- Liking, Likeness, Alikeness
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. viii + 276 pp.
Jonathan Flatley's Like Andy Warhol makes it impossible any longer to see Warhol's oft-cited proclamations that Pop art "is liking things" or "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes," or his idea of Business Art that animated the Factory, as naive or cynical affirmations of mass culture, advertising, the commodity, or consumer society. In his powerful account, Flatley reverses this understanding: he shows that Warhol produced artworks to help him see and teach others how to see the world differently. Though there has been considerable queer work on Warhol, including Pop Out, the 1996 Duke University Press collection of essays Flatley coedited, the sustained examination in Like Andy Warhol of the practices Warhol cultivated, of liking and being like, goes farther. Flatley locates queerness at the heart of Warhol's art production across media and reveals it to be the basis for a utopian political praxis that has gone unrecognized to this point. He finds the intellectual pedigree, and the historical, social, and art historical contexts, to make new sense of Warhol's work, treating that work as an archive of his liking.
Flatley sees Warhol's work not as avoiding or minimizing affective involvement but as cultivating it. In liking, being like, and appreciating likeness, Flatley discloses the value of a particular mode of boredom Warhol prized that would get people in the mood for maximal affective receptivity, a precondition for their acceptance of sexual and racial differences. Flatley thus recovers in Warhol's queerness the basis not just for his collecting and art practices but also for a utopian politics. By understanding the affective, erotic, and political dimensions of liking in Warhol, Flatley goes a long way toward reigniting the initial excitement of queer theory, for he recovers through Warhol the radical political potential of queerness.
Like Andy Warhol shows that repetition in the paintings, like duration in the films, cultivated the perception of small differences among likenesses. The [End Page 203] different amounts of ink distributed across the silk-screened portraits meant that not every iteration of Marilyn Monroe's face, to take one example, was identical. These small differences celebrate her celebrity even as they lovingly reveal it to be based on her impersonation of whiteness, blondness, and an ideal femininity as constructed as any drag queen's.
A similar exploration of similitude underwrites the transposition across media that Warhol so relentlessly explored: from photograph to film in Sleep (1963), Empire (1964), and the Screen Tests (1964–66), each exploiting in various ways the stillness of the movies; from video to film in Outer and Inner Space (1966), in which Edie Sedgwick responds to a video recording of herself, both filmed and projected simultaneously alongside each other, thereby complicating both her and our own capacity to discern the "real" from the recorded Edies, from tape recording to transcription to print in A: A Novel (1968), thereby rendering indeterminate actuality, error, and design. These differences do not serve merely to disclose medium specificity, though they may also do so; instead, they take on an affective significance whose power can be profound even though the differences themselves are small.
At a 2001 screening of Sleep in Moscow, for example, Flatley recounts how the audience of several hundred people erupted into cheers at the first cut. This collective response to the film is not based on any specific relation to John Giorno's sleeping body, which may or may not include individual erotic interest, but instead on the provision of "a loose, relaxed, receptive habitus [in which] one senses the interest of just about anything if one looks at it long enough" (77). As with the portraits on canvas or screen, Warhol elicits interest, the grounds of a liking that stems from the discernment of similarity or alikeness. This interest, a generalized precondition to an identification that may or may not be achieved, is activated aesthetically; it can provide enjoyment or pleasure, but it can also produce the basis for collective political action beyond the narrower confines of identity and the quagmires of...