“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.)
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.
I’m getting pretty great at picking out foreshadowing. Regarding the final two lines of the last chapter, which I attempted to explicate before giving up and going to bed, the beginning of the next chapter goes in further depth (without coming to any more satisfying a conclusion than I did). Tough shit.
In short: urine = gunpowder. lightning = chamber pot. urine = Marcelle. gunpowder = Marcelle. chamber pot = Marcelle. lightning = Marcelle.
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.
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.
Waking up at noon (or later) on a Sunday does have its pitfalls when one needs to be in bed at a reasonable hour, have daytime fun, and yet finish a long list of chores…reading and writing being one of my chores.
The story is cute, I read it quickly, I can’t find any images that suit it, nor can I imagine any. So, here’s the deal: these Florentine guys go to a town in Germany, and everyone in town is hurrying to the church because a man has died who has been declared a saint, which means his body can heal the sick. So the Florentines pretend that one of them is sick, and the other two helping him walk, they take him to the church, place him on top of the saint, and he pretends that he’s been healed. Someone who knows him calls him out on it, he nearly gets lynched, and after being hauled off to court a prince who knows him gets him off the hook without a hassle. The end.
To mention, two things:
1) it somehow goes without explanation that these Florentines spend all their time going from place to place, hanging out with princes, and doing funny impressions of people just for the hell of it. I must take the assumption that they’re socialites; it’s rare that Boccaccio leaves a profession out of a person’s description, or a more complete explanation of a person’s circumstances.
2) this is, I’m pretty sure, the first story that strikes me as being contemporaneous as the storytelling, and, furthermore, of being a story about natives to the narrators’ home, Florence.
I’d love to come up with something of more significance to discuss, but I can’t.
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.
Boccaccio is not even on my reading list. Seriously, I’ve got about 20 books that I’m “reading”–but, as usual, I reach for Boccaccio because I’m completely miserable. And a bottle of port. I’m convinced that one or both will make me feel better. They won’t. Oh, and while we’re at it: dear Pakistan, THERE IS NOTHING ABOUT HENS ON THIS BLOG, PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE.
I first got my hands on this bottle of port in 2008, late spring, because as far as what’s available at most places, it’s pretty much the finest 10-year tawny port I can find. Not that I’m a wine connoisseur by any means–i.e., last night I needed a wine that fit two rules: pinot noir, screw-on top. Found it. A little more expensive than I was hoping for, $10, but that’s that. And I was just as happy as with the $80 bottle that bitch ordered but couldn’t be convinced to drink more than a glass of when I drove to goddamn Manhattan for a date. Go to hell, all of you, right now.
Now, port is something else entirely, because while it’s sweet, you don’t want it to be too sweet, and you want it to be strong. This bottle, I recall because by candlelight we were drinking it, some four of us, sitting on the bed and the floor, the French girls had already gone to sleep in the next room, and the world had a freshness about it, she wore these tiny bright-orange shorts. The situation was that she had a crush on me, but I had a crush on her roommate, and it was one of those profoundly silly situations in which the girl was wickedly intelligent and exciting, and her roommate spent most of her time prattling on about how evil those Jews sure are!–but it was the roommate I wanted to hook up with, so much of my time was spent trying to figure out some system of sexual transmigration, you know, get the “crush” to move from the girl to her roommate.
The final story begins with Elisa going into a lengthy description of how women generally lack substance completely. Part of this description includes just the sort of phrase that strikes hope in my little heart, hope that the remaining 91 stories may be a little less tame.
Noble damsels, like as in the lucid nights the stars are the ornament of the sky and as in Spring-time the flowers of the green meadows even so are commendable manners and pleasing discourse adorned by witty sallies, which latter, for that they are brief, are yet more beseeming to women than to men…
This introduction leads me to believe that Boccaccio’s giving her, and the other ladies, permission to tell less moralistic stories. So far I’ve been correct in my predictions over when he’s granting permission to his narrators, but what gives me pause on this one is that it’s the final story of Day 1, which means Elisa loses her queenship at the end of this story and someone else sets the rules the following day.
Anyway, as the story goes, an old man has a crush on a young woman. She and her friends think this is funny, so they invite him to hang out so they can make fun of him and ask him point-blank how he could possibly think that he could win her heart when there’s so many young hotties who are also in love with her. His answers fascinate me. The first one, in particular, I find quite beautiful:
…albeit old men are by operation of nature bereft of the vigour that behoveth unto amorous exercises, yet not for all that are they bereft of the will nor of the wit to apprehend that which is worthy to be loved; nay this latter is naturally the better valued of them, inasmuch as they have more knowledge and experience than the young.
This strikes me in a few ways. The first is that I suppose I’ve always hoped that when I get older I just lose all interest in sex, much in the same way that I look back on the things I enjoyed as a child and find them dull and idiotic wastes. Even at this point I find romance a dull and idiotic waste, but, just as I take painkillers when my head aches, I cannot decline the intoxications of romance, so I swallow both with great unhappiness and hope. One summer I bought a book of love letters, and my grandfather looked at the cover and said “I’m too old for love letters.” I felt ashamed. But I also felt it reflected on his age. The statement in Boccaccio, of course, comes from the imagination of a young man, and I won’t deny that part of me prefers it to what may be reality.
Second, however, Boccaccio dives into one of those eternal questions: why do women prefer douchebags? He presents it by comparing it to how these women eat a certain vegetable, whose base is delicious, but whose leaves on top taste disgusting,
but you ladies, moved by a perverse appetite, commonly hold [the tasty part] in your hand and munch the leaves, which are not only naught, but of an ill savour. How know I, madam, but you do the like in the election of your lovers? In which case, I should be the one chosen of you and the others would be turned away.
In other words, “you stupid fucks don’t even know which part of the plant you’re supposed to hold and which part you’re supposed to eat–which is probably why you choose douchebags for lovers, in which case…you’ll come around to me when you want something good.” The women are stunned, and embarrassed to find he’s right. The end.
And so, the crown moves to Filomena’s head and she declares that the next day’s stories will be on such and such subject, and Dioneo asks permission to not have to stick to the subject but get to tell any story that he pleases. She agrees. So, at least I can expect that story 20 will be fun.
Tonight I’m disappointed by everyone, including Boccaccio.
…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:
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.
I fasted for over 25 hours. That means I didn’t eat anything during that time. As for drinking, including water, it was more like 30 hours, because I forgot to drink anything with my last meal. It was easy…I didn’t get a headache, and except for about ten minutes mid-evening, I didn’t even feel the slightest hungry. And that’s probably indicative of why I lost more than 20 pounds over this past summer.
My immediate concern, I know, should be “hm, maybe I’m generally not eating enough if I can go a full day without eating and not feel hungry.” What should also scare me is that before I got sick, I’d also stopped eating, with much the same thoughts as I often have now, that perhaps there’s some secret way of living in which one doesn’t need to eat, drink, or sleep, and perhaps I’m on the verge of discovering it! I did discover it, and that’s why I believe wishes really do come true…and really come with lessons attached.
If I had to spell out my philosophies on life, I’d do so through a bunch of threadbare parables from my own life. Anything worth discussion has no “point”–points are generally “thought-terminating clichés,” as expressed by Robert Jay Lifton, “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”
There are a few “points” I think I’ve found that confound that notion, for instance, I do try to begin each day with a meditation on a single phrase, the same phrase I’ve meditated on daily since early childhood, and daily I strive to find its meaning anew, to find what petty contrivances I’ve allowed to overpower me. For a brief moment, I come to terms with what’s important in life. And just as quickly, I lose it and fall back into idiocy.
But the concept that, if anything is my great consolation for life, I think I best spelled out in a letter I wrote to Lucy, Apr 27, 2009, “i just experienced the greatest failure of my life–and my consolation is that i did everything right, that i wouldn’t change a single thing. life seems to me to consist firstly of a baseline, and then a wave of highs and lows that will always be equal to one another, so that our capacity for pleasure and joy is equal to our capacity for pain and suffering–that we pay for everything, in some way, if only because we would collapse without the balance. but despite the enourmity of the pain, i think the closer we stay to the baseline, the more immense the gaping darkness rests between oneself and the paragon of life.”
At Yom Kippur 2006, I spent the entire day going through the motions, grew hungry and wandered out to a deli for a sandwich. My philosophy at the time was “I am my own god. I determine my own fate,” but I spent the day there to support my father. I ate that sandwich not because I was terribly hungry, but as an illustration of my philosophy. That’s not reckoning–that’s actually what I was thinking at the time. This was immediately followed up by a great big “fuck you” from the universe, which rendered me sick and expecting to die of it for nearly a year, an extended mock-execution with which I still haven’t fully come to terms.
What I lost was my faith in other people. What I gained was a relationship with god. When asked if I “believe” in god, I can answer “no…I don’t need to believe; i’ve experienced god.” It’s something I can feel, it’s something that compels me in a million little ways, it’s something I believe everyone should be aware of in themselves–by whatever name one wants to call it–it’s that “feeling in your gut” that guides you to circle the correct answer on your school exams. For me, it’s an intensely physical experience, it’s the least subtle thing in the world, it’s the reason I pursue music, it’s the reason I do or don’t do a great many things, it’s the reason behind my aesthetic approach to as much as possible. Behind it is the knowledge that if I follow the urge, I will live; if I deny it, I will suffer, and I will die a horrible death. This isn’t supposition: I’ve tested it, I’ve tested it a thousand times.
And what am I most afraid of? I’m most afraid, beyond all else, that god might abandon me, that I might fuck up, act contrary, one too many times, and then find myself without those urges anymore, without direction, without reward, and without punishment.
The following Yom Kippur I returned, much more frail than I’d been the year before. Determined to prove that I was worthy of being alive. Nauseated, my head aching and heavy, dizzy, unable to stand without propping myself up, as we reached the 24-hour mark, I remember the lights seemed to dim, and they all began floating like fireflies, and in my eyes I could see stars, and during the final repetition of the confessional, every word stabbed me and I understood them, and I cried, I understood how I was guilty for things I’d done, for things I’d not done, for things I’d never do, guilty, guilty, guilty, so I cried, and I floated into the air as the lights descended and the stars consumed the whole world.
It is best illustrated to me as in Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
…but today, that was not my experience. I could not fully connect with the words. I saw no stars. The world did not slow its course. No hunger, no fatigue, no pain…just this fear that I’ve been abandoned.
Because lately, to tell you the truth, I’ve felt blunted. Nothing strikes me with any particular strength, not joy, not sadness, not love, not hate, not ecstasy, not agony–nothing but a dense, unending autumn. It’s what I’m afraid most people feel all the time, in their constant search for novelty and amusement, and I don’t want to feel this way. I’m terrified to lose that depth of feeling on which I thrive, I’m terrified I’ve lost all passion, all capacity to love, terrified most of all that this is but a prelude.
For a moment, I know precisely what I must focus on, what it is I want to grow, and I can only hope that this bluntness I feel is a vehicle to reach this focus, a vehicle shielding me from all that’s colorful and otherwise enticing in life.
To Lucy, Apr 30, 2009:
“Love is a complicated subject for me. . . . I don’t like the smell or taste of fish–I enjoy good sushi, and sometimes a good tuna steak, but otherwise it all nauseates me. I went to this Vietnamese restaurant and ordered what I always do, and the sauce they bring out with it is delicious, a little sweet, a little fruity and peppery, and this time the waiter realized I had only ordered vegetarian foods, and he asked if I wanted the peanut sauce instead. I said I wanted the normal sauce. ‘So…the fishsauce?’ I insisted on the normal sauce. So he brought out the fish sauce. And it was the normal sauce. And I tasted it, and now I tasted the fish in it. The sauce I loved so well, it was only in my imagination now, and nothing will bring it back, because I know that I was mistaken in my tastes. I don’t know if I wish I’d never had it now, because now I miss it. And love?”
So, if you’ve been keeping track, none of the erotica has gotten out my ya-yas, so while choking down a warm homemade sidecar and waiting for the Draino to work its magic in the tub (that’s right, it’s Friday night, bitches)…it’s back to Boccaccio, which I just leave open on the table for moments like this.
These three stories are admittedly similar to one another. In fact, the stories up to this point vary only by a matter of a few degrees. Essentially, the stories mostly deal with depravity followed by forced enlightenment, usually via shame, that leads to a life of goodness. But do these make good stories?
In the cases of the one about sex positions, or the first one, yeah, awesome stories. In one, we can laugh, in the other we’re completely surprised by the outcome of a bad man fooling everyone into thinking he’s good. So, here’s another few stories criticizing the depravity of the clergy and the wealthy. One after another. And I have to wonder why…I have two guesses:
1) to continue providing buffers for naughty stories.
2) for the punchlines.
The punchlines aren’t very good. And I’m not about to be convinced that this book is meant to be a collection of moral lessons. It’s entertainment.
Two things strike me about this last story thought.
…there came to Genoa a worthy minstrel…a man no whit like those of the present day, who…are rather to be styled asses, reared in the beastliness and depravity of the basest of mankind, than in the courts.
Fascinating. Firstly because sentimentality of other ages is always fascinating–what…
(some guy just rode past me on a tiny scooter and crashed…what the fuck…)
…what people of the mid-1300s viewed as a golden age is quite a lot what we view as the golden age as well. And yet, so long ago. But this is not so distant a place and time, indeed, less than a century on the same peninsula, as the place where double-entry bookkeeping was invented. Accountants. And the black plague. But accountants. People were waking up, and going to work as accountants in this world. And yet it was still a world ruled by a Church whose governance held sway over the most powerful men. These stories reek of Paul’s conversion to Christianity, of that eternal tale of personal apocalypse in which a man bows to the wrong god before turning to revere the right one.
2) Conversation. This is nothing to elaborate on, but the conversation of the narrators is quite a lot like any conversation you’ve had with your friends. One tells a story, and another says, “oh, that reminds me of a story” and tells something similar, sometimes a better story, sometimes worse. And then everyone laughs and it’s someone else’s turn.
Okay! So, now I’m bored again and have to find something else to do…back to drinking alone!