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  • The Society of the Spectral
  • Serge Margel (bio)
    Translated by Eva Yampolsky

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The body of a star could open a new interpretative horizon of the body-machine, along with its representations, its theater, and its staging. The definition of a “body-machine” lies between two hypotheses: the repressed body and the utopian body. The first is closed, limited, censored, withdrawn, oppressed, watched over, controlled, always “directly involved in a political field,” writes Michel Foucault. It is engaged in power relations that “invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.”1 The utopian body is open to multiple, even infinite forces, existing in an “unlimited state,” under a spell, imbued with possibilities, virtualities, or power that “place the body in communication with secret powers and invisible forces,”2 according to Foucault, between repression and utopia, enclosure and opening, at the limit of extremes and on the threshold of tension. Not only does the body-machine exist between these two hypotheses, but it is also here that the body maintains a secret relation to its own death, its specter, or ghost. I will proceed by suggesting something quite simple: the expression “body-machine” can also be understood as “power over death,” a power, a force, a virtus that always acts between repression and utopia, enclosure and opening, censorship and freedom. More importantly, it is a power that expresses and stages itself within our Western, Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian culture, through a signifying chain of exemplarities, or by the challenge of exemplary bodies, hybrid and mixed, as that of a hero, a martyr, a saint, an angel, like the “king’s two bodies” or, as is increasingly the case, like the body of a star.3

The body of a star, or the exemplarity of power over death that marks the unworked (désœuvré), disillusioned, disenchanted world of modernity, today evokes the implications of such bodily power, once it becomes body-machine. From Marlene Dietrich’s Garters to James Dean’s Jeans, a possible alternative title of this text, offers two exemplary modalities or, to put it more simply, two figures, embodiments, or forms of the staging of a death machine that announces the body in its hybridity. By evoking the machinery that exists between production and deception and between industry and trickery, from merchandise to farce, I want to focus specifically on the stage, or the act of staging, but also on the obscene: that which is behind the scenes, withdrawn, in a gesture similar to the way one rolls up one’s sleeves or turns a glove inside out. According to Jean Baudrillard, the obscene is the body that covers itself in its own secretions, that appears, represents itself, exposes itself, or reveals its secrets.4 It is a body that stages itself in and by its secretions, one that secretly manifests or renders externally visible what it produces internally. “Secretion” quite obviously concerns the question of the secret—of “secret powers and invisible forces,” in Foucault’s words—that expose themselves in all their obscenity, though discreetly, within the signifying chain of exemplarities that in our case is the body of a star: its esthetic, rhetoric, and grammar, known as glamour. My sole argument here is this: glamour is the grammar of the obscene.

But let’s return to the body-machine: a body that is machine, that is nothing but machine, and perhaps also a body that “machinates,” and therefore one that, according to the definition given by Le Robert, “secretly creates plots or schemes that are contrary to honesty and lawfulness.” Machinating implies mixing up, tricking, plotting, scheming, [End Page 7] processing, but also conspiring or intriguing. And yet, what is it about the body-machine that makes us say that it “machinates,” and how must one understand the internal link, secret but sovereign, between the machine and machination? What we are concerned with here is the secret—“to manipulate is to form secretly”—but also with the secretion that secretes the body-machine’s power over death. Drawing a hasty conclusion, one could already claim that the body-machine is a...