Holy smokes, the A&F edit window just ate my post. I have any earlier version I will try to restore it from.
No. The work in question in this thread displays a theory of sacrilege/profanation.
By actually committing sacrilege, by profaning the sacred? Or by doing something else?
I'd say the mistreatment of AIDS patients in the 80s, for example, in the name of Christianity is sacrilegious, a denial of the image of God, a failure to live up to the standard of Matthew 25.
"The mistreatment of AIDS patients in the 80s in the name of Christianity" sounds like a remarkable subject, especially with no active agent. I visited people with HIV/AIDS in the hospital in the 80s. There was a Christian group called Love and Action that organized visits to patients with HIV/AIDS; my then-fiancee Suz belonged to a Washington, DC chapter in the 80s. We were not allowed to tell the people we visited that we knew they had HIV/AIDS. I remember one of them saying with tears that we wouldn't have come if we knew, and Suz answering that Jesus would come no matter what. Is this relevant to the artwork in question, or are you simply illustrating the principle of sacrilege?
When someone violates or recasts a symbol the meaning of this recasting is contextually dependent. They could be attacking a symbol, or they can be symbolically illustrating the violation of the symbol's referent.
This is a major step forward. I agree that recasting a symbol in a shocking way may actually be an act of critique-from-within illustrating or highlighting an ongoing crisis within a symbolic world, rather than an act of attack-from-without (or repudiation-on-the-way-out) rejecting that world.
A betrayed spouse might remove his or her wedding ring and throw it across the room, not to repudiate the marriage but to express outrage over its violation. A man ashamed of some atrocity pursued by his government might refuse to stand for the national anthem. A blasphemous priest might have his Roman collar ripped from his neck by an outraged parishioner.
Whether such an act expresses an attack upon or a deeper loyalty to the symbolic world in question depends on a number of factors, notably including [a.] the place and centrality of the symbol within its symbolic world, [b.] the violence of the attack upon it, and [c.] any relevant interpretive context.
Refusing to stand for the national anthem is one thing; burning the flag is another. The flag is such a central American symbol, with quasi-sacred protocols about how it is treated, and burning is such a radical, nihilistic act, that burning the flag is not easily interpreted as a mere expression of dissatisfaction with the current administration, especially in the absence of any context indicating ongoing loyalty to the country or its founding principles.
At the very least, activist flag-burning would seem to symbolize at least potential
repudiation of loyalty to America in principle, a readiness to abandon one's country if it continues on a disastrous course. It would be absurd for an activist flag-burner to say casually while setting light to the flag, "Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm a patriotic American and I will always love my country no matter what. I wouldn't want to see my kids or grandkids raised anywhere else." If he felt that
way, he would not burn the flag. Going a step further, if one were to burn not only the flag but also a facsimile of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers in effigy, that would be about as thorough a symbolic attack on the United States itself as could be imagined.
There is no loyal Christian way to desecrate the Eucharist. To desecrate the Eucharist is to repudiate both Christ and Christianity, period. Pissing on a crucifix is not as radical as desecrating the Eucharist, but it is virtually as unambiguous. [a.] The cross is the most universal of Christian symbols, the symbol which most effectively and universally represents the entire symbolic world of Christianity. Adding the corpus identifies it even more closely and directly with Jesus Himself. [b.] To urinate on something or someone is about as strong and clear a symbolic act of dishonor as one can commit without escalating to actual violence. To piss is to diss. Especially in the absence of [c.] interpretive context suggesting otherwise, even in terms of intent, it is practically impossible to see Piss Christ
as anything other than a deliberate diss to the whole world of Christianity -- and, beyond the question of subjective intent, no one who actually adored Christ and embraced the meaning of the crucifix would ever do such a thing.
Can I imagine no exceptions? Well, perhaps I can. Perhaps I can conceive of some crazy, super-devout Saint Francis type, burning with zeal to belong down to his DNA and beyond to Christ alone, passionately loving the crucifix, but eventually consumed with hyper-scrupulous fear lest even the crucifix become an idol, in a fit of self-mortifying fervor forcing himself, against every instinct, to urinate on the crucifix as a way of affirming his absolute loyalty to Christ alone, not to any image.
That would be an extreme case, and would require ample context and personal credibility to convey the correct symbolic meaning. There is a Nixon/China dynamic here; refusing to stand for the national anthem looks like one thing when the person in question is wearing an Eagle Scout uniform, and another when he is wearing a Che T-shirt with his nose buried in a copy of The Communist Manifesto
. Not-standing for the flag means one thing when it goes in the teeth of who you are and who you still want to be, when it comes with grief and shame, as critique-from-within, and another when it comes easily, eagerly and/or in a spirit of uncomplicated defiance or rebellion.
The familiar story of "killing the buddha" is a helpful enough illustration of my notion of the sacred.
"Killing the buddha" is an expression of iconoclastic zeal that appears to be very closely equivalent to "nothing is sacred." Certainly, "nothing is to be unquestioned, nothing is to be accepted absolutely." This is wholly antithetical to the essential meaning of the crucifix, which proclaims that unless you take up your cross and follow Jesus, you cannot be His disciple. Buddha himself said "Look not to me, look to my dharma
." "Killing the buddha" is compatible with an iconoclastic form of Buddhism precisely because Buddhism doesn't depend on any buddha, even the
Buddha, in the way that Christianity depends on Christ; which is why killing the Christ, or pissing on the Christ, is not compatible with Christianity.
As quoted on Wikipedia, Lin Chi's teaching is expressed in words like these:
Followers of the Way [of Chán], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.
Jesus also calls followers to "hate" parents, kin and even their own self, as well as to take up their cross and follow Him. This, though, is from within the context of a symbolic world in which love and honor for parents is implicitly assumed and even explicitly affirmed by Jesus Himself. (The one example He gives of the Pharisees making void the word of God for the sake of their tradition is their failure to honor their parents in connection with the korban
To borrow a page from C. S. Lewis, we are called to rise above
love of parents, but there is a very real danger of sinking below
it instead -- and supposing in so doing that the call to do the one justifies the other. Woe to those who find the call to "hate" father and mother an easy, comfortable thing. The exhortation is honored in spirit only when to do so is difficult and painful, when it goes against the honor that goes down to your DNA but no further, while Christ alone is love right through.
to begin with, Jesus ain't your family member. Jesus belongs to me just as much as he belongs to you. Jesus belongs to Wojnarowicz just as much as you. You have no special claim to Jesus.
Jesus is just as available
to you and to Wojnarowicz as to me; it doesn't follow that Jesus belongs
equally to all of us. Be that as it may, my thought experiment is a democratic one: Make it your own loved one, Serrano's loved one, and tell me what happens.
Edited by SDG, 11 January 2011 - 01:28 PM.