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Mary Kelly interviewed by Josefina Ayerza
"Gloria Patri"

JOSEFINA AYERZA: I see in your catalogue that Klaus Ottmann goes right into Lacan's theory on the mirror stage-the images of the fragmented body the idea of anticipation following deficit, the shielding. Are your shields depicting the ego?

Mary Kelly: Of course the famous dictum of Lacan is to say that the construction of any identify is fictive, a misrecognition but the premise is that it's necessary. I am very interested in two things: how the viewer actually negotiates this space - there could be a certain narrativization, registers of visual images compounding - and sees and read the story on the shield. The second is how the reflective surface of everything is a kind of metaphorical way of invoking the military facade and the basis for the spectator calling up the notion of the mirror phase perhaps literally. He has to fight for his own point of identification with the character in the story.

JA: Does the viewer see himself in the shield?

MK: Well, in a very distracted way, because there is also lighting. You negotiate the lighting and the reflections to find a place where you don't see yourself but you are still captured by the glimpse you got of yourself.

JA: The discs were hung curiously high. Is this meaningful?

MK: Just a joke on how one could state certain notions about masculinity, about what I've called its pathological variety. It takes shape historically at a moment when there's war and there's a mobilization of that ideology by the military.

JA: Does masculinity come from the top because it's the highest?

MK: No, not simply because you can look up. It's about intimidation - something that is also in Lacan. The military emblems don't actually present the logos as they are. They are a very simple montage.

JA: Some of the figures in the discs have been cut into halves, and then you juxtaposed these two halves. Why have you done this?

MK: There's a simple exchange, just enough to make some ironic comment on the logo. For example, when you put the officers' candidate school together with aviation, you get the wings of the dove on the end of the sword and the slogan "Follow Me," which looks quite sinister.

JA: It goes against your own version of hysteria: the fragmented hysterical female body splits in two while the male body defies difference. Aren't these male signs?

MK: This soldier/male, as positioned within the troop, determines a perfect machine; so much so that he will lose sense of concern with his individual self, with his corporeal reality becoming this kind of exoskeleton... Thus the military apparatus encompassed the notion of an ego, a shield, the military emblem. It impresses upon you the notion of unity, integrity and authority, and a certain hysteria is thus involved in cutting it, joining it together, making it somehow ridiculous. But I've left it intact enough so that it can still invoke the sign.

JA: When war comes along the body breaks up, loses pieces. There may be your pleasure, but this certain hysteria could be anticipating what may befall the military apparatus...

MK: Yes, that sort of anticipates something else which night be sort of implicit, not explicit. I am dealing with the facade of this military presence and then trying to parody it. Immediately you are struck by what is actually left out or expelled from that scenario: what the woman in the last story does by getting rid of the soft bit of her body is a kind of abjection of war, the other side of the facade, or as you say, what really happens to the human body, its abjection, its degradation...

JA: What does the woman do? What is this "soft bit of her body" she is supposed to lose?

MK: In the last story, the woman on the exercise machine is not really trying to make herself beautiful. Rather she becomes out of control and has a fantasy of mastery which pins down the dissociation from what is soft or decaying or wounded... the other side of the war.

JA: When we talk of body-social body, body politic-are we addressing the idea of Lacan in the enjoyment of it, or the being jumping into another body? Physical traits are not the sexual body, right?

MK: The body of fantasy, right.

JA: In Lacan's text on the "Purloined Letter," the body in the figure of a gigantic woman compromises the minister's room; her sex, the chimney, is where the minister hides the letter. This soft part which can be thrown out, wasted, burned in the chimney. Thus, going to the democratic body politic, do you think it could be feminine although its soldiers are men?

MK: Only if you are thinking of the body as the body of desire. I would agree with Catherine Millet who says it's the object of desire which is feminine, not the object of love; thus the axis of idealization and identification constructs different bodies.

JA: Identification follows the father relation, right?

MK: That is why this work is not about that body, because l am interested in the other side, in what constitutes the ideal: the axis of identification, the object of love which is not always what is feminine.

JA: Sure, already for Freud the first object of love is not the feminine but the father.

MK: Yes, this project is about the masculine ideal and how that applies to women as well as men. Raised in a very practical way in the scenario of the Gulf War, women say they demand the right to go to the front and kill, gay men ask why they are excluded from the R.O.T.C. You actually have to ask what is being suggested in the name of equality and what it is one actually aspires to; what is the ideal? It's not that all masculine identification is pathological. With the feminine, with the body as the object of the gaze, with woman playing her part as this sexual travesty through masquerade, what we didn't acknowledge was Lacan's reference to display. He hardly addresses it, but I'm always interested in the gaps in Lacan, what is not there...

JA: He hardly addresses it, as opposed to the masquerade which takes place in the symbolic register. Display, on the part of the male gets played out in the imaginary.

MK: Of this little part, I am interested in a tiny reference: he is writing about women being constructed as the object A for the man. Lacan doesn't actually draw out what the implications might be for the women. Literally, display applies to the man, but he couldn't have possibly restricted it since it's heavily implicated in a much deeper kind of trajectory around the mirror phase as he brings up the question of mimicry.

JA:So does the display counteract the masquerade?

MK: He also has the masquerade and she also has the display, and those are the things that haven't been theorized.

JA: What is the concept?

MK: Display seems to be the man's equivalent to the woman's masquerade. In the case of display, usually on the part of the male animal, or in the case of grimacing swelling by which the animal enters the play of combat in the form of intimidation, the being gives of himself or receives from the other something that is like a mask, a devil, an envelope, a torn-off skin, in order to cover the frame of the shield. Immediately you call up the defensive structure of the ego. I think display has at least two other meanings: one linked to the description of intimidation and one linked to the notion of camouflage. Both camouflage and intimidation come into play when elaborating on the larger concept of mimicry. So, taking camouflage as a start, Lacan says it's not a question of fading into the background, but of becoming mottled against it.

JA: Does this mottling against the background hook up with the "cause" or the " want to be" concerning the phallus?

MK: You are imitating it, as it were while, speaking a very mute kind of language that only signifies that one is Other. So when I close the display against it I am saying that the eradication of our visible traces of Otherness in the culture is part of the process of our incorporation in its authoritative voice. The process of colonization has to do with mimicry, with the so-called colonized attempts to be what the colonizer is. There is something almost parodic about the colonizer saying: "Oh no, that is not me." That horrible attempt has totally failed, right? But still it's a moment when you can see something else happening.

JA: What else is happening? Does the intimidating factor as much as you don't resist it, make for the sinister as much as for a sense beauty ?

MK: The shiny surface of the shields, of the trophies, with their scatological comments like "cut it off and kill it," or "kick ass," and then the logos being high up, all this invokes intimidation. It is also sinister, beautiful but sinister.

JA: We may be dealing with the splitting of the ego a big ego. In English we write "I" with a capital letter. Yet this image of the "I" is very close to the "I." As you divide the 1 in the military insignia, in a male context, what are you dividing? We know that woman is always divided; there is no problem in splitting the woman. But is it so simple with men?

MK: It occurs to me that by splitting, one challenges the discourse of mastery. This, going back to Lacan, would be the hysteric's discourse. In all the stories that I've written, the men start out in this position where they are mastering something. One is mastering nature on his fishing expedition, the other steps up to the plate to bat and the young boy starts off resisting his mother, being transgressive, but in every case they fail. The fishing story turns around with the hero watching him and taking his fish and controlling him.

JA: How does the third concept of display come in?

MK: The third concept of display invokes this defensive structure of the ego. Lacan doesn't say that it has anything to do with identification, but I wonder, can you talk about the ego without talking about identification, ultimately? And if you think about not just the ego in the military, but in artists, any institutional concept or context, and how it negotiates what was originally the prototype of those ideals. The family to which these egos belong is narcissistic.

JA: Intimidation and defense seem complimentary. Only by being intimidating can you defend yourself, unless you invent the whole thing in a very narcissistic way. How does stigma relate to intimidation?

MK: The grimacing and swelling is always a slightly regressive structure. This is how it takes you back to a kind of aggression which does not even recognize what is being done to the other. It reminds me of what happens in war. The further back you go, the closer you get to your own vulnerability and annihilation. I can't help thinking on the other side of this idea of war that we started with, and Bataille's notion that death has to do with the total disintegration of our integrity as a separate body. At the other extreme, from the notion of display as intimidation and the obliteration of the visible body, in order to have a position and to become a shield, you pass through this whole field, like a prism. Finally death and decay obliterate it on the extreme other end of its being abject. Is that possibly how the stigma might be linked to the notion of intimidation?

JA: I would say the stigma is what makes for the hysteria, what accounts for the division you were talking about...

MK: There are two different poles of obliteration. In the negotiating of the body between those two extremes it's the woman's body and Christ's body, and the other forms it takes on its route to abjection.

JA: How does the contemporary woman relate to abjection?

MK: I am very interested in the way that throughout popular culture there are more images of woman as aggressive, as breaking the glass ceiling, or the canvas ceiling in art, or whatever actually is necessary. I still see that it's conceived of along the lines of the masculine ideal. That is, a kind of pervasive ideal, there is no other way to make it or enter into it on those terms to obliterate something.

JA: In the late Lacan, the name of the father is the "real." How does the splitting of the logos deal with this?

MK: Well... the splitting of the semaphores or logos can invoke a splitting of the name of the father, insofar as you have these military institutions representing a kind of paternal order in a very explicit way.

JA: Is it really intervening the structure?

MK: Yes, absolutely.