Elvis Presley: Seriality and Art-as-Religion (Kunstreligion)

Associated Project B

This project is part of a study of Elvis Presley and American popular culture. It will analyze the famous Las Vegas concerts' increasingly standardized and (through back-to-back touring programs) literally serialized stagings of the pop artist as an art-religious (kunstreligiös) figure.

The project pursues a double question: (1) concerning the internal tensions between the Christian and art-religious or pagan aspects of these stagings (see explicit references to Nietzsche's Zarathustra, the figure of the self-apotheotic Übermensch, and its comic strip adaptation in Superman vs. the exhibition of Christian humility and profession of faith through the performance of traditional gospel songs, resulting in conflicting roles of deity, saint, prophet, priest), and (2) concerning the tensions between the highly pathetic claims of these (art-)religious references and their ironic subversion that becomes increasingly explicit in the course of serial reproduction.

In pursuing these questions, it will be necessary to consider both the serial procedures of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art (including his Elvis pictures) and the concerts' medial reverberations in albums and documentary films (from the first worldwide satellite-broadcast concert, from Hawaii, to Elvis in Concert, the film and album released following Presley's death).

A third tension thus comes into view, viz. that between the stagings themselves (costumes, choreography, song program, the constitution of the audience as a congregation, to the point of relics being passed around to be touched by the congregants) and the sick and dying body, which post mortem becomes the object of a popular religious cult, the significance of which Greil Marcus has explored in Dead Elvis.

Director: Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Heinrich Detering, German Philology, Göttingen