Monday, February 4, 2013

Golden Showers and the Immaculate Conception

As well as reading Einzig's Primitive Money at the moment, I'm dipping in and out of Marc Shell's beautiful book Art and Money. I said in my review of Shell's Money, Language and Thought that I didn't think my reading of the book had done Shell justice. The book relied on the reader having a decent knowledge of the literature discussed. Some of it - such as Poe's The Gold Bug I'd never read (since rectified) - but where I had read the work (especially relatively recently like Faust) I found Shell's analysis elucidating and fascinating. At the risk of sounding moronic, Art and Money is brilliant because it has pictures! This of course, makes Shell's analysis far more accessible because you can see what he's talking about. Anyway, I'm loving the book, and although it's really expensive (I picked up my copy secondhand from Abebooks for a bargain price) and even though I'm only a short way through it, I heartily recommend it.

Oh wait, with that title you were expecting something a little more fruity weren't you?

Don't worry, I won't disappoint. (I've even got pictures !)

The story begins with a tale in classical mythology (which are often quite porno) about the daughter of the King of Argos called Danae. The King had been told by the oracle that Danae would have a child who would grow up to kill him. Of course the old guy doesn't fancy that much, so he first locks his daughter up then has her thrown into the sea. Unknown to him though Danae had it off while in jail. Well, sort of. Jupiter had managed to inseminate her in a shower of gold. She gets fished out of the sea, has Jupiter's son, son grows up, kills king. This myth has resonated through the ages in artistic form.....


Danae by Dionisio Flammingo ca. 1600


Danae by Gustav Kilmt 1907 (That's a bit kinky, don't you think?)

....And ! The story has resonated in mythological and literary form. Not least of course in the various explanations of the Immaculate Conception. Christian theologians used the classical myth to craft an explanation of how Mary got pregnant. According to Shell the C14th Ovid Moralized 'emphasizes the ideas that the substance of God's semen is gold.... that it enters Mary through the ear.'


The image above shows first another painting of Danae, and then in the lower image The Annunciation c15th by Martorell we have Gabriel announcing the coming of the Lord to Mary. Shell describes this in the following terms 'Mary receives God's semen in the form of the angel Gabriel's chrysographic letters - "words written in gold, literally ". 

In a brief look around I've discovered that there is something called Mariology which is according to wiki the systematic study of the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of her place in the economy of salvation, within the theology of the Catholic Church - it's ongoing study!

Anyway, leaving aside the Catholic church (and others including Islam) to decide how they think Jesus was conceived (I have a pretty good idea myself) this idea of Gold being God's semen is interesting. I've seen stuff about Hinduism regarding Gold as the semen of Agni the Fire God. And in respect of God's semen just being jolly good stuff generally there's also the whole story of manna; this is The Collection of Manna by Maitre de la Manne from the c15th.



One of the other things about Money & semen I noted recently was (I think) from Einzig - sometimes (where it was used as currency) salt was regarded as sacred because - obvious if you think about it - of the salty taste of a certain life-giving fluid.

Another idea Shell brings into the mix - I'll be very brief here - is incest. In the Christian story "Mary has some sort of intercourse with one who is simultaneously her brother, father, husband and son" (p. 29). Christian authorities also embellished Danae's story in their interpretation by suggesting that it was Danae's uncle who impregnated her. Obviously Freud could have a field day with all this. But this idea of incest is particularly pertinent to money. Interest - the begetting of money from money was regarded (and still is by some) as unnatural. Even now we are very quick to describe what we see as unhealthy financial relationships (between say the big banks and the state) as incestuous.

[A key problem for the medieval theologians was balancing the idea of the evil of usury (of money begetting money) with the expanding economic activity that was all around them in the markets and towns. There's good discussion of the multiplying power of Money and in particular Michael Wolff's work on the medieval philosopher Olivi and his adoption of the term rationes seminales - yes, rationes SEMINales (its THAT obvious) to describe the transformation of 'sterile coin into fruitful capitale' (See Joel Kaye Economy and Nature in C14th p122)]

Now, I feel like I've misled you somewhat. Golden showers has a somewhat different meaning in the terms were talking about here. I've not come across anything in Shell yet that talks about money & piss, but I'm hopeful ! Freud of course bangs on about Money and shit, but there is a famous footnote that stuck in my mind. Its from Civilisation and its Discontents and it talks about primitive men pissing on a fire to put it out in a kind of homoerotic act of competition. The first of those primitive men to renounce such sexual desires, and to bring the fire into the home under the guardianship of a woman at the hearth, gained an advantage over his fellow man. (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, Standard Ed., tr. James Strachey. Penguin VolXII, 1985. pp. 278-279). Now I love Freud. But even for me this might be taking things a tad too far.

One of the other things that Shell's work triggered off in my mind was a memory of something I read on Twitter the other day. For some reason the view of the feminist anti-pornography campaigner Gail Dines was tweeted into my timeline. Dines claims that bukkake is 'one the most degrading acts in porn'. She thinks its a version of the money shot (a rather apt name in this context, don't you think?) taken to its most extreme form. My comment was that Dines clearly had no German DVDs in her porn collection, if she considered bukkake the most degrading act. A fair point I thought.

But leaving aside Dines and her silly repressive views, this whole shower of gold/semen from above thing does seem to be some sort of deep archetypal event. From Egyptian hieroglyphs, through classical mythology, right up to 21st century porn, the money shot seems have a powerful place in our psyche. Hardly surprising I'd say. I'm not sure it'd possible to draw out all of the connections between Money and spunk (Spunk is a better word to use in this context - semen is more medical than cultural); they may be intertwined too deeply in our minds for us to make any real sense of them.

However, I think its great that Shell identifies the Money/Spunk nexus in Art, and tries to give a context to what we are seeing. It's really is a beautiful book. Gets you horny, makes you think. What more can you ask?

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