So, we proceed through the first dialogue, which contains a hint of incest, some men engaging in violent anal play (a girth of six inches rammed in without lubrication), and perhaps the finest description of a girl ever written in any language.
The audience? Those of whom have a classical education under their belts:
Dear brother, this is my bizarre fantasy: I wish to be the Ganymede of this new Jupiter, I wish to savor his tastes, his debaucheries, I wish to be the victim of his follies.
…I have chosen you…to cull the myrtles of Cythera, and Dolmancé to cull the roses of Sodom.
And the line that made me laugh:
…his bearing and his posture are slightly effeminate–no doubt, because of his habit of frequently acting like a woman.
If you were wondering, I still have a dearth of feeling. You know how, when you are sick, and you don’t want to eat or drink anything, but you know you must, that even if you are not hungry, your body needs nourishment? So you go through the motions, you pretend, you hope that with time you will heal. But for now, you know there are things you cannot fake, you must stay in bed, you must rest and sleep and wait. I’m faking all that I possibly can, but everything, joy, high spirits, anger, fear, desire, thrills, escapes me, in their stead a throbbing dullness that subsides only long enough to discover a stretch of still and uninterrupted sadness, punctuated by little puckering bubbles from whatever little worms are buried beneath, hiding, exhaling, leaving the glassiness pockmarked and sour, before the dullness sets in again. I somehow assume that it’s what I need right now, that there’s something else I should be doing rather than feeling.
From my experience, erotica by left-leaning authors tends to be pretty lovey-dovey; erotica by right-leaning authors tends to be FILL AND FLOOD EVERY ORIFICE. Take your pick!
“Whereas the state institutions provided by Rousseau’s Social Contract allow us to recapture some of the goodness and innocence we enjoyed in our original “Nature,” Sade sees all governments as evil because they thwart and curb humankind’s innate cruelty. According to Sade–here the argument grows increasingly fiendish–it is precisely the cruelty which we must retain and cultivate in order to be true to “Nature.” “Cruelty . . . is the first sentiment that nature teaches us. A child breaks its rattle, bites its wet nurse’s nipple, and strangles its pet bird, long before it reaches the age of reason. . . . Among savages, cruelty is far closer to nature than among civilized men.” In Sade’s view, only the institution of far “gentler” laws can create a gentler society. “But laws may be so mild, so few in number, that all men, no matter what their characters, can easily comply.” -Francine du Plessix Gray
Pull out your pencil–we’ve got another awkward fantasy to illustrate. So, in this one, Marcelle’s legs are over the narrator’s shoulders, she’s pissing on him while he’s pissing on her breasts, and Simone’s also pissing on her back, and he’s poking Simone’s nipples with guns that have just been shot, and Simone’s pouring creme fraiche on Marcelle’s anus, and that pretty much covers it. When you stop and think about it, the length of time it takes to get into this position is probably longer than the amount of time they can spend enjoying it. Also, synchronized urination is probably fairly difficult to achieve. But that’s the beauty of fantasies, I suppose.
Part of my efforts to gain more time in my day and health in my life has involved poaching an egg every morning. If I fail to cook my egg, I don’t get to eat until lunch. If I try making it and it explodes or something, I only get to eat what I can fish out of the bowl. I’ve been trying to not just “try harder” at doing stuff–I’ve been actively punishing myself for failing, all across the board. Punishments work so much better than rewards.
But this chapter is where our star duo begin playing with eggs, raw, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, in the bidet, in the toilet, in the anus, you name it!…which is going to make breakfast tomorrow morning significantly more unhappy than usual for me.
Something about the eggs strike the characters as particularly blush-inspiring. Eggs, like eyeballs (yes, she tries to suck the narrator’s eye out of his head); eggs, like testicles (which, unfortunately, we’ll come to a wonderful description of in a later chapter). A fascinating parallel here is in this novel’s being published a year before the release of Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel’s first film, in which that classic eyeball-slicing scene takes place. (Yeah, you know you want to see the eyeball-slice…so here you go, you hero, you.)
Upon my asking what the word urinate reminded her of, she replied terminate, the eyes, with a razor.
Published a year before Bunuel filmed this scene!! And so long as we’re discussing Spaniards and testicles, it was Lorca who described Spain as stretched out “like the hide of a bull. . .it has the shape of an animal hide, and a sacrificial animal at that. In this geographical symbol lies the deepest, most dazzling and complex part of the Spanish character.” And, indeed, the characters will make their way to the bullfights (where the testicles make their dreadful appearance).
As the chapters progress, you might have noticed, the symbolism is getting piled on pretty thick, complete with italics, just in case you missed the connection between eyes and eggs (a connection which must also be in French, as I’d ALWAYS mix up those two words while speaking French, particularly while grocery shopping, to the horror and delight of my pals).
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this extended run of entries about Bataille, but for now we’ll have to say farewell to him for a little while, as we’ve reached page 40, which according to my reading list means it’s time to move on to other books for a while.
As if we didn’t have enough baseless associations to keep in mind while reading this, it’s now been revealed that Marcelle can’t get off without pissing herself. And so,
it is not astonishing that the bleakest and most leprous aspects of a dream are merely an urging in that direction, an obstinate waiting for total joy, like the vision of that glowing hole, the empty window, for example, at the very moment when Marcelle lay sprawling on the floor, endlessly inundating it.
And soon after, the narrator states that “we had abandoned the real world,” and that our personal hallucination now developed as boundlessly as perhaps the total nightmare of human society, for instance, with earth, sky, and atmosphere,” which concludes my brilliant and sensitive rejoinders to the last chapter regarding what makes me like it so well.
The narrator suggests, in a beautiful paragraph not worth repeating, that the end of his erection is likely death. We might have guessed. In the meantime, he and Simone are riding bikes home, sick and exhausted. He can’t get his eyes off her sex sticking to the seat, she’s masturbating while riding, and when she comes she crashes her bike. He thinks she’s dead, so he gives her the bloody works, and once she turns out to be alive he carries her home. To us he admits to loving her.
If you’re keeping track of things to pay attention to, you can now underline blood and death on that list, blood not having been seen since the teen orgy, death not having been seen since that girl was decapitated in chapter 1.
So, I was reading Cosmo the other day. That’s true. So, there was an article about how to make your dreams work for you.
The gist of it was that your dreams are the time of day during which your brain can creatively solve problems that afflict your waking hours. It seeks creative answers, which is why dreams are so wacky, and also why they demand a level of interpretation. Surely we didn’t invent the concept of metaphors on our own. So, to make them work in your favor, you need to think about what problem is bothering you most of all, really focus on it, before you fall asleep. I’m pretty sure I’ve read that things you learn during the last hour you’re awake are most likely to stick, and that of that time, the final ten minutes, excepting the very last one, is the time when things remain most firmly.
Keep a pen and paper near the bed, and when you wake up take as many notes as you can. Find the relevance. Problems solved!
I hate sleeping. I woke up this morning thinking to myself that I truly am living a delicate balance of vitamin C tablets and red bull, weaning myself off sleep bit by bit. Of course, I got home and immediately crashed. And in my dreams, I sunk very deeply into unhappiness. And when I woke up the whole world had died. I had a rehearsal tonight, I had to wear earplugs to make the noise level even bearable, but everything was silence to me. I cannot even begin to describe the silence, it’s overwhelming, a violent, rolling sadness, all silent, I feel like I’ve been devoured by it. So to hell with dreams, back to the books!
The main characters go to where Marcelle is imprisoned. She’s hung a sheet outside her window, with a gigantic wet stain on it. Perhaps she’s done it merely to dry it, but the narrator sees it as a signal. He ends up breaking into the asylum, ends up naked, gets scared and runs out, and there’s Simone, who’s also somehow ended up losing her clothes, they mess around, he shoots his gun a few times, puts a hole through Marcelle’s window, and she emerges, joins the self-pleasuring fun for a little while, and then is pulled back. The final lines actually verge on beautiful:
We saw her tumble back into her delirium. And all that remained before us was an empty, glowing window, a rectangular hole piercing the opaque night, showing our aching eyes a world composed of lightning and dawn.
Almost. Because “rectangular” is not a beautiful word. But I suppose it serves some purpose: it’s completely unnatural. It’s a shape that’s unlikely to show up when one is out and about in nature, as goes as well for our story’s heroes. Unnatural in their delights and penchants.
So, let’s go back to the top of those last two lines, “we saw her tumble back into her delirium,” and consider the two definitions of “delirium.” First, that state of being ill in which one has delusions. Second, “wild excitement or ecstasy.” This is my favorite line in the chapter because it’s loaded in such a gorgeous and ambiguous way as this. She’s in the asylum because she’s “crazy” when she’s in the outside world. But the narrator sees this craziness as being, if not the general norm, then at least the subjective norm for himself, Simone, and even Marcelle. This line, however, is the first indication that they’re removing themselves entirely from the rest of the world, as Marcelle is being pulled away from her wild masturbation at the window (delirium), into whatever goes on in an asylum (normalcy). You can make the same case for her ecstasy: she’s in ecstasy standing at the window, and she’s pulled out of the window, and probably gets her clothes forced back on. In both cases, “her delirium” is actually the opposite of the truth–but to the narrator, the vanilla world is the mad world, the un-ecstatic world.
By the same token, the window, defined as a rectangle, as I mentioned, is unnatural–and represents the civilization as he sees it: unnatural. A place to cure the mad and prevent them from pissing on their friends’ vaginas? Unnatural! But “the opaque night” makes clear something else hearkening back to “primitive man’s” views on magic, namely, that the world is a dark, terrifying place, in which restless, touchy gods play with the lives of humanity, and one never knows when one might be struck down. Civilization, to some extent, solved this. That’s why god would have been invented if we didn’t have one. During the plague, while it still came down to an angry god striking down sinners, civilization provided us with the language to fight it through repentance, explanations, and early science. To “primitive man” there are no possible answers, there’s only life and death, and life is too fleeting to ask why.
So now the dark, terrifying world, that is supposedly cured by modern civilization, is the playground of our characters, and it is the light that is unnatural, undesired, through the rectangular window, showing “a world composed of lightning and dawn.” Again, precisely the opposite: the lighting and dawn are outside the window, with the main characters. But it is through the window…
Okay, I really don’t have any more time to deal with these thoughts, I need to get to bed. Lightning/Dawn seem like opposites in terms of meaning, but they see both in this room with Marcelle, so it’s the darkness they seek, but it’s also Marcelle they seek. Her hair is blonde, her stockings are white. She’s in the light room. Simone’ hair is dark, her stockings are dark, she’s out in the night. Have fun trying to reconcile all this shit. Goodnight.
What it’s come down to is that I’ve lost all interest in the World of Sex, except from a purely critical perspective. If you can’t reach me by phone, find me in the backyard digging my own grave.
So, yeah, the “Sex Books” designation is gone, because let’s just say I’ve given up on trying to recast Little Stevie Wonder as the mature recording artist we know he’d later become.
I’ve already discussed what I think is a most important element of this book: the inability to distinguish between negative (criminal) and positive (sexual) excitement, or, rather, mistaking similar effects as resulting from similar causes; i.e., the excitement of sex as compared to the excitement of accidentally decapitating a girl.
Bataille comes back to this immediately in Chapter 3, in which the narrator is escaping down the coast with stolen money and a gun, threatening to kill anyone who comes after him, and kill himself. But what is in his mind is “phantasms of Simone and Marcelle. . . with gruesome expressions,” which in any other case would be a nightmare, but in this case, is likely his memories of Simone’s convulsions on the floor panting “piss on me” and Marcelle’s desperate need to jerk off in the wardrobe. The narrator states his goal, ultimately as wanting a “compromise that would link my most disconcerting moves to theirs”–which is the most elegant way of stating all the ink spilled above.
But two new elements are presented: first, the role of language: “I finally accepted being so extraordinarily haunted by the names Simone and Marcelle.” The emphasis is on their names, not on their persons. In an age still dripping with Freud and contemporary pseudoscientific craniofacial anthropometry, we can’t ignore the role of magic here, for as much as these great intellectuals wrote about “primitive man,” they were writing about modern man. This is an age when words are not mere symbols representing things–words are things themselves, words are dangerous and powerful, with simple grace words control the minds of everyone around you, summon spirits and demons; as Sir James Frazer puts it (The Golden Bough, published ~1906),
Unable to discriminate clearly between words and things, the savage commonly fancies that the link between a name and the person or thing denominated by it is not a mere arbitrary and ideal association, but a real and substantial bond which unites the two in such a way that magic may be wrought on a man just as easily through his name as through his hair, his nails, or any other material part of his person.
And Freud (Totem and Taboo, published ~1913),
In the view of primitive man, one of the most important parts of a person is his name. So that if one knows the name of a man or of a spirit, one has obtained a certain amount of power I over the owner of the name.
Rudolf Steiner, in discussing Buddhism (Metamorphosis of the Soul, published ~1909), goes into greater depth as to why a name is powerful:
Nagasena could then return to his parable of the chariot and might say, speaking now in a Christian sense: “True, the axle is not the chariot, for with the axle alone you cannot drive. True, the wheels are not the chariot, for with the wheels alone you cannot drive. True, the yoke is not the chariot, for with the yoke alone you cannot drive. True, the seat is not the chariot, for with the seat alone you cannot drive. And although the chariot is only a name for the assembly of parts, you do not drive with the parts but with something that is not the parts. So the ‘name’ does stand for something specific! It leads us to something that is not in any of the parts.
And he later goes on to show the parallel to ourselves, particularly as relates to consciousness, and if you’re chuckling at those silly barbarians’ concepts of magic, Steiner brings it on home to show that we ourselves are just as superstitious:
A third member of the human organism can now be distinguished: the vehicle of pleasure and pain, of urges, desires and passions — of everything we associate with the emotional activities of the soul. Man has this vehicle in common with all beings who possess a certain form of consciousness: with the animals. Astral body, or body of consciousness, is the name we give to this third member of the human organism.
This completes what we may call the bodily nature of man, with its three components: physical body, etheric body or life-body, astral or consciousness-body.
Within these three members we recognise something else; something unique to man, through which he has risen to the summit of creation. It has often been remarked that our language has one little word which guides us directly to man’s inner being, whereby he ranks as the crown of earthly creation. These flowers here, the desk, the clock — anyone can name these objects; but there is one word we can never hear spoken by another with reference to ourselves; it must spring from our own inner being. This is the little name ‘I’. If you are to call yourself ‘I’, this ‘I’ must sound forth from within yourself and must designate your inmost being. Hence the great religions and philosophies have always regarded this name as the ‘unspeakable name’ of that which cannot be designated from outside. Indeed, with this designation ‘I’, we stand before that innermost being of man which can be called the divine element in him. We do not thereby make man a god. If we say that a drop of water from the sea is of like substance with the ocean, we are not making the drop into a sea. Similarly, we are not making the ‘I’ a god when we say it is of like substance with the divine being that permeates and pulses through the world.
So, back to Story of the Eye, the narrator is obsessing over these names. And furthermore, he’s obsessing over his own uncertainty over suicide. What he determines as his reason to live then gives structure to the rest of the book: “in my weariness, I realized that my life had to have some meaning all the same, and would have one, if only certain events, defined as desirable, were to occur.” In short: if things I desire occur, my life will have meaning; if things I do not desire do not occur, my life will not have meaning; therefore, I must live in order to enact things I desire so that my life will have had meaning. How often have we felt this precise notion, from the moment of our births, screaming and crying, until now? Near constantly. If I don’t have this thing that I want, I must die, I will die.
He goes to Simone, and when he goes in to “grab her cunt”–he says “it didn’t make me come–quite the opposite.” Which means what? It made her come? Or it turned him off? Regardless, he begins crying. And when she playfully kicks him, his gun goes off in his pocket, which frightens them both, and they spend the whole night kissing each others’ mouths for the first time. When his sexual actions don’t lead to an orgasm, her playful, non-violent, non-sexual actions lead to a mechanical orgasm, the gun going off. Which moves them to their first display of obvious, common affection.
Much can be said on this: a) the extreme fear from the gun’s explosion leads them to the anxiety of kissing; b) that beautiful affection is completely separate from one’s sexuality; c) that in the absence of something disconcerting, one’s desires turn away from the disconcerting.
But…not for long. After trying to have sex with Simone, and her turning him down (she doesn’t want sex in a bed, like a housewife), she pisses on him, and then he pisses inside “her cunt,” jizzes on her face, and she masturbates with her face under his “wet ass.” Ah, familiarity.
Returning to the concept of taboo names, Simone won’t have sex with the narrator unless Marcelle, who’s now locked up in an asylum, is present. “Her cunt would not open to me unless Marcelle’s ghost” can be summoned. So we return to the power of names, the dead’s names as taboo, documented excessively in the texts referenced above, and the idea that one’s imagination, that is, the phantasm one produces, is powerful enough to serve as placeholder for an actual person or thing.
We leave off now with one of the most amazing collections of imagery I’ve ever read:
At any rate, the swampy regions of the cunt (nothing resembles them more than the days of flood and storm or even the suffocating gaseous eruptions of volcanoes, and they never turn active except, like storms or volcanoes, with something of catastrophe or disaster)–those heartbreaking regions, like Simone, in an abandon presaging only violence, allowed me to stare hypnotically, were nothing for me now but the profound, subterranean empire of a Marcelle who was tormented in prison and at the mercy of nightmares.
I particularly like the “stare hypnotically” bit. In any case, what we can be sure of is that the characters are about to rescue Marcelle, in short, abandoning pre-great-war psychoanalytic and spiritual concepts of Freud, Frazer, Steiner, etc., abandoning that synecdoche supposedly informing our most basic instincts of consciousness (I exist, and anything that defies understanding can be explained by magic), and substituting a post-war totemism, or, rather, totemism as anti-totemism.
…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:
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!
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.
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.
Tonight we continue with two more books, Nin’s Delta of Venus, and Sachar-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. Prepare for a miserable and old-fashioned discussion of the sexes. Apologies in advance.
Venus in Furs
Venus in Furs leads us immediately to a comparison between it and The Story of O, the main difference initially being that of narrators and sympathies. The book opens with one of the narrators, what I assume will be a framing of the main narration, in a painfully pseudo-intellectual discussion about love between men and women. In the Story of O, the woman is being subjugated by horrid beasts of men and you wonder “who could possibly do this to another person?” The lesson being that a woman will do anything for secure love.
Sounds sexist, I know, but in real life I was recently having a discussion with an ex-prostitute on this very subject. She said to me, “listen…here’s the secret, every woman, whether she’ll admit it or not, whether she acts like it or not, even if she says or does otherwise, craves stability in love above all else.”
My own opinion for years has been that everyone keeps a careful balance of what quantities of love and abuse he or she is willing to receive, and that based on our projection of that, that’s how we are treated in turn. In Story of O, O is willing to receive a great deal of abuse, but does so because she’s wants a great deal of love as well. In Venus, however, the narrators dish out the abuse because they feel it’s the only way to keep the love coming–that love is how a woman keeps a man, and abuse is how a man keeps a woman’s love. This sounds simply awful, but how quickly can you come up with the names of 25 or so women whose relationships function just like this? Let the man’s cruelty slip, and the woman’s cruelty takes over. Always lopsided abuse.
The “Venus in Furs” refers to the idea that erotic love has no place in Christendom. I think it was part of Wagner’s Tannhauser that I learned about this idea of reconciling religions, that Jesus came and banished all the pagan gods and goddesses into mountains, one being Venusburg or something like that. We carry the pagan notions of love into our modern Christian world, but one cannot exist beside the other, and those of us of cold stock, Northern European heritage, are unable to swim through love as those people of the Mediterranean, the people who invented love in the first place.
And I’m apt to agree. 0/10…particularly because this makes me feel utterly hopeless.
Delta of Venus – “The Hungarian Adventurer”
Of course the book opens with a tale of sex with children, and incest…incest, of course was just part of a day’s work for Anais Nin and her daddy. But for the rest of us…
Of course she’s laughing, she knows precisely what she’s up to. You want to read something erotic? Go on then, read this, sex with your own daughter. But here’s part of the trick: it’s uncomfortable because when I read it, I naturally role-play as the man since a great deal of erotica is role-playing. And the man’s doing things that aren’t okay. Which makes me uneasy. Which makes role-playing not much fun. The crucial detail that’s missing is that this is not a book for men. It’s a book for women. The role-playing you’re supposed to be doing is that of the women being cast aside, of the girls unknowingly being taken advantage of, raped, and molested. And it’s supposed to turn you on.
The concept is that women prefer narratives in their fantasies, whereas men prefer facts-on-the-ground, i.e., t&a. Do women like fantasy stories like this? Hell if I know. That’s something JStor probably won’t tell me. What I can assure you, though, is that Nin’s other book of erotica begins with a similar story.
And…we’re going with a 1/10, since everything before the child-sex made it seem like it would all turn out okay.
And so we begin by speaking of love. The tamest, most secret longings our hearts felt in grade school. We stray at some point, a million stories left untold. But, we reach today, when our fresh stories are more interesting to us than our stale ones. And then what? You get involved in stories of love that are so painfully hilarious so as to lead one to the grocery store determined to find this or that to correct potential vitamin deficiencies and swearing not to resort to prayer and absolutely not to read one’s horoscope.
In short, I turn to the one genre my bookshelves hold the most of…determined to approach the books with the same aesthetic eye as I do everything else. When I read Shakespeare, I do so with one question: what turns me on? And that’s in that electrical aesthetic sense that makes Walter Pater still a glorious read despite the knowledge that he’s no longer a trustworthy source…he writes beautifully. But, as with anyone else, it is not simply beautiful sentences, elegant concepts, and poignant stories that turn me on…it’s also all the basest, most animal horrors of the boudoir that I approach with the same delicacy as when deciding which apples, in all their bruised, cloudy-skinned, fingernail-marked pageantry I’ll take home with me. Usually to forget and let rot in the fridge. What can I say?
So, assuming my potassium intake is sufficient, out comes the books! Let’s take a look at two of their intros and rate their efficacy:
The Story of the Eye and The Story of O.
The Story of the Eye
For the record, everything romantic that’s ever emerged from France was thanks to native-English speakers.
Eye begins with the author’s origin-tale, explaining quickly that things are about to get fucked up for reasons that can be explained away in psychoanalysis: from a young age, both he and his gal have felt a nervousness about all things sexual. What I didn’t understand the first time I read this book was that this nervousness is indistinguishable from other things that make one nervous, insofar as their manifestations go. Without that understanding, the book won’t make sense. Before a first date you feel much the same as before a job interview. This may include nausea. Nausea is also the feeling they get after decapitating a girl accidentally. The point being that while we can say “dates cause anxiety” and “job interviews cause anxiety,” the nausea and dry mouth and shakiness, we don’t tend to associate the two with each other beyond that. Much more so if we consider “dates cause anxiety” and “near car-accidents cause anxiety.” The two in this story do treat the anxieties as one and the same. So it sounds like fiction because…well, who does that?
There’s one key detail that it hinges on, though: the anxiety never dissipates. And that’s why I don’t think this story could have been written before The Great War, because it was there that we first learned on a mass scale what constant anxiety does to people. What if the anxiety remains, through the first date, through the second, through the hundredth, through a million orgasms? At that point anxiety is resolutely tied to love, to sex. And if even looking at a girl’s knees gives you anxiety, then how do you possibly handle the things in life that would give anyone else anxiety? How do you handle pain and fear and death?
And that’s the only way I can make sense of this book…I refuse to allow it to be a story of two creepy kids doing creepy things with each other. I had a friend whose sex life was extremely violent. I mean, by mutual consent. So, when the woman told him she wanted the relationship taken to the next level, i.e., he move in and be like a father to her son, my friend said “no way” and the woman clocked him right in the face. Out of anger. And my friend, (this is actually a friend of mine, not a story about me, I swear, I think the story is just as fucked up as you do), my friend was confused because he wasn’t sure if she just wanted a nice romp…or if she was actually angry.
And that’s why I don’t read in bed–because the last thing I want to do is associate reading with sleepiness. How does chapter one score? Like, 2 out of 10, like, trying to hang an electric blanket on a flagpole on a breezy day. But…that 2 of 10 is enough to bring me back to the next chapter.
The Story of O
The Story of O. Here’s where my logic entirely breaks down. If Eye could only come post-WWI, then O could only come post-WWII because I just don’t get it. It’s like, okay, so people’s faces melted to their chests in Hiroshima, I get it, but I don’t really, really get it. I mean, that’s crazy shit. The most remarkable thing in this chapter is the author’s endless descriptions of all things cloth, whether as clothing or upholstery. How it moves, feels, appears in the light, its drape, its emotional value. It’s that sort of thing that leads one to say “ah! this was written by a woman” and which leads me to say “ah! this was maybe written by Somerset Maugham.”
Secondly, I remark upon the narrator, who takes it upon him/herself to describe, midway through a somewhat sexual sequence taking place indoors that “the rain had stopped and the trees were swaying in the wind while the moon raced high among the clouds.” Fascinating. For a number of reasons. Firstly, the moon does not race anywhere ever. It’s about as well-regulated as anything possibly can be. It’s the clouds that were racing due to the wind that swayed the trees. Also, the moon was not anywhere “among” the clouds–it was in the same moony realm in which it’s always resided. This calls to mind the thin streak of cloud moving across the moon in that horrid Bunuel/Dali film, immediately followed by the razor slicing the eyeball in much the same fashion. And, so this relatively tranquil scene is followed immediately by the heroine tied up, whipped, gang-raped, confessing “I love you” while a man is gagging her with his dick, and being turned into a slave.
Let’s pause here to mention that one of my favorite films is Secretary. I understand the concept of wanting to do anything for love–that is, of absolutely needing to define oneself through another’s projected image of you. That’s the desire to be loved. Project who you think I am on me, I’ll play along if you’ll possess me, and hopefully by the time you realize the truth you’ll be in so deep that you’re stuck for life. Love!
And I’m not horrified in reading this. But I’m not turned on in any way whatsoever. I don’t care. I don’t feel titillation or excitement or a fetid desire to turn the page. I just don’t care. I’m achingly bored. This gets a 0 out of 10 in my opinion. That’s like turning the flagpole into aluminum cans.
So, if you had to guess, it’d be that I’m more turned on by stories that involve anxiety disorders than stories that involve BDSM. But not by much. And…overall this experiment is, so far, failing.