288-303 DESIREE DOLRON / EXALTATION / WITH TEXT BY NICK HACKWORTH
/ GOOD FRIDAY LENTEN CEREMONY / PHILIPPINES 1997
/SHIVA-RATRI / INDIA 1991
Paris, 1925, Georges Bataille opens a letter from his friend Adrien Borel. Out falls a black and white photograph. It is one from a series of four images that he later described as integral to his life. The images were taken on 10 April 1905 by one of Bataille’s acquaintances and shows the torture of a young Chinese man, Fu Chou Li, condemned for the murder of Prince Ao Han Ouan. In his leniency the emperor had granted that he should not be burned as decreed, but cut up alive into myriad pieces. The peculiar viciousness of the Torture of a Thousand Pieces is that the victim’s pain was inhibited by doses of opium, so that biological shock should not prevent them from witnessing their own destruction.
What is horrific in the images, is not the dismemberment, not the absence of sections of legs or arms, or the revelation of the rib cage beneath the skin, but the fact that in the images Fu Chou Li is a spectator of his own spectacular destruction. In one image he is looking down to his right with apparent nonchalance, as if someone had just tapped him on the arm, rather than having just cut it off. One might say Fu Chou Li was an early example of radical audience participation. More disturbing still is the fact that in three of the images, Fu Chou Li appears to be in ecstasy, presumably due to the opium. Where we expect to register pain, we see pleasure. Again, categories are thrown into confusion. Hegel’s feared night of the world breaks through into the day.
Bataille described Fu Chou Li ‘hideous, crazed, lined with blood, as beautiful as a wasp’ and wrote, ‘what I suddenly saw… was the identity of these perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror’. Still more telling is how Bataille conceptualised his engagement with the image: ‘The young and seductive Chinese man… left to the work of the executioner, I loved him with a love in which the sadistic instinct played no part: he communicated his pain to me or perhaps the excessive nature of his pain, and it was precisely that which I was seeking, not so as to take pleasure in it, but in order to ruin in me that which is opposed to ruin.’
‘Madness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it by threats, persuasion, or bribes.’ / Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
Anagnorisis describes the moment of tragic recognition when the hero understands and accepts his fate. It is a moment that, in terms of meaning, is strangely alchemical, turning the base metal of inevitable defeat and death into an eternal victory of sorts. For in appropriating disaster the hero proves that, though they are subject to the contingencies of fate, they are also a match for it. The position is one that combines resignation and resistance, submission and overcoming.
The act of making art about, of, or from disaster, excess and tragedy, as Dolron has done, is a form of meta-anagnorisis that allows both creator and viewer to share in an engagement, though safely sublimated at some distance into culture, with inexorable fate and inescapable contingency. To do so is to preserve our sanity in the face of madness, the only place indeed, where our sanity can be forged. In that moment of anagnorisis, the tragic hero may be said to be sane.
/ EXCERPT FROM MENIN AEDIE THEA BY NICK HACKWORTH. THE ENTIRE ESSAY, INSPIRED BY THE CONTROVERSIAL EXALTATION SERIES, IS EXCLUSIVE TO THE 16-PAGE DESIREE DOLRON FEATURE IN PRINTED EDITION OF SOME/THINGS MAGAZINE ISSUE003 / FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE.
/ MUHARRAM / PAKISTAN 1996
//GNAWA LILA / MOROCCO 1998