Magazine article Artforum International

Abject Lesson

Magazine article Artforum International

Abject Lesson

Article excerpt

For a while, as you may or may not remember, the abject was having its little moment on the intellectual catwalk, putting in its appearance as an esthetic-slash-ontological category. Confronted with the apparent impossibility of almost everything, we eagerly embraced the obvious Way Out - and became the losers we had always known we always were. But this time, with pride. Still, fashion is fashion, intellectual or otherwise, it can't exist if it's not fickle, and now the abject is well on its way to becoming abject itself. It's looking more and more like last year's glad rags, just like anything else, just like all of us; soon, it may not even be a career option anymore.

Which is why now is sort of the perfect moment for Abel Ferrara to have made The Addiction. Ferrara has always been a proponent of affirmative abjection, making a career out of films that managed to claw their way out of the genre ghetto, juiced up on smarts (some) and attitude (lots): gangster films, splatter films, science fiction films, cop films.... And since, in our particular romantic/fin-de-siecle moment, monsters are the symptom of choice, and vampires are such an effective metaphor for almost everything - AIDS, junkies, fame, the media, capitalism, everyone's ongoing desire/inability to be young and beautiful forever, etc., etc. - the vampire genre is the right ghetto for the time. The Addiction locates itself squarely on the cusp that Ferrara flims always occupy, hovering somewhere between painfully abject and painfully hip: it's a vampire film except that the vampire is a philosophy grad student at NYU. Such a lovely Ferrara gesture, even if it was kind of an accident (according to the production notes, until the script for The Addiction plopped, "fully realized," onto his desk, Ferrara thought the vampire thing was stupid, too abject even for his tastes). Of course, when you're out there on the cutting edge, it's always by accident.

In the real world, no one gets to be abject all on their own - it always happens in relation to a system, to the System. Canning calls it the System of Judgment; for Kant, it's the Absolute; and in Sade, it's Nature. For grad students, though, it's all of the above, and School, too. Really: what could be more abject than being a grad student? Except, of course, being a philosophy grad student? Your skin is lousy, you have to dress like hell, you have no real job prospects (hey, East Oklahoma Tech is hiring, 19 a year, no chance of tenure though ... ); you spend half your time listening to equally lame, albeit tenured, professors tell you why you can't do anything, and the other half toadying up to those same tenured losers. Awful, just awful....

So if you're Kathleen (Lili Taylor), and that's what you're looking at, being a vampire has got to seem like a step up in the world. Which may or may not explain why, when she meets her first vampire (the way-better-dressed Annabella Sciorra) on the street, she can't Just Say No - in The Addiction, as in the age of Reagan, that's all it would take for her to stay out of trouble. Instead she sends out the message that she really wants it. Just like the rest of us would. After all, vampirism, here as elsewhere, is really nothing more or less than a certain kind of relation to the System: being a vampire means you're on the inside looking out, rather than the other way round. Or, to paraphrase the greeting card: being a vampire means never having to say you're abject. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.