Friday, May 20, 2011

Lady Gaga and the last things

What I've discovered . . . is that in art, as in music, there's a lot of truth -- and then there's a lie. The artist is essentially creating his work to make this lie a truth, but he slides it in amongst all the others. The tiny little lie is the moment I live for, my moment. It's the moment that the audience falls in love. (New York Magazine interview)

My philosophy is that if I am open with them about everything and yet I art direct every moment of my life I can maintain a sort of privacy in a way. I maintain a certain soulfulness that I have yet to give. (60 Minutes interview)

What artists do wrong is they lie. And I don't lie. I'm not a liar. I've built goodwill with my fans. They know who I am, and I'm just like them in so many ways. (60 Minutes interview)

A single is a part of a whole glimpsed before the whole: "Born This Way," "Judas," The Edge of Glory," "Hair": the natural, the divine, the final, the noble. Although "The Edge of Glory" was the third single from Lady Gaga's upcoming album, it is the last track of that album. It appears to concern love, but it is ambiguous from the start. Lady Gaga serenades an apparent beloved. She says that the two should not be alone. Yet if they are alone together they are not alone separately, and if they are alone separately they are not alone together. Love proves to be the heart of the indeterminate dyad, and the song unfolds in the attempt to make present the absent and indeed nonexistent space between being alone together and being alone separately. Gaga's apparently ungrammatical nod to Dixie -- "There ain't no reason" -- proves to be the truth. There is not no reason; there is a reason; the reason is the twofoldedness of eros in beholding and being with.

The edge of glory is the place where Lady Gaga and her beloved can both fall in love. But love may very well be not their condition at the edge but their condition after falling. And glory may be the name of the terrain on which they walk and whose edge they approach, or glory may well be the name of the abyss into which they fall. What is that abyss?

We have it on the public statement of Lady Gaga that her work concerns death. That statement may be a part of her art, for she states that she art directs every moment of her life, and yet that statement may itself be merely a line in the play of her life. Lady Gaga leaves it to us to see whether her work concerns death, and to make her work concern death if it does not concern death. For surely death is a concern.

The edge of glory is the moment before death. To be born this way is to be born for the edge of glory, even to be borne toward it. The subject of Lady Gaga's second studio album is being-toward-death. "Sorry to be a downer," she is said to have said. The disappointment that raged among the superficially intended audience of "Born This Way" appears to have been a planned disappointment. Lady Gaga did not misread the audience of that first song; that audience was blind to the connection between birth and death.

Now the apparent question of "Born This Way" was, as we suggested, the question of nature and freedom. A way is a custom, something partly by nature or inheritance and partly by choice. To be born in a way is to be born into a custom. Lady Gaga's most visible commentary on custom is her costume. Her irregular costume denies the possibility of custom. Her sartorial costume is to have no custom. Lady Gaga has the habit of no habits. She was born in the way of lacking a way.

Though some would assert that Lady Gaga was once Stefani Germanotta and is now transformed, she asserts instead that she was "born this way," hence born in the way of lacking a way. What appeared to be "the way" of Stefani Germanotta was in fact nothing. Lady Gaga's week-to-week transformation is continuous with Stefani Germanotta insofar as Miss Germanotta had nothing but the typical life, i.e., the typical meaningless life, of the American youth. Lady Gaga could not appeal to the American youth if she were discontinuous with Stefani Germanotta. The only difference between Stefani Germanotta and Lady Gaga is the hint she gives of her own self-awareness, which for all we know Stefani Germanotta never lacked.

"Born This Way" was pitched to that sector of her audience in search of anthems and a voice. "Born This Way" appeared to suggest the importance of identity in matters sexual if unerotic. The sexual if unerotic subject-matter of "Born This Way" would appear to go together with the erotic if unsexual subject-matter of "The Edge of Glory." But between "Born This Way" and "The Edge of Glory" appeared "Judas," raising an unpleasant question, as if an annoying student had belittled an important point by asking at the end of each class: "But what about Judas?" Yet here Lady Gaga is both teacher and student; she carries the dialogue with herself alone. The audience is dependent on the further course of her dialogue for an understanding of her speech. It would be impossible to analyze "Born This Way" adequately without waiting for "Judas" and "The Edge of Glory." Every such study will be provisional.

Speaking of her album as a whole, Gaga made the following cryptic complaint:

The funny thing is that some people have reduced freedom to a brand. They think that it's trendy now to be free. They think it's trendy to be excited about your identity. When in truth, there is nothing trendy about "Born This Way." This connection that we all share is something so much deeper than a wig or lipstick or an outfit, or a f***ing meat dress. . . . "Born This Way" is about what keeps us up at night and what makes us afraid. (MTV interview)

What keeps us up at night and what makes us afraid is the fear of death. The fear of going to sleep is coordinate with the fear of not waking up: a distrust of nature. Yet we are born with a necessity to sleep, a necessity that can be put off but not indefinitely, a necessity which gives time but not too much. The necessity which gives no time is death, in the light of which our life is a night in which we do not wish to go to sleep. Even when her audience knew only of "Born This Way" and its putatively trendy concern with the brand name of Freedom "(TM) (R)," Lady Gaga shows her concern with nothing less than the question of death.

Why then veil the question of death in an apparent hymn to eros? For "The Edge of Glory" is a hymn in the truest sense: it was deemed "cheesy" by Rolling Stone.

"The song," says Gaga, "is about your last moment on Earth, the moment of truth, the edge of glory is that moment right before you leave the Earth. So that song can be played on the piano, but it's actually set to this giant, huge, techno rock, Springsteen-esque dance beat. I actually had Clarence Clemons from the E Street Band come in and play saxophone on it. It's f***ing beautiful" (Google interview).

Gaga mentions that the song was composed on the occasion of her grandfather's death, which she covers over with an obfuscation about the distinction between dying and leaving earth. Does eros suggest the longing for an eternity reached only through dying, or is eros the only thing that can retain one from dying? Gaga's assertion that "There ain't no reason you and me should be alone" signifies the impossibility of eros to behold and be with at the same time. To be together would overcome their aloneness; yet being together would also be to be alone together, and there is no reason for the two to be alone. The erotic union Gaga suggests is wholly instrumental. The "reason that you should take me home tonight" is simply to prevent her leap from the edge of glory into eternity: when she repeats her line "I'm hanging on a moment of truth," she says "I'm hanging on a moment with you": the beloved is the only one halting her being-toward-death.

But if death can be delayed while the condition of being-toward-death remains, then is or is not death the necessity that knows no time? Such a question could only arise from a singer who knows that her context is nothing short of a flurry of apocalypticism: from Zizek's Living in the End Times, to the straddling of her album's release dates (May 20th in Ireland, May 23rd elsewhere) with the predicted end of the world to-morrow -- on May 21st. Should death come upon us all on May 21st, at least the good souls of Ireland -- and the virtually virtuous virtual citizens of FarmVille -- shall have heard the good news.

We must address Gaga's final suggestion regarding the novissima: "I'm on the edge of something final we call life tonight . . . / Put on your shades 'cause I'll be dancing in the flames . . . / It isn't hell if everybody knows my name tonight." Gaga reverses Sartre's humanist anti-appropriation of Heidegger, that hell is other people. Gaga's beloved must be warned to wear shades, yet where she goes is not (her intertextual reference implies) "where the streets have no name" but where everyone knows her name. By the same token her name is known only in death, for neither Gaga's name nor the name of her interlocutor is apparent anywhere in the song: the beloved is simply "you," not Alejandro, Fernando, Roberto. The names of the beloveds are present during Gaga's youth, but Gaga's name is only known after she has left this earth whether in body or soul.

Not only is eros instrumental for the avoidance of the death toward which one is born and borne but being-toward-death is instrumental for the experience of eros: "I'm gonna run right to, to the edge with you / Where we can both fall in love." The lover and beloved could not have fallen in love had not the necessity which leaves no time generated the necessity for which there is always somehow time.

Yet that is only the apparent question. The real question is the unreality or hyperreality of modern love. "You will never see me do reality television. Don't even ask. It will never happen. I'm not that kind of person. My whole life is a performance piece so I don't need to have my picture taken to feel that I'm in a moment of art" (Google interview).


  1. Gaga really is an Athenian woman. Read an authority, like Aristophanes. You will find that the Athenian ladies laced tightly, wore high-heeled shoes, dyed their hair yellow, painted and rouged their faces. The fact is that we look back on the ages entirely through the medium of art, and art, very fortunately, has never once told us the truth. (Except for the art of Aristophanes).

    Gaga couldn't possibly lower herself to participate in the farce of "reality" television. All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals. . . Life goes faster than Realism, but Romanticism is always in front of Life.

  2. As we contemplate Gaga's "Phaedo," it must be pointed out that Gaga both confronts and re-appropriates Dickie Lee's 1962 Wagnerian treatment of the subject:

  3. Like Nietzsche, Gaga points to Platonic/Christian ethics as the institution that shifted the human virtue away from Homeric arete toward a value system based upon weakness.

    She longs for a return to days when men earn immortality through their words and deeds on the battlefield. Just as Achilles chose to die young as a hero known to both Gods and men, rather than spend his days in anonymity, Lady Gaga's name will live on in the verses of the rhapsodoi for generations. Thus, when Gaga proclaims that "It isn't hell if everybody knows my name tonight," she draws from Arendt's analysis of the Homeric hero's 'fleeting moment of greatness' when one forges one's individuality through a display of arete, the exemplar par excellence being self sacrifice for the greater good of the community. And is it not evident that Lady Gaga, indeed, displays this virtue? Do we not all benefit from her heroism?

  4. Also, Xenocrates, this fragment of an unrecorded Gaga song may illuminate your analysis:

    "Truly, I wish I were dead.
    She was weeping when she left me
    and said many things to me, and said this:
    "How much we have suffered, Gaga.
    Truly, I don't want to leave you.""

    And I believe she once quipped: "Death is an evil thing; the gods have so judged it, or they would die."