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Electrifying Fragments: Madonna and Postmodern Performance

  • Mark Watts

The rise and (perceived) decline of Madonna has gone, so to say, hand-in-hand with that of postmodern theory – slightly démodé just at present, but none the less pervasively influential for that. The singer's two most recent albums were critical successes, and the controversy in Argentina over the choice of the star to play Eva Peron testifies to her continuing capacity to attract notoriety. But in what does that notoriety consist? How is the persona that is all we know of Madonna constructed, and how does it work? How is she able to make such distinctive use of the emergent potential of multimedia? What constitutes the coherence of Madonna's image? Mark Watts, a graduate in Film and Literature of the University of Warwick, here analyzes the appeal of the singer-actress in terms of the concept of punctum, defined by Barthes (in opposition to the rational, linear understanding of studium) as the ‘electrifying fragment’ that seizes and ravishes the imagination.

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Notes and References

1. Medhurst, Andy, in ‘Film on Video: the Essential 100’, supplement to Sight and Sound, 1993.

3. Muir, Kate, The Times, 4 08 1992.

4. Benjamin, Walter, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Mast, , ed., Film Theory and Criticism (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 667, 674.

5. Quoted in Cubitt, Sean, Timeshift (Routledge, 1991), p. 54.

6. Ibid., p. 55.

7. Time, 20 May 1991, p. 66.

8. Pavis, Patrice, ‘Theatre Analysis: Some Questions and a Questionnaire’, New Theatre Quarterly, I, No. 1 (05 1985), p. 211.

9. Kalin, Tom, ‘Media Kids (on Pussy Power)’, Art-forum, XXX (09 1991), p. 1921.

10. This point is raised by Lewis, Lisa A., in ‘Being Discovered’ in Frith, , Goodwin, , Grossberg, , eds., Sound and Vision (Routledge, 1993), p. 131.

11. Will Straw, ‘Popular Music and Postmodernism in the Eighties’, in Frith, Goodwin, Grossberg, op. cit.

12. Nancy Friday in Women on Top feels that ‘Only women can liberate other women’, while Madonna ‘stands hand on crotch, preaching to her sisters – masturbate’. E. Anne Kaplin has frequently argued that Madonna represents the ‘post-feminist heroine’.

13. Kalin, op. cit., p. 20.

14. Connors, op. cit., p. 152.

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New Theatre Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0266-464X
  • EISSN: 1474-0613
  • URL: /core/journals/new-theatre-quarterly
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