Cultural Discourse looks at a broad range of cultural issues.
2nd March 2018

Introducing the Art of Morpheus Lunae: On the Paternal Vulva

On the Art of Morpheus Lunae and the Paternal Vulva

by John David Ebert

“…how with shrinking hands he cut the incision in his thigh and carried him in his man’s womb, father and gracious mother at once, and well he remembered another birth, when his own head conceived, when his temple was big with child, and he carried that incredible unbegotten lump until he shot out Athena scintillating in her armour.” –Nonnos, Dionysiaca, Bk. 1.6-10

For Lacan, the Phallus existed on all three of his registers: on the level of the Real, the phallus is precisely the biological organ which we term the “penis.” But at the level of the Imaginary, the Phallus is a fantasy that the infant identifies with in order to impress his mother. He wishes to be the Phallus for her, the thing that keeps her interest focused on him and away from the Father. But in order for the individual to be properly initiated into the Big Other of society, a symbolic castration must take place, in which the individual realizes that he cannot be the phallus for the mother and that he must accede to the paternal authority which Lacan terms the Name of the Father. For him, the Father is sacrosanct, and the Phallus at the level of the Symbolic Order is precisely his authority. It’s a bit like Greek initiation into the Academy.

Lacan, however, completely ignored the vulva. For him, it had no metaphysical valency whatsoever, but I would suggest that the vulva, too, exists on all three registers: on the level of the Real, it is the pink, fleshy vagina that is the gateway and portal for all entities into this world; but the imaginary vulva is what I term the “metaphysical vulva” and it is not a physical thing at all, but a metaphysical reality that, once appropriated, accedes to the Symbolic Order of a society as a creative signification.

It was Heidegger who invented the so-called “metaphysical age” which he saw as beginning with Plato and continuing all the way down to Nietzsche–an age which Derrida termed “logocentric,” since meaning was firmly anchored in Transcendental Signifieds that were actually, in some way, “out there” and which could be reached by the Knower through a long, Hegelian pilgrimage through the Stations of the Cross, as it were, to match one’s concepts with their ultimate quilting points. All the metaphysical concepts of the metaphysical age, were, according to Lacan, anchored to what he called “quilting points,” and when slippages occurred–i.e. when a signifer came unglued from its signified–a psychosis could result, thus thrusting the individual back out of the Symbolic Order and into that swamp of images, myths and phantasies which he termed, dismissively, the imaginary order.

But it was Peter Sloterdijk who pointed out that the metaphysical age–in which the Paternal Authority reigned supreme–was preceded by a pre-metaphysical age, in which the ruling archai that governed the imaginary significations of a society were all gynocentric, to use Bachofen’s terminology. The signifiers were mythic and firmly rooted in the authority of the Great Mother. The vulva was her primary icon, for it was the source of all life and the ultimate signifier of all gateways to the Underworlds of initiation into her various Mysteries.

Heidegger’s metaphysical age, however, did not begin with Plato, but actually with Homer, and its primary characteristic was an appropriation of the metaphysical vulva from the Goddess and a dethroning and discrediting of her powers. Zeus claims the metaphysical vulva from the goddess and uses it to give birth to Athena, the goddess of wrath and Reason, from out of his skull–which has to be cloven open by the axe of Hephaestus. When Zeus gives birth to Dionysus, likewise, by retrieving his embryo from the shattered ruins of Semele and having it stitched into his thigh, he appropriates it again. (And note that when Hera parthenogenetically gives birth to the smith god Hephaestus, she attempts to reclaim the metaphysical vulva, now, however termed “the paternal vulva” in the metaphysical age [which includes Karl Jasper’s Axial Age and its various prophets–all men–who give birth to the Logos from out of their own skulls, where the paternal vulva now lies]).

Even the Jews got in on the game, for Moses and Homer are equally the architects of this age: when Yahweh takes the rib from the side of Adam and causes Adam to give birth to Eve, it is the paternal vulva at work once again, just as it is when the Christian God gives birth to Christ as the Logos from out of his own mind and appropriates the biological body of Mary as his vessel with which to do so. She, a virgin who never knows the pleasures of the phallus on the plane of the real, actually becomes an instance of the paternal vulva. The “Magnificat” in which she accedes to the Paternal Authority by saying “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” is really a way of saying, “My vagina will become the gateway of your will.”

In the Medieval epoch, the spear wound inflicted upon the side of Christ on the Cross was specifically meant to refer to the paternal vulva with which Adam gave birth to Christ. Here is an image of the vaginal wound from a fourteenth century psalter made for the Duchess of Burgundy:

Which brings us to the artwork of the new German artist Morpheus Lunae, in whose painting entitled “Folds VI: The Breaking Part,” he has perfectly compressed the image of the Crucifixion–a dead Transcendental Signified–with the paternal vulva. Myth is all about compression. It is actually the reverse of psychoanalysis, which attempts to decompress such images and sort them out and, especially in Lacan, to lift them out of the swamp of the imaginary register and transform them into the linguistic signifiers of the symbolic register, thus freeing the hapless patient from what Slavoj Zizek once derided as “the Plague of Fantasies.”

Fantasies, however, are not a plague. They are composed of images in the form of mythic compression of signifiers that have been densely interwoven as messages from deeper oracular zones within us. Each one of us, that is to say, contains a miniature Delphic Oracle within us from whence these mythically compressed images arise and which function as messages to us. Learning to read and decipher them is what straightens people out. Crushing and dismissing them via the Lacanian L-shcema is a complete failure to listen. Lacan comes to the Delphic Oracle like Apollo and kills its Python, thus wiping it out with his phallic sun rays. No more messages from the maternal vulva, but only from the Name of the Father, which is simply another name for the Paternal Vulva.

The paternal vulva is currently working out the final stages of the metaphysical age through science, in the form of in vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic engineering and test tube babies. These are all concretizations of the mythic vulva of the goddess now appropriated by Father Science. Indeed, there is currently a struggle going on for possession of the metaphysical vulva, and this forms the subtext of films such as the Alien and Blade Runner movies which do, indeed, come to us from the level of the imaginary. As James Hillman pointed out, they do not need to be translated into logocentric concepts in which their multiple meanings and ambiguities are crushed in the Name of the Father. Derridean sliding of signifiers, in which meaning proliferates like the heads of the Hydra, is the more apt image here.

What does the paternal vulva mean? The German artist Morpheus Lunae invites us to consider it through the process of aesthetic arrest before a single image which compresses multiple meanings into it. It is currently the hidden signifier of our culture, and the battle for its possession is the ultimate and final outcome of Heidegger’s metaphysical age.

I foresee a great future for Morpheus Lunae, who is following in the tradition of such great European surrealists as H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski.

The art of Morpheus Lunae may be purchased here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MorpheusLunae

And his Patreon page is available here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/folds-vii-viii-v-11587750

 

 

 

 

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15th January 2018

Heather Neil’s “The Bog Cutter,” A Cultural Archaeology

Heather Neil’s The Bog Cutter: A Cultural Archaeology

by John David Ebert

Heather Neil is an East Coast artist whose work is currently represented by the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her various paintings are extraordinary works of Realism–although that term can, of course, be deceptive–but it is her 2014 masterpiece The Bog Cutter that I wish to focus on here as an example of the process of what I term “cultural compression.” Artists often paint in layers: Heather Neil, for instance, lays down a coat of gesso and then adds layer upon layer of paint on top of that, creating very dense and detailed images. But the psyche, too–as Freud pointed out–is capable of image compression, a phenomenon in which one image will contain many other images embedded inside of it. Only a cultural archaeology can dig out these images to reveal their stacked complexity. To do so is to reveal the particular Unconscious of the work of art in question. Each work, as we will see, comes equipped–just as each individual does–with its own collective unconscious.

The Bog Cutter depicts a man who is a stonemason by trade, although he agreed to pose for Neil in the attitude of one who digs up peat moss in order to use it for fuel for burning. (It is perhaps not insignificant that the melting of peat bogs in Russia is a major contributor to global warming, since these bogs contain highly compressed amounts of CO2 within them).

The image ghost of Jean-Francois Millet’s 1850 painting The Sower is unmistakably buried in Neil’s painting.

 

 

Millet’s painting is an example of strict realism, however; whereas the weird unearthly light that falls upon Neil’s bog cutter is mysterious: it looks as though it may emanate from a spotlight, and it catches him in a static pose, whereas Millet’s protagonist is in rapid, dynamic motion as he spreads his seeds across the ground, oblivious of an observer. Neil’s bog cutter is quite aware that he is being observed and even seems a bit irritated by the fact.

In 1888, Van Gogh produced three paintings which are embedded in Neil’s Bog Cutter. First, he did a reworking of Millet’s painting entitled The Sower with Setting Sun, as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We note that the light source is now located behind the sower, although Van Gogh represents the world as though it were entirely self-luminous, like a piece of stained glass. For Millet, the sower is simply a matter of fact inhabitant of the countryside, but for Van Gogh, the entire world is a manifestation of Divine Radiance that shines with revelatory power through all things. The sower is no longer even the protagonist, but rather the power of Transcendence itself that luminesces through the whole canvas.

Also in 1888, Van Gogh painted a self-portrait of himself On the Way to Tarascon, in which he represents himself in the mode of a sort of artist as pilgrim along the Way. Now there is a distinct shadow represented on the ground beside him, almost as though it were another figure, the shadow side of Van Gogh’s troubled, unstable bipolar personality that would eventually consume and destroy him, just as this painting was destroyed during the Allied firebombings of World War II.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1957, the great British painter Francis Bacon reworked Van Gogh’s painting in a work that he titled Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh. For Bacon, the shadow on the ground haunting Van Gogh takes on a becoming-animal quality and very much resembles a dog on a leash, as though to bring out the visceral, feral quality of the shadow that lived inside Van Gogh, and ultimately tore his psyche to pieces, like the hounds of Artemis who went after Actaeon after he dared glimpse her bathing nude. Bacon paints Van Gogh as though he were a shade encountered in some journey of the artist to the Underworld of art history, where all its iconotypes and shadow forms dwell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1888, Van Gogh also painted Pollard Willows with Setting Sun, in which three willow trees are represented as gnarled, bony figures very much resembling the three crosses of the traditional iconotype of the Crucifixion. It is as though Van Gogh had taken the figure of his own shadow from the ground and multiplied it threefold to produce a “natural crucifixion.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning now to Heather Neil’s The Bog Cutter of 2014, we note that the shadow that is cast on the ground at the bog cutter’s feet very much resembles a Crucifixion. The West’s great Master Signifier, that is to say–its ultimate iconotype and Transcendental Signified–now exists only in shadow form at the feet of a bog cutter whose process of digging up peat moss will contribute to the planetary crucifixion of global warming. Iconotypes in contemporary art haunt its various figures and images as shadow forms: that is to say, they still exist as shaping archetypes that glow through the images and which can be unearthed only by the process of the kind of cultural image archaeology that I have just demonstrated in this essay. It is also ironic that the source of the light that is casting the crucifixion shadow may not even be natural, but rather a studio light shining on a stonemason who has agreed to pose for Neil’s painting.

The Bog Cutter is a masterpiece of contemporary art.

Heather Neil’s work may be obtained by contacting the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery in Santa Fe. Their website is http://www.sugarmanpetersongallery.com/

Their phone number is 505 820-0010.

 

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    For more John Ebert books and lectures…Get it on Google Play

     

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