the armless wonder (before the thalidomide scare of the late 1950s), the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hiiton—and dwarfs, pinheads, bearded women, sword swallowers, etc.; in short, the typical array of creatures found in a side-show at the circus before these displays were outlawed. Browning himself was banned from the film industry for indulging such lowbrow taste and numbing obscenity.
When the terrorists of al Qàedà struck the World Trade Center buildings with airplanes on September 11, 2001 between 8:45AM and 9:03AM I knew the Bauharoque had begun.
The Goths, of course, have followed Sontag off the cliff because of what she says about art. “Much of Modern Art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. By getting used to what formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, because it was too shocking, painful, or embarrassing, art changes morals—that body of psychic customs and public sanctions that draws a vague boundary between what is emotionally and spontaneously intolerable and what is not.” This mission statement is what drove the “Théâtre du Grand Guignol” (The French Theater of Fear, Terror and Horror) to exist continuously at one location—20 Rue Chaptal in the Arrondissement of Montmartre, Paris from Wednesday April 11, 1897 until American snuff and slasher movies put it out of business on Monday, November 26 1962.
The Gothic Sensibility became quickly international so the Noosphere of the world was really its origin. It was lauded at the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts in an Exhibition entitled Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art. Curated by Christoph Grunenburg, it features the work of 23 artists who according to the catalogue “produce horror as well as amazement through often repulsive, fragmented and contorted forms. Some employ a detached and reductive formal language to evoke discomfort and claustrophobia or to transmute images of gruesome violence, achieving an equally disconcerting impact.” In the catalogue there are reproductions of work by Julie Becker, Monica Carocci, Gregory Crewdson and that monster from the 1950s, Jackson Pollock, photographs of fashion designs by Thierry Mugler and musical performances by Marilyn Manson and the rock band Bauhaus. The films that accompanied the exhibition featured Browning’s Freaks.
I went on the Institute’s free-day (I believe artists should not have to pay for anything) and found the show somewhat disappointing. When I attend exhibitions that purport to display a radical change in sensibility I expect to be shown something authentically new. This was not the case. I had either done personal examples of the work shown or had anticipated them. I felt no jealousy here. Leaving the ICA I realized why. The “Youthquake” that was started by Elvis’s hips in the early 1950s had finally run its course and everyone is affected. There is no more high- or lowbrow taste. We are all hip now. Even the quintessential outlaw motorcycle gangs of Harley-Davidson riders—The Hell’s Angels (the ad hoc carrier wave of the youth movement, which started in 1948) now has retirement policies. The last time they went to court, which was in 1993, it was not to defend themselves against criminal charges—but to sue Marvel Comics for damaging the club’s “goodwill” by issuing a comic book entitled Hell’s Angel. Today, therefore, persons regardless of age have the right to consider (him, her, or it) themselves just as “alive” as anybody else.
As my foot landed on the last front step of the ICA and I was out on Boylston Street heading toward my studio I knew there was a change coming much larger than a change of sensibility. It was the third phase of Modernism after Postmodernism, similar in the flow of history to the third section of the Italian Renaissance cycle the Baroque just after Mannerism. The Baroque artists returned to the logical organizations of early Renaissance with a new energy derived from the forms of the High Gothic that artists of the Early Renaissance had eschewed. In 1986 I called our third phase of Modernism the Bauharoque in homage to the Bauhaus (1919-1933) the school that symbolized Heroic Modernism and the Baroque characterized by drama, movement and tension, grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, and flamboyance. The Bauharoque holds onto Modernism but harkens back to the crazy energy of the 19th century. In 1991 Ada Louise Huxtable, America’s leading architecture critic, named it the “Neo-Modern” or the “Post-Post- Modernism” (being neutral enough not to “inhibit” creativity) and a Washington, DC artist and art critic, J. W. Mahoney, added in 1992 to this lexicon of the discourse of the future the word “Transmodern,” which I like because it refers to entering another realm such as death on the cultural scale.
When the terrorists of al Qàedà struck the World Trade Center buildings with airplanes on September 11, 2001 between 8:45AM and 9:03AM I knew the
Bauharoque had begun. The time symmetry of the presence of Minoru Yamasaki’s Twin Towers (a huge eleven—the most ominous of the numbers
—in the New York skyline) was too much to resist. Yamasaki’s buildings started Postmodernism with a death and ended it with a death.
That thieving maggot-pie of the art world composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-), I believe, got it wrong when he declared the attack on 9/11 to be the greatest artwork in the history of the world (meaning “lowering the threshold of what is terrible”). This had already been done in 1973 by Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein as Joan Hawkins wrote in her book Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde (2000) about Andy’s film:
And in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Frankenstein brings his female zombie to life in one of the most bizarre copulation scenes in the history of cinema. “To know death, Otto,” (he tells his assistant when he’s finished penetrating the zombie’s “digestive parts,”) “you have to fuck life in the gallbladder.”
Since the story of Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley (1797-1851) a country girl of nineteen, one can only but gather the inference that horror, terror and death can be best understood by the adolescent female because only they can really know the opposite, the joy and freedom of giving birth. Thus the practitioners of male dominated aesthetics characteristic of the 20th century will have trouble adjusting to the new Thanataesthetics of the 21st. When Osama bin Laden thought he was handing us a fresh beaker of death to drink from, he was actually being influenced by Andy Warhol (1928-1987), that epicene, intersexual maestro of American art, who after 16 years of being dead, still has us all by the throat. Andy’s message is that in the United States we are not very grown up—the complaint of most women about most men— and it is time to grow up and face death.
Thanataesthetics can be examined from three different perspectives of Transcendent Symbolism. The use of symbolism as the mode of expression is necessary because Utopic Space, the space that connects the space of life with the space of death into a developing continuity, is by nature an interdimensional space in between the classic Fourth-Dimensional Realm (Time-Solvoid) and the higher Fifth-Dimensional Realm (Eternity-Vosolid).
FASHION AESTHETICS is the expression of the SACRAMENTAL REVELATION of the human body as a form of energy, distinct from energy like electricity that informed Mary Shelley of how Frankenstein’s Monster would come to life and produce the physical senses, the alimentary and respiratory systems, as well as the urges for food, sex, information, privacy, communality, indifference, love and hate. Instead the SACRAMENTAL is described by an eternal energy that is efficacious without motion, and limited by the mathematics of the so-called Divine Proportion or PHI. This meta- energy mathematics was codified in 1899 as the Greek letter O (PHI), the initial letter of the name Phidias (fl.ca. 490-430 BCE), the master sculptor who designed the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens with the help of the architects Ictinus and Callicrates. Phi refers to the logarithmic or equiangular spiral, the Fibonacci series (named after Leonardo Fibonacci-Filius Bonacci, alias Leonardo of Pisa (1175-1250)) sent out to infinity and then divided by itself, also the parabola and the Golden Section (.382…/.618…) : e2 = (Φ+ Φ
′)2. The basic equation for the proportion of death is : x + 1/ x = x/1 or x2 – x- 1 = 0. The positive solution Φ: x = (1 + √5) /2 and the negative solution Φ′: x
= (1-√5) /2 are both evident in animal and human forms. Also the Ancient Egyptians discovered that Π= (3.1416…) is related to Φ, or Π= Φ2. (6/5) or 3.1416…= 2.168… (6/5).
“To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gallbladder.” -Udo Kier in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.
The PHI proportion of death permeates every life form on the planet with the exception of the Ginkgo Biloba Tree which is dated as beginning in the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era—286 million years ago. Its genes, however, are even older, dating from the Archean Period of the Precambian Era—4,000 million years ago when life was said to appear as the earliest algae and primitive bacteria. What happened was the seeds of the Ginkgo Biloba Tree arrived on earth encapsulated in the frozen centers of comets, therefore, could not have committed any moral turpitude along the way. Some parts of the seeds did thaw out to become the beginnings of life, sin, and death. As it says in Romans 6:21 and 23; “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? (Seeds speaking to humans) For the end of those things is death. For the wages of sin is death.”
When the Ginkgo Biloba appeared full blown in the Permian Period it was realized to be the fabulous TREE OF LIFE (it smells so bad that people are given to avoid eating it)—but in capsule form as it is taken now, Ginkgo Biloba, is a life extender because it improves circulation to the genitals and the brain. THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL is, of
course, the wild crisp Macintosh Apple Tree.
Sir d’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), one of the most distinguished scientists of the modern era, sets forth his analysis of the nature of the Divine Proportion in On Growth And Form, first written in 1917 and revised in 1942. As an example he describes the equiangular spiral as follows:
“And it follows from this that it is in the hard parts of organisms, and not the soft, fleshy, actively growing parts, that this spiral is commonly and characteristically found; not in the fresh mobile tissue whose form is constrained merely by the active forces of the moment; but in things like shell and tusk, and horn and claw, visibly composed of parts successively and permanently laid down. The shell-less mollusks are never spiral; the snail is spiral but not the slug. In short, it is the shell which curves the snail and not the snail which curves the shell. THE LOGARITHMIC SPIRAL, IS CHARACTERISTIC, NOT OF THE LIVING TISSUES, BUT OF THE DEAD.”
This energy of eternity, therefore, can transform the sorrow of the ritualized sacrifice of the time of our lives into: fashions, styles, modes, vogues, fads, rages and crazes, and into the joy of becoming vessels that receive the Divine as nourishment. This is the penetration of the BEAUTY BARRIER to the truth which then divulges THE LUX OF SYNESTHESIA—the pure light that combines all the senses into the universal remedy to all earthly problems, THE AZOTH, which then becomes like an all consuming drink from The River Lethe.
IT IS, THEREFORE, THE EXTINCTION OF THE PAST.
VAMPIRE AESTHETICS, the prophetic, is the expression of the Revelation of the Soul as the mystery of the tension between Fate and Free Will. There is a natural innocence to Fate and a natural guilt to Free Will. Many religious
traditions acknowledge the reality of evil as both sufficient and necessary for the existence and fulfillment of Free Will. Often at the entrances of religious establishments or organizations that require a personal commitment to a mission, you will see a small sign with tasteful graphics beseeching passersby making Free Will donations to the cause. To the secular mind the sign means simply giving money, but to more spiritually oriented minds, this is a request to give up part of your natural quantum of Free Will. The Free Will, as opposed to the controlled will, is considered a fit subject for the exorcism of evil spirits.
Design for a bumper sticker for “Thanataesthetics,” Paul Laffoley, 9” x 3”, India ink, letters on board, September 11, 2001
It is the essence of the VAMPIRE that it is a person of either sex that preys on others. Often the Vampire is described as the reanimated body of a dead person believed to come from the grave at night and suck the blood of persons asleep, similar to the Incubus, an evil spirit that lies on women in their sleep and has sexual intercourse with them, and as does the Succubus— a demon assuming female form in order to have sexual intercourse with men in their sleep. As an example, a woman who exploits and ruins her lover— sometimes called a FEMME FATALE—is a type of vampire. It can just as
easily be the opposite sex; L’HOMME FATALE, depending on whose gonads are being gored.
From the world of Opera comes the tale of the willful cigarette sweatshop girl Carmen. Carmen challenges the Divinity of Fate by seeking a man who refuses to pay any attention to her. To the accompaniment of the theme of Fate that again and again suggests the irresistible but sinister attraction, Carmen pursues the idealistic soldier Don Jose. Her Free Will impels her to stroll saucily up to the corporal and takes a flower from her bodice and tosses it in his face. Everyone laughs at his obvious embarrassment. As the factory bell sounds again, Carmen and the others leave him alone to pick up the flower. The story goes on with the usual twists and turns of the scenario of “La Grande Passion” until Don Jose knifes her in the Bull Ring to the sounds of “The Toreador Song” in praise of the victorious Escamillo, Carmen’s next piece of fresh sexual meat to carve. Also the film Fatal Attraction (1987) utilizes some of the same themes, but amplified a thousandfold by means of cinematic tricks and stunts. Glenn Close is the heroine of Fatal Attraction as she is in the film version of Pierre Choderlos De Laclos’s 18th century novel Liaisons Dangereuses, where the theme of the powerful woman having sex without love and crushing every “petit maitre” in sight is the kicker. Glenn Close, herself, always impressed me as a woman who has great difficulty simply existing.
The current use of the “Medieval Morality Play” format has attempted to revive the tension between FATE and FREE WILL that “Scientism” thought it had eliminated. By reducing FATE to temporal or causal determinism, and FREE WILL to temporal or causal indeterminism, according to advocates of “Scientism” all morality should vanish into a cloud of unknowingness and neutrality. Secularism would reign. The Soul’s only salvation, however, is to be caught up in the conflict between the world-views of the future and one’s present personal agenda. Trying to avoid the mystery of the conflict by reasoning that, “we are free to do what we will, but we are morally responsible only for what we do in the future, and not for what we are right now,” will not work.