July 05th, 2009

Like A Virgin: Touched for the Very Last Time

“Without obsession, life is nothing.” –John Waters


While Americans are doing what Americans do best with their grief — shopping — the French are analyzing and dissecting.

Americans purchased so many Michael Jackson albums last week that Billboard‘s top three spots are currently held by erstwhile Jackson classics. Bug-eyed and ga-ga with tabloid-fueled news shows, each of which continue to beam soundbites of the macabre into the atmosphere every fifteen minutes, we can’t seem to turn off the TV. Meanwhile the French are interpreting Michael Jackson’s existence through a fascinating semiotic lens.

The philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote a Baudelaire-like analysis on Jackson’s life that was translated last week over on Huffington Post. It’s crazily titled The Three Stations of the Cross in Michael Jackson’s Calvary. And it’s a mesmerizing read; incantational with dramaturgical word play.

Too, there is a particularly fascinating quote related to Jackson that was lifted from Michel Houellebecq‘s book Platform that’s circulating the internet as well. I’ve garnered more insight about Jackson from these two gentleman’s short interpretations than a week’s worth of Nancy Grace and her yapping ilk.

Both men inadvertently address what happens when the sign Virgo has its fundamental impulse go awry. Thwarted or mutated, Virgo’s admirable call to purity becomes downright phantasmagoric.

Michael Jackson, as I’ve noted earlier, was a Sun conjunct Pluto Virgo. Unless given almost shamanic-like life training, Sun Pluto individuals approach existence from an impetus that most of us can barely fathom. And if we can’t understand it, imagine what it must be like for them to actually live it.

When Pluto’s aura veils any of the personal planets, especially by conjunction or opposition, the individual becomes an accessory to deviant dreams and obsessional compulsions. Phobic of death, covetous of power, and awed by the sort of concentrated mega-wealth that’s usually associated with organized crime (Plutocrats anyone?), society just doesn’t know what to do when Pluto rears his head and begins infecting what should be, in the Sun’s case, the direct expression of one’s being-ness, one’s existence and the search for his or her vocation. With Pluto riding the Sun’s beams we have — well — Michael Jackson was a larger than life example of a Virgo Sun gone Pluto-maniacal.

Levy, in his essay, calls this the “great contamination of things.” When Virgo short circuits — zap — the surrounding world, the very realm that Virgo tries to purify and then differentiate from, becomes a threat. Levy writes: “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…”

Levy describes the hyperbaric chamber (remember when those photos of Jackson surfaced?) where Michael would ‘recharge’ as a kind of gizmo that ultimately became a “preparatory part of a funeral ritual.” A literal Pluto-Sun-Virgo-like sarcophagus.

‘Other’ ultimately becomes a problem for the hyper-hybrid Virgo. As the sign preceeding Libra, Virgo has an attraction-repulsion reaction to the notion of relationship. Within their bubble of self-monitored and categorized reactions to life, Virgo longs for human intervention. A metamorphosis arrives, fully complete, in Libra. But not without trepidation and hyper-anxiety for Virgo.

All of the mutable signs struggle with this magnetic but ambivalent pull towards the sign they proceed. But no sign seems to suffer as much turmoil as Virgo. This back and forth ambiguity can be taxing and often reaches a demarcating distancing, as in Greta Garbo‘s famous: “I want to be let alone.” Garbo radiated Virgo’s beguiling sphinx-like aura to the maximum. In fact, hermetic autonomy is the virgin’s idee fixe. A system utterly complete unto itself. Virgos don’t really need others but they’re infected by Libra’s notion of others as a life path. And so life, as other — as people, comes leaking in.

As the purest expression of the Virgo myth, take Jesus’s mother Mary. She accomplished the miracle of all miracles via the immaculate conception. She maintained her virgin state and yet bore a child. Michael Jackson attempted something similar. No one really knows who the father of his children are. Or for that matter the mother. Or rather, where the eggs came from that his ‘wife’ Debbie Rowe incubated.

As Levy puts it: “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…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.”

In the quote from his book, Michel Houellebecq’s interpretaton of Jackson is bizarre and trenchant. It took me a spell to digest his meaning. But when I started to view Michael through his Pluto Sun conjunction, it clicked. Houellebecq’s wrote:

“All humanity instinctively tends toward miscegenation, a generalized, undifferentiated state, and it does so first and foremost through the elementary means of sexuality. The only person, however, to have pushed the process to its logical conclusion is Michael Jackson, who is neither black nor white anymore, neither young nor old, and, in a sense, neither man nor woman.”

This is Pluto married to the Sun. Pluto can inflate the Sun’s natural egoic expression to the point where entitlement and exemption enter the realm of the megalomaniacal. And the ultimate expression, or rather distortion, is a kind of human transmutation. In Jackson’s case the earthy, body-based Virgo part of the equation seemed obliterated — what was left was not man or woman, not black or white, not dead or alive.

When the Plutonic drive malfunctions, as it is liable to do when a human being attempts to actually live out a myth, there can be a Frankensteinian blow-back. When you consider Michael’s appearance towards the end of his life — insubstantial, otherworldly and cadaveir-like — coupled with his desire for the sort of drugs administered to mimic the death-like trance of anesthesia, you see the fallout of a malfunctioning Pluto Sun compulsion. One becomes a sort of mascot of death itself. And Michael started transmutating the limits of being human, years ago, when he began to rearrange his face.

Levy concludes: “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…

Either you reinvent what is considered human, become truly trans-human, and create a genetically modified organism, a GMO. Or you die.”

Opening photograph of: Jeff Koon’s sculpture, Michael Jackson and Bubbles. (1988) Porcelain/ceramic blend. Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the LACMA

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