Since I have lacked the comfort of that light, The which was wont to lead my thoughts astray, I wander as in darkness of the night, Afraid of every danger’s least dismay.1
I have never seen or felt angels or even know if they really exist. We haven’t met, the angels and I. They have not been part of my life. They seem to belong to things that do not really concern me, such as major religious enterprises and patriarchal angst about other-worlds. But I am certainly not opposed to the idea of angels. They have an appealing ecumenical pull. Even my heroes k.d. lang and Jane Siberry soar and swing to the heavens every so often, singing “Calling all angels”. Angels have just never seemed immediately present. In fact, they seem far away from a world of slaughter and suffering, which is probably a good thing for them. Yet some traces in our culture do hint that they hang close at times when official sanction thrusts individuals up against a cold wall of pain and suffering,
From the twelfth century onwards Christ is clothed only in a loin-cloth and stands facing the observer, either behind or in front of the column, as in certain images on painted crosses… In the Flagellation on the earliest surviving painted cross in Sarzana two angels kneel on two roofs which descend steeply toward the column of Christ’s martyrdom; they illustrate Christ’s divinity in his hour of humiliation. They appear again on the side panels of the arms of a painted processional cross in the style of Cimabue…2
This image of Christ does contain a more than subtle erotic “O come ye forth earnest Catholic youth”. The scene blends several seemingly disparate elements: sensuality, violence and spirituality. Beneath a veneer of official Catholicism lies an association between “managed pain” administered by temporal masters and the transcendent spirituality achieved by the slave. The fountainheads of Western sadomasochism, whose contemporary adepts strive to arouse previously untapped passions, could hardly be clearer. The presence of angels at the flagellation underlines their role in contexts that draw together corporeal pain, physical passion and spiritual values.
The thing really is that I haven’t called on these far-away angels nor have they seen fit to call on me. They are distant from my daily life, although I like the fact that they helped out East German political refugees in Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire during the eighties. The image gave them a twentieth-century “feel” and placed them in the context of the spiritual issues of our own time period. But angels are a rarely-considered element in the world order. They are relegated to our subconscious as we obsess over debt-reduction, the hunt for welfare fraud and efforts to generally make government more “effective”. Due to its close links with light, significant theological questions can be raised about the information industry. Angels are made of light and presumably omnipresent , but part of a love about which the cybernet nineties are so inarticulate. The light of angels, their curly hair and rosy cheeks are just too incongruous on legal data-bases, corporate spread sheets, electronic bulletin boards or the Statscan on-line info service.3 As the portraits of Christ’s passion indicate, however, angels embody serious spiritual transcendence, not the saccharine love of Hallmark greeting cards. The seriousness of their role was openly acknowledged in pre-modern thought. Socrates, for example, referred to supernatural creatures to meet the charge of atheism,
…if I believe in supernatural beings, as you assert, if these supernatural beings are gods in any sense, we shall reach the conclusion which I mentioned just now when I said that you were testing my intelligence for your own amusement, by stating first that I do not believe in gods, and then again that I do, since I believe in supernatural beings. If on the other hand these supernatural beings are bastard children of the gods by nymphs or other mothers, as they are reputed to be, who in the world would believe in the children of gods and not in the gods themselves?4
After antiquity, angels became less intimate and more Augustan. St. Augustine makes angels his business (as he incidentally dollops simplicity and order onto Plato’s un-Christian universe) and is more categoric about their role and presence,
when God said, “Let there be light”, and light was created, then, if we are right in interpreting this as including the creation of the angels, they immediately become partakers of the eternal light, which is the unchanging Wisdom of God, the agent of God’s whole creation… the angels, illuminated by that light by which they were created, themselves became light, and are called “day”, by participation in the changeless light and day.5
Although this account is rather more Catholic than I could ever wish to sustain, it shows how angels are part of both Plato and Augustine’s world (although the shift from Platonic supernatural beings to eternal light must have been rude), giving them an impressive genealogy. In the 1990s, the Augustan after-life (along with many other things) has become distinctly temporal. We cut money to the poor, wave fingers at welfare mothers, castrate paedophiles and watch the slaughter of innocents over steaming TV dinners each evening, all the while making scant reference to angels and light. The prevailing social sadism of our time does not even aim at a better (Augustan) after-life, but merely hopes to maintain structures that are as yet undefined, but certainly something less than that to which we have become accustomed.
The chain of events that leads me to angels goes something like this:
It’s Gay Pride week in Toronto and I’m staying at Shannon’s. I arrive early, two days before she returns from a ten-day holiday in Greece. She bursts out of the arrivals lounge flush with the idea of learning to drive a standard transmission automobile, full of projects for becoming her own “master”. On Monday, Shannon phones a driving school, enrolls in horseback riding classes and then turns to renting a standard Jeep. The road to self-mastery arches off to the horizon even though she has to settle for a Jeep with an automatic transmission. We rush off to the Chrysler dealer at noon and spot several Jeeps for sale in the parking lot. All have standard transmissions. In a fit of mastery, Shannon spontaneously decides to buy her own standard Jeep. Negotiations drag on, but we emerge with a complimentary red automatic-transmission Jeep until she takes possession of her own. “Let’s take the top down,” Shannon says. We throw ourselves on the Jeep with Amazon frenzy. Zippers. Velcro. Vinyl. More zippers. More vinyl. More velcro. The scene has the feel of an SM porn shot as we sweat, puff and heave with zippers and velcro, unzipping and un-velcro-ing until we reach an impasse, not quite either master or slave to circumstances. A decidedly non-erotic sweat breaks out as we struggle with mind’s barriers to body’s pleasures. The roof is not off the vehicle, but merely de-constructed. A nice young man from the dealership then appears and calmly removes the top. No need to un-zip or un-velcro… just un-hook handles above the windshield and pull back. Mastery, its appears, requires deliberation. As we pull away, Shannon says, “I have to get the tiny perfect Buddha that Gad gave me soldered onto my earring. I want to go to Urban Primitives.” She steps on the gas, veers abruptly into the right lane and we’re off on a new mission. It is just after four p.m. Urban Primitives is a tattooing and piercing salon in a second-floor office on Church one-and-one-half blocks south of Wellesley, a site for inversion of the hegemonic mind-body rapport.
Piercing. Infibulate. The term is often used to refer to female circumcision but can also mean to fasten with a clasp or buckle; “while piercing is primarily done for erotic reasons, it has often been used to prohibit sexual indulgence – though to those of the bondage and discipline persuasion, even such restraint is doubtless erotic.”6 Infibulation. The action of infibulating; especially the fastening of the sexual organs with a fibula or clasp. Infibulation was an operation performed on young boys and singers by the Romans, who used it as a muzzle to human incontinence. Piercing is thus not at all a new practice: “the proud Roman centurions, Caesar’s bodyguards, wore nipple rings as a sign of their virility and courage, and as a dress accessory for holding their short capes.”7 However, piercing today’s body has different meanings than it did in Roman times: it is an act of resistance that violates the beauty norms set by the mainstream fashion-entertainment-advertising complex8 and re-appropriates a time-worn lieu of sexuality and fashion. In the West of the fashion-entertainment-advertising complex, the body can be conceived as a site of opposition to corporate homogenization and control because it is a surface upon which the “me” of the self meets the “I” of the gazing public. Considered as such, piercing is a form of mastery that is sexual and body-centred, wherein mind’s devices service the pleasures of the flesh. In north-west Kenya, in contrast, the complex’s norms, based on a nebulous mind-body split, do not apply,
By outwardly wearing the signs of inner states, combined with the signs of events and effects impinging on the body from the acts of others, the Turkana convert their skin into public surfaces, inscribed with visual statements of social potential.9
The Turkana show that dichotimization is but one, non-essential, way of conceiving the relation between body and mind.
My first inkling of angels is the sense that I am heading into a house of worship when we arrive at Urban Primitives. There, one speaks of piercing in hushed tones, as though connecting with another level of being or a wider community to which only the initiate truly accede. We walk upstairs to the offices and enter, for want of a better word, a buzz of activity. Not the buzz of flesh, but a buzz of society. The reception room is full of people. Two staff members are on duty and both know Shannon. A large heavy-set man with dark Rod-Stewart hair, unshaven beard and moustache, black T-shirt with cut-off sleeves and dark sparkling eyes greets us. “Hi Shannon! How are you?” he says brightly. Tattoos slide down his arms, staring at me, sizing me up. “Hi Shannon! Nice to see you again.” His colleague sports tattoos on both arms. Nose pierced one, two, three times. Ears covered with rings from the lower lobes up around and inside. Same Rod-Stewart hair, but shorter, lesbian-identified. “I need to get my earring soldered,” Shannon smiles broadly.
Two male suburban mall rats scurry in, looking around in wonder. A large poster for an international tattooing convention in Europe hangs on the wall. A well-dressed East Asian business type sits primly, waiting his turn, a Globe and Mail folded on his lap, a slightly absent expression on his face. A younger rocker strides in, does a 360 gape at the tattoo patterns on the wall and leaves.
Precession de toutes les determinations venues d’ailleurs, illisibles, indechiffrables, peu importe, l’essentiel est d’epouser la forme etrange de n’importe quel evenement, de n’importe quel objet, de n’importe quel etre fortuit, puisque de toute facon vous ne saurez jamais qui vous etes. Aujourd’hui ou les gens ont perdu leur ombre, il est de toute necessite d’etre suivi par quelqu’un, aujourd’hui ou chacun perd ses propres traces, il est de toute urgence que quelqu’un se mette dans vos traces, meme si par la il les efface et vous fait disparaitre, c’est une forme d’obligation symbolique qui se joue, une forme enigmatique de liaison et de deliaison.10
“You’ll be seeing Eroshia,” the lesbian-identified woman says, ushering us out of the room, to the right, down a short narrow hallway and into another office. The room resembles a dental or physician’s office. White walls, the calm spiritual pop sound of “Dead Can Dance” and cleanliness. A kitchen unit has been white-washed, a grey Ikea countertop is installed alongside the sink across from a white-vinyl lounge chair that comes pretty close to being a dentist’s chair. “She’ll be with you in a minute.”
Shannon eases into the white-vinyl lounge chair. I sit on a chair across from her, a large shelf unit next to my left shoulder, the door onto the hallway to my right. Eroshia comes in. Small, dark, vaguely playful, demonic. A dark angel. A tattoo on one arm. Earrings through her nose. I suddenly spot a framed photo entitled “Eroshia” on my right, next to the door. An out-of-focus colour print depicts an open mouth. A blurred earring line crosses the fussy lower lip. “I need to have my tiny perfect Buddha soldered onto this earring or I just know that I’ll lose it. It’s a gift from Gad and I can’t lose it.” “Okay, Shannon, that’s easy.” Eroshia turns to the earring, works on it briefly and stands back to look at the results. Without notice Shannon says, “You know, Eroshia, I think I’m ready to get my nipple pierced. I’ve always wanted to get my nipple pierced, the left nipple, on the same side as the tiny perfect Buddha. Can you do it today?” “No problem Shannon. Are you sure that you want to go ahead with it?” Eroshia stands back and eyes Shannon. A tiny smirk appears. “Absolutely. I just left my master. I’m ready to be my own master.” Shannon is deadly serious. I’ve seen that look before. The blue eyes are bluer, the eyes are set on their target and not letting go. Mastery for her means making this decision and holding to it,
No divinity shall cast lots for you, but you shall choose your own deity. Let him to whom falls the first lost first select a life to which he shall cleave of necessity. But virtue has no master over her, and each shall have more or less of her as he honours her or does her despite. The blame is his who chooses. God is blameless.11
“I’ve always wanted to get my nipple pierced,” I blurt out, “I like the look.” Eroshia shifts her steady look onto me. Dark light flashes in her eyes. “You know, you’ll come back here someday to have it done.” “Hmmph… doubters,” I think. There are limits to what even I do for fashion. “I don’t think I could go through with it,” I say calmly. I half-close my left eye and slowly shake my head from side to side as I say this.
Turning to Shannon, Eroshia says in a dead-pan voice “If you’re really sure that you want to go ahead with a piercing, you’ll have to sign forms. I’ll explain how to take care of it and show you how to prevent infection. I’ll go an’ get the rings so that you can choose one.” Shannon nods agreement to go ahead. Eroshia leaves the room. “She’s an apprentice. She’ll be a master someday. You can see it already. She’s really good,” Shannon explains.
…interviewees were not interested in pain at all; and those who were insisted that the word ‘pain’ was redundant, given that their activities were geared toward creating pleasurable rather than unpleasurable ‘sensations’. They also preferred the terms ‘master’ and ‘slave’ to ‘sadist’ and ‘masochist’, because these better described the motives and nature of the sex games they played… the Sadist runs the scene; the Masochist sets the limits. The Masochist says what you can’t use and how far you can go. But within that, the Sadist can do anything.12
I nod my head, trying to follow. A vague dizziness belches up from my stomach. “I just hope I don’t faint or something.” “Would you faint? Would it bother you to stay?” “I can’t look at needles or at my own blood during tests,” I laugh. It took me years to do an HIV test because I can’t stand the sight of my own blood. But I want to stay to share Shannon’s experience or some such horseshit. I cringe inwardly at the thought of a painful piercing. Ripped flesh. “I’ll be fine.” Or least I decide that I should be fine if I want to play a role in this scenario. I lean back, sigh, and think of the awards for best supporting roles at the Oscars. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?” Eroshia asks me, entering the room. We are in her domain now. She has to be in control, it is crucial. “Sure.” I lean slightly to my left, into the shelf unit.
Eroshia holds a small grey padded board with about thirty earrings pinned onto it. She offers the board to Shannon, who carefully eyes the selection. They talk about the advantages and disadvantages of several models. Shannon chooses a round gold earring with a small nob on one side. Aesthetically, it is quite okay, but I get a little more dizzy, feeling as well as I would if offered to choose what type of shovel I would like to use if I were being forced to bludgeon someone to death. Silver or gold head? These new Italian handgrips are really comfortable. My instincts are telling me to leave! leave! leave the room! I have a flash of the kill floor in the slaughterhouse where I worked for about a month in my early twenties. I can still distinctly smell freshly killed pigs and cattle when I think of that. Never will forget. I look at Shannon. Yep, she’s gonna do it. That look, open blue eyes now slightly level under her thin eyebrows, says it all. I decide to stay to check it out, to “support” her, to save face, to see what piercing is all about. The mix of performance piece and dental surgery in this scene is odd, but intrigues me.
Eroshia is assuming a look not unlike that of my former colleagues at the slaughterhouse. Working with flesh of any sort necessitates bureaucratic detachment, whether it’s chicken breasts or Shannon’s breast. The need for both distance and immediacy makes body modification or SM an intellectual and physical challenge. Eroshia is abstracting the process into a business deal, but understands that Shannon is investing in the spiritual energy of the piercing. This mix of mind’s tools for body’s ends is her own growing mastery. As a participant-observer, I see Eroshia abstract, and grow into more and more of a dark angel, a demon. An age-old concurrence of pain, emotion, devotion and ecclesiastical officialdom re-materializes,
Christ of the Flagellation in Ottonian art wears a long robe; he embraces the column with both arms, his hands are either held by a servant or are bound, his feet are not tied. Since whipping was an official act of the judiciary and took place in the praetorium, this building is nearly always from the tenth century onwards represented by various architectural motif. The column which supports the roof is also the whipping column. It therefore has a base and capital and is taller than Christ, even in images containing no spatial details. A German ivory plaque, which probably formed part of an antependium given by Otto I to the cathedral at Magdeburg, shows Christ being whipped in front of Pilate, who sits in the praetorium gazing as though spellbound at Christ. The ceremony of washing the hands is obviously over; servant, basin and jug simply allude to it. Manuscript illuminations portray the procurator either standing, as in the Codex Egberti, or seated, as in an Echternach Book of Pericopes (2nd quarter of the 11th century). His raised hands and pointing fingers must indicate his command to whip Christ.13
Eroshia leaves the room, muttering that the ring will not fit Shannon’s nipple. “She’s giving me a chance to back out,” Shannon says, “they always do this. It’s a sign of a good master.” I have no doubt but that Eroshia is setting the scene. And that Shannon is carefully defining the limits. Eroshia returns. “I think that this ring will work after all. It could be a little bigger, but you’ll see that it’ll be fine. You can replace it later if you want.” Out of stock, I think to myself. Good sales person. “I’m ready to go ahead if you are,” she says smiling.
Shannon wants to do the piercing on the floor. She strips off her shirt and pants with lightning speed, ready to get on with it, eager to embrace mastery. She sits down in the middle of the floor with her heels underneath her buttocks and knees spread. She sticks out her tits and stretches her hands back to touch the floor behind her on each side. “How’s this?” she asks in a professional manner, smiling, her back arching and fingertips stretching. I almost laugh aloud, amazed at her seizure of the moment. Eroshia, slightly more reserved, looks at her with anticipation and amusement. “Fine, really. I’ve never done one like this before, but it’s a great idea.” Eroshia brings out a small grey box. Shannon kneels down once more in her black Calvin Klein’s and black boots. I look at her nipples. Rosy red, pointy and boyish. Joyous nipples, curious about the world. Eroshia takes a set of what look like long pointed pliers from the box. I lean into my corner, eclipsing Shannon’s left nipple with her right shoulder. Eroshia asks if she is ready. Shannon is. Eroshia lines up her pliers. Okay, breathe three times slowly. I’m going to do it as you let out the third breath. One… two… three…
Fakir Musafar says that those who embrace body alteration reject
the Western cultural biases about ownership and use of the body. We believed that our body belonged to us. We had rejected the strong Judeo-Christian body programming and emotional conditioning to which we had all been subjected. Our bodies did not belong to some distant god sitting on a throne; or to that god’s priest or spokesperson; or to a father, mother, or spouse; or to the state or its monarch, ruler, or dictator; or to social institutions of the military, educational, correctional, or medical establishment. And the kind of language used to describe our behaviour (“self-mutilation”), was in itself a negative and prejudicial form of control.14
Fakir’s radical re-appropriation of the corporeal responds to the seizure of the body by medical and legal sciences in the nineteenth century. Bodily pleasure had to conform to abstract notions of the “natural” since this is what medical and legal sciences believed they were “discovering”. In fact, the seizure produced a standardization of bodily sensation within specific limits, limits that I suddenly realize Shannon is transgressing big time, as she forges onward into the land of non-procreative pleasure. In the 1990s, Fakir’s riposte also challenges the ejection/rejection of the body by a technologically obsessed society along with the hierarchies that this entails (mind over body, rich over poor, white over colour, hetero over homo, “health” over “sickness”, specialist over non-specialist). By modifying or altering the body, Fakir and others undertake
a deeply meaningful, transformative act. This self-fashioning impulse leads to an individualizing of the body and seems directly related to the struggle to create a sense of identity in a society felt to be dehumanizing, alienating, and characterized by increasing conformity… individuality, personal beliefs, sense of aesthetics, and oppositional stance must be articulated through the body and tangibly inscribed on… flesh.15
Although body modification in the West cannot appropriate non-Western practices and preserve the latter’s signification, taking the Turkana attitude into account, for example, throws new light on practices within our own culture.
To refine and substantiate Fakir’s critique, we might further ask whether body alteration rejects Judeo-Christian culture or (more precisely) the obsessive techno-scientific-economic mindset of its Enlightenment-Victorian offspring. In other words, condemning “Judeo-Christian” values in general ignores that the term is a cultural artefact like any other and, as such, susceptible to manipulation as time washes away outer armour and older layers of meaning stand newly exposed. The “tales” told about our culture must be questioned. We must ask who tells them, who edits them and why they do so in what way. Most tales of the body that we receive simply serve hegemonic mind-over-body marketing. If we re-read flagellation, for example, in light of Fakir’s point of view, the “passion” of martyrs becomes much less abstract and could turn Enlightenment-Victorian notions of the body on their head.16 By re-casting life as technologically (Internet) centred in a context in which political disempowerment is accentuating (via austerity measures that leave no room for political debate or policy alternatives), the priests of mind-over-body marketing and their information “revolution” ironically make a radical physical re-appropriation of the body possible by leaving the mass of the population with little else beyond their own corporeity. Instead of a noble vessel or source of sin, the body is highlighted as a site of authentic emotional-spiritual affirmation for those who practice body modification.17 Radical “body praxis” is not an unprecedented example of popular corporeal response to disempowerment and social crisis,
Medieval self-flagellation was a grim torture which people inflicted on themselves in the hope of inducing a judging and punishing God to put away his rod, to forgive them their sins, to spare them the greater chastisements which would otherwise be theirs in this life and the next. Yet beyond mere forgiveness lay another, still more intoxicating prospect. If even an orthodox friar could see in his own bleeding body an image of the body of Christ, it is not surprising that laymen who became flagellants and then escaped from ecclesiastical supervision should often have felt themselves to be charged with a redemptive mission which would secure not only their own salvation but that of all mankind. Like the crusading pauperes before them, heretical flagellant sects saw their penance as a collective imitatio Christi possessing a unique, eschatological value.18
Just as SM practitioners follow in the footsteps of medieval flagellants, post-punk neo-tribalism takes the ancient Western cultural tool of body decoration and uses it to challenge contemporary society’s artificial mind-body dichotomy. Rather than a juxtaposition of nature/body and spirit/mind as described by Irigaray, “where thought is separated from effect, thought being a logical construction for truths beyond earthly contingencies, which are associated more with affects, with nature,”19 piercing, tattoos and scarification apply modern technology to design a sensation. Mind thus turns to satisfying body’s pleasures by creating new emotions, new pleasures for a formerly neglected vessel, one seen as stolid, impassive, and needing mastery. Through body modification, the body sets the scene, defines its needs and sets its limits. This focus on body’s needs alongside those of mind undermines a cruel society that strokes out the needs of body through accounting procedures. These witch-hunts are carried out in the name of mind, of abstraction, of the categorisation of human beings in the name of efficient management.
Calling all angels.
Angel. Daimon or daimonion: supernatural presence or entity, somewhere between a god (theos) and a hero:
The belief in supernatural spirits somewhat less anthropomorphized than the Olympians is a very early feature of Greek popular religion; one such daimon is attached to a person at birth and determines, for good or evil, his fate (compare the Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, having a good daimon).20
I recoil into my corner, feeling sucked into the event by a powerful magnetizing force, but not daring to look. Eroshia, intent on the nipple, centred, concentrating, is unaware of anything around her so that her work is professionally done. I turn my head to the wall, waiting to hear a quick “clip” as I imagine I will. With the dark angel distracted by her craft and my eyes covered, the angels have a chance to do their work. Do I hear a rustle of white robes or the flapping of wings as I cringe in the corner? Is there a slight breeze as events move forward? I don’t exactly know.
The room falls away. Noise and perception draw away from us on all sides, retreating, then turning and rushing in with the force, noise and intensity of the oceans. I hear angels start to sing in a chorus. The voices are very high, very pure, innocent yet knowing, like yet unlike children singing. I know in my solar plexus that these are not children singing. A very pure breath of air colours my perceptions. The light becomes white. There is no scent, only a faint and pleasant warmth that oddly reassures. A tidal force pushes us upward and the heavens open. The things of the world swirl downward away from us. Faster and faster they turn down and away. Small bands of black form a few feet away and begin to spin around and around. Then thick yellow bands appear between the black ones. The second bands are dark enough to highlight patterns, shapes, and people and worldly forms. Both sets of bands continue to swirl around us, then rise rapidly like an inverted tornado that pulls the three of us upward. Faster and faster we turn, the yellow turning deeper, the angels singing, screaming, laughing.
On peut considerer l’energie comme une cause qui produit des effets, mais aussi comme un effet qui se reproduit lui-meme, et donc cesse d’obeir a toute causalite. Le paradoxe de l’energie est qu’elle est a la fois une revolution des causes et une revolution des effets, quasiment independantes l’une de l’autre, et qu’elle devient le lieu non seulement d’un enchainement des causes, mais d’un dechainement des effets.21
I shrink into the corner of my chair, having no sense of where or who I am. In front of me, Shannon leans back and began to . . . laugh/scream/wail/laugh/laugh/laugh (“it looks excruciating painful, but it’s not – it’s funny!”22). Eroshia hangs determinatedly onto her tit for what seems a long time, “clipping” it firmly. Shannon screams with laughter, leans forward into Eroshia’s left shoulder, placing her forehead on the shoulder.
Do I see Shannon, eyelids fluttering, throw her right arm behind her, the left arm remaining around the neck of Eroshia, who looks on steadily and adoringly as Shannon trembles imperceptibly, her skin turning ivory as a drop of blood slowly runs from the corner of her mouth above her wounded and now deeply pink nipple? Does Shannon’s sigh call forth a great hush, as though the world holds its breath and the heavens pause to take notice? Do I see Shannon suddenly turn pale in rich blue tumbling robes as a faint light glows warmly over her brow?… no, I do not.
…as we have just pointed out, whatever comes to pass, comes to pass according to laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth; nature, therefore, always observes laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth, although they may not all be known to us, and therefore she keeps a fixed and immutable order… it is certain that the ancients took for a miracle whatever they could not explain by the method adopted by the unlearned in such cases, namely, an appeal to the memory, a recalling of something similar, which is ordinarily regarded without wonder… 23
The swirling begins to slow. White light begins to filter through the room, which itself has re-appeared. A strange ritual calm takes hold. I float in the heavens, arms and legs waving, looking down into the room, trying to find my way back to the body. Shannon sits on the floor, patiently waiting, absorbed by her nipple, cradling her breast. Eroshia re-assumes the air of a bureaucrat of piercing, an oddly priest-like role, having initiated another adept to her cult. This dark angel has again played out an ancient drama. Suddenly, I’m in the room. Shannon turns to me and I see a flash of fear in her eyes and, beyond, a deeper torrent of pain/joy at the realization of self-ness.
le coeur battait, elle respirait, assise, les yeux vitreux, sans rien voir. Et c’a ete fini: “Les docteurs disaient qu’elle s’etreindrait comme une bougie: ce n’est pas ca, pas ca du tout, a dit ma soeur en sanglotant. – Mais, Madame, a repondu la garde, je vous assure que c’a ete une mort tres douce.”24
It costs $147, taxes included. We have to immediately go out onto the street to get money from a bank machine. The automobile exhaust is choking and the sharp light of day slices into me. It is five p.m., rush hour and Church is filled with cruising boys. The angels are gone, lost to the bustle and worry of everyday existence, to mind’s pursuit of mind’s needs.
Le pire, c’est la comprehension, qui n’est qu’une fonction sentimentale et inutile. La veritable connaissance, c’est celle de ce que nous ne comprendrons jamais dans l’autre, de ce qui dans l’autre fait que cet autre n’est pas soi-meme, et donc ne peut etre separe de soi, ni aliene par notre regard, ni institue dans son identite ou dans sa difference.25
As my screen glows, time to stop, I can’t help but wonder “are angels calling to me, their light shining a call for help and a comfort?” Or is the screen another pathetic imitation, another tool that we don’t know how to use except as an extension of a fearsome will to control? The sounds of the world wash in. At this end of century, as the world moves feverishly (intensified spiritual hum or mass marketing?), as the planet and its populations groan under an unsustainable burden of pain, suffering, hunger, injustice, environment deterioration, mass murder and disease, ancient body-centred spirituality offers a re-connection with the physical-ness that is no less human than the mind. The contemporary twist on the old form validates “me”. Hearing angels sing is an intensely non-cyber experience, celestial voyeurism for me as it lands up – no cost, no tax, no punishment, no censure, no mass distribution, no guilt. An affirmation of self, identity and the reality of authentic (as opposed to virtual) experience. A connection of the mind to the passions and to love, beginning in love of self and in offering pleasure, a treasured gift, to oneself. A rare delicacy for body and mind in the cybernet nineties.
1. Edmund Spenser, fragment of Sonnet 88, “Amoretti”, Books I and II of the The Faerie Queene, The Mutability Cantos and Selections from the Minor Poetry (edited by Robert Kellogg and Oliver Steele), New York, The Odyssey Press, 1965, p. 466.
2. Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. 2: The Passion of Jesus Christ, London: Lund Humphries, 1972, p. 67.
3. See http://www.statcan.ca/. No angel s there.
4. Plato, “Socrates’ Defense” (Apology) , 27d, in Plato: The Collected Dialogues (edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns), Princeton University Press, 1978, p. 14.
5. Augustine, City of God (edite d by David Knowles), Penguin Books: 1980, pp. 439-440.
6. V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern P rimitives: Tattoo, Piercing, Scarification, San Francisco: Re/Search Publications, 1989, p. 26.
7. Modern Primitives, p. 25.
8. The fashion-entertainment-advertisin g complex refers to the corporate sector whose focus is the reification and marketing of a homogenized vision of the human body. The sector sets a model of the human form alongside which we are invited to measure ourselves. The lack of alternative images endows this model with its hegemonic character. We see the images of the fashion-entertainment-advertising complex in Demi Moore, Marky Mark and Calvin Klein models. The message is that pleasure belongs to those meeting corporate standards of beauty, usually, in fact, those who are able work out 6 hours a day and/or willing to submit to costly and painful surgery. The imposing physicality that piercing initially evokes in many people pales alongside the torn flesh of cosmetic surgery. In fact, the two practices may only be different insofar as their “social-class site” is concerned. Piercing is a less costly and therefore more “popular and democratic” cultural practice.
9. Vigdis Broch-Due, “Making Meaning Ou t of Matter: Perceptions of Sex, Gender and Bodies among the Turkana”, in Broch-Due, Vigdis, Ingrid Rudie and Tone Bleie, Carved Flesh/Cast Selves: Gendered Symbols and Social Practices, Oxford: Berg, 1993, p. 71.
10. Jean Baudrillard, La Transpare nce du Mal: Essai sur les phenomenes extremes, Editions Galilee, 1990, p. 170-1.
11. Plato, “Republic”: X, 617e, in Plato: The Collected Dialogues (edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns), Princeton University Press, 1978, p. 841.
12. Bill Thompson, Sadomasochism: Painful Perversion or Pleasurable Play?, London: Cassell, 1994, pp. 136-7.
13. Schiller, pp. 66-67.
14. Fakir Musafar, “Body Play: State of Grace or Sickness?”, in Armando R. Favazza, Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry (2nd edition), Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1996, p. 326.
15. Daniel Wojcik, Punk and Neo-Tr ibal Body Art, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995. p. 34.
16. Indeed, it even turns our notions of the Victorian period on their head: “The Prince Albert, called a ‘dressing ring’ by Victorian haberdashers, was originally used to firmly secure the male genitalia in either the left or right pant leg during that era’s craze for extremely tight, crotch-binding trousers, thus minimizing a man’s natural endowment. Legend has it that Prince Albert wore such a ring to retract his foreskin and thus keep his member sweet-smelling so as not to offend the Queen.” Modern Primitives, p. 25.
17. Body modification is in fact wide spread in the West. The transformation of bodybuilding from socio-cultural marginalization to a widely-practice form of physical self-affirmation and the appearance of (pardon the pun) a sizeable population of obese persons in contemporary North America are two examples of attempts to affirm selfhood and identity through body modification. See, for example, Alan M. Klein, Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), especially chap. 9: “Comic-Book Masculinity and Cultural Fiction”.
18. Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of th e Millenium, NY: Essential Books, 1958, pp. 127-8.
19. Luce Irigaray, i love to you: Sketch for a Felicity Within History (Alison Martin, trans.), New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 116.
20. F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophic al Terms: A Historical Lexicon, New York: New York University Press, 1967, p. 33.
21. Baudrillard, p. 106-7.
22. Modern Primitives, p. 130.
23. Benedict de Spinoza, A Theolog ico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise (translated by R.H.M. Lewis), New York: Dover Publications, 1951, pp. 83-84.
24. Simone de Beauvoir, Une mort t res douce, Editions Gallimard, 1964, p. 137.
25. Baudrillard, p. 153.
Augustine, City of God (David Knowles, ed.), Penguin Books: 1980.
Baudrillard, Jean, La Transparence du Mal: Essai sur les phenomenes extremes, Editions Galilee, 1990.
Broch-Due, Vigdis, Ingrid Rudie and Tone Bleie, Carved Flesh/Cast Selves: Gendered Symbols and Social Practices, Oxford: Berg, 1993.
Cohn, N. The Pursuit of the Millenium, NY: Essential Books, 1958.
de Beauvoir, Simone, Une mort tres douce, Editions Gallimard, 1964
de Spinoza Benedict, A Theologico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise (trans.: R.H.M. Lewis), New York: Dover Publications, 1951
Favazza, Armando R., Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry (2nd edition), Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Halberstam, Judith, and Ira Livingston, Posthuman Bodies, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Irigaray, Luce, i love to you: Sketch for a Felicity Within History (Alison Martin, trans.), New York: Routledge, 1996.
Klein, Alan M., Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.
Mascia-Lees, Frances E., and Patricia Sharpe (eds.), Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, and Adornment: The Denaturalization of the Body in Culture and Text, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Peters, F.E., Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon, New York: New York University Press, 1967.
Plato, “Republic”, and “Socrates’ Defense” (Apology) in Plato: The Collected Dialogues (Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns, eds.), Princeton University Press, 1978.
Schiller, Gertrud, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. 2: The Passion of Jesus Christ, London: Lund Humphries, 1972.
Spenser, Edmund, Books I and II of the The Faerie Queene, The Mutability Cantos and Selections from the Minor Poetry (Robert Kellogg & Oliver Steele, eds.), New York, The Odyssey Press, 1965.
Thompson, Bill, Sadomasochism: Painful Perversion or Pleasurable Play?, London: Cassell, 1994.
Vale, V. and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives: Tattoo, Piercing, Scarification, San Francisco: Re/Search Publications, 1989.
Whisman, Vera, Queer by Choice: Lesbians, Gay Men and the Politics of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1996.
Wojcik, Daniel, Punk and Neo-Tribal Body Art, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.