a filmsong by Steven Augustine
The Kiss Off
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Decline of the Aura
1. Art is Honkies Fucking
The pedigree of the kiss in Western culture is less a matter of sex than of Christianity. Spirit is breath, it utters the sacred word. The early believers were enjoined to bestow on each other the kiss of peace. Blasphemy is the sacred’s inversion: the Judas kiss.
The kiss started to become secularized around the time of the troubadours. The fair skin of the beloved was a foreglimpse of the pleroma; through her lips poured the divine afflatus. Soon most of the afflatus had leaked out, but there was still enough left to puff the white sails of religion’s successor, romantic love.
By the time of the really iconographic kisses – Rodin, Klimt, Munch – many had begun to suspect that romantic love was a con. Schopenhauer and Darwin had given the hint: It was all about replenishing the racial stock. Hence the three most famous kisses of the time were also the most equivocal – too strenuous, or too brittle, or vampiric.
Along came Hollywood and pop music to re-inflate the tires. It wasn’t just a question of warm bodies after all, a whole society had to be reproduced. Rhett! Scarlett! Rhett! Scarlett! Some crooning, some swooning – then the Lent of mortgage payments, a new refrigerator, and picking a wallpaper pattern for the nursery.
The flowery script on the warranty said Forever but it wasn’t until Pop Art that we were able to appreciate the irony. Warhol’s Kiss (1963) would seem to spell the quietus est for twenty centuries of honkies fucking in frescoes and framed museum pieces. But instead we have a culture in the grip of cynical reason: I can’t stand to walk away . . . I can’t stand to stay . . . a generic pop tune in endless playback.
2. Art is Fucking Honkies
Traditionally the kiss symbolizes union. In the mingling of breaths, two souls meet and become one. Art, too, is supposed to resolve contradictions. It creates a unity that is “above” its determinations.
“Andy & Patty” refuses this harmonization, staging instead the disarticulation, the incommensurability of the very materials it brings together. They are not melded, only superimposed. Each new frame reframes the others.
The appearance of writing in a film destroys the unity of the image. So far so Godard, but the filmsong’s writing goes further, deploying the rhetorical figure of chiasmus:
Art is Honkies Fucking
Art is Fucking Honkies
Fucking is Art, Honkies
Chiasmus is the privileged trope of difference, of the production of difference-in-identity. It is the double-cross that undoes the self, in the same movement founding and confounding it. In this case, the universalist pretensions of Art are revealed to be a European narcissism, honkies pressing faces to the mirror.
The filmsong is chiastic in its very structure, almost an elaborate pun on the inverted parallelism of chiasmus itself. It opens with the straight couple from Warhol’s film but works its way to the mash-mouth of Warhol’s gay couple and a scene of two-fisted interracial monster-cock deep throating. Sexual difference and racial difference – ideological coordinates of the Great White Kiss.
In the era of cynical reason, however, nothing any longer has the power to shock, it’s all grist for the mill of social reproduction. Since Patty Hearst’s turn as “Tanya” even terrorism has become part of the spectacle. The only image to resist the tidal pull of banality is what would seem to be the most ordinary and everyday of them all, almost beneath notice: the scaffolding against the side of the building.
In the Greek alphabet the letter “chi” – the first letter in the name of Christ – is shaped like an X, a cross. For this reason chiasmus was once the favored trope of Christian writers. The scaffolding’s props and crossbeams also suggest a kind of Calvary. The two workmen arrive for their daily crucifixion.
The filmsong offers a chiastic pun on images of labor – labor as work, and childbirth as labor. These were, after all, the curses stamped on Adam and Eve’s eviction notice: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . . In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” I almost said Andy and Patty’s eviction notice.
The image of childbirth avoids the banal affirmation of “new beginnings” to the extent that it is by caesarian section. Instead it is a parody of the Virgin Birth. We see a gaping wound; there will be a scar.
Every document of civilization has as its verso a transcript of toil, written in scars. The same with love: there was always someone before you. It’s as if our kissing couple should separate for a moment and one – it doesn’t matter which – should say to the other, “Whose cock is that on your breath?”
3. Fucking is Art, Honkies
Astrolabe, centrifuge, one-armed bandit – the Andy & Patty chiasmus-machine keeps turning. Old binaries undone, their tokens may yet yield up an unforeseen combination or novel precipitate. The one moment when a pair of eyes looks back at the viewer is in the clip of the blond porn-actress at work. Like much women’s work, it must be performed on her knees. With her hands raised to the sides of her head on the mahogany crossbeams of enormous cocks, it is another image of crucifixion. Yet covered in sweat and spit and goo, her hair plastered and mascara smeared, she glistens as wetly as a newborn. And look at the technique, the brio, the sprezzatura – she is good at what she does, and she knows it. Colors mix on the palette. A new millennium of poetry and fucking is in store for those who can divine this threefold mystery. All others pay cash.