To perform a Golden Monica: a public act of self-negation that serves to mobilize a portion of the audience. By completely emptying the self, or replacing it with an overorthodox simulation of contemporary values, the public persona can act as a societal mirror which critiques the culture he or she is a part of and incites movement within the audience. The concept of “The Golden Monica,” and the term itself, is extrapolated from a story of the same name in Ben Marcus’ book of short stories The Age of Wire and String, described in its promotional material as “part fiction, part handbook.” The story is two-and-a-half pages of cryptic beauty in which, as Rick Moody writes of the book, “Ben Marcus immolates American notions about family, culture, and the domestic drama.” The choice of the word immolate is apt: it denotes sacrifice and often connotes fire. The American Heritage dictionary gives its second definition as “To kill (oneself) by fire.” Marcus’ story offers a demonstration of this definition of immolation, as well as building into the self-sacrifice the notion of an audience who is both forced to watch and moved to act. Allow me to quote it at length:
“There exists in some precincts the phenomena of the intruder or mad invader, who enters the American house in order to extinguish himself in the presence of the mister, the female, the children, whomever. The man powers in, arranges a prison… [for] the members of the shelter, and settles… to attain a posture of attention to his own body that will render its demise. They are forced to watch, the family. He lights a fire, this man. …[T]hey are bound such… that they are forced to acquire the status of audience to this act, and then further to the self-created corpse…
What is interesting, as always, is the aftermath. The body, as such, lies often coiled on the floor. Whosoever sits bound at the perimeter must witness its stillness. …[A] single figure from the bound hostages… manages to delimit himself from his lashed state and escape the site. …The acts of doing and watching are interchangeable here. It is the genius of the perpetrator of the monica to shift volition onto his audience. The spectacle is arranged to emanate from whoever watches it, where seeing is the first form of doing. The audience is deceived into a sense of creation for the act it has witnessed. …
The act is called a monica because a suicide is forced into the purview of an audience of hostages. The American areas, in constituency, collaborate to intrude and invade, looting the body of what it does not require, fortifying it with the American medicine of the final home. …This body will no longer heal itself, feign wellness, posture some possession of any type of solution. Indeed, where air or light does not exist, it will fashion its own, at whatever cost, whatever pain, extracting that tonic from its own ravaged materials. The witness to this body… will be transfixed at once by the style of death that each man achieves, rightly paralyzed in the beauty of a new mode of exit. And then ultimately, always, by necessity, he will feel certain that he has caused this disappearance, through some still stillness or silence of his own.
…Where a house is, this man will maul it with noise and steam, scouring what is stuck and stubborn therein with a lather of golden light, producing an exit of life that is marked by the inception of a shadow. And the shadow takes up residence inside the world. And the shadow is a scar that will not soon be put off.” (Marcus, 47-49)
The “perpetrator of the monica” pushes their way into the American household, creates their own audience, then forces that audience to watch the dissolution of the self. With their “own ravaged materials” the artist performing the Golden Monica reflects an America back to itself that is already engaged in “looting” the corpse, “fortifying it with the American medicine” to absorb it back into the mainstream. But “What is
interesting, as always, is the aftermath” in which a segment of the audience “delimit[s]” itself from its “lashed state and escape[s] the site.” Some portion of the audience that was bound to watch is now inspired to move, to respond to the questions about society raised by the mirror “the perpetrator of the monica” has made of him-or-herself. This portion of the audience carries the memory of that self-negation within it, feeling “certain that [it] has caused this disappearance, through some stillness or silence of [its] own,” and perhaps the resolution to reverse that stillness and silence with action and voice.
The chapter of Steven Shaviro’s The Cinematic Body called “Warhol’s Bodies” will serve as a theoretical framework for exploring the concept of the Golden Monica through the career of Andy Warhol. Shaviro writes, “Warhol’s greatest work of art was himself; he transformed himself into a blank and glamorous—and hence charismatic—figure of pure appearance.” (Shaviro, 206) Warhol drained any trace of identity from his public persona, wearing a rock star’s uniform of black sunglasses, black leather jacket, and an expressionless face. His own image was as simplistically iconic, repetitive, and full of the self-renewing light of celebrity as the subjects of his paintings. Shaviro quotes Warhol as saying, “People are always calling me a mirror and if a mirror looks into a mirror, what is there to see?” (Shaviro, 204)
Warhol’s persona and his artwork reflected the superficial American celebrity-driven culture back to itself but, as he points out, a mirror lacks any content of its own, is completely blank and selfless. Warhol turned his canvases into the shelves of supermarkets and the covers of gossip magazines. He erased the evidence of his hand in his work, and removed his identity from his public persona, giving society back only what it gave him. His stated goal was to “completely remove all the hand gestures from art and become noncommittal, anonymous,” as Shaviro quotes. (Shaviro, 207) He “entered the American house in order to extinguish himself” and once the negation was complete, the persona left would “no longer heal itself, feign wellness, posture some possession of any type of solution.” (Marcus, 47, 48) Warhol’s work and lifestyle may “continually confound boundaries and erase conventional distinctions,” but “they do this in the name of a bland acceptance of things as they are, rather than any utopian transcendence of the real.” (Shaviro, 202) To read an interview with Andy Warhol or look at one of his artworks was only to see an embrace of the society you already lived in. Shaviro quotes Warhol as saying, “The world fascinates me. It’s so nice, whatever it is. I approve of what everybody does.” (Shaviro, 232)
Warhol’s genius was in recognizing that fame itself was capital. He projected his public persona not only through the exhibition of his artwork and the attendant media, but through his ubiquitous presence on the New York party scene, his t.v. show on MTV, and his magazine. This most vapid and banal of all interview subjects founded a magazine called Interview whose mission statement was to give voice to celebrities yapping pointlessly to each other. America, liking nothing more than to look in the mirror at its own image, rapturously watched Warhol’s self-negation, “transfixed at once by the style of death… rightly paralyzed in the beauty of a new mode of exit.” (Marcus, 49)
Notice, though, that “the perpetrator of the monica” first watches himself, before being viewed by his audience. It is “a posture of attention to his own body that will render its demise.” (Marcus, 47) Warhol rigorously recorded and documented his life, disappearing behind reproductions of himself. Shaviro writes, “Recording devices aren’t just a screen or a buffer between Andy and the outside world; they actually transform the nature of what is ‘real.’” This is because once you’ve placed yourself under surveillance, “self-expression is radically compromised… it always implies the artificiality of the performance, the priority of display for others, something that is staged before the mechanical ear of the tape recorder or the mechanical eye of the camera.” (Shaviro, 213) Shaviro quotes Warhol as saying, “I didn’t get married until 1964 when I got my first tape recorder.” (Shaviro, 213) Being observed, recorded, became a constant companion to Warhol’s life, investing it with meaning.
Every act is an observable one, or else it doesn’t exist. Marcus writes in “The Golden Monica” that, “The acts of doing and watching are interchangeable here.” (Marcus, 48) Warhol watches himself, and the watching is coterminous with the doing. The shape of fame is an ouroboros—eternally circling back around to feed on itself. Shaviro writes that “the mysterious quality revealed by the movie camera is something that the camera itself has first brought into being… Warhol’s films give people their beauty by confronting them with the camera. If the only beautiful people are those in the movies, then for Warhol the inverse is also true: that anyone who appears in the movies is automatically made beautiful.” (Shaviro, 222) For Warhol, the only people who exist are the beautiful ones—the observed, the watched. Warhol watched himself and in doing so created his audience. “The spectacle is arranged to emanate from whoever watches it, where seeing is the first form of doing.” (Marcus, 48) This refers to both the “perpetrator of the monica” and to the portion of the audience who “delimit [themselves] from [their] lashed state and escape.” Warhol watched himself, but the only ‘self’ he had left was a blank mirror of American society—which marveled at “the beauty of a new mode of exit.” Bearing witness to his negation is the “seeing” and “the first form of doing” for the portion of the audience moved to action.
This public act of self-negation has been “an exit of life that is marked by the inception of a shadow. …And the shadow is a scar that will not soon be put off.” (Marcus, 49) Much of the audience will remain paralyzed in the face of the mirror, but others “will feel certain that [they have] caused this disappearance, through some still stillness or silence of [their] own.” (Marcus, 49) Warhol critiqued society by effacing his identity and simulating the dominant modes of that society. He reflected the blank and superficial nature of American culture back to itself. If he “approve[d] of what everybody does,” as he claimed, then it was up to his audience to disapprove. Not only to disapprove, but to believe it is their own idea to do so: “The audience is deceived into a sense of creation for the act it has witnessed.” (Marcus, 48) In Warhol’s wake, many artists were able to “delimit [themselves] from [their] lashed state and escape” to a use of the modes of Warhol’s work to achieve radically different kinds of cultural critique—and true political engagement.
Marcus, Ben. The Age of Wire and String. Dalkey Archive Press, Normal, IL: 1995.
Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis: 1993.
Photographs are from "Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger," in Denmark, 1981.