Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests offer

the pleasure of compulsive organization

(I’m writing five words per

line): pleasure of dividing attentiveness
into constituent bits: sadistic pleasure
of forcing others (viewers, subjects)

to do your bidding: refusenik
pleasure of avoiding narrative: pleasure
of creating aura around yourself,

at the risk of seeming
egocentric: pleasure of imitating Hollywood
without soul-death and intellectual evisceration: 

pleasure of building up documents,
behind the world’s back: pleasure
of letting chance determine results,

relinquishing control: pleasure of repetition,
stacking: pleasure of the grid,
before minimalism officially topped art’s
bottom: pleasure in turning personalities
into commodities, into Lego®, Tinker
Toys, alphabet blocks: pleasure of

abstraction, a word Warhol considered
code for sexuality and death:
death was abstract, quoth Andy,

and sex, too, was abstract,
hence sexy bodies and sexy
personalities (Sontag, Nico, Lou Reed,

Gerard Malanga, Edie, Baby Jane)
needed to be removed from
identifying contexts, placed inside time

boxes (four and a half
minutes of meaningless, uninflected duration)
and space boxes (the frame

of the screen test’s unchanging
black and white cell, which
orphaned his incarcerated subjects): pleasure

of expunging, vacuuming away traces
of acculturation, leaving behind self’s
unsubstantial foundation: pleasure of leading

people on (pose for my
screen test, I’ll make you
a star): pleasure of naysaying

painting (instead of canvas, I’ll
use film, that slutty, lucre-
filthy medium);  pleasure of laziness,

making no decisions beyond the
initial conceptual parameters, which, once
established, could be mechanically obeyed: 

pleasure of open-ended productivity, initiating
a series of visual artifacts
(screen tests) that could climb,

a Tower of Babel, to
the heavens: pleasure of thrift
(the sitters were not paid):

pleasure of voyeurism, of staring,
without end, at the face,
supposedly not a sexual organ,

though Warhol’s obsessive attention turned
“face” into a sex act,
“giving head,” fellatio, each screen

test a face job, also
an attempt to shortcircuit climax,
undo the dogma (narratological, Freudian?)

that orgasm is sex’s legitimation: 
a screen test has no
climax but plenty of punctums,

those significant prickings and pleatings
that Roland Barthes associated with
pleasure and death: each filament

of intensity, each tuck or
fold in the test, each
place where significance occurs, whether

a sudden smile or flash
of teeth, or the white
leader (the unexposed film strip,

beginning and ending each reel,
a leader Warhol never omitted)
serving as the screen test’s

overture and finale (the leader’s
entrance whites out the sitter’s
face and creates a satori

effect, a sudden explosion—snowfall
or blindness—of nothingness) . . . Where
was I?  Note: I composed

this lecture in poetic lines,
each containing five words: tercets:
an arbitrary organizational scheme, like

Warhol’s poetic decision to treat
the four-and-a-half minute film spool
as a unit of temporal

measure, into which he would
pour, like liquid cement into
a future sidewalk, the undifferentiated

content (the content in this
case is the human face . . .)
Warhol’s screen tests are my

model for assiduous incremental artistic
process: I take vicarious pleasure
in watching him apportion “personality”

or “face” into dosed units,
boxes, sarcophagi: time becomes, for
Warhol, a medium, malleable, plastic:

his screen tests are injections
of presence that viewers receive,
like lento hits of dopamine

or serotonin, the happiness chemical—
for I believe that Warhol
was pursuing happiness (his own,

his viewer’s), letting us stare
uninterruptedly at an inaccessible face,
made available, chained down by

Warhol’s process:  letting us gaze
silently, without censorship or variation,
at the same face for

four and a half minutes,
was a way to achieve
continuity, and I believe that

many artists and writers establish
a practice to grant themselves
the gift of continuity (ongoinginess,

puncturelessness), regime of the same,
this block of time next
to that block of time,

never an ounce of time
taken away from us:  toward
time, Warhol had a greediness

I’d call “oral”—a desire
to wolf down (the German
verb, I believe, is “verschlingen”)

time itself but never run
out of the precious liquor:
balm of lost time Warhol

wanted to suck on, conserve,
spend: time Warhol wanted to
absorb into his bloodstream: time

Warhol wanted to steal from
the gods, and the gods
were “beauties,” stars, wannabes, though

the mere act of looking
was itself a star: the
screen test’s sacrosanct, quiet atmosphere

(Spenser’s or Keats’s bower episodes?)
means Warhol was performing a
ritual, an act of substitution:

old time was replaced by
new time, new time by
old: old losses were righted

by new acquisitions: the holy
(“heilig” is the German word:
“selig”, too, applies) atmosphere of

the screen tests comes also
from their suspense, like striptease’s:
the lower body we will

never see, we will never
touch the torso, we will
never hear the person speak,

and yet, improbably, we wait
for revelation, this plotless plot’s
unfolding: scenes of waiting, expectation

(the German word is probably
“die Erwartung”) are heavy with
a suspense tinged by horniness,

and laden (like boughs) with
the fruit of hopelessness, the
certainty that the good thing

(“das Ding”) will never appear:
the screen tests erase castration’s
cut by forcefeeding us portion

after portion of head, to
assure us that the decapitation
moment has been circumvented—also

to demonstrate (miracle!) that castration’s
chameleon catastrophe has already
occurred: each screen test restages

(annuls?) Salome’s feast, the head
of John the Baptist: castration
I bring up not to

insist that Warhol was hamstrung
by Freudian or Lacanian tricks,
but because the cut was,

for Warhol, a real, dreaded
event: he hated to cut,
he wanted time and image

to continue, unedited, and yet
he had an exquisite sense
of editorial control, and loved

to exercise the cutting prerogative,
slicing reality into photogenic, philosophically
resonant bits: each screen test

is an act of denial
that the cut need occur—
but each screen test is

dominated by one essential conceptual
act of cutting, a cut
that isolates head from body,

a cut that isolates this
four and a half minute
corpuscle from the unframed flow

of time outside the screen
test’s ghetto walls: if you
fear the cut, you might

repeatedly choose to exercise (counter-
phobically) the right to cut,
to forestall other people’s cuts: 

and the “cut” that Warhol
feared was isolation and banishment
from presence, from the balm

that a sexy human face
offered him: he didn’t want
to be cut away from

the Thou, he wanted uncut
Thou time, pure presence, Thou
in this case being anyone:

Warhol wanted to assert likenesses:
he tested each face for
its likeness to some other

face, some ideal face, Brando’s,
Bardot’s, God’s, Mom’s, or dead
Dad’s: coldness of the face

Warhol stared at and recorded
in the screen test attests
to its indifference to Warhol,

its cruelty: each face performs,
against Warhol, an act of
not caring: Warhol trains his

body without organs, his machine
eye, his camera-self, onto the
sitter, and this victim retaliates

with indifference: not unlike William
Holden’s indifference to Gloria Swanson,
or her indifference toward his

autonomy and privacy: the problem
with Sunset Boulevard is narrative:
rather, what prevents Norma Desmond

from achieving her idyllic, anarchic
goal of absolute presence is
Hollywood’s retrograde insistence that stardom

and cinema obey the tragic,
draconian laws of beginning, middle,
end: sequential narrative’s impress, like

the machine in Kafka’s “Penal
Colony,” that, to quote Emily
Dickinson, “drills his Welcome in”:

Norma wants unending Thou time,
she seeks a borderless narcissistic
bleed into the world, her

self no longer puny, isolate:
but narrative insists that she
write herself a vehicle, Salome,

a nested echo of Wilder’s
framing fiction:  neither Salome nor
Sunset Boulevard, however, will have

a happy ending: both psychodramas
end with Salome’s wish fulfillment
and her death: she gets

the head (William Holden, dead
in the pool) but she
also loses her own head

(her marbles): isn’t this ending
happy, Norma Desmond (the name
seems like a punning detour

around—Freud’s versprechen, promise, slip
of the tongue, perverted speech,
delirious linguistic U-turns I love—

for “Normal Despot,” or “Despotism
is Stardom’s Normative Condition”?), freed
from the punishment of narrative,

liberated into pure screen test,
the oceanic bliss of endless
close-up? Close-up is her Liebestod,

unmooring her from universal Will
(I don’t know much Schopenhauer,
but I’m trying to screentest

philosophical concepts, to see if
they fit into my lexicon):
Norma, turning into cinematic blur,

turns into us, and we
forfeit psychic safety, our immunity
to this attractively careening egomaniac,

incarnation of an obsolete cinematic
procedure (silent film) and an
obsolete currency (isn’t it implausible

that unemployed Norma remains wealthy,
her cash, cars, and clothes
operating surreally in an earlier

value system, her inflated ego
as anachronistic as the buying
power of her dollar?): Warhol

treated the Other as a
Call Boy: in the screen
tests, each Other is like

Paul America (in Warhol’s film
My Hustler), the perfect Adonis-
prostitute the old queens on

Fire Island are fighting over:
this Call-Boy-as-Other is Sunset Boulevard’s
William Holden, a conservative Dad

type reduced (or elevated) to
the status of Boy Toy: 
why did 1950s America insist

its cinematic representations of call
boys be so virile, so
antithetical to the fey, sylph-

like faggots who formed Warhol’s
serendipitious, Mattachine brotherhood?  Please recall
that the milieu pictured in

Sunset Boulevard (erotically voracious, deluded,
has-been movie queen seeking rehabilitation
at the hands of sexually

“light in the heels” artist
willing to forgo l’art pour
l’art in favor of brute

commerce) is exactly shoe-ad-designer Warhol’s:
Gloria Swanson cum Norma Desmond
is that strange compromise between

high art and commerce Warhol
trafficked in, and Norma Desmond
is the type of “fallen

star” whom Warhol made iconic
and gilded (or silvered) in
his silkscreen paintings: Marilyn, Liz,

these too were fallen stars,
not yet over-the-hill, perhaps, but
dead, or dying, or mortally

endangered, and Warhol’s method for
rescuing them involved a screen-test-like
rehearsal of formaldehyde’s slow, artless

kiss, the swooning, Lethean embrace
of the close-up, the cropped
shot, frontal and fetishistic: detach

the face from the body
and you thereby outfox time,
foil the studio, create your

own imaginary Paramount, a delusional
factory of desire, operating on
a fictional cash system, composed

of barter and false promises: 
and yet Norma is less
like Warhol and more like

Edie Sedgwick or Ingrid Superstar,
a player whose hold on
stardom, like her vehicles, is

simulacral, comprised of fantasy, lies,
willpower, psychosis, imitation, like Lana
Turner’s and Douglas Sirk’s Imitation

of Life, which creates fake
stardom as the threshold Warhol
will cross, with his Factory,

Warhol borrowing Lana’s shallow whiteblondness,
and using shallowness to exercise
mimesis profoundly, treating mindless reproduction

as an exercise in intensification
for intensification’s sake, doubling reality
to anesthetize its sting: Warhol

probably saw Sunset Boulevard upon
first release, and might have
understood Norma’s fate as his:

the old troll, the pathetic
queen, hanging out at hustler
bars on the East Side, 

paying for uncaring rough trade:
Warhol might have considered this
destiny tragic (like Blanche DuBois

in A Streetcar Named Desire,
or Alexandra Del Lago in
Sweet Bird of Youth: two

female incarnations of the dream-burdened
faggot): but Warhol would also
have admired Norma Desmond as

an ego-ideal, a Duchampian impresario,
forger of a home studio,
a Factory, with a resident

director (devoted Erich von Stroheim)
and a scriptwriter who doubled
as lover (William Holden): Norma,

like Jack Smith, “gets” heteroglossia,
understands film as a medium
gaily regressing to what critic

Tom Gunning called “the cinema
of attractions”—an early form
of moviemaking in which simply

looking at monumental or freakish
objects was sufficient, without plot’s
clumsy, artificial armature: Norma, like

Warhol, wants to bring cinema
back to its storyless origins
in a circus-like, fragmentary entertainment,

where the star’s face served
as film’s sufficient cause, on
which the spectator could batten,

a ravenous wolf-voyeur: had Norma
succeeded in her mission, she’d
have created a factory of

erotic minions and hunky technicians:
like Warhol, she’d have screened
her own productions at home

in a curtained atelier, not
needing to legitimate the product
by exporting it to theaters:

Warhol’s Factory, like Norma Desmond’s
home, is at once exhibition
space, studio, orgy site, nuclear

family, and denier of time:
the screen tests, like Norma
Desmond, wish to erase time’s

forward movement by arresting it,
framing it, repeating it, inserting
small differences in its flux

(a new sitter, a new
identity category—writer, dancer, model,
schizophrenic, socialite, misfit, painter, nobody—

a new hair color, a
new maladjustment), but refusing
to alter the time-interval’s essential

stillness, its motionless willingness to
be echo, reflection (“der Widerhall,”
“der Abglanz,” I believe, are

comparable German words) of the
artist herself:  in the stillness
and permanence of the screen

test’s conceptual frame, and in
the stillness of the sitter,
not emoting, not moving, lies

Warhol’s fantasy establishment of a
permanently present Doppelgänger, a twin
whose physical sureness and constancy,

its security within the realm
of the visual, counteracts his
own vanishing, his regrettable, ghostly

tendency to disappear when touched,
as if he weren’t real,
and only this echo, this

screen-test victim, were actual: Warhol
made screen tests to create
a reality which could serve

as consoling echo for his
own untenable and intangible self-
consciousness: just as the vehicle

Salome will allow Norma Desmond
to exist, the screen tests
give Warhol’s non-identity a pivot

point, a lodging: the correspondences
I’m drawing between Warhol’s screen
tests and Sunset Boulevard are

a few of the myriad
I could develop, if I
had more than a half-hour

or forty minutes to speak,
to stretch out my duration’s
limbs, to console myself that

I exist by placing words
within mechanical, unfeeling, preestablished frames:
I’m only one or two

years younger than Gloria Swanson
was when she starred in
Sunset Boulevard, and so, like

Warhol, I have more in
common with delusional Norma Desmond
than with gigolo William Holden,

that hirsute package of flesh
and opportunism:  like Andy, Norma,
and Blanche, I depend on

the kindness of strangers, and
the strangers I am screentesting
are acting out the thankless

role of “screen,” of substitution,
as in Freud’s concept of
“screen memory,” that fabricated decoy

standing in place of genuine
memory: each screen test portrays
the face of a changeling,

a displacement, who distracts from
the “real” presence we should
be paying attention to: we

would pay attention to him
if he existed: he doesn’t
exist, so we must audition

five hundred likenesses to stand
in for him, to be
his stunt double: the stunt

is existence, it is dangerous,
it leads to death: Warhol
needed someone else to fill

in for him this impossible
role: his comely stunt doubles,
populating the tests, will end

up drowned, face down, in
the pool: Warhol also understood
the lure of the unpopulated

echo chamber, the blank slate: 
cannier than masochistic Norma Desmond,
Warhol knew that stardom was

not a permanent condition, but
a slot to be filled
each day by a new

aspirant, a stupefied applicant: Warhol
accepted—delighted in—stardom’s revolving
door: this toleration of flux

differentiates him from Norma Desmond,
proves him a survivor, capable
of metamorphosis, switching media, leaving

behind advertising for painting, then
abandoning painting for film, film
for television, television for parties,

shopping, hospital: disinterestedly he spreads
his affections over the spectrum
of Hollywood hopefuls, not loving

one specimen more than another:
the casting couch, like psychoanalysis’s,
is always empty, always happy

to accept a new free-associating
dreamer: the role’s dimensions are
unchanging: what is required of

the cameraman, like the psychoanalyst,
is patience, indifference, evenly suspended
attentiveness, and a keen sense

of timing:  the tranche of
the psychoanalytic session, like the
four-and-a-half minute slice (Dobosh torte)

of time offered each analysand
by Warhol’s screentesting camera, never
alters its dimensions, and this

changelessness is a form of
love, or is as close
as some of us wish

to get to love, a
substance that, like the Thirteen
Most Beautiful Boys, intrinsically burns,

for it is a Faustian
cocktail made of hellfire, ambition,
blindness, failure, fade-out: the Thirteen

Most Beautiful Boys, like the
Thirteen Most Beautiful Women, or
the Fifty Fantastics and Fifty

Personalities, was a title that
Warhol gave a collection, its
contents shifting, of thirteen screen

tests brought together for one
showcasing: the Thirteen Most Beautiful
Boys was a permissive rubric,

an arbitrary and welcoming grid,
in which any thirteen boys
could fit: thus Warhol emptied

out the meaning of the
words “most” and “beautiful,” establishing
democratic equality as his criterion

for bliss: half the pleasure
was collecting, or counting, the
thirteen, bringing thirteen arbitrary (unlucky?)

bodies together, as Schönberg brought
together twelve tones in his
row: Schönberg was afraid of

the number thirteen, which was
why he composed in twelve-tone
rows, and why he omitted

Aaron’s second “a” to compose
the title of Moses und
—so that his only

opera’s spell-casting name would have
twelve letters: he, superstitious, like
Warhol, took counting games seriously:

and I, like Schönberg, like
Warhol, ritually enjoy the numinousness
of numbers, and propose that

Schönberg and Warhol have more
in common than has ever
yet been noted by critics:

the tones that Warhol used
in his screen-test rows were
faces, but the method was,

like Schönberg’s, dependent on monads
and their mathematical mutations, the
serial unfolding of the consequences

of an endlessly replenishable though
seemingly limited series of component
terms, whether pitches, wishes, faces,

cocks, names: if only Norma
Desmond had been content to
stay at home playing bridge

with her fellow former silent
stars (including Buster Keaton, whose
lack of opportunity, here, to

shine, counts him as one
of Stupefaction’s shattered citizens: footnote:
I originally intended to use

Warhol’s screen tests and Wilder’s
Sunset Boulevard as pretexts for
airing my preliminary thoughts about

shine and stupefaction, two terms
whose elaboration awaits a future
unveiling) instead of driving to

Paramount and Cecil B. De
Mille, as if anything genuine
rested in the Real, as

if the Real were where
vision needed to roost! I’m
not sure what I’m proposing

to you about desire: recidivist,
hermit, I believe that Warhol’s
Factory was an elaborate and

public way of staying permanently
at home with fantasy, instead
of screentesting fantasy and seeing

it bumped by the higher
power of the Real: in
no way do I wish

to “dis” or “disrespect” the
moral worth or aesthetic estimableness
of Norma Desmond or Andy

Warhol, two queens on whom
nothing was lost, however limited
their capacities were for human

touch:  but is not human
touch overrated: does not the
camera’s touch matter, its even-

handed caress, mechanical, neither vituperative
nor violent, without fingers, always
open as an orifice with

no opinion of its own
about what kind of object
should be inserted or extruded?

I’ll end with orifice, a
dreamy word to dwell upon:
the German word for orifice

is (I may be wrong)
“die Öffnung”:  I’m always happy
to conclude with an invocation

of holes, because, like the
neutral four-and-a-half-minute capsule of
measured attentiveness the screen test

offers us, the hole, or
orifice, particularly when merely figurative,
holds anything I’ll ever wish

to know, say, or see:
this lecture is, in a
sense, my screen test, and

I am subjecting its strict
orifice to maximum dilation, lest
my least meaning get lost.