Sex Books, Day 3: Bataille, Story of the Eye, “The Antique Wardrobe”

…in which I argue that the use of shocking acts of sex within an otherwise normal domestic setting is analogous to the concept of “the sublime” for a post-romantic, cynical modern audience. 

At some point in all good erotica, one needs to sit down with a few sheets of paper, a pencil, a ruler, and a deep understanding that it’s okay to make mistakes and start from scratch. Without these tools, it’s simply impossible to visualize what the hell is going on. In fact, in the first chapter of The Story of the Eye, I spent a good ten minutes trying to work out what position the characters were in, and I completely failed. This time, I came up with this:

Story of the Eye, Figure 2.1

Indeed, I use an asterisk for assholes, and a coffeebean for vaginas. The first thing one realizes is that this is a very difficult section of the body to draw. The geography is simply confounding. But, as the chapter begins, “that was the period when Simone developed a mania for breaking eggs with her ass,” we’re pretty much forced to come to terms with precisely how she pulls this off (particularly if we’ve read the book before). So, there you have it. Also, a list of things that go on in this chapter: eggs broke with ass, piss on mother (accident), piss on tablecloth (on purpose), begging to be pissed on (during seizure), sex with a wardrobe (inside is locked another girl, masturbating), and an orgy of teens with broken glass and puking.

The scene at the end is one of the most memorable in the book, reminiscent of the ending of Hamlet, actually, the essential tragicomedy. As Hamlet closes, pretty much everyone you’ve met over the past three hours is piled up dead on stage, an ending I always look forward to: it never fails to please.

Here, a bunch of teens go to a tea party, get drunk, have an orgy that includes much pissing, bleeding, and puking, and they’re all strewn about the floor at the end…when their parents show up to take them home.

And one girl, the one who’s kinda raped in the first chapter, she’s been locked in a wardrobe and pretty much stuck there the whole afternoon, so when she emerges, this is the scene she encounters, runs to her mother…whom she begins biting. End scene.

What are we supposed to get from this? I think the big question is: are we supposed to laugh? or be horrified? or be aroused? Let’s focus on the slightly surreal qualities.

The surrealists, IMHO, prided themselves on works being completely disconnected from life, which is the reason why they failed and bickered so much–because it’s pretty much impossible to achieve their ends. There’s a “willing suspension of disbelief” required simply to absorb an exquisite corpse, or running from theatre to theatre while drunk–the difficulty isn’t the creative disconnect–anyone can create an exquisite corpse–the difficulty is for the audience, who must accept the art without question, without interpretation, without seeking meaning or moral or even identity. We’ve all channel-surfed while drunk, I’m sure–but our immediate instinct is to seek disconnect and renewed narratives, rather than seek an incoherent whole. In short, I think surrealism is meant to be a vehicle for achieving what one might achieve without surrealism anyway, and I think it’s unnatural.

Anyway, looking at work by Dali, there’s always something you can latch onto, whether a table, a hand, or a timepiece; of course, a painter of his calibre would think too highly of himself to throw all his talent into abstract expressionism when he could create new realities based on a classical education. And it’s here, the “latch,” so to speak, where I find the great parallel: Chapter 1 takes us to a cliff in the middle of a storm, which leads us naturally to Byron’s Manfred:

Ye toppling crags of ice!
Ye avalanches, whom a breath draws down
In mountainous o’erwhelming, come and crush me!         80
I hear ye momently above, beneath,
Crash with a frequent conflict; but ye pass,
And only fall on things that still would live;
On the young flourishing forest, or the hut
And hamlet of the harmless villager.

And to King Lear, 

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

 And lastly, back to Bataille, in which the first chapter ends with the three kids on the top of a cliff during a thunderstorm, Simone rubbing her face in a mud puddle, masturbating with mud, and forcing Marcelle’s legs open.

What’s familiar to us is this motif: humanity encounters the sublime and is thereby induced to madness. In Byron, the growing mist and potential avalanches lead Manfred to a dramatic plea for assisted suicide, as observed by a hunter; in Shakespeare, Lear’s madness is encouraged by his perception and dialogue with the storm, the balance provided by the Fool and others; in Bataille, the kids are moved from the simple pleasures of one pissing on the other’s sex to a mad rape in the mud–and it isn’t the narrator who is the collected observer, it’s Marcelle, in her continual horror at the narrator’s actions.

Manfred: cliffs -> avalanches -> hunter
Lear: wilderness -> thunderstorm -> the fool
Eye: cliffs -> thunderstorm -> Marcelle

This weakness at the point of possible transcendence isn’t a modern notion either, it’s present at least as far back as Leviticus 16:2, as (let’s take the KJV for the sake of ease) “and the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat,” i.e., encounter that which transcends normal human experience, and you will die.

Moving this all forward by one degree, to actual modernity, by the time of Bataille, there is no longer anything sublime in the world. There are still popular artistic rubber stamps of the sublime, but we’re now dealing with a world in which every man went off to risk his life under clouds, not of thunderstorms, but of mustard gas. What is natural has been harnessed and destroyed. What is reality is domesticity and war, and we are doomed to civilization, now under the rule not of monarchs, but of republicans, not of the church, but of science, for it was indeed science that bombed out so many great cathedrals, and from a great multitude of tongues, now unification under a few flags, nationalities, a great simplistic one-ness. What in life is shocking anymore?

So, we are moved to the sitting-room for a tea party (watch this, I’ve mentioned “republicans” and “tea party” in a single post, so I’m going to get a shitload of confused ideologues trying to figure out what’s going on here. no, seriously–do you know how many people find my blog because they’re trying to get information about hens?)…and what is sublime is no longer the “ye crags, upon whose extreme edge / I stand” (Byron), but “the deep crack of [Simone’s] buttocks” (Bataille); what is sublime is no longer the “cataracts and hurricanoes,” of Shakespeare, but rather Simone, “jerking off with the earth and coming violently, whipped by the downpour,” her madness now “piss on me…Piss on my cunt” finalized by Marcelle’s “jeremiad of howls that grew more and more inhuman,” even causing terror to the narrator himself.

Essentially, when the sublime is no longer awesome in our eyes, what is there left to which we can retreat? Each other. I think the lesson here is that if we cannot find the sublime in each others’ eyes, in each others’ bodies, in each others’ hearts, in this modern world we’re left with nothing else, our cathedrals destroyed by bombs, our mountains destroyed by poets and painters, and we, somehow still virginal and unexplored, await that moment when we might lead each other to transcendence.

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