Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Trafficking in Relics: The "Bones" of Saint Rita Hayworth, Sor Lupe Vélez et al

The Lupe Vélez chapter of Tex[t]-Mex sets up an argument that I will try to expand in Eyegiene, a follow-up collection of essays on the seductive hallucination of visual culture in America. Building on medievalist Jeffrey Hamburger's work on Saint Veronica, "Veronika," and/or vera icon (icon), I try to map the matrix wherein the ecstatic spirituality and greed (never a mutually exclusive pairing) that drive relic-markets of the medieval period (the fetishistic trafficking in the bones, fingernails, hair, etc of departed saints) evolve. Now, here in the present, centuries later, living in a time wherein the gods and God have been evicted by the findings of Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, and Freud (The Four Horsemen of the tail-end of the 19nth Century), all that spirituality, all that ecstacy, all that lu$t need some outlet, some release, some jouissance damn it to hell, and they loving saints of old find themselves replaced in a constellation/cluster-fuck of loathing and loving by Celebrities, of all people!
In this sordid, eyegienic scenario, Lady Diana of Great Britain cameos for the Virgin Mary; Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan, pudenda akimbo, have bit parts as proxies for Mary Magdalene, someone who really knew her way around the block;

Walker Percy's notion of "certification" gets close to nailing the intricacies of this process. In his under-rated novel The Moviegoer, the main characters, "Binx" Bolling and his cousin/lover Kate, try to find meaning in their lives.

Binx, channeling Percy (to whom we owe mucho thanx for rescuing Confederacy of Dunces from the dust heap of history) tells how newsreels and television can give one that sought for meaning in life by "certifying" your existence. For example, you don't really exist until a pan of the camera on a news story reveals your house to you on the boob tube--in an odd way, the corpses of houses televised today in San Diego are somehow certifying the existence of select, suffering, watching viewers/victims.

The waning mobs on MySpace and waxing hoards on Facebook, are, caught up in this somehow as well. In any event, as you may have noticed, I am as big a sucker for celebrity relics as any other doofus, and I happen to have web sentinels that let me know when a "good buy" hits the market. Like this one, of Rita Hayworth, by George Hurrell, from 1941:

Or this one, of Rita, just after Orson Welles changed her hair for The Lady from Shanghai.

This last one, of Carole Lombard, also by Hurrell's studio, is a mini-allegory/parable on celebrity and the sacred, narcissism and semiotics all by itself:

On a side note, the passion of these warring medievalists for their field is bracing!

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