Exquisite Corpse - Issue 3
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Skeuromorph Detective
by Julian Semilian


Part 2  The Goddess

for Andrea and Sarah, godesses

You're driving on Sunset Strip and you're entranced by a young woman in underwear: the ebony tops of her stockings are barely apparent above the lower part of the billboard's frame, socling her thin pale thighs; the obsidian persistence of her pupils traces your movement and you're unable to turn away, though in muted anguish you assume her gaze is not meant for you; still, since it is not directed at an off-frame lover or suitor she hopes to entrance, you're hopeful; yet, though her stare traces you, you're certain she doesn't need you; for no reason you can discern, you suddenly think of quoting Baudrillard on seduction as an opening line, yes quoting Baudrillard on seduction may seduce as the appropriate opening line; but you quickly sober up to the clear possibility of the penury of her training in irony, and realize it will leave her no less insouciant than at the moment you first spied her. No, she needs nothing, that is certain. Though she gazes directly at you, her gaze is neutral, blank, ensconced as she is in the instruments of her allure, which she herself wears as nonchalantly as tennis-wear, in direct disregard of the power of their allure. That you are enraptured, it is your responsibility, not hers. There is no discussion, no words you may emit, no humor to spout that will move her. She is Goddess.

Does she understand the power she has over you? Because even though by now you have parked your car, even though by now you smile in the crammed elevator at the faces you've become accustomed to, even though by now the years have passed, she hasn't left you. It occurs to you the only relationship you can expect to have with her is one of propitiation: on your knees, praying, the only mode of gesticulation that you may engage in hoping to move her. You recall that long ago you built an altar to Rimbaud and prayed you could be as great a poet as he, but you reject it as improbable, perhaps a touch too eagerly, that your Goddess and Rimbaud mirror one another in any manner. Instead you think of Rilke and his terrible angel; what if she did embrace you and took you close to her heart? Would you dissolve into her greater being? Would she haughtily refuse to annihilate you? You chide yourself for being so gullible: you, poet, you, master of images, you, discerner of disguises, despiser of designers, intransigent debaser of all advertisers, more, contemptuous of all manner of manipulations for the purposes of squeezing your life away by forcing you, against your enlightened judgment, to purchase the stuff of their production.

You snicker: certainly, the only reason she refuses to annihilate you is because she needs your money; indeed, you're already thinking of your own live lover, and how entrancing she might appear bedighted in the allure instruments wielded by the billboard enchanter; yes, you're already staging before her a convincing argument in favor of her purchasing the allure's instruments. You hate yourself for it but console yourself that the devil is not the billboarded eroticism of this enchanter: the devil is what allows the eroticism to serve greed. There is absolutely no doubt we live at all times in a state of high erotic agitation. There is absolutely no doubt the international forces of world production colonize this need, as they colonize beauty and freedom. But the erotic illusion itself is nice and we should always have some of it.

Still, the years pass and there you are, still on your knees, praying to a designer model whose only mode of being you can discern is insouciance. Yes, the years pass, myriad events are quickly sucked into the quicksand of forgetfulness, including real live lovers, but not she. You amuse yourself by recalling that the designer's first name is also the name of an anti-erotic religious leader of ages past, but the realm of possibilities this idea might open for you, with its limited, perhaps forced, ironical reverberation, is not something you wish to pursue. On the other hand, you attempt to rescue yourself from the present's concrete, to unrestrain yourself out of the contemporary quotidian's straight jacket and you ease your troubled psyche by delving into a haze of erotical cults of the past: as a skeuromorph detective, you remind yourself that's what you are, you're proud to conjecture the billboard goddess is a skeuromorph too, perhaps of the cult of Venus, perhaps of the cult of the Virgin, maybe a fusion of both, you're not quite sure at the moment, your history, like the Sunset Strip, is in a haze. Yet, you know you're on a roll when at random you open Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction": "...the unique value of the 'authentic' work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. This ritualistic basis, however remote, is still recognizable as secularized ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty." By now any occulted discomfort you may have felt praying on your knees before a billboard Goddess vanishes; the blare of blasphemy's trumpet in the backstage of your inner formulations is now merely a distant echo. Confident, proud, you return to your metaphysics and aimlessly ask yourself: is the quality of the entrancement, of rapture, engendered by the sight of a skeuromorph, lower on the scale of entrancements, than the entrancement engendered by an original?


You suddenly recall -- how could you ever have forgotten? -- that across her sweatshirt's chest, in white Rodchenko script, was scrawled the improbable formulation, the word "improbable". And behind her, clouds, as though to underline the godlike.

Yes, improbable, as in "it is improbable you'll ever have me", you snort. Improbable, a mechanism to both distance and attract, push and pull, a quicksand that will never spit you out but never entirely suck you in.

"Unaproachability," says Benjamin, again to your rescue, "is indeed a major quality of the cult image. True to its nature, it remains distant, however close it may be. The closeness which one may gain from its subject matter does not impair the distance which it retains in its appearance."

The improbable being the only god we still possess, and why  not, why should he not be a she who is a model? "... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness." Thus spoke Feuerbach as quoted by Debord.

My Hungarian friend the painter would have approved and gone berserk, over the dichotomy, as well as over thighs socled by the  black stocking tops, barely apparent, but still, apparent; "barely, so as to mitigate their mythology," he would syllogize, "but even more intrusive on account of their near exclusion; the magic of the bedroom grafted unto the quotidian, lingerie  staged as neutralized quotidian, tenniswear lingerie, so to speak," and would wave his fingers; "the element of tease taken to its peak through the force of the dichotomy to impart both craving and disdain. The expected lacy top stripped of lace but still implied,"; and the driver-by, impaled by this drive-by double bind. Prayer is, yes, appropriate, for in prayer the double bind is ever more insidious: if desire is evil and vain, why are we praying? To be saved from desire and live forever in an antiseptic moral asylum? Hell, no! At least with your Rilke Goddess you get both sex and poetry, a momentary eternity, certainly, but one from which you'll never recover!

All in designer lingerie! Yes, you agree that a god in designer lingerie, no, you agree God himself would agree to designer lingerie!

And, in parentheses, the thought occurs to you that if God weren't a woman and showed up in lingerie, then he would most certainly open the way for world wide transvestitism; you would love to see those waiting for the Messiah then! Finally, a heaven a little more to your taste. End of parentheses.

Thus the even more hazardous dichotomy at the core: even as neutralized quotidian, as tenniswear, so to speak, its teasing formulations were as effective, as destructive, as before. Still the same decoration on the void, on death, as before, trimlined and assembled to reveal the trimlining this post post whatever life you've been riverbedded into, the disappearance of any borderline between private and public; a knee, an ankle, a thigh, the bewitching ballet in the swirling of careless finger, trimmed and tapered to stun; no longer necessary to abscond with these to the safe asylum of the boudoir chamber; the world is your boudoir! The objects parading before you, a camoed ankle, a socled thigh, a crease at the knee, a gauzy shoulder, the swirling of a careless finger, it's all it takes and you're dizzy and drunk like a cavorting Corybante, and you like it and question no longer the factitiousness of her existence, and that you yourself have become a skeuromorph, drawing the waters of your inner existence from the forces of production of useless commodities, fodder for Guy Debord...


You once heard of someone obsessed with a saint for whom that saint appeared; you've heard of someone obsessed with a movie star who prayed to picture the movie star till the movie star materialized. And what if you should meet her? What if in her original form she is a graduate student in French lit, fluent in Rimbaud, conversant in Baudrillard, who pays her way through college by modeling designer underwear? Can you blame her for not wishing to sling hash? This deconstruction though brings you no relief; she demands to be returned to the socle of her goddesshood. Yes, it's better if in her original aspect she is preparing to lead the new revolution, what if she is an insurgent information-age female Che Guevarra? Place a beret on her ebony tresses, and she will certainly remind you of Tanya, if not El Che himself. The disguise is brilliantly transcendent: a revolutionary in erotic underwear, her beauty only apparently colonized by the forces of production for the purpose of making you purchase, forces both you and she despise; the beret on her ebony tresses a positively bewitching admixture to the allure of the underwear.  (For a moment you feel ashamed of your over-indulgent straying in the realm of erotica, but then instantly remind yourself the only true revolution should be erotic in essence, and douse the shame in the balsam of Gherasim Luca's injunction to "eroticize the proletariat".)


The years pass and you recall her face once again, and again you recall she reminds you of Rimbaud, this time you're less eager to reject the resemblance, yes, certainly, the black & white picture on the cover of Illuminations, the one translated by Louise Varese. You leap with mirth, your skeuromorph detective chest swells with pride, as Rimbaud's line leaps before you: "I" is another! Yes, you congratulate yourself on this sublime instant of sleuthing. Rimbaud returned as an entrancing model in underwear to glorify a billboard on Sunset Blvd.! Perhaps there is hope, yes, maybe there is hope! While millions of the prayerful are still awaiting their messiah, or to be sucked up to the heavens, the poet need wait no longer!

You choose to ignore for the moment Rimbaud the commerant, and enshrine only Rimbaud the voyou.. Yes, Rimbaud himself, in your wayward translation, says he likes "awkward paintings garnishing gates, backdrops, peeling canvasses portraying tumbling saltimbancos... erotical manuals indifferent to spelling..." and "... the cult of Mary, fervent devotion to the crucifixion reawakens within me through a myriad of profane marionette portrayals."

Your knees too are suddenly soft, as though ensconced in the silky material of devotion; yes devotion shoots its flames through your entrails and momentarily melts amnesia's freeze: devotion to Rimbaud, to young devoted virgins and venuses, to underwear and thighs you will never forget; and you challenge anyone reading these pages to argue with you that Rimbaud is not God.

And yet, once again you ask yourself, you can't help asking yourself: to what degree does the quality of the entrancement transmute in the process of skeuromorphism? Is there an essential difference between the dizzy entrancement one is gripped by at the sight or the sensing of silk and the one when one is sensing the skeuomorph? You ask yourself this question because, as a skeuromorph detective, you're leading a rich inner life amidst the skeromorphed substances. You spend a great deal of time thinking about substances and their natures. Having dipped into the philosophers, they too squabble over the nature of substances. It's a professional hazard, thinking of substances, when you're a skeuromorph detective. In your spare time you phantasize about the acrobatics of ironical transmutation of styrofoam to gold.

Yes, you are the alchemist to turn styrofoam to gold,  petroleum products back to silk. Or perhaps, your other choice would be, skeuromorphism is not an illness at all. You quote Paz to yourself to validate your inner skeuromorphic excursions:

It is a creature of reflections
that we create by thinking
it hurls us into fictitious abysses.
Profundities, transparencies
where it floats or sinks: not life, its idea.

You will not abandon Paz -- you will never abandon Paz, the idea itself is the gold -- but feel you may have misread or that it's another reading that calls for your attention. Besides, you don't want to be fodder for Guy Debord. Having dipped into the philosophers and seeing how they squabble over what substance the world is made of got you pondering about substances and you wonder whether the substance of your entrancement and the substance of the world might not in some way be associated, if the substance of your entrancement might not be an island in an even greater substance, and if it is so, do they communicate? Would they communicate to you? You once mused on how what was once the secretions of worms has now transmuted to petroleum products; and how now almost everything is made in southeast Asia by people getting paid 5¢ an hour and getting exposed to deadly fumes and become forever damaged -- and for a moment you wonder how it is possible a deadly miasma can transmute into the haze of your entrancement!

to be continued...



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