoping of time, the Hitchcock icon had all but entirely superceded the Hopper icon, in most people’s reading. Thus, if she just did a scale reproduction of the house per se, no one would get the point, because they would only think of Hitchcock. She saw, therefore, that one icon blocked out the other Thus, while she saw a numerator/denominator fractional offset of form against form, icon against icon, the public only saw the negated icon, and the nostalgic icon was cast into its shadow, effaced and erased

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this presented a major problem to the piece. She had to come up with a solution, And, for that, she went back to the depleted reagentified form of the house as icon of Americana, and thought, what other form, that would not be effaced by the Psycho house, expresses that mindset? Thinking this through, she came up with a displaced surrogate of the Railroad House, a red barn. For her, a symbol of wholesomeness, and farming life, and the myth of the agrarian roots of America

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And then that form, the displaced icon, took over as the new counterpoint form, replacing the Hopper, for the house, and then she condensed it in, because it was, after all, also still depleted, by representing the red barn in the paneling of the model of the house

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But, then, there remained, un-filled out in the above breakdown of the elements of her thinking, their distillation into a work of art, a lack of ground, or background. This was the tricky part. If it was to be placed on the roof of the Met, then the background, behind the support of the work, would be Central Park and the Central Park south skyline. That would enhance the irony on both counts, relative to the surface Psycho house form, and the interior space red barn form. Since this form would also float over Central Park, and views of it (I will research this), it would also place the whole form as a sort of displaced surreal something floating over Central Park and the city.

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This means that from the skyline or the park, since the support of the structure had not yet been determined, the eye of the viewer in either the skyline or park, or of the piece seen only vis a vis the skyline or the park would, as it were, look at it through a gap, destroying normalcy in the view, and floating a red sided red barn looking Psycho house overhead. The gap in the support acts as a vacant duct which disorients the elements to reagentify them as surreal, and in association with other forms, as a kind of weird optical illusion

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As I have it, and thought of it, and as it excited me, the distancing device exerted against the inner and surface space entity, made of it a surreal object, and then enhanced that surreality by imagining in its odd circumstance, vis a vis the skyline and the park, as a floating object, which I associated with either the floating house of the Wizard of Oz(which I love because it is an icon I have a long-term relationship with, going back to my 1989 curated exhibition, Somewhere, at Lintas Intl)

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Or with fata morgana, as, for example, a Chinese city in the sky in 2015

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Which usually happens at sea, said to accounts for notions of Sirens, as well as the Flying Dutchman, or any ghost ship (making, in this context, PsychoBarn a ghost house)

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And the interesting thing about a fata morgana comparison is that a fata morgana is caused by a temperature inversion, which is more or less what has happened here in terms of the cultivation and perception of these forms, and it is enacted by way of a “duct’ in the atmosphere between one layer and the next, which reflects the form up and makes it seem as if it is floating, to the eye. And that duct in this case would be the gap that at present remains in the ground of the piece, it floating as only of surface-fictive space incomplete form, overhead. I love the idea of this as a fata morgana too, and will provide some instagram pics that seem to evoke that.

But it is also true that to see it as a fata morgana is to, more or less, fixate on that absence of ground, and, as such, this plugs into my discernment, in the late 1980s, that Magritte had mined better than anyone else the random dissociativeness of modern life, and its constantly clashing fields, in the world at large, but, then, in a way to pull them back together to make poetry. And he also worked with haunted houses (however, this particular discourse I abandoned as a dead end as it only ended up showing me the randomness, now I seek the new agency Magritte created by these poetic fusings, not random collaging).

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But, then, the problem for Parker was, this is the effect I want, or close to it, but it appears to depend upon the fact that it is left as a two-layer front-back structure using only a surface and a fictive space, with no ground, and how do I build that gap into the piece, to maintain the gap, so that no one takes it literally, or as a work of craft or set design?

Her solution was to leave the house without a back. That is, it is a façade, and that’s that, there is no house inside, there is no inside inside, it’s just two sides, propped up like a stage set, and that’s it. Fine, but the thing that interested me was that in order to find formal justification for this form, she looked back and saw that, in fact, the Hitchcock house as a set only ever existed as a façade, with scaffold behind it, used in a few key shots, and then all the interior shots were located on a set. Here is the picture

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And the Met video took a shot to exactly, formalistically, mimic the above

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This was a fairly common comparison in the neoconceptual period, as, it was true, what struck you, if you looked into it, about the artificiality of movie sets, all fronts and stages, and the like, was that, physically, as constructed, they seemed to not only, if read symbolically, deconstruct back from the iconic use of the thing made in the movie’s illusions, thus feeding an ironic or materializing or a iconoclasting of the icon, or such details of production simply enhanced one’s knowledge and appreciation of the film. So, the movie set as set, which, in the field of movies, is simply a property, a set built, and then destroyed, the means only to an end, which is the movie, this unfinishedness, seen across a culture gap, from conceptual art to motion picture production, saw a family resemblance, decided that movie sets were “like” works of conceptual art, installations and the like, and thus their forms in their literal/production space unfinished forms could serve as a model for constructivist oriented conceptual art installations. The similarity was the source of the frisson which attracted the two forms to each other, and I know this because I did a lot of it, and such comparisons between shots of the sets of movies, rather than the movies themselves, served often as models for works of installational contemporary art, in my thinking

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But, the main problem I have with this idea now, is that it looks across a gap that ought not in fact, if you are looking for agentic meaning and pulse, be looked across. That is, in fact, it is only a co-incidental likeness, two completely different things, one being built and used in such and such a scaffold façade-only form simply to get it up for the shot, in the cheapest way possible, then tear it down; the other, an art installation using a constructivist vocabulary derived from its internal silo legacies. What Parker did was reagentify the piece one last time, to figure out, or abstract, that abstract lack of ground, by justifying, by comparing art to production property, unfinishedness, and thus she “finished” her piece by leaving it a two dimensional scaffold only

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That is, looking at her problem one more time, she saw the comparison, and made use of the comparison itself, however tenuous, and dated to the time, and reagentified the support of her art by making use of the comparison to give form, in the form of purposeful, symbolic, not incidential, side effect, budget-oriented unfinishedness. In this way, the incidental unfinishedness of the Psycho set turns into the instrumentalized “unfinishedness” of a work of art rendered “unfinished” in the support of the work by the incorporation of a reagentified parenthesis of comparison.

My only problem with this is that, like so many other errors made by default formalism, and then too supported by the notion that it is in the visual clash of fields that meaning is made, this is a spurious connection. In truth, the two things have nothing in common. Conceptual art has nothing to do with movie set production values in 1959. The random eye of the modernist mind, preoccupied too often with the gaps between fields, as opposed to the fields themselves, to the incessant barrage of disconnected and fragmented out of context comparisons, is lead to think that THAT is the stuff of modern life, and the subject for art. But, it is not. The spaces between fixed fields are NOT crawlspaces, not countercultures, not reverse agency ostension cultures (though they all can be), they are simply static, interference, an incidental side-effect of the proliferation of information, especially of a visual sort, in today’s world, But to surrender to that “undifferentiated mass of visual stimulation,” as one true second gen Warhol-Benjamin groupie of a movie critic in the Washington Post put it last week, is to be blinded by the trees of modern media life, when meaning remains, albeit harder to discern, in the forest itself.

For this reason, I consider that comparison between conceptual art and its constructivism, and the partial construction of movie sets for budgetary reasons, to be a pipedream of the neoconceptual moment, a comparing of apples and oranges, to supply it some nourishment as it sought out forms. I did it too (as I can document). But it is not an authentic agentic comparison, but a random, incidential, rationalized, default formalist comparison. It is as spurious as ancient alien theory, which is always drawing conclusions of relatedness between entirely unrelated things because of formal similarities. This default formalist fallacy lead some neoconceptualism astray, though there is also no doubt that in the actual conceptual background of a work of art perusing such scenes would be inspiring, to lead to art. What, then, if that is the 1991 version of the reading of the empty support of PsychoBarn, would be the agency theory reading?

For one thing, you would have to compare the house as is, to the house as it emerges in one field. That is, its form has preexisting meaning, which Parker has perhaps abstracted out of it by means of a co-incidental comparative grasp of its formal qualities of unfinishedness alone, and all that would be worked out within the field of movies. This would happen on the field level in terms of production notes, involving much more detail than this merely formal comparison, but also on the schema level, and the fact that the house exists in a long line of haunted houses, and is not iconic on its own but because it was related to a number of other haunted houses, that is, inside horror, in the genre, in the context of genre criticism, it was a robust trope, with a long shelf life, and it means something particular, and real, not coincidental, from that inside-field point of view. At present, I cannot go into the history of haunted houses, to situate Psycho’s house in that history, but this is where it’s true meaning as an iconic trigger of fear resides (this also links it to real life, because it is not just “that house from that movie” but directly, cultly linked to real haunted houses that really haunted real people, upon which horror movies are often based).

Then, too, if one is now dealing with the tropes of the field of the movies, and, subdividing from that, the tropes of the field of genre horror movies, then that insight would also result in a counter-side effect spin off of awareness that in this tradition a red barn is also a scary structure, and not at all the wholesome thing that Parker says it is. I offer an example from Jeepers Creepers 2, a bat out of hell, kept on the side of a barn for 23 years

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That is, in her mind, she is deconstructing the Psycho icon by fusing it with material from a counter form derived from a non-movie agricultural field in life, in which context it represents all-American wholesomeness. (by the way, having made this in-genre trope connection, my mind, musing on the piece, also extended the Psychoness of the house down in further too, so imagined the Met installing in galleries immediately below the house, objects of art from the Psycho house, such as

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Or these

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But, my problem is, I don’t think those agricultural triggers will activate in its surreal settings. The Psychoness form of the house so overrides the red barn fictive space that it is very likely to block it out. In that override, thinking of Psycho, the viewer is more than likely, if they are versed in horror movies, to know that red barns are scary too, thus read this as an intensification of scares, a doubling down on spookiness, and not an ironic deconstruction (halving) of them (though I concede at present the only example of barn and haunted house doubling up on each other that I know of in horror is, possibly, Friday the 13th 3 (1982).

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They will certainly not in any way be aware of the fact that Psycho as a set was only two sided, that will register as a hnh? so, the viewer sees the whole array of ideas in front of him or her, and goes all the way in, right away, to the Psycho house form as icon of a horror movie. And, fixating on that (2), they then instill special meaning in it by way of reagency, by which it speaks only of haunted houses

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just to clear it out, so I can drop down to the next level

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And inside the field meaning, as tropes, consideration of the Psycho house as an icon of the haunted house tradition spins off into a further realization that red barns are scary too, and have been negated and demonized as places of horror as much as haunted houses have.

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By this then the red barness of the siding, in the fictive space, pushes forward out through the Psycho form of the surface, to perhaps even surface, and in this way does not ironize and deplete the house, ie deconstruct it, for comparison sake, or for wry humor, but intensifies it, to make it even more scary, a double dose of scary.

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And it is by this from-the-inside-out, from the real-agentic-genre-life of the house as trope not mere form, and related to red barn as trope not form, the unfinishedness pushes the fictive space forward to intensify the Psycho form and push through to make it come alive as a work of art per se with an agentic array which directly impacts the viewer, my guess is as an apotropaic augury (appearing in the sky as it does) predicting not good things. That is, it may be (and I will never see it in person), that, atop the Met like that, in certain weather, the piece will not rest easy as a deconstructive exercise in spurious coincidental nonmigratory ersatz default formalism, but serve to give viewers the chills. If it does happen that it comes alive in this way, then the work is a success; if it does not, it is not.

It is not my claim that an artist’s thought processes have to be up to date to current theory to make art that functions in the world. But the world, especially the art world, is so profuse now, so spurious, and continues to be plagued, more so now more than previously, by the scabrous layers of false and empty meaning (see my piece on the life of genres, I consider contemporary art to be another genre now), while it can tolerate a dated bit of neoconceptualism, based on notions of cultural deconstruction that no longer apply, it needs art with authentic agency, and, for that, all the false comparisons that are rationalized into sense have to be worked out in a much more detailed and informed way (as documented here). I don’t think if you read Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn according to her reading, which is a 1991 reading, indicating that as an artist her mind with regard to process has fixated, you are going to get the best of PsychoBarn. But if you read it as situated vis a vis fields as they are understood today, as a device of the horror genre, interacting with another device of the horror genre, in movie as they reflect reality, and, then, extracted, by an artist who knows their full inherited meanings within the genre, to give new punch to neoconceptual practice, creating, then, of this object, an apotropaic trophy as it were, to augur of the current mood in the country, then, that is different, it works.

PS, I also had some spurious, and random associatings, which I am sure were completely outside the range of the artist’s conception. For example, red barn and structure placed over the Met, draws outo consideration of its original red brick form, which was in fact deconstructed back out into public space more than two decades ago, this then further serving the linkage in my mind between the Psycho house and the weird late Victorian art that haunted the mother’s bedroom

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As noted, I intend to do a follow-up to theis piece in which I survey instagrams and twitter shots of the PsychoBarn to determine exactly how the public at large, and then (if discernible) the art world crowd, saw the work, and whether its reception in real life in any way corresponds to either the artist’s original intention, or my putative analysis of how I might have seen it.