Saturday, January 06, 2007

Performance II

What little time I had for myself this week, I spent on making the playlist in my previous post, on reading Michel Surya's biography of Bataille and on thinking about Donald Cammel's and Nicholas Roeg's cinematic masterpiece 'Performance' .

In a previous post (here), I already ruminated on the listlessness of the eccentric, decadent, bi-sexual rockstar character played by Mick Jagger in the film - mr. Turner. I think Turners artistic impotence is one of the key issues of the film, one that is often downplayed in reviews.

In the previous post on Performance, I ascribed Turner's passivity to the possibility that from being a destabilizing, rejuvenating transgressive force, his hippiedom had already become a stabilized force. Why had his hippiedom stabilized? I think it is important in this regard to observe that the sequestered little world mr. Turner lives is sexual in nature - the sensual but claustrophobic, intimate yet cold ménage a trois is his entire world. But Turner's sexuality is not that of Bataille. Turner's is a 'liberated' sexuality, the sexuality of a libertine, a sexuality which does not see sex as "the darkest and most bloody part of yourself" but as a naive, optimistic pleasure which must be freed from interdictions and taboos. 'Liberated', eroticism has lost it's transgressive potential.

"Speaking of death makes us laugh in a strained and obscene manner. Speaking of sex no longer provokes the same reaction: sex is legal, only death is pornographic. Society, having 'liberated' sexuality, progressively replaces it with death which functions as a sacred rite and fundamental prohibition. In a previous, religious phase, death was revealed, recognized, while sexuality was prohibited. But today, the opposite is true" (Jean Baudrillard, 'Symbolic Exchange And Death', 1976).

Here we have the key to 'Performance'. Because he has 'liberated' eroticism from interdictions and taboos, made eroticism into a stabilizing formation instead of a destabilizing factor, Turner has been abandoned by the daemon that inspired him. Therefore he needs Chas as his daemon, to rekindle the flame of inspiration. Chas is the violent gangster, the homoerotic sadomasochist, the killer: the one who operates under the sign of death. And when Turner is finally inspired, the imagery of the song he sings is suffused with violence (see the lyrics for 'Memo From Turner' reproduced below).

From this perspective, 'Performance' can be read as a veritable potlach. While the first exchanges between Chas and mr. Turner are economic and military in nature (Chas pays to rent a room from Turner; Chas invades the mansion, the threesome retaliate with fly agaric), the character of the exchanges slips and a series of gift exchanges ensues. Chas gives inspiration - Turner gives a performance, singing the "Memo from Turner" song - Turner seduces Chas - Chas gives his body to Turner - Turner gives his life to Chas - Chas gives his life, too.

Memo From Turner
Didn't I see you down in San Antone on a hot and dusty night?

We were eating eggs in Sammy's when the black man there drew his knife.

Aw, you drowned that Jew in Rampton as he washed his sleeveless shirt,
You know, that Spanish-speaking gentlemen, the one we all called "Kurt."

Come now, gentleman, I know there's some mistake.
How forgetful I'm becoming, now you fixed your bus'ness straight.

I remember you in Hemlock Road in nineteen fifty-six.
You're a faggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick.

You're a lashing, smashing hunk of man, y
our sweat shines sweet and strong.
Your organ’s working perfectly, but there's a part that's not screwed on.

Weren't you at the Coke convention back in nineteen-sixty-five

You're the misbred, grey executive I've seen heavily advertised.

You're the great, gray man whose daughter licks policemen's buttons clean.

You're the man who squats behind the man who works the soft machine.

Come now, gentleman, your love is all I crave.

You'll still be in the circus when I'm laughing, laughing in my grave.

When the old men do the fighting and the young men all look on.

And the young girls eat their mothers meat from tubes of plasticon.

Be wary of these my gentle friends of all the skins you breed.

They have a tasty habit - they eat the hands that bleed.

So remember who you say you are and keep your noses clean.

Boys will be boys and play with toys so be strong with your beast.

Oh Rosie dear, doncha think it's queer, so stop me if you please.

The baby is dead, my lady said, "You gentlemen, why you all work for me?"

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