No 2 (82) 2010
April - June

Adjustment to Interjection/Revulsion

“This is here, very close, but one cannot assimilate this. This is imposing, disturbing, a fascinating desire that will not be satisfied. The desire, frightened, turns back; discouraged and rejecting. “1) Julia Kristeva has observed that the repulsive is as much tempting, as damned.

Marta Smolińska

Post-doctoral degree holder, Prof. at the University of Arts in Poznań, Art Theory and Philosophy Faculty.

Marta Smolińska

MAN IS AFRAID OF THE DISGUSTING, since it disturbs his identity and makes him aware of a threat for an individual, as well as mercilessly reveals a lack fundamental to every existence. This lack marks individuals whose bodies have been malformed by a disease, by the same token offering them irreversible beauty of otherness. Repulsive deformations attract, but also put off, and frighten. According to the Holy Book, man carnally blemished shall be excluded from offering a sacrifice to God. Thus, the Bible suggests that "the body cannot show any nature inflicted imperfections: it must be pure to be fully symbolic."2)

The physiognomy of Joseph Carey Merrick, the 19th century man called an elephant, and the body of Dede, 35 years old now Indonesian, referred to as a tree man, carry clear stigma of their debt to nature: Merrick face was covered with large tubers, while Dede's skin is full of huge warts, resembling roots or branches. Both are hybrids, peculiar interjections/ revulsions into the norm. They present a specific combination of human being with an animal or nature. These make them impure and prevent from becoming fully symbolic.

The "Weltschmerz" exhibition by Artur Malewski has developed other frameworks of symbolism for the elephant man and tree man, writing their suffering into the context of the altar from Insenheim by Matthias Grünewald. This piece has been made for St. Anthony Order who nursed the sick, lepers included. They used to pray in front of it, thinking about Christ's body, heartbreakingly twisted with pain. Malewski has presented a triptych with a centrally placed palm, the gesture referring to St John the Baptist's, as in the picture by Grünewald. The inscription, analogical to the original reads: illum oportet crescere, me autem minui (may Christ grow, may I be diminished). This time, however, an expressive gesture is not directed to the Crucified, but it turns towards the part of the triptych featuring a huge wart - one of dozens that can be spotted on the tree man body. By means of the altar structure symmetry, this refers to a peculiar hood with cut out eye openings; exactly like the one worn by the elephant man to cover his imperfections. Isolated warts and the hood against the side wings of the triptych, as well as the close reference to the palm and Latin inscription - placed centrally - sanctify suffering, deprive it of its sensation related aspects, and make it sacred. The stigma indicating the indebted to nature have grown to the rank of a symbol. Thus, they ensure that the Others present a kind of symbolism different from the universal, shifting it outside the common carnality, and contrasting them with suffering of Christ whose silhouette appears on the vis-á-vis altar, serving as a point of reference. Plaster3) low reliefs - hanged on the wall - reflecting images of the elephant man's face and the tree man's body, make them unreal and transfer them into the zone of purity through the whiteness and sterility of plaster. The matter and the skin stripped off any color, subdue the carnality for the sake of specific symbolic aura, additionally intensified by the associations with a catafalque in case of Dede's image, and a circular form in which Merrick's face has been presented.

Referring to the literature by Céline, Kristeva has noticed that a story is the narration of pain, while "fear, repulsion, disgust - once shouted out - calm down, and shape history"4). Nevertheless, the pain, as presented by the French writer, is not praiseworthy5). Weltschmerz, edited by Malewski, has been opened up onto symbolism and sense - in spite of the marks of indebtedness to nature.

1)Julia Kristeva. The Power of Disgust. Essay on Repulsion, translated by Maciej Falski, Cracow 2007, p. 7.
2)Ibidem, s. 97.
3)The pieces have been made in polyester resin, but the artist intended them to resemble plaster.
4)Kristeva, op. cit., s. 135.
5)Ibidem, s. 137.

Artur Malewski, "Weltschmerz", the Piekary Gallery, Poznań, March - April 2010.