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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Posted: July 1, 2009 03:49 PM

The Three Stations of the Cross in Michael Jackson's Calvary


First station of the cross: things. The holy horror of things. An entire apparatus of masks, breastplates, umbrellas, nomadic objects, an entire bubble at once suffocating and over-oxygenated, cloistered and overexposed, operating like a greenhouse and preserving him from the great contamination of things. Not only, as has been said, was it viruses, germs, and bacteria. But life itself as a germ. The living as a bacterium. Matter, objects, and the very air he breathed as soon as he ventured beyond his dear Neverland became a source of infection, pestilence, a macabre obsession -- a school for cadavers. The dandies were like that. I mean the great dandies. The founders of the tradition. Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly. Beau Brummel. Wilde and his Dorian Gray. Red heels to dance on top of a world of vapors and humors. Makeup and artifices to escape the De Profudis of a definitively parasitic abyss. Not to mention Baudelaire who based the principle of his aesthetic, his ethics, and his politics on his disgust with nature and its monstrous proliferations. Michael Jackson was their heir. Michael Jackson, with his vinyl, latex, his mausoleum of a house, his prophylactic terrors and also of course his entrechats of a dance genius, besieged by light on every side, was the last of these great dandies. Add the morbid care that he apparently gave to his body. The hyperbaric chamber where he tirelessly prepared himself for some kind of funereal ritual. He didn't die from a drug overdose; he died because of his desire not only to invent a vaccine against life, but also to want to inoculate himself with it.

Second station: others. Others, truly. No longer things, but humans. Their contact. Their malignant and repugnant proximity. The very presence of others, of their odor, their instantly searching gaze, experienced as an offense, a threat, the source and cause of all violence -- and from which he was only protected by the smoked lenses of his glasses. Hell? Yes, hell. A Sartrean Jackson this time. Or even a Cathar. A Jackson not the least of whose paradoxes was the moment he wrote "We Are the World," the moment where, in other words, he popularizes what must be called the contemporary humanitarian while viewing humanity as a fiasco, men as cankers and their company as a necessary evil, an obligatory compromise, a degrading accommodation that an artist can only begrudgingly make. This reincarnation of Peter Pan sincerely thought, for example, that children were made without anyone touching. This incomplete adult feeds the mad dream -- and, in a certain way, fulfilled it -- of having his own sons without contact, and almost without a mother. This misanthrope, this mutant, was one of the last modern humans to believe -- and to live -- the ancient theorems of the inconvenience of being born. Generation, corruption... Desire without concupiscence... Which, at the very least, shows the absurdity of the witch trials conducted against him the last ten years of his life which were like an endless persecution. Michael Jackson did not want to be a child; he wanted to be a saint. Or an angel. And angels, as we know, don't have a sex. Or only have one in the imagination of the perverted who project onto them their own fantasies.

And finally: himself. His own body and his own face, seen as even greater threats, sites of every danger, the intimate yet merciless enemy that would take a lifetime to subdue or annihilate. There again the singular adventure of Michael Jackson is misread; the mad metamorphosis that he impressed on his face and the repeated plastic surgeries that he inflicted on himself over the course of his life are utterly misunderstood if reduced to a matter of pigmentology -- race, anti-race, self-hate, malaise, unease in his own skin, this reason or that. Look at his photos. Look at this epidermis essentially becoming whiter and whiter, almost like living limestone. Notice this nose reduced to almost nothing, these lips eaten away from the inside, these narrowed cheekbones like those of a Jivaro mask or a Giacometti rendering. Look closely at these dwindled features, this shrinking skin, these eyes that only seem to sit in his skull like a ring on a skeleton's finger. Consider this reduction -- a philosopher would say this epochè -- of a face reduced to its simplest inexpression, having become its own double. Isn't the face the very signature of the human? Its truth? The way that it exhibits and expresses itself? The sign of everyone's singularity, of their priceless uniqueness? Of course. It is always that, a face. And that's why this third chapter, this way of torturing, mortifying, profaning, and ultimately of erasing his own face should be read as the last station of a long and terrible Calvary. Because, having reached that stage, when you have decided to escape the reign of things, and to leave the ranks of humans, and then to become a human without a face, you don't really have too many choices left. Either you reinvent what is considered human, become truly trans-human, and create a genetically modified organism, a GMO. Or you die.

Translated from French by Sara Phenix.