A lover shares music with you, from a distance, through MediaFire download links. This is how you encounter Mariah Carey’s 2009 album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. You listen to it a lot, especially track #2, which is called Obsessed. The lyrics blow your mind: “Got you all fired up with your Napoleon complex / Seein’ right through you like you’re bathin’ in Windex.” After about a week of obsession, you watch the music video on YouTube. Over and over again. There is Mariah Carey as Mariah Carey (an egomaniacal diva being chauffeured around, waving to her fans, shopping, posing in a photo shoot), and there in the background is a mesmerised admirer, furtively following her. The song was written to dis Eminem, and the angsty stalker in the video is clearly modeled on him. But, you realise, jaw droppingly, he is also played by Mariah Carey. She’s bathing in Windex as the goateed, track-suited man she sees through.
There’s footage of her being professionally photographed in a masturbatory performance of herself, interspersed with footage of him adulating her image in a room that’s entirely wallpapered with professional photographs of her. He’s rolling around on a bed with an image of her printed on the bedcover, looking at mass-produced miniature dolls of her, and stroking a larger-than-life cardboard cutout of her … all the while being her. It the most extraordinary, farcical enactment of refractive and recursive selves that you’ve ever witnessed. An impossible, embodied orchestration of Borgesian mise en abyme self-embeddedness, Baudrillardian simulacra of simulacra, and Buster Keatonesque tragicomic slapstick. In the end, “he” gets run over by a bus while trying to – of all things – photograph “her.”
You decide (or realise) that Mariah Carey is a genius. Fueled by pop music, and by distance, you’re also increasingly obsessed with the person who sent you the Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. You write to them about Mariah Carey being her own stalker, and about how desire makes the boundaries between self and other unclear. They reply: “whenever I try to fathom the complex labyrinthine angel that is Mariah I get vertigo.” Vertiginous, you write something back about the conflation of obsessor and obsession that is occurring in unconvincing drag. They remind you that unconvincing drag is the only true drag. You use the second person address but I mean the first. (It’s odd that our language only genders the third.) And Judith Butler writes in Undoing Gender : “Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.”.
This text appears in the publication for the exhibition Janis II in Sydney: