Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Diptych 1962 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987
Andy Warhol-Marilyn Diptych 1962
The ‘Soft’ Death of Marilyn Monroe. Standing in front of him as she dressed, Karen Novotny’s body seemed as smooth and annealed as those frozen planes. Yet a displacement of time would drain away the soft interstices, leaving walls like scraped clinkers. He remembered Ernst’s ‘Robing’; Marilyn’s pitted skin, breasts of carved pumice, volcanic thighs, a face of ash. The widowed bride of Vesuvius.

J.G Ballard-You:Coma: Marilyn Monroe-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Marilyn Monroe’s death was another psychic cataclysm. Here was the first and greatest of the new-style film goddess, whose images, unlike those of their predecessors, were fashioned from something close to the truth, not from utter fiction. We know everything about Marilyn’s sleazy past-the modest background, the foster homes and mother with mental problems, the long struggle as a starlet on the fringes of prostitution, then spectacular success as the world embraced her flawed charm, loved by sporting idols, intellectuals and, to cap it all, the US President. But she killed herself, slamming the door in the world’s face.

A kind of banalisation of celebrity has occurred; we are now offered an instant, ready to mix fame as nutritious as packet soup. Warhol’s screen-prints show the process at work. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy drain the tragedy from the lives of these desperate women, while his day glow palette returns them to the innocent world of the child’s colouring book.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990




50 thoughts on “Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Marilyn Monroe

  1. I’ve always been in love with Marilyn Monroe. Sometimes I imagine meeting her after death. Reading about her tragic life always stirs a sadness in me. Great post 😉

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      1. In all the biographies I’ve ever read about her, people say that there was just something about her — some wounded baby-bird sort of thing — that made people want to love her and take care of her. I guess that can still happen to people, even though she’s gone. Strange!

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    1. I highly recommend the book by J.G Ballard….absolute brilliance, completely demented and yet he realises the latent meaning of the modern media world while others struggle with the overt context. A new post coming in two minutes

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      1. I know. I’m not too high in the world myself these days. This cake is excellent. I had to go to a baby shower today, one of those things that should be life affirming. Great desserts though…

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      2. Hmmm I think you can guess my opinion of life affirming. One of my favourite anecdotes is concerning Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer was the pessimist Philosopher while Nietzsche said that we should be positive and say yes to life. Schopenhauer lived a nice life to a good age and was quite content in a miserable sort of way while Nietzsche went mad and was left to the tender mercies of his Proto Fascist sister for over two decades. Just goes to show.

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      3. If you want to brainstorm I’m always up for that. Book deals? Let me see what I can do… As soon as I drag myself out of this gloomy bog, I am going to start the query process again.

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      4. Well, as those things go, it was ok. I have no way to relate and frankly I’m clueless as to what purpose some of the gifts serve. But the mother to be is like the daughter I did not have. I guess I will finally need to learn how to change a diaper…. maybe.

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      5. ‘I suddenly thought of my dream: in a flash, all that I had loved during my life rose up like a graveyard of white tombs, in a lunar, spectral light. Fundamentally, this graveyard was a brothel. The funereal marble was alive. In some places it had hair on it.
        I looked at Xenie. With childish terror, I thought: motherly!
        Xenie was visibly suffering. She said, “Tell me. Now. Tell me – I’m frightened. I’m going out ofmy mind.”
        I wanted to’

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  2. JGB strikes again! It seems hugely significant that Coma, the only female personification of Traven’s unconscious (along with Kline and Xero) in The Atrocity Exhibition, takes the form of Monroe. I keep thinking what he meant by that chapter title ‘You, Coma, MM’ because he seems to be equating Coma with the word ‘comma’, it seems insignificant, but there is always deeper meaning when he hides something so openly like this. I keep thinking it’s something to do with the central characters psychosis, and acts as a kind of example of word salad. But it also seems progressive… You, the reader, then Coma, the Monroe embedded in our unconscious, then the Monroe of reality… He always gets you thinking does Ballard!

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    1. He does strike again, he remains relevant. Chance plays a large part in atrocity but it never insignificant, he is revealing the latent meaning of the media landscape. Ballard had a lot of time for Warhol calling him the last great artist but he is spot on here with the analysis: Warhol paved the way for a society where anyone can be celebrity, but they are not stars, they shed no light. I will be featuring other stars of the atrocity exhibition in upcoming posts. Thanks for the lengthily and intelligent comments.

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