Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Destruction of the Sodomites

"'The day of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ was prefigured according to Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome by the fire of of Sodom, since all the sodomites in the world were annihilated on that night. The same Saint Jerome comments on Isaiah (VIII-X): "The light was so potent that it destroyed all those who engaged in that vice. It was the work of Christ. It carried out the extirpation of this filth from the face of the earth."' There is a mystery here. Modern research has found no source for the legend in the works of Jerome or Augustine, despite the specificity of the references, and has failed to trace it back beyond the early thirteenth century. But this fantastic and ugly fable, which turned the prince of peace and good will into a mass murderer, gained a powerful hold on the Iberian imagination. It was repeated in a theological thesis by a Cuban archbishop as late as 1860."
-Homosexuality and Civilization, by Louis Crompton, quoting from a 15th-century guide for inquisitors in Spain.

Fables and myth have the interesting advantage of embodying contradictions in symbolic form which, if they were stated rationally, in a form susceptible to logic, would be exposed as specious instead of appreciated as powerful images expressing ambivalences and conflicts. In the rhetoric of religion and politics, homosexuality is on the one hand completely unnatural and on the other so seductive that even the most confirmed heterosexuals have to be protected from it. The association of homosexuality with apocalyptic destruction is especially fascinating. Nobody knows exactly what fate it is that has to defended against by outlawing gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, a visible gay presence in the military--it seems incredibly bizarre that this hysterical movement has just given up entirely on preventing sodomy itself, which is all that really matters, just as they gave up earlier on preventing masturbation and birth control. The arguments are so confused I've never felt I could accept any analysis of them I've ever come across; I feel convinced that public defenses against homosexuality have to be rooted pretty deep in the unconscious, but theorists of "homophobia" usually seem to me to be conjuring up their own nightmare visions of the enemy--that is, homophobia and homophobiaphobia seem to come to the same thing (as do pedophilia and pedophiliaphobia). The most obvious relation between the dreaded sin of homosexuality (as in previous eras of witchcraft and various heresies) and the End of the World is simply that apocalyptic destruction stands in, in the unconscious mind, for "I don't know what": "If men get to fuck other men, then I don't know what." The thing is, that "I don't know what" has to be taken very literally: Why does one sin or another place the believer in the position, not just of expressing hatred or contempt, but of so entirely giving up any attempt at reasoning that they have to fall into the default position of "I don't know what," therefore: the future is blank or ceases to exist.

But this idea of the spontaneous destruction of all sodomites in a single night prefiguring the birth of Christ is something you can sink your teeth into. It of course invites a lot of the same kind of questions as any theological myth: If sin is that easy to eradicate, why not do it more often? If sodomites were eradicated in one night, why did they come back? And if they could, why bother eradicating them in the first place? But even more, I appreciate the idea of some kind of balance between the destruction of the sodomites and the birth of Christ; it makes one think about what Christ and the sodomites might have in common in the minds of believers. (Crompton also notes that in Italy as well as Spain, an interesting feature of the public martyrdom of sodomites is how much widespread sympathy it elicited, to the point where officials felt they had to intervene to soften the harshness of punishments.) It therefore suggests to me that the most dangerous aspect of a totalizing and comprehensive opposition to any sort of unreasoning prejudice, even at its most homicidal, is the failure to recognize the ambivalence at its root, and therefore the potential for altering apparently implacable conflicts. Why, after all, has religiously based anti-semitism all but disappeared in the Christian sects of the United States while it's become an even more dominant theme in Islam? It does no good to say it's "about" the Arab-Israeli conflict, in part because that just places the question at one remove instead of answering it. (I'm not denying the material sources of all important political conflicts; I'm just saying they don't explain away the accompanying ideologies and mass psychology of ideology.) It would be a mistake to put aside the question of how the most rabid anti-gay rhetoric satisfies homosexual impulses--especially in religious contexts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

News Flash

President Bush today vetoed the Senate's stem-cell research bill, flanked by hundreds of soiled Kleenex tissues, stiffened hand towels, and discarded tampons. "Each cries out eloquently to Americans never to forget the innocents who are wholly in their power. Let the enemies of the culture of life be warned."

Friday, July 14, 2006


This morning when I sat down to look at the paper, I was holding in my hand a small red button with "UTOPIA" on it in white letters--from the V&A show on Modernism that's coming to the Corcoran. And the first thing I saw on the front page was a small headline reading: Red Buttons is Dead.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Here's the story on Chris Moukarbel's film, based on an excerpt from the Oliver Stone 9/11 script, which has resulted in his being sued. It was his thesis project at Yale this year.

An Artist Releases a New Film After Paramount Blocks His First

Published: July 8, 2006
He's back. Chris Moukarbel, a New York artist who was sued by Paramount Pictures over a 12-minute video based on a bootleg
Oliver Stone film script about 9/11, has another video in a New York gallery exhibition that seeks to marry politics and art. This one was created from film shot in the process of making the video that led to the lawsuit.
Paramount filed suit in United States District Court in Washington last month saying that Mr. Moukarbel's original video, "World Trade Center 2006," infringed on the copyright of the screenplay for Mr. Stone's $60 million film "World Trade Center," scheduled for release in August.
"I'm interested in memorial and the way Hollywood represents historical events," Mr. Moukarbel said in an interview yesterday, the day after his new video was shown as part of the group exhibition "Data Mining" at Wallspace, a Manhattan gallery. "Through their access and budget they're able to affect a lot of people's ideas about an event and also affect policy. I was deliberately using their script and pre-empting their release to make a statement about power."
"My film was offered free on the Internet," he said of "World Trade Center 2006." "It cost $1,000 to produce. We're at a place now where technology allows the democratization of storytelling."
After a temporary restraining order was placed on the distribution and showing of his video (part of a thesis project for his Master of Fine Arts at
Yale), Mr. Moukarbel went ahead and produced another for Wallspace. For his new 13-minute video, he used film of the two actors in the first video while they were waiting for direction and getting into character. It has no dialogue except for the banter between the actors and off-camera direction from Mr. Moukarbel.
Mr. Moukarbel, 28, who graduated from Yale in May, said his new video was intended to capture the art of performance and to serve as commentary on his plight. "I had to put together a project to reflect on the old project but also stand in its own right," he said.
Chris Klatell, a lawyer for Mr. Moukarbel, said yesterday: "We've reached a settlement in principle with Paramount that we hope to finalize. Chris is in full compliance with the temporary restraining order. The new video doesn't have any dialogue or any elements of the 'World Trade Center' screenplay."
Spokesmen for Paramount could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Wallspace has addressed the controversy by mounting on a wall the text of a press statement by Mr. Moukarbel explaining his ideas about his work, the genesis of his project and his legal adventure.
Janine Foeller, the co-owner and co-director of Wallspace, said the curator Joe Scanlan had intended to put Mr. Moukarbel's first 9/11 video in the show. "We're happy and willing to show Chris's work," Ms. Foeller said. "It's taken on another life of sorts."
Mr. Moukarbel admits that, for the first video, he used a bootleg script. Mr. Stone's film focuses on the ordeal of two
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers, Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, who survived the World Trade Center collapse.
In March, Mr. Moukarbel created a Web site,, for the video. Other sites, including, began to take notice. The question in cyberspace was whether his first video was valid commentary or a rip-off of Mr. Stone and the movie studio. Many e-mail postings sided with Mr. Moukarbel.
"I would have been bummed if they hadn't noticed," Mr. Moukarbel said of the executives at Paramount. "But I didn't expect to be sued."