Kate Durbin is the author of the poetry collection Audience (Black Goat/Akashic 2009) and the chapbook Fragments Found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot (Dancing Girl Press 2009). Find her on the web at www.katedurbin.blogspot.com.
“Hell is teenage girls” –Jennifer’s Body
A Teenage Girl Speaks As A Melodramatic, Hysterical Demon
The coffin lid lifts. A teenage girl opens her black painted mouth, and out issues the gravelly voice of an old man:
Say teenage girls are attention whores—fashion fanatics, shopaholics, sex crazed, shit-talkers, bulimics, classless gum crackers, & Plath addicts. Loitering between the dress-play innocence of childhood and the plain-clothed penance of womanhood, they parade in shopping malls, movie houses, & back bedrooms, as seething, sequinned receptacles of excessive emotions, hormones, desire.
Say melodrama is the gaudy arena in which teenage girls perform their angst—often in the garb of flamboyant (“aggressive”) and/or over-revealing fashions, and histrionic poetry—which is dismissed by society and the church, including, as these girls turn into women, the church of the academy. However, like Plath’s much-maligned insistences that her despair was on par with the Holocaust, melodrama is the teenage girl’s sadness on steroids.
Say nothing is more melodramatic—and pisses off Mom and Dad more—than claiming to be possessed by the Devil himself.
WHISPER: And the Ouija spells: A T T E N T I O N (Is not all feminist writing some form of noisy attention?)
Say, like the demon, the teenage girl’s body is unearned—and therefore claimed by everyone around her. Stigmata, lipstick mark of Cain’s slutty girlfriend, branded by parents, the government, Urban Outfitters and Teen Vogue. Is there any wonder that her body must turn itself inside out, must vomit upon the world in revolt?
Say Anneliese Michel !
Say Regan MacNeil !
Say there is subversive power in the abject surrender of possession. The teenage girl’s body can be culturally uncontrollable in its unnatural movements, defying laws of god, state & the natural order. From levitation, vomiting gold coins, and inappropriate noises—speaking in tongues, barks, grunts, and mocking imitations of a male voice. Merge that with the anarchy of rapid bodily changes, a wild libido, death-glorifying fashions (fashion by its very nature is a celebration of the body’s fall from glory—I will be buried to decay like Marchesa Luisa Casati, along with my lace), and occasional self-induced starvation (a la Catherine of Sienna & Anneliese Michel), and you have a grotesquely gorgeous panic body, disrupting culture by over-literalizing its ideals, turning itself into a corporeal embrace and critique, an alarm bell and a sonata screaming in skin, tits, black painted eyes and lips.
Say the teenage girl’s body, perpetually in rebellious, unnatural movement, evades containment while screaming for attention—real attention, not the glassy-eyed rape of branding.
Say teenage girls acting out possession are performing a kind of shock art—similar to the feminist performance artists of the 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s (Schneeman and co.), similar to the oddly-orificed, fused bodies of the Chapman brothers, similar to the body-warping fashions of Leigh Bowery, similar to the self-immolators of the Vietnam protests, similar to the recent abortion artist at Yale, Aliza Shvarts, whose work may or may not be a “fraud”—just as demonic possessions may or may not be “frauds.”
Say all good art—bad girl teen poetry included—is a fraud.
Say the boundary between “life” and “art” is mocked in performance, whether a performative text (see Helene Cixous), a parade of unnatural fashions (high school halls become the theater), or a false fit of demonic possession. When one is possessed with performing the pose of this line, she must be ready to be labeled an attention whore, a witch, an interestingly packaged but ultimately substance-less sell out. In other words, prepare for your art, which is only your life, to be dismissed.
Say dismissal just ups the ante. The lashes get longer, the fits get wilder, the lipstick darker and over and beyond the lines of the lips, the poetics more hysterical. Until they pay attention or she dies. Usually she dies.
Say the only exorcisms I’m into are failed ones, where no demons are ejected, but instead clamor over one another in their need for notice. The exorcisms that leave the priest returning again and again, exhausted, defeated again and again in his ever-virile attempt to slay the chattering multitude inside. “Tell the world I exist,” Anneliese insists, over and over. “Satan?” the priest asks. After a long pause she responds in a deeper voice, “Yes?”
Say my feminist writing is itself a fit of possession, and when I climb inside the carcass of a dead woman—as I have with Marilyn Monroe, Amelia Earhart, and others—I do not attempt to empty myself to become her, but rather bump up against her, and all the others within. My writing, then, is a swollen corpse full of babbling she-demons, slobbering and vomiting on one another, emitting a chorus of unholy grunts.
Say when I enact these unholy grunts before a ravenous audience, in preparation I always gild my body in the garb of the girl. Possession, after all, is always bodily, always sexual, always performative, always artifice—demons have no interest in brains in jars, but they are quick to jump into the hot pants of a depressed and slutty teenager with too much makeup on.
Say Anneliese’s fake Austrian accent when speaking as Hitler, say sketchy subtitles from Catherine Breillat’s films, say conspiracy theories about Amelia Earhart’s last flight, say all the contents of Marilyn Monroe’s closet. Often I have translated a woman using information about her that might or might not be “true,” information that is never “direct,” yet speaks volumes to the cultural body she has become. Accumulation over accuracy. Making sure the heap of cast off stage clothes continues to grow and grow.
Say it is the teenage girl, not the demons, that the priest gathers all the forces of the patriarchy to cast out. For it is unhappy teenage girls who are the poltergeists, the firestarters, the ones the Ouija spells through. It is teenage girls who possess the liminal, libidinal spaces for the demons to enter: to seep, and, in tongues the masters cannot read, S P E A K.