Mary Gaitskill

Lady Gaga In Hell

“…I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity…” – Proverbs of Hell, William Blake

Lady Gaga, “Poker Face” (2008)

This video is to me a picture of hell. It is so normal, yet so terrible. The girl looks like a dream vision of normal, a hologram of herself—and then she looks like a reanimated corpse.

She can’t move right, or doesn’t move right; in some clips, shots, whatever they are called now, half her body moves with wild energy and the other part just hangs there; she walks across the hellish pool patio in her leather suit, one arm swings freely, the other hangs there. It’s not that she can’t move that arm, she sometimes moves it vigorously and charmingly; at one point she sticks it out so some invisible thing can kiss her hand. But it does not usually move in tandem with the rest of her body, like whoever put the thing together forgot people’s bodies move in tandem.

When I remarked on this to an acquaintance, she said but that’s how the youth are walking now, that in particular neighborhoods, each youth has his or her own very elaborate way of walking which could involve half the body just hanging there.

Okay. But that still doesn’t explain how Lady Gaga looks while posing on the floor on one knee, her back arched intensely and her head thrown way back; this posture would normally be a supple stretching action, but she simultaneously has her shoulders hunched way up around her head in a stiff protecting gesture. She looks likes she’s in pain. She looks like she’s old. She does so many moves that are just back and forth, back and forth, her hands opening and closing around her face. For one moment her hips and that one often-slack arm move in tandem, but not like a body, like a machine.

This affect works with the music: It’s adorable when she punches at the air with her fist like a sexy child. But then her face is heavy as a meat puppet or a painted mask with a card stuck between its teeth, a thing made by crude animation to flick the card from its lips onto the table or raise its arm in a wide arc and bring the card down while other holograms dance around it in fevered jerking motions.

Between the puppets and masks, see a fresh 13-year-old girl bursting with energy, bluffin with her muffin; see a faded middle-aged woman numbed and thickened before her time. She yells like a carny, “I promise this, promise this.” The lights flash, the eyes are hidden by electronic words, steam rises from hell. You can’t see the look on anybody’s face. This is normal. This is fun. This is hell.

This on the other hand is life on earth. It’s also adorable, straight up.

Michelle, Lorena, Chris & Geraldo dancing to Lady Gaga‘s “Love Games

And this is a moment of heaven of earth, carrying the creative seed of hell—that is, ‘hell’ in the Blakeian sense.

PS22 Chorus singing Lady Gaga‘s “Let’s Dance

“Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that called Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.” – William Blake.

– Mary Gaitskill

Ryeberg Curator Bio

RSS Feed
Mary Gaitskill is the author of the novels: "Veronica," "Two Girls, Fat and Thin," "The Mare," and "This is Pleasure." She has also written books of stories: "Bad Behavior," "Because They Wanted To," and "Don't Cry," and books of essays: "Somebody with a Little Hammer" and "The Devil's Treasure." More Mary Gaitskill here.