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« The Parody Corner | Main | More on Split this Rock [by E. Ethelbert Miller] »

March 13, 2010


Karen Finley came to Bennington while I was a student there in the mid-90s. Two things that I remember - one, that her performance was so angry, like a full-bore blast furnace, it was well nigh impossible to enter into it at any level other than horror, and two, that I overheard her bitching to one of the program's employees because her room didn't have a TV (she'd brought her young son or daughter with her - I can't recall which).

Bravo, Jim. I was at the same Bennington performance that LO attended and can verify her impression. I also recall something witty that Eliot Weinberger said about Finley in a smart article decrying the dependence of artists on government grants. he said the amazing thing is not that the NEA would deny a grant to such a one but that somebody who puts yams up her butt in public could be bothered to fill out application forms in triplicate. But that's a bullshit artist for you.

I'm so glad you've posted this Jim because Karen Finley has given me a feeling of unease ever since I saw her perform maybe 20 years ago. I've never been able to articulate precisely what it was that put me off but now you've done it for me. In the show that I saw, she started out naked and as the show progressed, got dressed, in kind of a reverse strip-tease. At one point she sat on a tall chair and absent-mindedly played with her pubic hair. When she "came to," she said,"I can't believe I'm talking to you and playing with myself!" Not much else from her performance stayed with me.Mostly what I remember is that I was completely distracted by her nudity so that I took in very little of what she said and I have a feeling that I wasn't alone in that experience and that this wasn't what she was after. She wanted to be seen as being "profound." Perhaps she would have characterized this audience as small-minded but I think we were fairly typical and she would have been wrong. And in hush that followed the performance, I think we were supposed believe that we had witnessed something amazing. Well, that's part of the fundamental dishonesty of what she's doing, going for the "gotcha!" moment that can make her feel superior to an audience. When I read about her new show about Jackie O, my first thought was that she had run out of ideas, was desperate for an audience, so picked a topic (person) that is "evergreen." What could she possible add that's new and interesting? And one more thing: When I read your post my unmediated association was with Catharine Stimpson's post of a few weeks ago about academia's tolerance, even rewarding, of bad behavior. She can be invited to perform at Bennington and everyone can congratulate themselves for having this so-called artist in their midst. I'm sure there's a lot more to say on this subject and you're the one to say it Jim. Thanks.

Thanks for these, you guys. I feel sort of constrained from commenting because so many of my colleagues here actually seemed to credit, even value, her bullshit. Maybe they sense on a deep level that Karen Finley IS academia, or one horrifying model of it. But rather than recognize the real transgressive act going on is the arrogant egomania demanding to be the unwarranted center of our consciousness (and to be applauded and rewarded for it!), instead they buy into the nudity, the chocolate sauce, the Jackie O maunderings as the simulacra of their own "intellectualized" bullshit that they present to their students in the "transgressive" classroom. (Oh well, so much for feeling constrained!)

Brilliant, Jim. I can think of three or four other subjects I would love to see you nail to the floor, but I'll keep that private. Thanks for this. I did like Piss Christ for some reason, though. Much of his work. Weird.

Thanks, Jerry: coming from you that's high praise. I've thoroughly enjoyed your posts; you make me laugh. And I shouldn't have put Piss Christ into the same category because it was a completed thing, after all, it was a work. Oh well, I'm a work, too: a piece of work, anyway. I can't even subtract! (see above)

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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