Charlotte Rodgers is a visionary artist and writer. Her sculpture combines bones, taxidermy specimens and roadkill with glitter, paint and found objects to create disturbing yet gorgeous contemporary totems. Materials that in the hands of lesser artists merely become shock value bric-a-brac in Rodgers’ become transcendent. One is drawn in by their beauty not their ugliness. She realizes necromantic alchemy through her incorporation and transformation of base materials. Similarly much of her writing has focused on studies of blood-rites and necromancy.
One might suspect she gets asked far too often, “Where do you get your ideas?” In a sense, her autobiography P is for Prostitution: A Modern Primer, strikingly illustrated by Ruth Ramsden, may be viewed as an attempt to answer that. Rodgers herself acknowledges a concern that “Initially I was worried that writing this could be self-indulgence or an exercise in personal exploration and poor man’s psychoanalysis that shouldn’t be put out to a wider audience.” A writer questioning herself when making self-revelation is more than relevant. Nowadays we seem stuck in a mindset in which many seem to think that creating online PowerPoint presentations on their Grand Canyon vacations or appraisals of their lovers’ dick sizes is tantamount to writing the Tao Te Ching. Wasting time and effort on such trivialities, whether as audience or author doesn’t seem all that enriching. But Rodgers’ tome doesn’t fall into such a trite genre. Her recollections both engage the reader in a lucid perspective on the adventures/misadventures of a vital individual navigating a specific epoch in history and coming to terms with herself almost in spite of events.
Rodgers doesn’t engage in proselytizing, apology or blame. She maintains a clear, at times nonchalant voice, while cataloguing what could pose an overwhelming array of personal experiences with subjects such as Bulimia, Inheritance, Prostitution, Overdose, and Rehab. Reading her autobiography proves harrowing, humorous or poignant, but she does not cast events in a manner in which the reader is manipulated into responding in a particular manner.
In deed, I was struck by just how much freedom and respect she grants and demonstrates toward those who want to take part in her journey. (Albeit, there were more than a few times I smiled and thought, “Oh gee, you did that too.”) But on a more serious note, her approach here reminded me of a quote from the film-maker Robert Bresson: “Don’t run after poetry. It penetrates unaided through the joins (ellipses).”
Her choice of a mimicking a dictionary to develop her discourse dialectically illuminates the fragmentary nature of experiences yet establishes their continuity. Time, the span of a life and coming to terms with it, does not unfold in a strict linear context but through an organic, even spiritual, process. Juxtapositions of non-linear narrative segments allow for grace, meditation, and comprehension to occur in the blank spaces that occur between them. The reader finds himself positioned in the open space and becomes absorbed by the dialogue between him and Rodgers. Encouraging the reader to take part in an open exchange actually enables the reader to achieve transformation and enlightenment himself.
P is for Prostitution also exhibits Rodgers’ literary craftsmanship. She incorporates myriad allusions to literature, pop music and culture that range from Don Quixote to Upstairs at Eric’s. These echo in the reader’s imagination and contextualize her tome in the broader spectrum of human experience. Not to mention that she frequently does so in a tongue and cheek manner that prevents the work from descending into emotional morass. Her writing is clear and succinct, creating a lucid perspective on chaotic events.
By avoiding the pratfall of self-indulgence Rodgers may seem to not provide the reader intellectual substance, but it is not the case here. She simply puts the reader in the uneasy position of having to draw connections and make conclusions. She carefully develops the situations in three-dimensional perspective through her sharp powers of observation and even demonstrates compassion and understanding for those who obviously do her harm. Now this approach does not conveniently lend itself to political dictums. If a dialogue is not political, is it spiritual?
Rodgers expresses great reverence for the short-lived tragic individuals who pass through her life. Her characters include a modern day berserker headed for a tragic wreck, an atrophying violinist sawing a lovely melody under cold stars, and a modern day noble savage who somehow seems to think reawakening the savage will do same to the noble. They assume roles filled by gods, fates and watchers in antique literature, ritual and prayer. Rodgers may be the reluctant hero of the journey, but she gives last rites to many whom she encountered along the way. She creates a contemporary mythic corpus. One interpretation of this act is to perceive that spirit is real and perceptible even through the rapid fire of events we navigate through now.
This statement may be an oversimplification of Rodgers’ rewarding work. She does not take the stance that her experience is above political realities or cultural biases. When dealing with authority she elegantly describes it without kudos or condemnation. But the heart of her work shines through strongest when she is reflecting on those who have passed and making their presences palpable. Is this not the work of a spirit medium or a step in apotheosis that has created the gods in many living religions. Like in her aforementioned art work, she performs a contemporary act of alchemical necromancy. P is for Prostitution is not so much a modern primer for our vices as one for our transcendence.
Eric.K.Lerner is an art reviewer, accomplished artist and author. His books include, ‘AIDS Crisis in America (ABC-Clio 1999); Babalu Aye: Santeria and the Lord of Pestilence (Original Publications 2000) and Olakun, A Book of Mystery (T&D Publications 2003)