The silence is punctuated by coughs and the jabbing of keyboards. Georges Bataille discovers a treasure trove of horrors on the library computers of his lost future.
Bataille currently holds a position as the librarian of a small inner-city library. Having ascended to the heights of Paris’s National Library during his lifetime, to climb down was the only option once this natural life had passed. With many elderly members of the local community volunteering their time in the underused space, Bataille found himself passing through without a second look, even in his state of undeath.
The range of books in the library’s possession is more modest than he is used to. However, the extended services offered allow for interactions that are nevertheless of interest to him. Recently a man was reportedly disturbed whilst masturbating by the library’s computers. Having fled the scene before he could be apprehended, images of the man’s shadowy outline were sourced from an outdated CCTV system and distributed amongst local police and library staff. This was a mere formality, of course – this strange constellation of pixels was never be seen again.
The name of the site the man was perusing was later discovered during a search of the abused computer’s internet history and it was subsequently primed for blacklisting on the library’s internal web server. Its name was nonetheless muttered in quiet corners with the tentative care, over-emphasis and incredulity typical of a word suddenly found in the mouth of the uninitiated.
Bataille, humoured that someone would pleasure themselves so openly amongst his books, felt the need to investigate further. He typed the website’s succinct URL into his station’s browser and in no time at all he too was perusing the sub-forums found under the category of “Adult (NSFW)”. The names of these forums were strangely innocent and euphemistic – at least relative to the frankness of the content and discussions found within. Bataille clicked first on a section named “Torrents” but was disappointed to find this corner of the site was not as forthcoming as its name suggests.
Finding little unfamiliar as his investigations continued, he was at first intrigued by the imagery found in “Hentai”, “Ecchi”, “Yuri” and “Yaoi” but it reminded too much of the Surrealists. In this new age he has even less use and interest in the remnants of that group now.
He was struck by the stringent rules that prefaced each sub-forum. Desires had become genres to be strictly policed. Every niche fetish was nonetheless explored – save for warnings about content featuring those deemed “underage”, so explicit a deterrent as to suggest that even this taboo was once transgressed.
Something is lost in these precise nominations of each fetishised desire, Bataille thought to himself. Anything can be expressed, it seems – just not libidinally.
When he reached “Adult GIF” he is overcome.
Click. Dozens of threads jostle for position with every excitable page refresh. Click. Looped excerpts from pornographic movies are punctuated by grotesque discursive clashes over racial preferences. Click. Documents of war are intertwined with the ever-present challenge of “you laugh you lose”. Click. Militant right-wing fanaticism is punctuated further still by compilations of dash-cam symphorophilia. Click. Incestuous fantasies are played out through combinations of text and GIF. Click. Click.
There is a considerable amount of creativity – for lack of a better word – employed in the making of these materials but those sustaining each fantastic scenario are by no means poets. Self-deprecation abounds.
One thread begins with a GIF that is no more than two seconds in length. A man in thigh-high rainbow socks and suspenders is on a bed on his hands and knees – his face and torso extending beyond the frame. With his back arched he cups his closely-shaven testicles, giving the illusion of a tantalising femininity. He sensually slides his middle finger in and out of his arsehole. He is wearing fingerless fishnet gloves. The loop would be seamless were it not for the split-second frame-jerk that sputters as his fingertip leaves the event horizon of his anal cavity.
Another popular thread is dedicated to “WebMs that make you want to suck cock”. A woman crouches under the purifying glow of a lightbox, kissing and salivating over a comically engorged phallus. Streams of formless cum and spit appear and disappear like fine silk – a spider’s web of sperm catching the light that ricochets around the ultra-white rooms of rented LA mansions. Precum froths and the eroticism of oral fluid exchange is amplified by the clinical nature of her surroundings.
Between these two threads sits another titled “REKT”. The opening WebM is a slow-motion extract from an ISIS execution video which documents a shotgun cartridge as it penetrates a man’s face at point blank range. His face is made momentarily concave before i becomes a rippled mess of shocked tissue. The force of the blast from the barrel of the gun burns petrified flesh. The man’s skull snaps in two inside what now resembles a punctured skin-bag. His eyes bulge from their sockets, ready to explode in a bloody chain reaction of gore. They swivel marginally upwards towards the black hole of his forehead supernova and then – unexpectedly – retreat, as if on elastic, back into the fractured voids from whence they came.
Slipping in time his eyes go vacant. His face holds a gormless expression. He is both shocked and unaffected by his instantaneous death. Just as his eyes begin to sparkle in surprise they go vacant again.
All this takes place during the single unit of discrete-time that passes between two video frames. Even in slow motion it is instantaneous. His ripped head is once again back to its original state and not a frame too soon. One elongated moment longer and gore would surely stream from every orifice. Before this can happen, the cartridge penetrates his forehead again and again ad nauseum – although one loop is surely enough for that.
Bataille thinks back to the Lingchi photographs that once fascinated him with such intensity. The face of the dying man in those images seemed pious, echoing the ecstasy of St Teresa. His expression was understandable, somehow, within the transcendent (if artificial) infinity of his demise, halted – or perhaps perpetuated – by a photograph.
The ISIS GIF negates any comparison to the Lingchi images in its abject immediacy, slowed and extended for the benefit of the sluggishness of human perception.
The composition and texture of the photographs invited flights of fancy for the art historical imagination. What if Bacon instead of Bernini had carved Theresa in stone? What if Bernini had carved the man’s flesh? Homogeneous stone becomes artful form. The human form is unbecome by the void. The Chinese man’s facial expression seemed to suggest visions of the Outside. For the ISIS prisoner, the Outside emerges violently from within, his face contorted by the violent reality of entropy rather than any endorphin-induced vision of the face of God.
Bataille is changed by these looping horrors in a way that he had not felt since those mysterious Chinese photographs first came into his possession. To regard the pain of others within a virtual environment is to do so with your nerve endings unplugged and yet viewing such violence pulls the mind in two affective directions, making the experience of such horror more palpable and the thought of it even more unthinkable. This is a sensation exacerbated by the image’s external unfolding, out of time with phenomenal experience in a way that still photographs can only hint at spectrally.
To be continued…