Five essays on sexuality (and art)
in Killing Men & Dying Women
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Starting with wordplay on the terms of the title, killing, dying and dy(e)ing, invoking violence as a force in both creativity and psychic life leads into a discussion of the thesis proposed by the French Surrealist writer Georges Bataille that renovation in art was grounded in the deadly energy of destruction. This is compared to Clement Greenberg’s equally eliminationist thesis that in modern art each art form hunts its identity back through its medium. Both raise questions of the Oedipal competition with the Father and the drama of loss of the Mother. Pollock discusses feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s creative reclamation, for feminism, of the myth of Pandora’s box as a thesis on feminist curiosity and desire to knowledge. She notes the conjunction of Monroe’s annus mirabilis in Hollywood cinema, in 1953, the year of Kinsey’s report on female sexual behaviour and the first issue of Playboy with Monroe on the cover, and she follows Monroe to Korea, where she sang for the GIs as they guarded the peace after the Cold War stand-off at the end of the Korean War. The author juxtaposes Monroe’s celebrity to that of Jackson Pollock. Between these two incommensurate icons of the 1950s, structural binaries were reified: high art and popular culture, painting and cinema, art and commodity, authenticity and artifice, masculinity and femininity. Within this opposition, which was also a structural complementarity, painting – as opposed to dy(e)ing – women were caught in dilemmas and riddles posed by the gender polarities of that culture, which were inevitably the very form of these divisions.

Killing Men & Dying Women

Imagining difference in 1950s New York painting

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