Article | From the Fantastic to the Dangerously Real: Reading John Zorn’s Artwork, by John Brackett


From the Fantastic to the Dangerously Real: Reading John Zorn’s Artwork

John Brackett, University of Utah1

Even for those not intimately familiar with John Zorn’s music, the composer’s name will probably evoke certain associations. One is the image of Zorn as the quintessential postmodern composer, a theme developed by a number of writers2 In such works as Cat O’ Nine Tails for string quartet, Carny for solo piano, and the numerous “hardcore miniatures” associated with Zorn’s band Naked City, musical genres and/or styles are juxtaposed against one another in a collage or pastiche style of presentation that is often described as postmodern. The effect of these pieces can be described as a sort of musical “channel-surfing” where a minimum amount of information is given – enough to provide the listener with some idea of what musical style is in play – before moving on to the next musical image.

Figure 1: Manga by Suehiro Maruo (included on Torture Garden)

Figure 2: S/M film still (included on Torture Garden)

Figure 3: Archival photo depicting Leng Tch%27e (included on Leng Tch%27e)

However we wish to conceive of the relation between music and image, the presence of these images on Zorn’s recordings led to a backlash from many groups and organizations. The loudest outcry came from Asian-American women’s and anti-bias organizations. In one of the many newspaper articles addressing these images, Elisa Lee asks:How is that in a society where an episode of “Roseanne” showing a kiss between two women causes a flurry of public attention and sparks rumors of censorship, a musician who conducts concerts in front of screens of Japanese pornography, distributes albums with covers of Asian women being hung, mutilated and tortured and dedicates an album to Chinese torture, can incite nary a protest in mainstream American media? (Lee 1)6

In addition to journalists such as Lee, academics have also taken notice of Zorn’s music and imagery. Most notably, Ellie Hisama has addressed Zorn’s complex relationship with Japanese imagery and especially his representation of Japanese women (Hisama, “Postcolonialism” 329-346). 7 In her essay, “John Zorn and the Postmodern Condition,” Hisama considers the images reproduced in Figures 1-3 and makes it clear that she finds the “presence of the photographs and film stills extremely disturbing … ”  (Hisama, “John Zorn” 78). Claiming to speak “from the position of the object that Zorn represents,” Hisama criticizes Zorn from a variety of perspectives: that in terms of what it represents, his music serves to “aestheticize torture” and that his musical appropriations are insensitive. One of the main aims of her essay is, in her own words, an attempt to develop a theory of “repulsion,” a way to talk about “music that we don’t care for [and] of music that we find dull, inept, or downright repulsive [or] of music that we understand to negate, devalue, and disrespect who we are … ” (Hisama, “John Zorn” 72). In an effort to develop this theory of the repulsive, Hisama suggests that we should “embrace interdisciplinarity, drawing upon insights from ethnomusicology, cultural studies, critical theory, ethnic studies, postcolonial theory, queer theory, and feminist theory … .” If musicologists and music theorists incorporate these (and presumably many other) theoretical perspectives, Hisama believes that we would be in a much better position to “educate the producers and consumers of music such as Torture Garden as to how persons of color and women regard their use as currency in a postmodern artistic economy for others’ professional and economic gain” (Hisama, “John Zorn” 83-84). 

Like Hisama and many others, I, too, was shocked when I first experienced these images at the time of their release. Of course, for a white, middle-class, American male, these images will never meanor represent to me the same things they do for Hisama. What I always found remarkable about these images was their unreality – the unreality of their scenarios, the unreality of their presentation (i.e., cartoons and film stills), and the vast differences between the sexual interests and view of women expressed in these images and my own (i.e.,their “otherness”). On the other hand, for a viewer like Hisama, what is remarkable about these images is how “real” they actually are or can be. Without a doubt, these are complex images. Their complexity is compounded by the fact that they are drawn from Japan and China, appropriated by a Westerner who then subsequently re-presents them to Western audiences and Western sensibilities. Along the way, these images undergo a series of semantic transformations; how they are “read” in Asian countries might be different from how they are read in America. At the same time, the way(s) in which Zorn reads these images may or may not correspond to how others read them.

Developing the interpretive differences exemplified by Hisama and myself (that of reality vs. unreality), I will examine how these images can be read according to interpretive frameworks that rely upon ideas relating to reality and fantasy. How is fantasy understood in relation to the real? How is the “real” partially formed by fantasy? How does fantasy contest the primacy and power of the real? These are all questions that tie together the various ways Zorn’s images have been used, understood, and received. I will address these and other questions in three contexts: the (Asian-)American reception and interpretation of these images as being an example of a special type of reality (one where fantasy plays no part); a Japanese socio-cultural context where these images are understood as complex fantasy (as fantasy that provides an “outlet” and, at the same time, maintains a certain status quo); and Zorn’s musical poetics where these images are understood as transgressive acts that highlight the “hidden gaps,” or aporias, left open by a reality that relies upon notions of rationality, utility, and subjective wholeness (a poetics derived, in large part, from the thought of Georges Bataille). 

The complex ways producers and (willing or unwilling) consumers of these images understand the fantasy/reality distinction(s) will not solve the difficulties they present. If anything, they will make things more difficult. I should make it clear that I am not attempting a defense of Zorn’s decisions; that Zorn offended a great many people by including these and other images on his records is undeniable. Instead, I am interested in how these images are read within or against interpretive frameworks that — either explicitly or implicitly — rely upon distinctions between fantasy and reality. In an effort to adequately describe these various frameworks, I will adopt a multi-perspectival mode of presentation.8 Before addressing the actual images and their contexts from these various perspectives, a brief discussion on some of these fantasy/reality frameworks is necessary.

One theory of fantasy is also, by exclusion, a theory of the real. Such a view can be considered a naïve view of fantasy where the real might be defined as “what there is” while fantasy is understood as “what there is not,” hence the “unreal.” According to this naïve view, what is real is obvious: the real includes everything we all know, perceive, or understand as being true or beyond question. Science, evidence, facts, and intersubjective confirmation all determine, to a large extent, those things, beliefs, phenomena, etc. that qualify as real. Anything characterized as fantasy resists the types of verification associated with the real. To be clear, though, it is not that the real is unequipped to deal with fantasy and the fantastic; the real understands that there is no reason to seriously address fantasy.

While a naïve view of fantasy and the real might be adequate when considering unbelievable scenarios or exaggerated representations of people or things, the distinction is not as obvious in everyday, “real-world,” situations. A brief mental review of the history of science is evidence enough to convince us that what was at one time considered fantasy — i.e., the not-real — was later admitted to the category of the real. Notice, however, that the real is the arbiter of what is or is not considered fantasy. If something makes the switch from the fantastic to the real, it is only according to the terms of the real; at all times fantasy is silent, having no say in regard to its status. The relative fluidity as to what is considered real or fantasy represents a more common-sense view of the distinction. The common-sense view contains a built-in feature that allows for the “as-yet-to-be-determined” reality of what is, at the present time, fantasy. The common-sense view accommodates change with to-be-developed mechanisms for determining what constitutes the real. Such mechanisms are easy to see in the area of science where more sophisticated theories or testing devices can expand the realm of the real. At the same time, the common-sense view is seen around us in our everyday lives, in advertising, politics, and other day-to-day interactions. The psychoanalytic notion of wish-fulfillment falls under the common-sense view, as the “not-yet-real” is closer than we might think. (“If you want that raise, then you need to do x, y, and z,” “Want to date more beautiful women/men, then buy this penis enlarger!,” “Wouldn’t you look good in a Lexus?”) In a related fashion, the possibility that fantasy is an imminent reality and therefore must not become real is common in contemporary politics and relies on the common-sense view. (“If you want to hold on to your personal freedoms, then you must do your part in helping us defeat terrorism.”) 

With a slight shift in perspective, we can identify the category of the real as being determined by institutions of power. Those “in charge” of the real have at their disposal the ability to identify what is not real. With this shift, what is real is now understood as serving stabilizing forces designed to preserve the status quo (maintaining the hegemony of a particular institution) while, at the same time, assuming some sort of valuative function(s). By ruling over and determining the real, power structures make available — even promote — those things that are useful, productive, and “right”; moreover, what is deemed useful and productive continually serves the powers-that-be. At the same time, institutions of power not only determine the real, they can also construct fantasies, fantasies that serve to perpetuate the real. As an example, Foucault has described how discursive practices established during the “Victorian regime” (and still in effect today) were able to circumscribe ways of talking about, understanding, and practicing sex and sexuality — his so-called “repressive hypothesis” (Foucault passim). Through an increased openness and frankness in discussions relating to sex, religious institutions and other political bodies attempted to reign in and de-mystify questions relating to human sexuality. “Rather than the uniform concern to hide sex,” Foucault writes, “rather than the general prudishness of language, what distinguishes these last three centuries is the variety, the wide dispersion of devices that were invented for speaking about it, for having it be spoken about, for inducing it to speak of itself, for listening, recording, transcribing, and redistributing what is said about it … . Rather than massive censorship, beginning with the verbal proprieties of the Age of Reason, what was involved was a regulated and polymorphous incitement to discourse” (Foucault 34). The result of this openness has not been an “anything-goes,” free-love approach to matters relating to sex, but, instead, the conservative circumscription of sexuality according to principles of production and utility; that is, heterosexual/procreative sex. As a result, anything related to sex that could not be understood according to the principles of production or utility is understood as other, deviant, taboo, and, therefore, prohibited fantasy.

Foucault also points out that greater restrictions and prohibitions related to sex and sexuality also had the reverse effect; that is, seemingly more and more “peripheral sexualities” arose, or became more visible, as a result of the centrifugal forces of heterosexual, procreative, and monogamous relationships. Power and its hold on the real was constantly being contested by those forces that it had tried to suppress; it was being challenged from within. Whereas outward and external manifestations of taboo and prohibition-breaking behavior could, to a certain extent, be brought back under control (by legal, educational, medicinal, or a variety of other means), it is much more difficult to satisfactorily handle similar external manifestations of transgressive behavior that arise from fantasy and the subject’s mental life. Freud’s notion of psychic reality seriously undermines the reality/fantasy distinction by positing that external behaviors — neuroses, symptoms, etc. — may actually arise from unconscious memories that have no basis in reality. That is, fantasies (or phantasies) constructed by an individual that are believed to be true — i.e., grounded in reality — may actually have been fabricated by the individual. The individual believes some memory to be true (as having actually happened) when, in “reality,” no such events ever occurred. The result is the seemingly paradoxical situation that certain external behaviors or acts (associated with the real) can be traced back to (unreal) fantasies of the subject.

If we pursue these implications far enough, we can potentially view the entire project that has constructed, maintained, and sustained the fantasy/reality split as, itself, a form of fantasy. Judith Butler, for example, has suggested that we can “understand the ‘real’ as a variable construction which is always and only determined in relation to its constitutive outside: fantasy, the unthinkable, the unreal.”The positivist version of the real will consign absence to the unreal, even as it relies on that absence to stabilize its own boundaries. In this sense, the phantasmatic, as precisely such a constitutive exclusion, becomes essential to the construction of the real. If this is so, in what sense, then, can we understand the real as an installation and foreclosure of fantasy, a phantasmatic construction which receives a certain legitimation after which it is called the real and disavowed as phantasmatic? In what sense is the phantasmatic most successful precisely in that determination in which its own phantasmatic status is eclipsed and renamed as the real? Here the distinction between the real and unreal contrives a boundary between the legitimate domain of the phantasmatic and the illegitimate. (Butler 186)9

The fluidity of the reality/fantasy distinction is highly suggestive. At the same time, however, while I am attracted by the theoretical implications of arguments such as Butler’s, I am a bit skeptical (maybe nervous is a better word) about how such theories can be effectively implemented in practical ,“real-world” situations. That is, I perceive the potential for an extreme, radical relativism in both thought and practice if ideas such as these are used, for example, as legal defenses of criminal conduct, moral or ethical justifications of acts, etc. Perhaps this shows that the notion of the “real” — the useful, the productive, the rational, and the regulated — is just as much a necessity for fantasy as fantasy is for reality.

I recognize that the fantasy/reality distinction requires a much more thorough and rigorous explication than the one I have just presented. Issues of space and scope, of course, prevent me from doing so within the present essay. However, I do believe that, given the rough outline described above, we are able understand how distinctions relating to fantasy and reality can be conceived and put to use. At the same time, we can recognize the variety of ways texts or images are “read” by groups or individuals, forms of reading that depend upon some understanding of the relation(s) between fantasy and reality. 

Reception of Zorn’s Images in America: The Revenge of the Real

For Ellie Hisama and other individuals or groups who have expressed disgust or revulsion at Zorn’s imagery, the images reproduced in Figures 1-3 are understood as re-presenting a sort of social reality. In particular, the reality depicted is one based upon misogyny, racism, and stereotypical constructions of Asian women. The images are understood as dangerous not only in an epistemological, conceptual sense, but also in a practical sense where these images can be understood as potentially functioning somewhere along a causal chain that will lead to violent acts towards Asian women. The critics’ crusade against these images, and the pressure applied to Zorn to remove them, was understood as serving both conceptual and practical purposes (“a matter of personal survival”) (Hisama, “John Zorn” 84). Numerous comments by Zorn’s detractors speak to the dangerous reality of these images:“These images are degrading and reinforces [sic] all sorts of stereotypes of Asian women being sexual mannequins and victims.” (Richard Oyama)“It’s so obviously dehumanizing … one should know when you present an image how it is perceived. When [Zorn] puts out those images, it reinforces things, whether he wants it to or not.” (Jason Hwang) (Lee 1)“The dismemberment of the sonic body [described by Hisama in her analysis of Naked City’s song “Osaka Bondage”] is related to the dismemberment of the actual bodies depicted on the CD covers … .” (Hisama) (Hisama, “John Zorn” 80)10

For these and other critics, the images — the manga, the film stills, and the archival photos — are understood as unmediated re-presentations of the real. While the images from Leng Tch’e are truly “documentary” in nature, the cartoon images and film stills can also be understood as being just as real for they, too, document a sort of social reality. The “cinematic” nature of the film stills and archival photos do not lie: “These things happen(ed),” they announce to us. The manga, although lacking the cinematic reality of the other images, partake in this announcement. While they lack the documentary tone of the other images, the manga are drawn from and reinforce the same reality responsible for the photographs and the film images. 

A useful framework for understanding the type of social reality constructed and reinforced by these images is provided by Catherine MacKinnon and her views on the use and function of pornography in American society. MacKinnon writes:

Pornography does not simply express or interpret experience; it substitutes for it. Beyond bringing a message from reality, it stands in for reality; it is existentially being there. This does not mean that there is no spin on the experience – far from it. To make visual pornography, and to live up to its imperatives, the world, namely women, must do what the pornographers “say.”… Pornography makes the world a pornographic place through its making and use, establishing what women are said to exist as, are seen as, are treated as, constructing the social reality of what a woman is and can be done to her, and what a man is in terms of doing it. (MacKinnon 25)

For MacKinnon, the defense that pornographic images (and, in our present context, I believe we can include racist imagery, too) do not “say” anything but are instead inherently meaning-less and that they only acquire meaning through an encoding process by the consumer, is untenable and unacceptable. Such a view, MacKinnon argues, would require us to believe that such images are harmless, and that any possible harm that can be related to these and other images is the result of people who project their own beliefs, fantasies and ideologies into them. The images, then, are empty containers waiting for semantic content to be added by viewers. In opposition to this viewpoint – which is, incidentally, the viewpoint that provides some sort of protection to these and other images under current legal frameworks – MacKinnon argues that such images are much more active, that they do function in a meaningful way and, more importantly, that they function as imperative speech acts:

Pornography contains ideas, like any other social practice. But the way it works is not as a thought or through its ideas as such, at least not in the way thoughts and ideas are protected as speech. Its place in abuse requires understanding it more in active than in passive terms, as constructing and performative rather than as merely referential or connotative.
The message of these materials, and there is one, as there is to all conscious activity, is “get her,” pointing at all women … . (MacKinnon 21)

In this “image as speech act” view of pornography, the visual is indistinguishable from the linguistic. Furthermore, the linguistic reality of such images function through a process of identification (“Women are this … ”) as well as action (“Do this to women because they are nothing but … ”). 

We can see these processes of identification and the potential for enactment at work in the ways critics of Zorn’s imagery equate torture with S/M practices. Hisama writes how “the ‘Japanesing’ of sadomasochism in Torture Garden emerge[s] from Zorn’s obsessive need to associate the unfathomable and alluring Orient with sex generally, and S/M particularly … . Zorn’s attempts to aestheticize torture in his use of sonic and visual images trivializes the suffering of millions of people for whom torture [is] neither a postmodern game, nor a choice” (Hisama, “John Zorn” 80). 

But are S/M practices and torture interchangeable? Taken on their own and devoid of any context, the images on Torture Garden and the images accompanying Leng Tch’e might appear to present the same idea.11 Indeed, the practice of Leng Tch’e describes a form of torture used in China during the Manchu dynasty whereby the accused is kept alive with opium as they are slowly cut into 100 pieces (“Leng Tch’e” translates as “100 Pieces”). The photos represent the last time this form of torture was employed in China – possibly from April 10, 1905 – and show Fu Chou Li, a young man convicted of killing Prince Ao Han Ouan, being cut apart.12

Casual viewers of S/M scenes (if there can be such a thing) might easily conflate the performances of sadomasochistic behavior with real-life torture scenes. To do so, however, is to overlook some fundamental differences between the two. First, victims of torture have no say in how they are treated. There is no way that torture victims can exert their will into the process; indeed, the whole point of torture is to destroy the will of the victims, to force them to impart some information needed or wanted by the torturers, those who are in power. In “typical” S/M scenes, by contrast, the power resides in the “dominated” (the submissive, or the “bottom”). It is the bottom who calls the shots (determines what is “wanted”) and is able to call off the entire scene if he or she feels that things are getting out of hand. Second, with torture, the infliction of pain is the means by which a torturer will gain something; the torturer gains at the expense of the victim’s loss. S/M scenarios, however, more closely resemble religious asceticism where the pain undergone by a victim leads to a pleasurable experience for that victim. There is eventual pleasure in the pain endured. Whereas a sense of self is lost or broken for the victim of torture, the self is affirmed, attained, or sought after by the submissive in S/M practices.13

For those critical of Zorn’s choice of images, the complex power and identity politics of S/M behavior are disregarded and are, instead, unquestionably equated with practices better described as torture. Furthermore, in the readings that I have been able to consult, it is not even mentioned that there are no men engaged in the S/M depictions included on Torture Garden; all of the images show either a single woman or two women.14 Even if the unbalanced or ambiguous gender depictions were noted, I am not sure that this would fundamentally alter the critics’ opinions. Violence against women is depicted in these images and therefore there is only way to read them: from within the social reality of male domination and male power. Andrea Dworkin has even suggested that all representations of female-female sadism are male-dominated and male directed (posed and staged by males, for a male audience, depicting male fantasies of lesbianism while also serving to affirm the idea that women are, at their most fundamental level, dangerous). Furthermore, even in those S/M scenes where the male assumes the role of the submissive, “masochism in the male is transformed into a form of sadism. He suffers to conquer; she suffers to submit” (Dworkin 150). According to this view, within anyS/M scenes involving women, the women are either the victims of actual violence directed at them because they are women, or they are simply rehearsing and reinforcing deeply-entrenched gender stereotypes imposed upon them by a patriarchal society. In other words, these women are “acting-out” or performing what is expected of them by men and, if this is the case, these women truly have been robbed of their will and the analogy between S/M and torture becomes much more tenable.15

For these critics, there is no interpretation necessary in decoding these images: what you see is what you get. An individual’s perception is equated to a singular perception of an unequivocal reality (“one should know when you present an image how it will be perceived.”). As a result, there is no room for “fantasy,” the innocent representation, or the “mere” presentation of ideas. MacKinnon, again, notes:

To say that pornography is categorically or functionally representation rather than sex simply creates a distanced world we can say is not the real world, a world that mixes reality with unreality, art and literature with everything else, as if life does not do the same thing. The effect is to license whatever is done there, creating a special aura of privilege and demarcating a sphere of protected freedom, no matter who is hurt. In this approach, there is no way to prohibit rape if pornography is protected. If, by contrast, representation is reality … then pornography is no less an act than the rape and torture it represents. (MacKinnon 2916

What is depicted in these images “speaks” about us and to us. Furthermore, MacKinnon argues, what it has to say is incredibly dangerous, and can be compared to hate speech leading, potentially, to hate crimes (MacKinnon 22). Educating Zorn (and others) about the very real dangers of these images is easily understood as a matter of “personal survival” for both his critics as well as those who have been silenced. 

The Place and Function of Fantasy in Japanese Culture

A Westerner visiting Japan in the late-80s and early-90s may well have been shocked by the abundance of nudity and/or sexually suggestive material in everyday Japanese culture (advertisements, television commercials, etc.). Nudity might have been encountered in ads and billboards designed to sell any number of products, or viewed on television both in advertising and in specialty shows (such as those ranking or grading the best massage parlors in town). Even at the train station, sexually explicit and often violent manga would be available for purchase by the businessman or businesswoman making his/her way across town. Whereas in the United States sexually explicit material was typically associated with shops on the “wrong side of town” or in the upper racks of magazine stands, manga and other sexually oriented magazines could be found on the racks of book and magazine vendors at the stations. Oftentimes, no effort was made to hide these items from persons deemed too young or from those who might find such materials offensive. Zorn most certainly encountered and familiarized himself with these and other materials during his extended stays in Japan in the late-80s and early-90s. In this section, I will consider some ways in which such images might have been read, understood, and used in Japanese culture and society. 

Imagine getting on a train in Tokyo and sitting down next to a businessman reading Rapeman, a serialized manga where the main character is a superhero who avenges jilted lovers (both male and female) by seeking “Vengeance through penetration!” Our first instinct, of course, would be to pick up our belongings and move to another seat.17 is considered quite “normal,” “honest,” “open,” “natural,” and even “safe,” whereas someone who reads such a manga secretly is considered “dishonest,” “introverted,” and even “potentially dangerous.”…If we sit next to such an “open” guy, we…feel we are “safe” so we never pick up our belongings. If we sit next to a guy who reads an ero manga but tries to hide it from others, then we might want to [get] away from him because he might be really into that manga (and he might even start masturbating right there…).

A similar observation was expressed to me by Tomomi Nakashima.]

Why someone would read such materials – in a public setting, no less – would be, no doubt, baffling. Damning a male-dominated industry and its ever-sinking standards of decency in catering to “such people,” it should be noted that a great majority of manga (and, in this case, “erotic manga,” or, eromanga) made and directed towards an audience of women (redikomi) are just as – if not more – explicit in their depictions of rape, violence, and brutality. Writing on women’s eromanga, Setsu Shigematsu describes how:

The pornographic detail of the sex depicted in ladies’ comics is on par with pornographic comics for men. The wild and risqué narratives are combined with illustrations of vaginas, clitorises, penises, anuses, breasts, erect nipples, an excess of bodily fluids, and a no-holds-barred array of sexual practices, ranging from autoeroticism, S/M, same-sex encounters, threesomes, foursomes, orgies, sex with transsexuals and transvestites, various rape and pseudo-rape scenarios, gang rape and rape by strangers, fathers, [ex]-boyfriends, girlfriends and the list goes on. (Shigematsu 140)18

It’s hard to see how the list could go on. As someone who has spent a lot of time examining and thinking about the role of ladies’ eromanga, Shigematsu hypothesizes that “instead of being a ‘reflection’ [of women’s repressed sexual desires],” ladies’ erotic comics “function as an alternative site and avenue of eroticism for women, which simultaneously (re)configures and extends the boundaries of publicized sexuality for women by making visible such heterogeneous uses and possibilities of sexual activity. Rather than being a reflection of some pre-existing, hidden desires, ladies’ eromanga provides varieties of sex as entertainment for women, marketing a smorgasbord of sexual possibilities, producing sex as a consumable spectacle” (Shigematsu 140).19

The notion of “naïve fantasy” as a form of entertainment predicated on its un-believability is a trait present in ladies’ and men’s eromanga and in Japanese pornographic films as well.20 In such manga, for example, the oversized genitalia, breasts, and buttocks are instantly recognized as ridiculous in Japanese society. In other words, the creators of Japanese manga appear to be poking fun at themselves and their own bodily makeup when they draw their characters (many of whom lack defining facial features of Asian men and women) with “extraordinary” genitalia or enormous breasts. At the same time, the acts of violence depicted in explicit manga are unbelievable, where the victims endure incredible amounts of pain, pain that a “real” person could never endure. The “unbelievability” of their pain and injuries is underscored by that fact that these same characters may appear again five frames later in the same strip seemingly with no apparent injuries. An example of such an unbelievable scenario is evident even in Figure 1, where we are (are not?) expected to believe that a young girl who has just had the skin removed from her face can still manage to hug the neck of her attacker in some kind of sick embrace. 

Turning our attention to the screen, production in pornographic films is typically shoddy with little concern for creating realistic on-screen representations. The unrealistic nature of these films is compounded by awkward edits or stylized camera angles that foreground the aura of fantasy.21 In the present context, it is important to point out that Zorn’s images of sadomasochistic practices included on Torture Garden are stills from a Japanese “pink film” that, like many “erotic productions” (eroductions) made and produced in the 60s and 70s, is set in the Yoshiwara district (a regulated “pleasure quarter”) in the pre-modern Edo period where, after a day of killing and terror, the warriors could enjoy themselves in the comfort and safety of the state-regulated brothels. It is, in other words, a period porno film, much like Caligula is to Western audiences. 

The exaggerated bodily makeup of eromanga characters and the poor production techniques and fantastic locations and scenarios of many eroductions are instantly recognizable as unreal by Japanese audiences. Relating these production techniques and representations to aspects of storytelling in Japanese society, Anne Allison has written how “Japanese storytelling … relies far more on a convention of fantasy that is compelling because it engenders rather than suspends belief. To say this somewhat differently,” she continues, “fantasies of sex are often produced along the lines of abnormal, illicit, transgressive, or dirty encounters that leave certain realities off the page and, figuratively, outside representation” (Allison 171).22 What are these “realities” that are absent from eromanga, erotic films, and other sexually explicit and/or violent materials? To answer this question, we need to briefly examine a particular aspect of Japanese law. 

Article 175 of the Japanese Revised Criminal Code – adapted in 1907 as Japan was entering the “modern” world – reads as follows:

A person who distributes or sells an obscene writing, picture, or other object or who publicly displays the same, shall be punished with imprisonment at forced labor for not more than two years or a fine of not more than 5,000 yen or a minor fine. The same applies to a person who possesses the same for the purpose of sale.23

Of course, any potential legal strength (or weakness) of Article 175 depends upon how “obscene” is defined. According to the Misdemeanor Law, Article 1, No. 20, “obscene” is understood as “a person who brazenly exposes thighs, hips, or other body parts at a place exposed to public view in such a manner as to cause disgust to the public…” (Beer 355-356 fn10). At around the same time, Article 21 of the Customs Standards Law (1910) describes as obscene any materials entering the country that “are considered of such a nature as to excite sexual desire and give rise in people to feelings of shame or repugnance” (Beer 337).

Article 1 of the Misdemeanor Law focuses on the depiction of the body’s lower frontal extremities as constituting an “obscene display” while Article 21 emphasizes a social standard regarding sexual desire and the feelings that may result in consumers of obscene materials. Admittedly, both definitions are vague and open to a number of interpretations. In fact, many took advantage of these vagaries and ambiguities. For example, it was possible – within the purview of the law – to show genitalia without pubic hair. While this would seem to contradict Article 1, No. 20, it was permitted because it was understood as not being sexual, where sexual meant productive, procreative sexuality. At the same time, adult depictions of intercourse could be depicted as long as the genitals were not in view, or if they were cleverly concealed.

Article 175 was written and worded in such a way so as to conform to Japan’s emerging role in a modern (i.e. Western) society. According to Allison, Article 175 and the varying definitions of obscenity outlined above were understood as a “corrective to [the] western perception of Japanese ‘primitiveness’ … .”

[The laws] were a means of covering the national body from charges that it was obscene. To Japanese at the time … exposing one’s body to bathe or to nurse was considered neither dirty nor sexual. Further, sexuality itself lacked the connotation of dirtiness. Rather, under a Shinto rather than Judeo-Christian religious ideology, these are bodily functions that, along with burping, excretion, and picking one’s nose, are viewed as matters more of nature than of shame. (Allison 163)

The wish to conform to western ideologies regarding decency, obscenity, and morality was made clear by state and legal officials who informed the general population that public nudity or mixed-sex bathing in bathhouses, “although … the general custom and is not so despised among ourselves, … is looked upon with great contempt [by foreign countries]. You should therefore consider it a great shame.” Fukuzawa Yukichi, the “moralist of the Meiji enlightenment,” warned his contemporaries that “sooner or later such conditions in our country will come to the ears of foreigners, exposing us to who knows what attacks and reproaches” (Dore 160). 

Stepping back for a moment, we come to realize that the prohibition against the depiction of pubic hair and genitalia has, to a large extent, allowed many of the graphic images and subject matter commonly found in Japanese manga and erotic films to exist (a possibility suggested by Foucault). The extreme images of sadomasochism, the fetishization of pre-pubescent girls, anal fixations, etc. are all legal under pre-1991 Japanese law.24 Because of the restrictions outlined by Article 175, what has emerged in a great deal of Japanese advertising media as well as entertainment is, as Anne Allison points out, a “public culture in which the conjuring of sex that depends on body imagery … either decenters the genitals or alludes to them indirectly” (Allison 150). Allison mentions alternative (i.e. pubic-free) imagery that includes “peepshots” (upskirt photographs of women and pre-pubescent girls), an obsessive fetishization of other body parts, and acts of sadomasochism, all of which are considered “something other than ‘obscene’ and other than ‘real’ [according to Japanese law]. They are fantasies that can penetrate the public only by covering, effacing, or decentering the pubis” (Allison 150).

It seems paradoxical (not to mention disturbingly ironic) that censoring any depiction of the genital region actually gave rise to a variety of images and depictions that might probably be considered much more “dangerous.” As Allison continues, however, the “banning of genitals from public images … protects as ‘real’ one region of the social body from the sexualization of mass culture.” This region, she argues, is “family and home and [whose] center of this region is the mother:”

Young girls, whose very lack of pubic hair signifies their feminine immaturity, are featured [in “pornographic” materials] instead, as well as sex acts that have no chance of leading to reproduction – voyeurism, sadism, anal penetration, fellatio. What is prohibited as “obscene” by the state, then, is also that which is most sacred and central to the state’s national identity – stable families, reproductive mothers, and orderly homes. (Allison 151)

The notion of “sexuality” described by the Customs Bureau would not, therefore, be violated by these seemingly more violent images. In an interesting legal case, importers, distributors, and translators of portions of the Marquis de Sade’s In Praise of Vice and The Travels of Juliette were taken to court on obscenity charges in Japan in the early 1960s. Invoking Article 175, the Tokyo District Court needed to establish three conditions necessary to judge the work obscene: 1) did the work exhibit a “wanton appeal to sexual passion”; 2) did the work cause “offense to the average man’s sense of shame”; and 3) did the work exhibit “opposition to proper concepts of sexual morality.” Although conditions 2 and 3 were understood as being present, the defendants were acquitted when it was ruled that condition 1 was not met. The court explained that the “brutality and unreality of Juliette were such as to preclude fulfillment of the first condition” (Beer 348).25 What was not upset was “real” sexuality, the reality that emphasizes the stability of the family, the role of the mother, and, interestingly, the state. 

Images of anal sex, rape, sadomasochism and/or bondage, are relegated – almost by law – to the realm of fantasy. At the same time, these images paradoxically uphold traditional Japanese values of family, child-rearing, and stability. As a result, the realms of the real and the fantastic exist in an interesting tension in Japanese culture and society, a fact reflected not only in the forms of pulp entertainment we have been considering, but also in city planning. As John Clammer has recognized, “Japan combines conservatism and hedonism in a way that few other societies have managed to do … .”

[The customs and laws of Japan] paradoxically [support] a conservative sense of public order by legitimating the free play of a very frequently erotic and violent imagination in areas or compartments set aside for this purpose, something which may have to do with the [near] absence of violent crime in Japan. The cheek-by-jowl juxtaposition of a district of love hotels and one of Tokyo’s premier high-cultural sites (the Bunka Mura) in the capital’s Shibuya district is not an anomaly or the accidental result of bad town planning: it represents a fundamental structure of Japanese society at work. (Clammer 59)

On the one hand, such images and juxtapositions can be understood as fantasy-enabling and perhaps are used to take people’s minds away from the heavily controlled and regimented society in which they live and work. Understood from this perspective, these images are used, consumed, and valued because of their unreality. On the other hand, if sexually explicit manga, magazines, or films can be read as reinforcing traditional Japanese society and its values (family and stability), many of the original difficulties presented by these texts and images return. Even though certain images might not be read as saying “perform acts of sadomasochism or rape against women,” they still function in maintaining a certain status quo of Japanese society, specifically the limited opportunities available to women through the reinforcement of traditional familial, occupational, and gender roles. Even after arguing against the perceived reality or “truth” of the acts depicted in certain eromanga (both men’s and ladies’), Anne Allison ultimately concludes that “eromanga are misogynistic. That they embed and thereby foster an ideology of gender chauvinism and crude masochism is also irrefutable” (Allison 78). 

In effect, we have returned to the reading model described in the previous section where the image functions as some sort of imperative speech act. Instead of the direct “do this to women” interpretation put forth by MacKinnon and others, the reading of sexually explicit and violent Japanese images described above is more indirect, stating “don’t really do this, do this instead.” The aims and outcomes of such indirect imperative statements are just as troubling and disturbing. To make matters even worse, other authors have considered the negative consequences of similar indirect speech acts in manga that do not rely on depictions of extreme sex and violence. In her discussion of the popular science fiction manga and anime (animated film) Sailormoon, Mary Grigsby describes how the superhuman powers possessed by the female main character do not necessarily function as a positive role model for young girls, but serve instead to reinforce traditional gender and societal roles for Japanese women where, in her words, “to be feminine is to consume market goods and be consumed by men” (Grigsby 207).26 Manga and anime have been interpreted according to the direct model as well. Kanako Shiokawa, for instance, has examined the concept of cuteness (kawaii) in girls’ comics (shojo manga) and its ability to foster passivity, timidity, and weakness in young girls. For Shiokawa:

The notion of “cute” in Japan … helps one conform to the age-old aesthetical and social values that favor peace, harmony, and self-discipline, while scorning conflict, disorder, and conceit. Individuality (or, more accurately, being unique and standing out in the crowd) and independence (or pronounced self-reliance and self-sufficiency) traditionally are considered threats, especially in women … . (Shiokawa 120-121)

It would seem that Japanese mangaanime, and, presumably, non-animated films do not have much to recommend to them. Whether or not such images depict sex or violence and whether or not they portray strong female characters, in the final analysis, they all end up reinforcing, cultivating, and perpetuating a negative social reality that is dependent upon traditional gender and societal roles of women, a possibility suggested by MacKinnon in regards to pornography in general. While this could be understood as a rather strong condemnation of a wide variety of images and forms, as well as Japanese culture, I believe it actually points to some of the limitations of the “image as speech act” model. Given the vast popularity of various forms of mangaanime, and even pornography, we would have to believe that millions and millions of Japanese consumers of these and other materials (not to mention other consumers worldwide) are unable to form their own opinions about such materials. At the same time, we are being asked to admit that, in these particular cases, any image contains and therefore presents a single meaning only, a meaning that can be read right off its surface. As such, there really is no act of reading whatsoever; instead, there is simply an act of presentation that orders and demands that certain actions be taken and certain roles be filled. 

Rather than viewing these and other images as reflecting or constructing a sort of social reality – specifically one that subordinates and objectifies women – it is possible to view mangaanime, and pornographic films and images as sites of engagement that acknowledge the role of the reader and his or her ability to decode, encode, interpret, use, and misuse texts. At the same time, individual readers and their complex backgrounds – in terms of social, political, economic, gender, sexual orientation, etc. – not only assist in framing and situating images or texts, they also create a set of alternative readings that are foreign or different to the specific “reality” of the mediating reader. As a result, the set of possible interpretations is – if not infinite – exceedingly large. What this means is that, contra the “image as speech act” model described above, these images do not and cannot mean any single thing. Understood in relation to the fantasy/reality I have been describing, Setsu Shigematsu has described how:

… even reality is typically differentiated by what is called the external/physical/social reality and the internal/mental/psychological and psychic reality. It is in between these realms of reality that manga is consciously read, mediated, and elaborated on through a reader’s internal/mental processes, and variously rejected, extrapolated, and/or interwoven into a personal repertoire of memories, pleasures, fears, and fantasies. The making of a reader’s personal fantasies, which are individually designed and contrived might then be understood as constituting a different dimension of fantasy – a singular/internal space of difference that is variously elaborated on and repeatedly transformed. (Shigematsu 133)

As an example, Shigematsu considers the rape scenes that frequently occur in ladies’ eromanga by noting how “… it is easy to assume that the reader identifies primarily with the heroine of each story [and who typically endures the rape].” However, she continues, “the identifications are multiple” and, therefore, the “subject of desire – the woman who buys and reads the manga – may identify with the position of the sexualized object, and/or the transgressing attacker, and/or the voyeur” (Shigematsu 144). Often these multiple perspectives are reflected in the graphic layout of the comics themselves as successive frames of the strip offer different angles and viewpoints in the unfolding narrative allowing the reader/viewer multiple modes of access and ways of understanding the action unfolding on the page. Ultimately, Shigematsu believes, the fluid and concomitant acts of both reading and identification “attest to the ways in which women seek to occupy various positions that may traditionally or formerly have been the proscribed social privileges of men” (Shigematsu 145). Furthermore, by subtly reconfiguring acts that might typically be conceived as reinforcing certain stereotypical conceptions of women and women’s sexuality, such scenes actually play with and are ultimately “dependent upon the existing cultural-symbolic order, with its prohibitions and taboos” (Shigematsu 146). Instead of reinforcing or bolstering these and other deeply entrenched cultural and societal formations, rape scenes and other violent or “deviant” sexual acts in ladies’ eromanga actually play with, exploit, and highlight the artificially constructed boundaries of these formations. 

Interestingly, Zorn never reveals with whom he may or may not identify in these images: the victims, the attacker(s), or a hidden onlooker. For Ellie Hisama and other critics, it has always been assumed that Zorn identifies with the attacker(s) or, possibly, the role of the voyeur. Presumably, it is just as possible that he is not identifying with anyone or, perhaps more likely, everyone. It is Shigematsu’s ideas on the ability for ladies’ eromanga to confront and contest the prohibitions and restrictions imposed from without that most closely resembles Zorn’s own views regarding the place, use, and function of these and other images within his overall musical poetics. 

Fantasy and Reality and Zorn’s Poetics of Music

In a response to his critics over the place of these and other images on his CD covers and liner notes, Zorn issued a statement in which he explains that the images:

… are not meant as a condemnation of one particular group … they have been used for their transgressive quality, illustrative of those areas of human experience hidden in the gaps between pain + pleasure, life + death, horror + ecstasy …27

Zorn’s use of the word “transgressive” in this particular quote is not innocent, carrying with it both a specific meaning and reference. Around the time he began to issue recordings that contained images such as those I have been discussing, Zorn’s musical thought appears to have been greatly influenced by the thought and writings of George Bataille.28 In fact, Zorn most certainly encountered the images of Leng Tch’e and Fu Chou Li in Bataille’s The Tears of Eros. In the unattributed liner notes included with Black Box (“On the Artwork”), the author explains how “further research in to the relationship between violence and the sacred led Zorn [in 1990] to the writings of Georges Bataille.”29 A long quote from Bataille on the effects of these photos follows:

This photograph [of Fu Chou Li] had a decisive role in my life. I have never stopped being obsessed by this image of pain, at once ecstatic and intolerable. I wonder what the Marquis de Sade would have thought of this image, Sade who dreamed of torture, which was inaccessible to him, but who never witnessed an actual torture session. In one way or another, this image was incessantly before his eyes. But Sade would have wished to see it in solitude, at least in relative solitude, without which the ecstatic and voluptuous effect is inconceivable. 

[ … ]

What I suddenly saw, and what imprisoned me in anguish – but which at the same time delivered me from it – was the identity of these perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror. And this is my inevitable conclusion to a history of eroticism. (Liner notes, Black Box; Bataille, Tears 206-207)30

In a passage not included in the notes to Black Box (indicated by the ellipsis), Bataille writes:

Through this violence – even today I cannot imagine a more insane, more shocking form – I was so stunned that I reached the point of ecstasy. My purpose is to illustrate a fundamental connection between religious ecstasy and eroticism – and in particular sadism. From the most unspeakable to the most elevated. (Bataille, Tears 206)

Filtered through a Bataillean lens of eroticism and horror, Zorn intends for these (and other) images and the music they accompany to be read according to Bataille’s notion of transgression. Therefore, in an effort to better understand Zorn’s own reading of these images (not to mention his music), we must come to terms with certain aspects of Bataille’s thought. 

Bataille conceives of the realms of the social, the subjective, and the discursive according to two categories, that of the homogeneousand that of the heterogeneousHomogeneity – sometimes referred to as the category of project – is predicated on utility, production, stability, and rationality. Understood as the “commensurability of elements and the awareness of this commensurability,” the homogeneous existence of society, the individual, and discourse is “sustained by a reduction to fixed rules based on the consciousness of the possible identity of delineable persons and situations; in principle, all violence is excluded from this course of existence” (Bataille, “Psychological” 137-138)31 Heterogeneity describes those “things” or acts that are directly or indirectly forbidden from appearing in the homogeneous realm. The heterogeneous includes aspects of the sacred, religious, and magical (due to a reliance on belief and faith as opposed to scientifically verifiable knowledge), acts of violence, madness, and excess, as well as taboo actions or rituals. Where the realm of homogeneity depends upon productive expenditure and utility, the realm of the heterogeneous is predicated upon unproductive expenditure and waste. Included within the realm of the heterogeneous, Bataille considers “… the waste products of the human body and certain analogous matter (trash, vermin, etc.); the products of the body, persons, words, or acts having a suggestive erotic value; the various unconscious processes such as dreams or neuroses; the numerous elements or social forms that homogeneous society is powerless to assimilate … . In summary, compared to everyday life, heterogeneous existence can be represented as something other, as incommensurate [with homogeneous existence]” (Bataille, “Psychological” 142-143).32

Initially, it might be tempting to equate the domain of the homogeneous with “reality” and that of the heterogeneous with “unreality,” or, perhaps, fantasy. Such a view, however, would only serve to oversimplify the complex interactions and interdependencies Bataille perceives between these domains. For example, while Bataille does describe the homogeneous as the “sphere of activity ([or] if you prefer, the real world),” he also considers the realm of the homogeneous as “the mirage in which activity encloses us” (Bataille, “Method” 78, 85). At the same time, wars, vermin, eroticism, violence, and other heterogeneous phenomena are certainly very “real” occurrences. However, because we choose to ignore these and other phenomena in an effort to maintain some sense of homogeneous stability, Bataille refers to our tendency to describe the heterogeneous as “aberrations”: “What is the worst aberration? That which we ignore, gravely holding out for wisdom?” (Bataille, “Method” 84).33 Elsewhere, he refers to the “practical unreality” of heterogeneous elements (Bataille, “Use Value” 97). 

In an attempt to avoid any sort of clear-cut binary divisions between these two realms, Bataille proposes, instead, a continuum where the realms of the heterogeneous and the homogeneous are understood as existing in a complementary, non-oppositional relationship where the homogeneous necessarily depends upon the heterogeneous to justify its existence. The homogeneous is the willful suppression of otherness, taboo, prohibition, and fantasy in the greater interest of progress, stability, and rationality. The elements or objects of the heterogeneous realm are just as “real” as those of the homogeneous; they are only made to seem unreal, undesired, or fantastic through the rationalizing processes of homogeneity. 

When the heterogeneous intrudes upon the realm of the homogeneous, the subject experiences a “force or shock” that precipitates alternative forms of (non-)knowledge, a momentary insight or experience where everything that had been conceived as rational, logical, and beyond any sort of reasonable doubt is overturned and thrown into question. Bataille’s paradoxical project is therefore aimed at explicating those areas of non-knowledge that are concealed by homogeneous knowledge and whose goal is the realization of a subjective moment of “inner experience,” of a “luminosity without enlightenment,” where the notions of utility and reason are temporarily suspended.34  Such moments are achieved through acts of transgression. 

For Bataille, transgression is not understood as the dismantling of boundaries but, rather, the playing with, pushing or testing of boundaries. With the transgressive act, the rational and the irrational, the beautiful and the horrible, life and death, rub up against one another allowing us to glimpse the proximities, interrelationships, and similarities of phenomena or modes of thought that had always been conceived as being distinct and separate. We recognize the beautiful in the horrible and abject, as well as the hidden horrors of the beautiful.35 Transgression, therefore, is the play of limits where those heterogeneous materials, acts, or concepts that have been excluded from homogeneous structures and forms are brought back into play. 

In addition to actions such as eroticism, sacrifice, and violence, Bataille also considers art – specifically poetry – as being able to enact transgression. Poetry, Bataille writes, possesses “the particular faculty of disordered images [used] to annihilate the ensemble of signs that is the sphere of activity [homogeneity]” (Bataille, “Method” 95). For poetry to function in a transgressive manner, however, it is necessary to achieve and maintain a proper – yet tense – balance between the stable structures of homogeneous practices (poetry’s traditional forms, designs, practices, and linguistic usages) and those features that are designed to upset and destabilize these structures. Lacking a balance between constraints and freedom, transgressive poetry, conceived as poetry without any rules, cannot engage with more traditional forms of poetry and may end up constructing its own set of rules, congealing into another, newer, homogeneous mode of poetry.36

In different ways, the images re-presented on Zorn’s recordings depict, from a Bataillean perspective, heterogeneous acts (the extreme violence of Suehiro Maruo’s manga to the “unproductive” eroticism represented by the S/M scenes) as well as those instantaneous moments of transgression where eroticism and anguish collide (the photos of Fu Chou Li’s face as he is cut into one hundred pieces). However, to stop here would ignore the close connections Zorn perceives between his artwork and the music (“For me, my record covers are very important. The cover has got to follow through with what the music is about … .”). Zorn’s music does not aim to simply represent heterogeneous or transgressive acts per se, but attempts to wreak violence upon homogeneous musical structures, designs, and forms as well as any notion of what may constitute musical “logic.” Zorn’s music, in other words, attempts to transgress the boundaries that exist between what is typically understood as discursively acceptable, rational, and logical (homogeneous) and that which is considered irrational, unacceptable, and outside of such formations. Such an act requires an acknowledgement and recognition of homogeneous musical structures whose logic is ultimately pushed to the breaking point. 

To conclude this section, I will consider how the songs “Speedfreaks” and “Osaka Bondage” (both from Naked City’s Torture Garden) can be viewed/heard as transgressive musical acts by examining how both of these tunes enact and embody a “play of limits.” Finally, I will consider how a specific reaction to Zorn’s music – a certain type of laughter – signals the attainment of (musical) limits and that accompanies our glimpse into the ruptures – the “hidden gaps” – that open up when determinate and rational meaning is overturned. 

“Speedfreaks” is an extreme (perhaps the most extreme) example of Zorn’s jump-cut style of composition. In this work, numerous stylistic/generic references, noises, and other sonic events fly past at break-neck speed; more precisely 32 discrete events pass before our ears in less than 50 seconds. Example 1 is adapted from the “chart” the members of the group used when performing and recording this tune.37 In this example, I have indicated each stylistic reference/noise event (sometimes with instrumentation), the underlying harmony or prevalent pitches employed in each block (where “(N.C.)” indicates “No Chord”), and the onset of each block (in seconds).

Example 1: “Speedfreaks” chart

Audio Example 1: Naked City, excerpt from “Speedfreaks” from Torture Garden (1989) by John Zorn

The most immediate – if not the only – form of continuity present in this tune is a consistent rhythmic pulse that binds and connects each successive event to what has come before and what comes after, a consistency required for the performers (the song was recorded and performed straight through; it is not the result of any sort of “cut-and-paste” editing techniques). This pulse is maintained even in those moments where an extreme sense of rhythmic acceleration/deceleration or even suspension might be perceived (for example the half-time feel of the “Reggae” block in measure 9 or the Vocal solo, F-modal jazz block in measure 21).

Turning our attention to the unfolding harmonic/pitch design of “Speedfreaks,” we are immediately struck by the almost-complete absence of anything resembling a standard or typical harmonic progression. It is possible, perhaps, to hear the progression in measures 8 and 9 as projecting some sort of ii-V7 progression in B-flat; however, such a hearing is quickly thwarted by the noise/thrash block of measure 10. B-flat does make an appearance a bit later (in measure 15) where it now seems to be part of a V7-IV-I7 jazz or pop progression in E-flat. Of course, even here, such an interpretation depends upon our ability to hear and process this progression, a difficult task given the extremely fast tempo (where the quarter-note equals approximately two hundred beats per minute). 

The harmonic “illogic” of “Speedfreaks” might give the impression of complete anarchy where all “musical rules” have been abandoned (and where we consider the rhythmic continuity as a conceit necessary for the performance). However, the formal design of this tune provides the necessary balance required by a Bataillean conception of transgression. The 32 discrete musical blocks of “Speedfreaks” is an oblique (and, perhaps, tongue-in-cheek) evocation of the 32-bar song-form common to many jazz and pop standards. In this form, each eight-measure unit typically unfolds according to the scheme AABA where each A section repeats a melodic line (that may be varied) and a harmonic progression that serves to confirm the tonic, a confirmation accomplished by the presence of a strong dominant that typically appears at the end of the first two A sections and resolves, momentarily, with the first repetition of A and, conclusively, at the end of the final A. The B section provides the form with its greatest sense of contrast. The contrast of the B section can be the result of an emphasis on a key area other than the tonic and/or, if lyrics are present, by a change in mood, perspective, or content. Like the first two A sections, the B section is harmonically open, ending with a dominant harmony. 

In “Speedfreaks,” remnants of the formal particulars associated with the standard 32-bar song-form can still be perceived. For example, notice that the end of the first two “A” sections (measures 8 and 16, the final measures of the first and second systems) both end with some sort of A-flat harmony – minor at the end of the first system and major at the end of the second system. The harmonic correlation between these two formal junctures might be conceived as insignificant (especially if we focus on the specific melodic/stylistic material heard at these moments) if not for the fact that the opening of the “B” section (beginning of the third system) starts on E-flat, a harmony which could be understood as functioning as the dominant often heard in more traditional AABA formats. The return to the final “A” is preceded not by its dominant (E-flat) but by its tritone substitution (where we could hear the C#-G tritone pairing as substituting for a more traditional D-flat-G pairing that would be included with an E-flat 7 chord). Finally Zorn seems to suggest a return to A-flat at the end of “Speedfreaks” with the E-flat sonority played by the keyboard in the penultimate block. The expected A-flat never materializes, however, and is replaced, instead, by short “chirping” sounds on Zorn’s sax and Joey Baron’s hi-hat fills. It appears that, with “Speedfreaks,” Zorn treats the generic harmonic aspect of the AABA form as a sort of template that can be manipulated and reconfigured. Still, however, it is this formal constraint (and the harmonies that assist in defining this particular form) that reigns in and guides the overall design of “Speedfreaks” and, in a way, provides the limits or formal prohibitions that the musical surface tries to – but ultimately cannot – break through. 

A second tune I would like to consider is “Osaka Bondage,” a tune that has been described in some detail by Ellie Hisama (Hisama, “John Zorn” 79-80). Hisama describes “Osaka Bondage,” a tune comprised of noise, thrash/hardcore, and jazz blocks, as a mimetic representation of Torture Garden’s cover art where the “dismemberment of the sonic body is related to the dismemberment of the actual bodies depicted on the CD covers.” Hisama describes “Osaka Bondage” in the following way:

The sound blocks [of “Osaka Bondage”] proceed from screaming to guitar to sax solo to screaming that evolves into grunting and synthesized lounge music. Some sound blocks are laid out along a common time metric grid, most notably the sections of screaming but also the bass onto which is layered drums and then guitar. Zorn’s saxophone solo, played in his characteristic free improvised style, breaks the metric regularity into chaos; the last block of screaming, which is not in the regular 4/4 meter, is boxed between two blocks of the laid-back, easy-listening style of lounge music that serves as an ironic commentary on the musically transgressive thrash portions of the work. The interspersing of the screaming with smoother styles makes the recurrence of the screams less predictable and subsequently more disturbing. (Hisama, “John Zorn” 79)

I have reproduced many of the sections Hisama highlights in Example 2.

Example 2: Form and key events in “Osaka Bondage”

Audio Example 2: Naked City, “Osaka Bondage” from Torture Garden(1989) by John Zorn

While there certainly are deviations from a standard 4/4 metric scheme in “Osaka Bondage” (see, for example, the alternating 3/4 and 4/4 measures beginning at 0:33 and, later, between the 0:43-0:50 span), it is not true, as Hisama suggests, that any sort of metric regularity is abandoned. Even in the opening noise section (0:00-0:14) drummer Joey Baron can be heard quickly clicking his sticks establishing/clarifying a continuous 16th-note pulse that underlies the entire tune. I do not wish to dwell on this point but, instead, consider Hisama’s portrayal of the thrash and jazz elements that interact within this tune.

The jazz, or “lounge,” sections of “Osaka Bondage” are heard beginning slightly after the 0:43 second mark (a little more than halfway through the tune) and at the end, commencing at 1:09. These two sections comprise approximately twelve seconds of the tune’s overall length of 1:14. In contrast to these jazz/lounge sections, musical moments that can be described as “hardcore” or “thrash” rock form the bulk of the musical material of “Osaka Bondage:” from 0:15 to 0:42 and again from 0:50 to 1:08. At the same time, these sections project a relatively consistent harmonic center: D. This pitch center is embellished in typical thrash-core fashion with its tritone (A-flat) and lowered scale-degree 2 (E-flat) and emphasized by the fact that both guitars are tuned down a whole-step so as to accommodate this tonal center. 

Interestingly, Hisama describes these thrash sections as “musically transgressive,” and while I do not believe she is using the term in as specific a manner as I am (she does not provide any sort of clarification as to what she intends by the phrase), her description is very suggestive. Presumably, Hisama wishes to convey that – because of the emphasis on noise and screaming – these thrash sections transgress what is typically understood as “musical.”38 At the same time, she describes the lounge sections as providing some sort of “ironic commentary” on the thrash sections as if, because of the presence of clearly recognizable harmonies, clear textures, and easy-to-follow rhythmic and metric structures, the lounge sections are more palatable, more accessible, and more “musical.” However, when we consider these competing sections in more detail, we find that the thrash sections are actually more musically stable than the lounge sections. Rather than viewing the thrash sections as functioning in a transgressive manner (where the term is understood in the Bataillean sense I have been describing), it is possible to view the lounge sections as intruding upon the boundaries and limitations imposed by the thrash sections. 

For instance, the dissonant guitar chord at 0:43 prepares the listener for the first musical block that can be described as evoking a jazz or lounge style. While it is difficult – if not impossible – to ascribe any sort of tonal significance to this harmony, the A-sharp that sounds in the upper register (along with the E-natural immediately below) creates a strong expectation for resolution. Such a resolution occurs with the entrance of the keyboard solo as the A-sharp resolves up to B, leading us to believe that, because of our deeply-engrained knowledge and familiarity with how dissonances should be resolved in tonal contexts, B will also be established as some sort of tonal center (even momentarily). However, as the keyboard solo continues, the strong-beat arrival on the pitch B is undercut and undermined by the F-sharp minor seventh harmony that supports it. Lacking any harmonic support, the lounge section tries to incorporate music originally associated with the thrash sections, notably the rhythms and alternating metric structures heard at 0:33-0:36. Again, this ploy is unsuccessful as the concluding C-sharp minor seventh harmony (the final chord of the quarter-note triplets) resolves to the thrash section that immediately follows and its familiar D tonal center. The final jazz section beginning at 1:09 finally provides the B tonal center expected earlier, but, because it is the last musical section to occur, it is unable to fully integrate itself within or against the more stable thrash sections that dominate the tune. 

These two brief descriptions of “Speedfreaks” and “Osaka Bondage” have attempted to show how Bataillean notions of transgression can be perceived in Zorn’s music and not just the accompanying artwork. Without a doubt, many readers are probably wondering about the value or utility of quasi-formalistic close readings such as those presented above. Given the extremely rapid tempos, for example, do we actually hear any of the pitch/harmonic relations described above? While we might not be able to perceive exactlywhat is happening in these or other tunes, it is clear that Zorn is concerned with the details associated with the moment-to-moment interactions as well as the large-scale formations described above. In a conversation I had with the composer about the structure and planning of “Speedfreaks,” Zorn described how, in this and other works, “finding the proper sequence to keep the interest and flow is a delicate operation. And crucial … energy, keys, tempos, feels, instrumentation … all these parameters need to be properly balanced [and] unbalanced” (email with author, January 11, 2004).

I do believe that a specific bodily reaction to Zorn’s music signals, at some level, a recognition of the transgressive qualities and processes enacted by these (and other) musical details. Such a reaction, I believe, is laughter. I am not speaking of a sardonic or derisive form of laughter (a laughter at the expense of others) or the laughter that accompanies a joke whose meaning we “get.” Instead, the type of laughter we experience is a type of nervous laughter, a laughter that signals our inability to make sense of situations and determinate meanings can no longer be grasped. This form of laughter occurs, Bataille writes, when we:

… pass very abruptly, all of a sudden, from a world in which each thing is well qualified, in which each thing is given in its stability, generally in a stable order, to a world in which our assurance is suddenly overthrown, in which we perceive that this assurance is deceptive, and where we believed that everything was strictly anticipated, an unforeseeable and upsetting element appeared unexpectedly from the unforeseeable, that reveals to us in sum a final truth: that superficial appearances conceal a perfect lack of response to our anticipation. (Bataille, “Nonknowledge” 135)

This form of laughter accompanies those moments in Zorn’s music where the unexpected and/or the musically irrational or impossible intrudes upon and disrupts our musical expectations: the extreme tempos and the stop-on-a-dime musical shifts performed by the members of Naked City or the harmonic “swervings” or deflections that often occur between successive musical moments. The laughter these and other moments evoke in the listener is, according to Bataille, the only response possible. “Laughter,” Bataille writes, “leaves behind the areas that are accessible to speech – and starting with its conditions, such a laughter is an undefinable leap. Laughter hangs suspended, it leaves you laughing in suspense … [laughter] doesn’t affirm anything, doesn’t assuage anything” (Bataille, Guilty 101). 

Bataillean laughter is a response to the “shock or force” that results from the play of boundaries associated with transgression. Prohibitions must remain in effect for the transgressive act or acts to have any sort effect on the experiencing subject(s). Therefore, “Laughter is a leap from possible to impossible and from impossible to possible. But it’s only a leap. To maintain this leap would be to reduce impossible to possible or the other way around” (Bataille, Guilty 101).39 Zorn’s music, the accompanying artwork, and the interaction between the two create an unstable space where we are confronted with the seemingly impossible, unthinkable, or unimaginable. This transgressive space exists only for a moment (consider the short lengths of Naked City’s tunes); yet, the effect of these transgressive acts remains for much longer as we try to re-establish the sense of stability that has been displaced by the experience of a vertiginous instability that characterizes nonknowledge. 

Conclusion

That the images included on Zorn’s CD covers and liner notes are complex is beyond any doubt. The complexity derives, in part, from the fact that these images are stripped from their original contexts – the complete manga or entire film as well as the knowledge of Fu Chou Li’s crime and punishment – and are seemingly re-presented as independent and self-contained depictions of various acts. At the same time, the re-contextualization of these images in relation to Zorn’s music adds new layers of interpretive complexity, where the music and images can be understood as existing in some sort of mimetic relationship (where the music is heard as a “sonic analogue” to the graphic images and the “real” violence they depict) or, following the Bataillean perspective outlined above, as representations of transgressive acts that open up, contest, and momentarily merge the separate spaces assumed by the mimetic interpretation. 

From a purely theoretical standpoint, the Bataillean perspective offers greater explanatory power in that it enables us to situate and “make sense of” other images included on Zorn’s CD covers and liner notes from around this same time (images not discussed by Zorn’s critics). Focusing on the Naked City recordings, Heretic, Jeux des Dames Cruelles (1992) reproduces photos from Serge Nazarieff’s collection of historic erotic photography; Grand Guignol(1992) uses photos from the “Dr. Stanley R. Burns Collection of Historic Medical Photographs” and a manga by Suehiro Maruo; Radio (1993) uses photographs by Man Ray, and Absinthe, the band’s final studio recording (1993), features hand-colored photographs from Hans Bellmer’s The Doll (from 1935).40 When we consider the artwork from this period as a whole, what emerges is a much larger project whereby Zorn interrogates the boundaries of fantasy and reality, homogeneity and heterogeneity, and the fluid and permeable boundaries that exist between meaning and non-meaning, knowledge and nonknowledge. 

At the same time, the Bataillean perspective allows us to situate Zorn’s music and musical poetics within certain practices, principles, and aims common to many of the major avant-garde movements of the twentieth-century. For example, the constant interrogation of discursive, cultural, and societal boundaries was a major premise of, for example, the Dadaists’ “anti-art” as well as the varied practices, artists, and thinkers associated with Surrealism. Like Zorn, many artists associated with these and other movements aimed to shock viewers with their artworks, often resorting to extreme images of violence and/or sexuality. Thus, as Susan Rubin Suleiman has noted, it was with these avant-garde movements – movements so influential to Zorn’s own musical thought – that a “metaphoric equivalence between the violation of sexual taboos and the violation of discursive norms … became fully elaborated” (Suleiman 74). 

With this move, sexually explicit or violent visual representations are understood as metaphors for certain forms of linguistic or discursive violence (écriture) as described by theorists such as Barthes and Derrida. Suleiman, again, writes how écriture:

… is precisely that element of discursive practice which exceeds the traditional boundaries of meaning, of unity, of representation; and just as for Bataille the experience of transgression was indissociable from a consciousness of the boundaries it violated, so the practice of écriture was indissociable from a consciousness of the discursive and logical rules, the system of prohibitions and exclusions that made meaning, unity, and representation possible but that the play of écriture constantly subverted. (Suleiman 76)

If we allow for an écriture of discursive and logical musical rules, we recognize the transgressive aims of practices of Zorn’s music and musical poetics described in the preceding section. 

There is a potential “blind spot” to this way of reading. If the graphic images such as those that appear with Zorn’s CDs are conceived of and treated as signifiers for a deeper, more general metaphor of linguistic and discursive violence, is it even possible to recognize, talk about, or confront those images that depict actualscenes of violence, racism, misogyny, or hatred? In other words, does the transgressive interpretive model described above in relation to Zorn and Bataille preclude the possibility that the re-presentation of particular images might actually reflect certain beliefs or wishes of an individual or group? Without any sort of consensus as to standards or restrictions (elements that would seem to undermine the entire transgressive project itself), it would appear that there is not and that it is impossible for viewers to distinguish between a range of photographs, artworks, films, or forms of literature that may be considered erotic or that include violent scenes as part of their specific aims or unfolding narratives and those that seem to glorify brutal forms of violence, sexuality, and cruelty.41 If this is the case, then a transgressive perspective ultimately arrives at a similarly extreme (though negated) interpretation of such images as does the “image as speech act” model described in the sections on the reception of Zorn’s images in America and Japan. Whereas an extreme version of the “image as speech act” model denies the possibility that these images can mean anything other than what they re-present (actual, real forms of violence), the transgressive perspective would seem to deny the possibility that real violence has any meaning outside of an imagined textual or discursive frames. By pursuing each of these ways of reading to their logical conclusions, we arrive at equally untenable and ultimately irreconcilable positions. In short, we have arrived at the extremes of rational, homogeneous thought and stand precariously on the edge of non-meaning. 

At one level, the perceived resonances between Zorn’s music and the accompanying artwork reflect his intention in creating a coherent “total package” informed by the thought (not to mention writing style) of Georges Bataille and other writers and thinkers who have explored the places and functions of violence in society, culture, and art.42 However, the re-presentation of images depicting torture, violence, and S/M practices have since forced their way beyond the immediate context of Zorn’s recordings and have entered a larger debate, a debate on the ways such images can be read or understood. Interestingly, when these de-contextualized images are viewed and debated according to either the “image as speech act” or transgressive models, Zorn’s original artistic intention is extended and developed. “Those areas of human experience hidden in the gaps between pain + pleasure, life + death, horror + ecstasy” that Zorn claims are explored in his CDs now becomes an exploration into the hidden gaps and limits associated with certain modes of reading. For instance, whether Suehiro Maruo’s mangaindicates an extreme hatred towards women or is the product of his own artistic fantasy or imagination, or if the images of S/M practices are viewed as deviant or abnormal sex acts instead of a form of sexual expression preferred by some individuals, or, finally, if the images of Fu Chou Li’s execution are understood as a glorification of torture or (as Bataille does) an extreme form of sovereign subjectivity, they cannot be satisfactorily resolved according to either the “image as speech act” or transgressive forms of reading described above and the diverse social realities and individual fantasies that we bring to these readings. 

It is probably clear to most readers that the form of the present essay reflects the types of theoretical difficulties I have been describing. That is, rather than defending or condemning a particular interpretation of the images that appear on Zorn’s CDs, I have chosen to highlight the types of incongruities and limitations associated with a variety of reading strategies. For some readers, my position might be understood as a “cop-out.” In my opinion, however, to suggest any sort of over-arching conclusion regarding the meanings of these images – on their own or in relation to Zorn’s music – would undermine the very notions of discursive instability and semantic indeterminacy they are designed to elicit in viewers/listeners. In this regard, I understand the form of this essay as embodying and enacting the very complexities and uncertainties that Zorn forces us to engage with and confront when considering his music, the accompanying artwork, and the interactions between the two. 

Footnotes

  1.  A number of individuals offered helpful comments, criticisms, and suggestions on earlier versions of this essay. I would especially like to thank (in no particular order) Kathryn Stockton, Tomomi Nakashima, Shuhei Hosokawa, Aki Kawamoto, Andy Flory, Jonathan Hiam, Seth Coluzzi, the two anonymous reviewers for Echo, and, of course, John Zorn.
  2. Jonathan D. Kramer, “Beyond Unity: Toward an Understanding of Musical Postmodernism”; Tom Service, “Playing a New Game of Analysis: John Zorn’s Carny, Autonomy and Postmodernism”; Susan McClary, Conventional Wisdom, 145-152. See also Kevin McNeilly, “Ugly Beauty: John Zorn and the Politics of Postmodern Music.”
  3.  Naked City released and recorded five studio albums and one EP between 1989 and 1993. The band consisted of Zorn on alto saxophone, Fred Frith on bass, Bill Frisell on guitar, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, and Joey Baron on drums. Yamutsaka Eye contributes vocals on some tracks. Although the band quit performing and recording in 1993, they did re-form for two live shows in the summer of 2003. The core group comprising Painkiller consisted of Zorn on saxophone, Bill Laswell on bass, and Mick Harris on drums. This band (active from 1991 until around 1994) released two EPs, one full-length album, and a number of live recordings. The group – with different drummers and, sometimes, with an added vocalist – still performs.
  4. Figures 1 and 2 were included on Naked City’s album Torture Garden; Figure 3 appears on the band’s Leng Tch’e EP. Torture Garden was originally released in 1989 on Toy’s Factory/Earache/Shimmy Disc and is a collection of the “hardcore pieces” that would later be included on Naked City and Naked City’s Grand GuignolLeng Tch’e was originally released in 1990 on Toy’s Factory. All of these recordings are included on Naked City: Black Box and, more recently, Naked City: The Complete Studio Recordings.
  5. Zorn has often emphasized the close relations between the music and artwork on all of his recordings. “For me, my record covers are veryimportant. The cover has got to follow through with what the music is about. I don’t just make music. I make records. I just don’t give a tape to a record company + let them package it any way they want so it sells a lot. It has to mean something. The record package is art.” (Tai Toshiharu and John Zorn, “About the Record Jacket of Guts of a Virgin,” Eureka: Poems and Criticism 29/1 (1997): 138. Emphasis in original.)
  6. See also Denise Hamilton, “Zorn’s ‘Garden’ Sprouts Discontent Jazz,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 15, 1994: 9; Alex Beels, “Musician John Zorn’s Brutal Images of Asians Draw Fire,” Asian New Yorker (May 1994): 5-6.
  7. All subsequent citations will be drawn from the reprinted version of Hisama’s essay appearing in Middleton, Reading Pop. See also Hisama, “John Zorn and the Postmodern Condition,” in Locating East Asia in Western Art Music. Ed. Yayoi Uno Everett and Frederick Lau. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2004: 72-84.
  8. In this respect, the present essay is modeled after the reading/interpretive strategies described in Ellen Koskoff’s “Miriam Sings Her Song: The Self and the Other in Anthropological Discourse” and Susan Rubin Suleiman, “Transgression and the Avant-Garde: Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil.”
  9. Later, Butler remarks that “to say something is phantasmatic is not to say that it is ‘unreal’ or artificial or dismissable as a consequence. Wielded within political discourse, the real is syntactically regulated phantasm that has enormous power and efficacy.” (Butler 187-188.)
  10.  Emphasis in original.
  11. This equation is compounded by the fact that Torture Garden is the name of a book by Octave Mirbeau that most likely served as the inspiration for Zorn’s album title. In this book, a young (Western) woman with a morbid and lurid fascination for torture frequents a prison “yard” / “garden” where she routinely takes pleasure in seeing the Asian prisoners tortured. It is possible to read the S/M photos as re-contextualized forms of torture on Zorn’s Torture Garden record.
  12.  These images are reproduced and described in Georges Bataille, The Tears of Eros. Bataille writes that, in Fu Chou Li’s case, Leng Tch’e was chosen because the original sentence handed down – being burned alive – was deemed “too cruel.” (Bataille 204.)
  13.  On the goals and practices of torture, see Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain, 27-59. Numerous writings address the complex politics and meanings of S/M practices. See, for example, Gilles Deleuze, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty; Karmen MacKendrick, Counterpleasures; Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins, Chapters 5 and 6; Gini Graham Scott, Erotic Power: An Exploration of Dominance and Submission; Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.”
  14. Images of male participants in S/M scenes are included on Painkiller’s Rituals: Live in Japan and Talisman: Live in Nagoya. In all of the images on these records, the male is assuming the submissive position.
  15. See the essays in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis.
  16.  For a critique of MacKinnon’s position, see Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, 65 ff.
  17. Regarding my fictitious example, Aki Kawomoto has explained to me that if a person reading Rapeman is encountered on a train or bus, other Japanese passengers would probably sit next to him (or her) if that reader makes no attempt to hide the manga. If, on the other hand, the passenger appears to be hiding or concealing the name of the manga, other passengers would not be as willing to sit next to the reader. In a personal communication via e-mail, Kawamoto describes how:

    In Japanese society, such a [passenger

  18.  See also Deborah Shamoon, “Office Sluts and Rebel Flowers: The Pleasures of Japanese Pornographic Comics for Women.” For a negative reading of manga, see Sandra Buckley, “Penguin in Bondage: A Graphic Tale of Japanese Comic Books.”
  19.  Italics in original.
  20.  See Donald Richie’s discussion of eroductions (“erotic productions”) in Some Aspects of Japanese Popular Culture.
  21.  I should clarify that the “poor production techniques” often encountered in these films are not, I believe, intended to evoke some sort of cinematic realism along the lines of, for instance, cinema verité where rough or shaky camera shots (perhaps from a hand-held camera or videocamera) aim to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy between the viewer and the viewed. Instead, I am referring to the numerous slips in continuity (a half-empty glass in one shot is full in the next or a man’s tie curiously disappears/appears in consecutive shots) and other technical mishaps. For instance, in a number of films I have viewed, it is sometimes possible to see the boom mic at the top of the screen move back and forth between the speaking characters. These and other cinematic blunders are, I believe, the result of the speed with which the film studios made and released these movies.
  22.  Allison also investigates the role of fantasy in Japanese business practices in her Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club. The role of fantasy in Japanese culture is also emphasized in Ian Buruma, Behind the Mask: On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers, Transvestites, Gangsters and Other Japanese Cultural Heroes. Of course, not all commentators agree with such a relatively harmless interpretation of Japanese pornography. See, for example, Kuniko Funabashi, “Pornographic Culture and Sexual Violence.”
  23.  Reprinted in Lawrence Ward Beer, Freedom of Expression in Japan: A Study in Comparative Law, Politics, and Society.
  24.  In 1991, regulations against showing pubic hair began to relax, partly because of photographs included in Kishin Shinoyama’s Santa Fe, a collection of photographs of the then-popular singer/actress Rie Miyazawa. See Allison, 147 ff.
  25.  Emphasis added. The acquittal was later overturned by the Tokyo high court who ruled that Condition 1 had been met. The Supreme Court later turned down an appeal in a “lengthy and complex” decision. On this ruling, see Beer, 349-353.
  26. Many of Grigsby’s claims are tendentious; for a more balanced view, see Antonia Levi, Samurai From Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation, especially Chapter 7 (“Outrageous Women”).
  27. Cited in Hisama, “John Zorn,” 83. A version of this statement also appears in the “On the Artwork” notes appearing in Black Box. Here, the wording is slightly altered and there is no mention of the image’s “transgressive” qualities.
  28. Zorn’s familiarity with Bataille is also evident in the fact that his string quartet The Dead Man is inspired by a short story of the same name written by Bataille. One of the movements – or “specimens” as Zorn calls them – takes its name from another work by Bataille, “Blue of Noon.” It is also possible that this title is related to Tessa Hughes-Freeland’s film adaptation of Bataille’s story, Dirty (1992). Non-coincidentally perhaps, Freeland is often grouped together with other filmmakers associated with the so-called “Cinema of Transgression,” active since the mid-80s and centered primarily around New York’s Lower East Side. For more on this movement and Freeland, see Jack Sargeant, Deathtripping.

    Zorn’s continued interest in the thought of Bataille can also be seen on a more recent recording, Moonchild: Songs Without Words. On this record, one of the tracks, “Le Part Maudit,” is a reference to Bataille’s influential thoughts of a general economy predicated upon waste and useless expenditure: the “Accursed Share.”

  29.  References to Bataille’s Story of the Eye appear in works that Zorn might have encountered while in Japan. In particular, Suehiro Maruo’s manga “Shit Soup” and Nagisa Oshima’s legendary film In the Realm of the Senses both include scenes that are clearly derived from Bataille’s work of fiction. The manga reproduced in Figure 1 may also be a reference to Bataille’s work of fiction, specifically the important role(s) placed upon and assumed by eyes.
  30.  Italics in original. The pictures of Fu Chou Li exerted a strong hold over Bataille and are referred to again and again in his writings. See, for example, Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, 120 ff and Guilty, 38. See also Peter Tracey Connor, Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin.
  31. See also Bataille, “The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade (An Open Letter to My Current Comrades).” For a critical examination of these concepts, see Rodolphe Gasché, “The Heterological Almanac.”
  32.  Bataille’s equation of the heterogeneous with waste and unproductive expenditure forms the basis of his “general economy” as described in his “The Notion of Expenditure.” This subject is treated more thoroughly in Bataille, The Accursed Share, Volume 1: Consumption.
  33. Emphasis in original.
  34. For a useful description of Bataille’s thought, see Michèle H. Richman, Reading Georges Bataille: Beyond the Gift.
  35.  In the notes to Grand Guignol, Zorn expresses similar ideas: “Our fascination with Fear, Terror, and Evil, like Death itself, knows no racial, cultural, or religious barriers. It resides in our collective unconscious, binding us together with ropes we try, but are ultimately unable to sever. Only through violent trauma, or the convulsive viscera of artistic vision does it rise to the surface, reminding us that it has, in truth, been there all along.” (Liner notes to Naked City, Grand Guignol, n.p.)
  36.  See Bataille, “Method,” 95; “Use Value,” 97.
  37.  Example 1 is a slightly modified form of Zorn’s handwritten chart of “Speedfreaks” that is reproduced in the booklet Eight Million Stories: Naked City Ephemera accompanying Naked City: The Complete Studio Recordings (n.p.).
  38. It is also possible to read her remarks as a not-so-veiled dismissal of thrash music in general. It is outside the scope of the present essay to consider any possible value judgments she may or may not hold regarding this or similarly related genres of rock music.
  39. Emphasis in original.
  40. While these images are, in terms of their depictions of violence and sexuality, just as graphic as those accompanying Torture Garden and Leng Tch’e (i.e. Man Ray’s photographs of a bound woman wearing a leather (or rubber) suit and mask, medical photos of decapitated heads and heaps of severed body parts, etc.), they have not been subjected to the same type of scrutiny. This is due, perhaps, to the fact that the women and men shown in these images are Caucasian and not Asian and/or the sources of these images (Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, etc.) have, in various ways, been “legitimized” by the academy (through their relations with Surrealism). In other words, even if the images have the capacity to cause offense, their “real meaning” is much “deeper” and abstract, a luxury that is not afforded to the Japanese-based images.
  41. Here I am thinking of certain Japanese films released as part of the “Guinea Pig” (ginpiggu) series. In at least two of the films released in this series (The Devil’s Experiment and Flowers of Flesh and Blood), the filmmakers attempt to recreate the contents of actual snuff films. In support of the “image as speech act” model described in the body of this essay, it is worth pointing out that copies of these and other films were found in the possession of Miyazaki Tsutomu, a serial killer who tortured and killed at least four young Japanese girls from 1988 to 1989.
  42. In the liner notes to Grand Guignol, Zorn identifies (among many others) the Marquis de Sade, Edgar Allen Poe, Salvador Dalí, Alfred Hitchcock, Hermann Nitsch, and Bataille. (Liner notes to Naked City, Grand Guignol, n.p.).
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