everything you always wanted to know about hell …

… but were afraid to ask Jean Baudrillard.

One of my enduringly favourite books, that I have somehow permanently connected as the instigator of high theory meets popular culture, was Slavoj Zizek’s, “Everything you always wanted to know about Lacan … but were afraid to ask Hitchcock”, full of cinematic trippery and loopy psychoanalysis, and along with Gilles Deleuze’ two books on cinema, “The Movement Image’, and “The Time Image’, is largely responsible for my obsession with film. That, and 6 kuai pirate DVDs in Guangzhou.

I took some time off dancing a few years ago after a ballet school did my head in and convinced me all dancers and teachers were psychopaths who could be gassed with no adverse effects on the history of art and culture, and spent my time more productively gate-crashing post-graduate Ethics lectures and watching half the oeuvre of Hitchcock and Kurosawa in a month-long session of three films a day, interspersed with reading Zizek and Deleuze. The point of all this blabbering is that when I choreograph, I start with, and rely heavily on critical theory and film. Film is in part an intermediary between theory that sometimes cannot be translated into the real world, and the making of and analysing of the performance

Not that I want to get all post-Marxist about theory needing to be applicable to the real world, but it used to annoy me that a lot of the ‘Big-Gun’ theorists, like Habermas, their only practical application was as kindling for a bonfire. Their premeditated obtuseness and linguistic ego-mania often is a trope hiding a yawning chasm of nothing, as well, they’re just boring old farts, and through their willful incomprehensibility and tenure-track jargon they open themselves up to exactly the kind of concerted attacks on philosophy they should have, by virtue of their work already annihilated. Or to quote “The Untouchables” which I watched last night, they “bring a knife to a gun-fight”. I suspected the ones who were genuinely profound thinkers were the ones wholly immersed in the world, and if their writing didn’t immediately draw correspondences to a tangible reality, it was possible to thread your way back and forth and in the process germinate new ways of thinking about and living in the world.

The point of all this is that for hell, Jean Baudrillard’s book “Symbolic Exchange and Death”, and in particular the chapter, “Political Economy and Death” is absolutely the foundation of the piece, and the more I read it and re-read it, the more I think firstly I’m barely scratching at the surface of a phenomenal text, and secondly, I’d really like another two months of rehearsal and, say, $30,000 in production budget to do something useful. I spent the weekend reading the section on “Death in Bataille”, and besides solving the thematic in-coherency between death and sex in hell, I thought, “Jeez, I could make the whole work from just one paragraph of this”, and then I thought, “Crap, I’m going to be spending the rest of my life just making art from this stinking book…”

This book is really the philosophical equivalent of hardcore pornography and any sensible government would have banned it a long time ago, and possibly torched a few bookshops in the process. The fact it was written thirty years ago and translated into English thirteen does nothing to diminish its importance.

“What does physical eroticism signify if not a violation of the very being of its practitioners …? The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained character of the participants as they are in their normal lives


If the union of two lovers comes about through love, it involves the idea of death, murder or suicide … [a] continuous violation of discontinuous individuality … the orifices, gulfs and abysses whereby beings are absorbed into continuity, somehow assimilates it to death” – Georges Bataille

— Jean Baudrillard – Symbolic Exchange and Death