Delphine Seyrig + a fragment from Susan Sontag’s journal, Wayne Koestenbaum, 2016
The German version of this text was published in Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, No. 16, 2017. Deutschsprachige Version dieses Beitrags hier.
Of the 18 books written by the author, poet, literature professor, artist and performer Wayne Koestenbaum so far, several are dedicated to stars and celebrities: Jackie Onassis (Jackie under my Skin. Interpreting an Icon, 1995), Andy Warhol (2001), Harpo Marx (The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, 2012). In some of the texts collected in the volumes Cleavage: Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics (2000) and My 1980s & Other Essays (2013), he reflects upon his relationship to Lana Turner, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Harry. The blurbs—as paratexts contributing to literary celebrity-building in their own right—for My 1980s were written by Susan Sontag, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and John Waters: just a hint towards the fact that Koestenbaum himself may be regarded as celebrity who enjoys quite an illustrious fan base. Wayne Koestenbaum lives in New York, where he teaches English literature at the City University (CUNY). The conversation took place via email.
Peter Rehberg / Brigitte Weingart: Maybe it would be good to start with some remarks about the relation of your work—or at least a huge part of it—to «Celebrity Cultures», the theme of this issue of Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, in which we are very happy to be able to include a conversation with you. In your writing on stars such as Jackie Onassis, Andy Warhol, or Harpo Marx, you developed a particular style of reasoning that allows for rapid changes between deft analysis of your subject matter (often supported with references to high theory, with a visible penchant for authors like Roland Barthes), and reveling in idiosyncratic details, emotional concern, and personal obsession. One of the effects of this oscillation is that you submit the (willing) reader to a sort of transference, in which your own fascination is passed on to him or her. Can you tell us how you got started with this particular kind of ‹performative› writing, resulting in your very own version of «Celebrity Studies»?
Wayne Koestenbaum: In response, I'll offer three scenes of origin: the fitful birth of a practice.
Scene 1: In my twentieth summer, I read Kitty Kelly's «trashy» biography of Jackie Onassis, Jackie Oh! I started writing fragments of an essay, in which I argued that the life of Jackie Onassis, as perceived by a fan, constituted a novel—and that, by internalizing Jackie, and by elaborating—inwardly—various scenes of her life, I was at once writing and reading a wordless novel, a Madame Bovary without sentences.
Scene 2: In junior high school, I was punished for bad behavior in French class. My punishment was to write an essay, in French. I wrote an essay about Brigitte Bardot. I wish I still had a copy of that essay.
Scene 3: When I was twenty-one years old, I began writing a novel, tentatively titled The Anna Moffo Novel. The first and only sentence of the novel was «Anna Moffo was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania.» That sentence was followed by a massive footnote, which constituted the entire novel. The footnote began, «My name is Wayne.» In an encyclopedia, I'd looked up my favorite opera singer, and discovered two facts: that she'd suffered a vocal breakdown, and that she was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania. In a flash, I had a germinal intuition, a species of magical thinking, the likes of which have guided my practice ever since. Somehow, the coincidental fact that this great singer was born in a town that shared my name, and the fact that this singer, whose voice I idolized, had undergone a form of negative transformation I'd never before heard put into words (a «vocal breakdown»), meant that I nominally (and mystically) occupied a site of naissance-breakdown, of birth-catastrophe. I would surrender therefore never to the Law of the Father, but only to another Law, that doesn't have a name, though I could fancifully call it the Law of Coincidence, the Law of Meaningless Intersection, the Law of the Linguistic Hinge, the Law of Infatuation. And within the regions ruled by this law, breakdown (or obsolescence) authorized the beginning of fructifying imaginative practice; breakdown authorized appreciation, another word for investigation.
The forms that my investigation have taken are given wings by certain procedures and methods. One such method is the fragment. Writing in small pieces permits (or necessitates) parataxis. A second method, then, is the omission of certain connective tissues, customarily present in critical writing. The sentences are woven together in relation to each other, and not in relation to an ongoing «critical conversation,» as aware as I am of the importance of such conversations, and their effect on who I am and what I do. The society in which my sentences take place is not an academic society; it is essentially a novelistic, or poetic, society. I maintain fidelity to what I need to say and want to say and have the ability to say, and I maintain fidelity to the subjects that make possible my humble acts of saying. Celebrity Studies hardly existed when I began to write my own contributions to this odd field. My models were essays, poems, and novels (mostly French—Colette, Gide, Leiris, Proust, Genet, Barthes—as well as Cortázar, Sontag, [Adrienne] Kennedy, [Adrienne] Rich, [Frank] O'Hara) that obeyed what O'Hara so memorably uttered in his poem «Homosexuality»: «It is the law of my own voice I shall investigate.» These vocal investigations are not whimsical or arbitrary. Voice has laws, and so do investigations. The laws I investigate, and obey, demand and presuppose a faith that what I do not know is more interesting than what I know; and that the keys to what I don't know can be found in the overweening promptings of infatuation, ardor, transference. I take seriously my crushes. If I feel a swoon coming on, I take out my notebook, and begin the investigation. Does Walter Benjamin's hashish experiment come to mind? Henri Michaux's mescaline diaries?
P.R. / B.W. Is writing for you a way of being a fan?
W.K. I don't think I've ever written a proper fan letter. To that extent, I'm a selfish fan. I don't communicate with the objects of my affection. Sometimes readers ask me if I sent Debbie Harry a copy of My 1980s & Other Essays, which contains my essay «Debbie Harry at the Supermarket,» and which has, on the cover, Warhol's Polaroid portrait of her. I know people who know Debbie Harry, and they've offered to deliver a copy of the book to her. The notion terrifies me. I know that it sounds pathological to say that I'm terrified at the thought of Debbie Harry reading the essay I wrote about her. My invisibility is the foundation of my writing. I know that I make myself visible by publishing what I write. But I still dwell in a fantasy—a fantasy that permits me to continue writing—in which the «I» who writes does not have an actual body in the world, and that this writing «I» is more like a cloud or aroma that moves through the world but that never solidifies into a drearily clear physical presence. When I am actually writing, I'm not quite a body; I feel, when I write, that I'm a vibration or a noise or a condensation of chromatic intensities. (That's abstract.) I feel, when I write, like a bubble, which is not a thing in itself but is an after-effect, temporary and vulnerable. When I see my sentences, after writing them, they strike me as wallflowers, risible and pathetic. And then I want to flee from the sentences I've written. When I write about stars, I feel most bubble-like, most ethereal, most like an adamancy rather than a body. (An abstract adamancy, like a pebble that has no weight, only a wish to push its pebble-body into the earth.) How dare this pebble send its essay to Debbie Harry! The pebble—or the pebble-cloud –has the right to spin out its existence in sentences, but it doesn't have the right to propose that the pebble be given citizenship in the world of reciprocal interlocutions. Writing is, for me, a way to ensure my existence by erasing it, or etherealizing it into a system of detailed, subjective annotations, resigned to their own partiality, their foam-like limitation.
P.R. / B.W. Many of your idols stem from 50s–80s US popular culture. Liz Taylor, Lana Turner, or Jackie Onassis belong to the canon of gay fan culture. But in the ways in which you approach these icons (many of them also depicted by Warhol) something very particular happens: While gay fan culture is often about creating a communal experience, a community of fans, for instance when show tunes are being played at Sunday tea dances in gay clubs, you seem to enter a very intimate space when encountering these stars. It is just you and (usually) her. What is happening here? It is not really about identification, is it? Your descriptions entail gossip, pillow talk, little details of a photograph perhaps. How would you describe the affective dynamics and the intensity you are creating in these encounters?
W.K. Two factors contribute to this intimacy. One, my myopia. Literal and figurative. I wear glasses to correct my nearsightedness; but as a critic I take off the glasses. I stand close to my subjects—too close. I choose to see features in isolation from the whole. To this extent, I court distortion; I prefer seeing not the entire face in its just proportion, but a willed redistribution of the features, lips looming over nose, nose obscuring the eyes, eyes extinguishing the ears, hair distracting from the skin. As a pianist, I've always been guilty of paying more attention to the articulation of a certain note than to the shape of the entire phrase. By removing a detail from its context, I'm able to do justice to its lonely complexities, to ensure that the detail's orphan sovereignty will be more carefully regarded than any other object in the world. The methodological result of this myopia is that, in my Harpo Marx book, for example, I isolate stills from the flow of the film itself, and I treat each still image as if it were a painting, rather than as an artifact unnaturally extracted from a moving flow. When I talk about opera, in The Queen's Throat, I land upon a certain syllable a singer utters (the Italian word «che,» for example, when Carlo Bergonzi sings an aria from Verdi's Ernani). I hope that my relation to Carlo Bergonzi's treatment of that particular word, «che,» is original, but I don't know if my relation to any other aspect of Ernani is original. I can strike an «authentic» (ineluctable, unfeigned) pose while regarding a detail that genuinely seizes me, a detail to which I can then, as an interpreter or appreciator or investigator, make my own. I came to this practice not after reading Barthes's Camera Lucida (much as I love that book) but years before, as a piano student, when I realized that it was never the general effect of an entire piece of music that moved me, but the way an interpreter treated a specific note or conjunction of notes—the way that Vladimir Horowitz dismembered a chord to allow the separate pitches to arrive a micro-second apart from each other. In that micro-second of imposed, willful distance I could set up a home.
The second factor that contributes to my writing's non-communal, intimate stance toward its subjects is my predilection for solitude. I believe in community, I promise you, I do! Gertrude Stein famously said, and repeatedly said, «I am I because my little dog knows me.» The dog's recognition ratified Stein's existence. I don't have a dog. I'm not fond of dogs. But I have my crushes. (I call them crushes—sticky, unusual, almost non-verbalizable relations forged between me and the objects of my regard.) I may have a «crush» on Carlo Bergonzi—a dead tenor. But in truth it is not Bergonzi on whom I have a crush, it is on a conjunction I create—a conjunction of several fantasies that I hold in suspension, fantasies that ground themselves in details (like his treatment of the word «che»). I am I because Bergonzi's «che» knows me. Is that too obscure? Solitude defines me because it is not easy to align my highly specialized and idiosyncratic method of seeing the world with regular channels of behavior and conversation; so though I do a decent imitation of a socialized person, who functions ably in the world, in fact I'm aware that I have a sideways, off-kilter relation to communities. I identify with the way that Wittgenstein describes the queer, bleak, dizzy condition of a consciousness radically doubtful of whether any two people can have a shared sense of what the word «red» means.
P.R. / B.W. Why Harpo Marx?
W.K. I couldn't stop. I couldn't help myself. Let's say I surrendered to an obsession. Surrender, however, is not passive; surrender is an action, requiring labor. By letting myself float—by suspending «practicality» (a prudent writer's assessment of whether the «means» equal the «ends»)—I entered the spinning writing-machine, where sentences generate themselves with hectic, unhappy fluency. Had I chosen to occupy a locatable, academically authorized «subject-position» toward Harpo, had I chosen objectivity, had I chosen historical fidelity, had I chosen any communally shared practice of critical inquiry, I could have always, during the writing process, made a practical reckoning of whether my investigation was bearing fruit. Instead, by surrendering to a fascination with a «cute» wordlessness, an elective mutism that baffled the line between baby and pervert, I threw my body into a writing machine (the machine of Harpo-investigation) that bore no sure fruit but only continued to produce the nectar of appreciation, as if each sentence were fondling a nuance of Harpo, rather than extracting from that nuance a message. The messages I extracted, if indeed I extracted anything, weren't rich with content; they were empty, or filled only with the mirror image of my own process of fruitless appreciation. I know that my answer here seems rather «fruity»—stickily beside the point—but I'm trying to bear witness to the strange fact that I didn't see Harpo as a historical fact that it was my duty as critic to analyze; instead, I saw Harpo as a Mephistophelean offer that I accepted. Harpo, or his cinematic traces, like a blood-sealed pact, offered me a giddy window onto my own sourceless wondering, a ruminative and eddying wondering that was in essence linguistic, and therefore endlessly self-perpetuating—never a matter of making distinctions, or harvesting differences, but instead a matter of pluralizing the pleasures and endlessly activating the word-brain, nominally mine. Harpo gave back to me my language. To generalize: I turn to a star—particularly, in this case, a star of nothingness, a passé star, a star whose contribution was to vanish or to pose ciphers—to tickle my own dormant (rotting) language back into active life.
Living Workshop in Star Embodiment
«I saw Deborah Harry perform twice in a Sarah Kane play, Crave, live in New York. Both times I sat in the front row. That was the era (the year 2000) when I’d begun to fear that stardom, as a device to enlarge perception and to ennoble inner transport, was eroding, and so, in an attempt to protect what I considered an endangered natural resource, I developed an eco-theory of stardom and its contemporary uses. I decided that Debbie Harry—as my test-case deity—should be given an off-Broadway theatre; she would appear on its stage for one hour a night. She needn’t put on a traditional show. No song, dance, script. No fancy costumes or special effects. Harry would sit in a comfortable chair onstage and receive our attention. We could ask questions, but she needn’t answer. Bodyguards and bouncers would protect her. The star would simply be present; with her existence’s supranormality she would bless and astound us. (Marina Abramović and other performance artists have gone far with this concept.) Picture the words Deborah Harry on an intimate downtown theatre’s marquee, advertising that the star will be in session from 8:00 until 9:00 from Monday to Friday, every night this winter, to give a master class in existence. Somewhere between a Beckett monodrama and a Warhol screen test, this impractical Living Workshop in Star Embodiment still seeks a backer.»
Wayne Koestenbaum, My 1980s & Other Essays, New York: FSG Originals 2013, p. 270
P.R. / B.W. We love the scene in My 1980s, where you suggest that Debbie Harry should get her own show, where she performs each day of the week for an hour or so simply being Debbie Harry (known as the singer of the band Blondie), by sitting in a chair, alone on the stage, to be looked at. The description of this scene is both funny and sad. While writing about Debbie Harry, you are confessing to a certain melancholic anxiety that the era of the stars might be over forever. That stardom is a phenomenon that we already started to mourn at the beginning of the 1980s, perhaps the way we would mourn a certain idea of Hollywood. Did your anxiety come true? Are stars an extinguished species? And if that's true, what is our relationship to them today?
W.K. I hesitate to make a general pronouncement about extinction, lest my utterance turn into a performative statement that magically makes more true the extinction in question. To declare a star as «has-been» instantly turns that star into a «has-been.» And yet I'll brave the waters of extinction by hazarding a guess that the notion of a star has been so promiscuously pluralized and atomized that the possibility of receiving genuine illumination from a star is close to nil. I suppose that the dictators of the 20th century should have destroyed any credulousness we'd husbanded about star radiance. How could we believe in Garbo while enduring Stalin? Maybe this argument, or quasi-argument, is too tritely Frankfurt School; if poetry can indeed continue to be written after Auschwitz, can't stardom, too, persevere, despite what we'd learned (as if we'd ever needed to be taught!) about the lethal power of surrender to auras, auras produced by propaganda and deployed for nefarious ends? I'm drawn toward these dire thoughts because of the catastrophe currently occupying the seat of the President of the United States, a catastrophe whose name I can't bear, at the moment, to utter. This catastrophe owes some of its effectiveness to a star machinery invented by Hollywood and appropriated by Warhol for art and business. Isn't Twitter an apparatus parallel to Hedda Hopper? Hedda Hopper, gossip columnist, produced and destroyed reputations in old-time Hollywood. Tinsel reputations, too, are built (and shattered) by Twitter, along with such parallel engines of self-authorizing ubiquity as Fox News and other «fake news» outlets, and the pseudo-fame-engendering organs of P.R., however capable some of these organs, like Facebook or Instagram, can be of «reverse discourse» and of resistance. (I use Instagram, and I like to consider my use of it to be mildly a species of resistance rather than of compliance.)
Now, however, I sound like a killjoy, impugning (or moralizing about) the victimless pleasures of spectatorship, identification, fantasy. I merely mean to suggest that in this new world order initiated by the current President and his collaborators, a moral person can't help but reassess the meaning of prominence, of ubiquity, of fame, of recognizability. I suppose it's possible for some not-evil person to have a star-struck attitude toward Melania Trump, the current «First Lady,» but so much of moral conscience would need to be bracketed by that idolatry that I don't want to go there.
Already I regret my line about Garbo and Stalin. I didn't mean to suggest Garbo was Stalinist. Or that a movie actor and a dictator were equivalent. And yet, after Reagan became President, weren't all actors tarnished, by the migration of a player (an impersonator) into the role of historical agent?
P.R. / W.K. Do you hate Madonna?
W.K. A provocative question! Do you think I hate Madonna because I never mention her, or almost never? (Perhaps she makes a cameo appearance in my essay «Masochism.») Many were the times, in the 1980s, that I drove to the beach, while spinning, on the car's CD player, a Madonna compilation, with «La Isla Bonita» seeming the theme song of my own flight into the sun's narcotizing ability to stun any realistic thought out of my head. «La Isla Bonita» promised a fantasy escape to an island—like an exclusive club—that probably wouldn't grant me admission. I didn't feel attractive enough to belong to «La Isla Bonita,» but the song's derivativeness (in its derivativeness I locate the pleasure I took in the song) entitled me to feel I had the right to a sloppy, second-hand membership in whatever erotic festival that the song, and Madonna herself, embodied. I remember feeling, too, when Desperately Seeking Susan was first released (that was a movie I truly loved), that Madonna was getting more attention than Debbie Harry (of Blondie fame) had ever achieved, but that Madonna was less beautiful and less vocally subtle than Harry—and that Madonna, in fact, was a shallow copy of Harry. Madonna, therefore, was a usurper. I should have loved Madonna's shallowness, and her canny manipulation of it. Instead, when Madonna rose to fame, I already was in mourning for Harry as a figure beginning to experience the carapace of obsolescence descend upon her. Star-wise, obsolescence is the rule. I'm a lifelong student of star culture; in that school, I matriculated early. (At age four?) And, at the beginning of my studies, I understood that obsolescence was the preferable liquor, even thought the world would always look down on (or ignore) superceded figures. Why I love the obsolete is a long story. Longer, perhaps, is the story of why I think it is my mission to convince the world to love the obsolete.
P.R. / B.W. You also remind us that stars and celebrities are not only given to us as pictures, but also through voice. In your biography of Andy Warhol you point out that Marilyn, Jackie, and Andy have a similar voice. You call it «the voice of America.» What is that voice? It seems to be a voice that can be both female or male. Is it a disembodied voice, as a form of whispering, almost a non-voice? Or is it, quite the opposite, a voice that is the body, Marilyn’s, Jackie’s, and Andy’s? Is the «voice of America» the voice of a star-body?
W.K. I'm staring hard at that sentence—the sentence I long ago wrote—about the voice of the United States, and the voice of Andy Warhol, and I'm trying to figure out what exactly I meant. Had I been more precise—and long-winded—I might have said that Andy Warhol's voice, in its absence of markings, of differentiations, sold a version of the United States, a fantasy of the United States, as a sonic decoy, a pretty decoy that could distract us from any hard facts about the United States. The voice, with its soft-pedaled enthusiasm, its reluctance to explain, its refusal to emphasize (instead of emphasis, it chose to murmur), could enjoy American prosperity from the inside, even if prosperity, properly speaking, had no inside; the voice could sell the illusion of pleasure taken in properties that were not actually its own. Warhol, as an outsider to certain American complacencies (vigor, power, indominability, loudness), impersonated the inside of those complacencies, and the breathiness and supposed vapidity of his voice (its neutrality, its genderlessness, its deadness) spoke of what it felt like to live on the threshold of inside and outside. This threshold existence—seeming to be a representative American while undercutting American shibboleths—was dangerous and painful for him; I presume, as an axiom of stardom, that stardom hurts its apparent possessors, that stardom damages those whom it supposedly blesses. Warhol's cheerfulness—liking everything—was the other side of the blade that perpetually sliced into him, the blade of envy, absence, alienation, identitylessness, disembodiment, indigestion, disbelief.
I wish I were making more sense, but it is difficult to make sense of a voice that seemed to advertise American success—and the pleasure taken, by an American, in American success—but that at the same time was undercutting «success» by acting out a failure of will, a failure of verisimilitude, a failure of proper gender behavior.
I also meant: whatever equation Warhol forged between happiness and fame, or between reality and fame (you can only be happy, you can only be real, if you are famous, or if you successfully imitate famousness), quickly reproduced itself as an American ethic. When Warhol stumbled upon his equation (after close study of a spectrum of silver idols, from Shirley Temple through Lana Turner), fame might not have been as easy to achieve as it now seems to be. Warhol made it—the acquisition of fame—seem easy, even as he advised us that fame would always be short-lived (fifteen minutes).
I've thought a lot about Elizabeth Taylor's voice, its strange likeness to a whisper, a scream, a giggle. Of course she had many voices, depending on her role. But she tended to whisper; she forced the sound engineers to do all the work of amplifying her. She made no effort, on her own, to be heard. This refusal of vocal emphasis—like Warhol's—seems a symptom of luxury, ease, laziness; but this wish to risk inaudibility teaches us that a star's resonance—a star's vibrations—have an impalpability, ethereality, and unverifiability that are deeply exciting to any student of the sublime. Any student of the sublime knows that what we can't attain, can't hear, can't touch, permits us to reach forward and complete the monument, to participate in its survival. We make the monument a monument because it does not completely present its face to us.
P.R. / B.W. In your former statements and explorations, the relationship to stars necessarily implies their distance and unattainability; non-reciprocity seems to be a constitutive factor to set off fascination, phantasmatic intensity, transference, fandom-based productivity (see your avoidance of contact and exchange in the case of Debbie Harry). In contemporary celebrity culture, the sites of this relationship have shifted towards social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—media surroundings which convincingly suggest the possibility of ‹contact›, feedback, and proximity. How do you experience this transformation of the star-fan connection? Do you use social media?
W.K. I remember, during Elizabeth Taylor's lifetime, discovering her Twitter account. Dame Elizabeth Taylor was the moniker under which she tweeted. I believed these tweets—believed in their authenticity; believed that they emerged directly from the star's consciousness and will. They seemed viable, trustworthy emanations from a heretofore inaccessible nugget of Liz-consciousness, of star-aura. What I remember is the instant of shock that I experienced when I happened upon a Liz tweet (or a «Dame Elizabeth Taylor» tweet) for the first time, and felt touched by her sudden proximity. Now that moment strikes me, in retrospect, as an overly credulous surrender to a fiction of star-presence. Liz wasn't really there, behind the tweet. I was being «hailed» by a seductive illusion, however tangentially grounded that illusion was in actual directives and words of the Dame herself.
Had I tried to respond to the Dame with a tweet of my own, I'd doubtless have been disappointed by the impossibility of reciprocity. She could hail me, from behind the fortress of her star machinery; but I lacked the power to hail her.
I don't use Facebook. (Attribute that refusal to my fear of contact. I found the phrase «fear of contact» in Susan Sontag's journal.) But I started using Instagram six months ago, and I'm hooked. At first, I posted under a pseudonym: «dans_les_ruines.» The phrase comes from a Gabriel Fauré mélodie, «Dans les ruines d'une abbaye,» set to a poem by Victor Hugo. I didn't want to post as myself; I chose to post as a ruin, a trace. A French-tinged trace. (To post is to pose.) I posted under the guise—the alias—of a fragment of a quotation from a poem long ago set to music and now largely forgotten. I guess I was making an oblique—very oblique!—statement about citation, absence, catastrophe. I was acting in the spirit of The Arcades Project: impersonate a ruin, identify with a ruin, in order to contact the spirit of the future and to awaken its rudimentary gleams.
After a couple of months of posting (posing) as a ruin, I switched my account to my own name. Now I post as myself; my Instagram feed consists of digital photographic collages, based on my own photographs and paintings. I construct the collages with Photoshop, installed on my iPhone. I find the process mesmerizing, and a legitimate artistic act, blessedly supported by a media technology (Instagram, a spawn of Facebook) I'd previously shunned. The domain of interactive social media, which I'd formerly characterized as infernal, has become for me a happy site of aesthetic production and creative fulfillment.
One of my collages includes the phrase «fear of contact.» I photographed the phrase from a page of Sontag's published journals, and I juxtaposed that phrase with an image of Delphine Seyrig on the telephone. I snapped that photo—on my iPhone—while watching, on my TV, a DVD of Alain Resnais's Muriel, in which Seyrig stars. Sontag, in an early essay (from Against Interpretation), praises Seyrig's performance in that film, and characterizes that performance with a phrase that I have long taken as my definition of star-aura: «In this film...., Seyrig has the nourishing irrelevant panoply of mannerisms of a star, in the peculiarly cinematic sense of that word. That is to say, she doesn't simply play (or even perfectly fill) a role. She becomes an independent aesthetic object in herself. Each detail of her appearance—her graying hair, her tilted loping walk, her wide-brimmed hats and smartly dowdy suits, her gauche manner in enthusiasm and regret—is unnecessary and indelible.» Sontag understood the unnecessariness of star deportment, its illogic, its surrealism, its status as debris, supplement, trash.
Another of my Instagram posts can now serve as coda to our conversation about celebrity culture. For this post, I downloaded (from the Internet) a photo of Omar Sharif Jr., an openly gay star, who happens to be the son of a more famous father, Omar Sharif. In my collage, I juxtaposed this photo of Sharif fils with the phrase Being and Nothingness, snipped from a downloaded photo of the title page of Sartre's tome, translated into English. One hashtag for my post was #remakes. Another was #beingandnothingness. Another was #omarsharifjr. The title of my post: «Omar Sharif Jr. in Being and Nothingness.» A few days after posting this fictional film still from an imaginary remake of a book, Being and Nothingness, which could never plausibly be the basis of a film, I was pleased to discover that Omar Sharif Jr. himself «liked» my post. Omar Sharif Jr. has an Instagram account; whoever is in charge of that account «liked» my post. Did Omar himself see my collage? Did Omar appreciate it? Or did someone who works for Omar—a star's representative—see the post? Is Omar truly a star? In any case, I experienced a tiny, unverifiable instant of star-reciprocation; I felt the uncanny hand of reciprocation (from the son of a famous father, a son less famous than the father, a son who therefore represents the becoming-spectral of a «stardom» more solidly represented by papa Omar) fall on me, from afar, from the mediated void. Out of the nothingness of that Internet void, which poses as community, I felt the reciprocating hand of the son, and I become, momentarily, a confirmed Being.
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