Saturday, June 27, 2009

the king's two bodies

the aim of Ernst Kantorowicz's landmark 1927 book The King's Two Bodies was to explore the relation in the middle ages between the king's physical body and his status as the embodiment of the kingdom. Kantorowicz describes one particularly uncanny historical tradition: when the king died, first he was buried and ceremonies were performed, and then a full-sized wax effigy of the king was created which was laid in bed, treated as alive, and which became "sick", then "died", and then was mourned in a grand public spectacle. It's not hard to draw the connection here with Michael Jackson, the king of pop. Michael too had two bodies: his own body and his spectacular body, his imaginary body - his image, which grew into gargantuan proportions, and which had roamed free from him, living a life of its own. This assumes that Michael Jackson the person only had one body, and not many, not a continuum of bodies, constantly morphing under the surgeon's scalpel. As if it felt traumatic to be one person when his image was already multiple, disseminated.

This distinction might explain why when I learned that MJ had passed away, I felt an uncanny feeling, as if this made total sense, because he was already dead. How can we say that MJ was alive to begin with? His image was omnipresent. In a sense it seems like only his image was alive and he had retreated into a Howard-Hughesian realm of the alienated superwealthy.

But in a counterintuitive way, maybe it's not that the king was already dead from the beginning. Maybe that assumes that all-powerful image MJ is fake and reclusive physical MJ is real. Maybe the opposite is the case. A star from the age of 5 years old, Michael never had a normal childhood, nor anything like a private life. Maybe we can't speak of a private Michael and a public Michael. Maybe only the image Michael is real, because he was always already a star, a celebrity, an image. Maybe Michael cannot die, because he was never really alive. Perhaps the reason his story is so tragic is because in this weird private-public inversion, he was like a person from the future, that the constraints of contemporary life could contain, and he was rent asunder, like a fiery meteor descending through the atmosphere.

1 comment:

alan said...