Friday, January 14, 2011

The Great Within Part III

forbiddencity2 The Forbidden City, The Madness of Weeds, circa 1920’s

The Great Within began in July 2009 and although it has been only a year and a half, it seems so much longer to me.  And although January 2011 is not really an anniversary (1st anniversary- paper, 2nd anniversary- cotton) I felt it was time to (re)present the blog and reassert its philosophy and goals for new readers who may have joined after its inception.

First and foremost, The Great Within is a blog about images- images from art, photography, film, mass culture and even memory.  My discussion of pictures from a variety of genres and mediums is informed by my studies and writings in art history.  My efforts always had a theoretical cast and foundation and sought to understand how images represent sexuality and gender.  And also how pictures function ideologically.  The words of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Walter Benjamin, JK Huysmans, Kaja Silverman, Monique Wittig, Angela Carter, Luce Irigaray, Jean Baudrillard, Charles Pearce, Georges Bataille, Gayle Rubin, Linda Nochlin, Griselda Pollack,  Leo Bersani all inform and produce my analysis of visual representation particularly the imaging/imagining of  masculinity and homosexuality.  But, it is the work of Roland Barthes in his critical and profound musings on photography in Camera Lucida, his discussion of mass culture in Mythologies and his deployment and manifestation of structuralism and authorship in S/Z that I return to continually on The Great Within. 

In my very first post entitled The Great Within, I discussed Barthes’  incredible ideas about photography- the studium/punctum binary, photography as identical to its referent and the that-has-been noeme of the medium in relation to images of The Forbidden City in Beijing, China:

The title of my blog, "The Great Within", is the literal translation of the Chinese characters for The Forbidden City in Beijing, China. This blog, however, is not going to be about the actual FC- its meaning, its architecture, its art. Rather, I am using photographs of the FC as a device, as a beginning, to talk about my own desire, my own great within and most importantly how these images function for me, give me meaning rather than solely the other way around.

Yet, my choice of The City is not simply arbitrary. It obviously has significant meaning for me in its actuality. Although I have never been there, I have experienced The City through documentaries, films and photographs and have gained a rudimentary knowledge of it.

For me, The Forbidden City is both a real and imagined space that precipitates my desire for images of the FC and beyond to other images, other mediums, other contexts.  The FC serves as a metaphor for the musings of my own mind (My Great Within) and provides a focus for daydreams about the actual and fantastical FC particularly an area of the city known as The Garden of Forgotten FavoritesThe Garden was a place within the FC where the concubines of an emperor went after their lord and master died to live out their remaining days in luxury, indolence, boredom and perhaps intrigue. 

I have never seen this area of the city  in a photograph (nor have I ever travelled to Beijing, China), but it’s existence of which I am certain in reality and in my mind awakens my desire and I often dream of being a concubine languishing in The Garden of Forgotten Favorites haunted by memories of my dead liege.

The_Kangxi_Emperor Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722) of the Qing Dynasty.  He ruled China from 1661-1722.

These images of the FC both the photographs and the pictures in my head take me to a place beyond language, beyond culture, beyond the studium to the pre-Oedipal realm of the punctum as Barthes would say.  It is the search for pictures which precipitates and evokes this response within me that informs and generates the content of The Great Within.

Here are some posts that deploy and incorporate Barthes and his profound understanding of photography:

Death/Grief/Absence/Presence: Felix and Felix

Barthesian Notes on a Photograph:  Naked Dress Up by Ben Bale

Notes on a Photograph

Notes on a Photograph: A German World War II Soldier

This desire also manifests itself in my collecting of antique American silver, sterling and plate, and English Aesthetic pottery and my need to connect to the past and understand the historical and social context of the pieces in my collection:

On Collecting

Silver Desire:  An Aesthetic Sugar and Creamer by Rogers Smith and Company

The Twilight of Silver Utensil Madness

And here are some other posts which make me smile:

The Absent Body: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, AIDS, Homosexuality and Representation

The Nautilus as Model

Growing Up Queer

Many Years Ago 2:30am Sunday

All Male “Live” Nude Revue

Recently, I have acquired more images of The Forbidden City in my continual search for it both real and imagined, both in Beijing and also in my mind.


forbiddencitywinterpalace Postcard of The Forbidden City, The Winter Palace, circa 1910-1920.  The last Qing Emperor Pu Yi was expelled from this fantastical, magical place in 1924.  He had been deposed in 1912 and languished in the city for 12 years.

fc1 Postcard of Tai-ho-men in The Forbidden City, circa 1920’s.  Marked on the reverse Hartung’s Photo Shop Peking,

fc3 Postcard view of The Forbidden City, circa 1920’s.


  1. Hello,
    Please be sure to see my post tomorrow,

  2. Wonderful images and reflections. "The Madness of Weeds" is one of the greatest titles I've heard in a long time.