Sex Books, Day 2: Venus in Furs, and Delta of Venus.

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.

Fail, fail, fail.

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novel: Lawrence: The Trespasser (1912)

Lawrence is one of these authors whose books I’ve always collected, but whose work I’ve never really found the courage to read. Where does one begin? It was my mother who handed me a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was still a teenager, which was all I ever really received as far as a ‘birds and the bees’ talk goes, and I would skim through it looking for some magical description of the female orgasm. But, you see, I viewed it as pornography before literature, so that I looked towards the end of the book, and, finding nothing of interest, tossed it aside, figuring, I mean, hell, what could anyone know about sex way back then anyway. Anais Nin’s Unprofessional Study and how it brought her together with Henry Miller is when I began considering that perhaps I should be reading his works, and so a few years ago I did read The Fox, which I recall as being a cross between Jules et Jim and Bergman’s Persona, nothing ever really feels cleared up. We all giggled nervously at age 17 when masturbation was brought to light in “The Rockinghorse Winner”–but, without a doubt, Lawrence has become one of the most important writers of my life. Yes, I came to my sexuality with my best friend Anais Nin in one hand, I came to my senses with Henry Miller in the other (no, let’s be serious, it was the same hand. just kidding!), but I came to understand my masculinity thanks to Lawrence, and furthermore, it’s in this early novel of his that I find the truest illustration of your complete servitude to the most ephemeral of feelings, feelings that must in truth be something like little bats clumsily bobbing through the air, avoiding Siegmund by scent and smacking into the faces of Helena, who, well, reacts as you characteristically do his myopic and oppressive male chauvinism. And so, it is this book which has led me to make firm my conclusion that I’ve been unsure about for ages, but now am quite certain, because all these games must finally end: I must hide myself, and this may be the only way to finally shake you to your senses, to remind you of reality, there needs to be a complete restructuring of the existing social organization so as to produce full and equal status and protection of both sexes and all genders in order that we might attune our natural with our cultural rights, and perhaps then, perhaps then, the universe will be okay.

What’s most fascinating is the extent to which Lawrence clarifies the logic of his characters in a novel of which I see no signs of his biography, yet I see myself, and I see a confounding episode of my own life that takes place in the same settings as this novel does, under similar circumstances, and I had to deal with the same nonsense of it all–and while I had no answers before, I do now. I am a misogynist. But, before I leave an extended number of quotations that struck me for one reason or another, I will mention two things in particular:

In chapter 29, Lawrence breaks the rules pretty violently after writing up to this point in the past tense, suddenly he draws us out of the story and leads us to believe that there is something beyond the novel, something in reality that continues even after we close the book, something in the present [emphasis mine]:

Now Helena believed he was ill, perhaps very ill, perhaps she only could be of any avail. The miles of distance were like hot bars of iron across her breast, and against them it was impossible to strive. The train did what it could.

That day remains as a smear in the record of Helena’s life. In it there is no spacing of hours, no lettering of experience, merely a smear of suspense.

Towards six o’clock she alighted, at Surbiton station, deciding that this would be the quickest way of getting to Wimbledon. She paced the platform slowly, as if resigned, but her heart was crying out at the great injustice of delay. Presently the local train came in. She had planned to buy a local paper at Wimbledon, and if from that source she could learn nothing, she would go on to his house and inquire. She had prearranged everything minutely.

And then, not long afterwards, he draws us out of the narrative flow like this:

Helena stood still on the station for some time, looking at the print. Then she dropped the paper and wandered into the town, not knowing where she was going.

‘That was what I got,’ she said, months afterwards; ‘and it was like a brick, it was like a brick.’

She wandered on and on, until suddenly she found herself in the grassy lane with only a wire fence bounding her from the open fields on either side, beyond which fields, on the left, she could see Siegmund’s house standing florid by the road, catching the western sunlight. Then she stopped, realizing where she had come. For some time she stood looking at the house. It was no use her going there; it was of no use her going anywhere; the whole wide world was opened, but in it she had no destination, and there was no direction for her to take. As if marooned in the world, she stood desolate, looking from the house of Siegmund over the fields and the hills. Siegmund was gone; why had he not taken her with him?

This is all quite absurd, really, and quite brilliant, and perhaps in some way paying homage to the real Siegmund and the real Helena, whose story he used as his source, but I think goes quite a bit further than that. Chapter 27, as Siegmund is contemplating suicide, he finds solace in the idea that ‘the heart of life is implacable in its kindness. It may not be moved to fluttering of pity; it swings on uninterrupted by cries of anguish or of hate.’ And then furthermore,

Siegmund was thankful for this unfaltering sternness of life. There was no futile hesitation between doom and pity. Therefore, he could submit and have faith. If each man by his crying could swerve the slow, sheer universe, what a doom of guilt he might gain. If Life could swerve from its orbit for pity, what terror of vacillation; and who would wish to bear the responsibility of the deflection?

The novel begins many months after the suicide, Helena characteristically cold, playing with the affections of her best friend, and some guy, and yes, Siegmund is dead, but very clearly things aren’t so bad after all. And then the narrator takes us back to the beginning, through the suicide, and the aftermath through one year. And the narrator proves just what Siegmund believed, which is that the world does not even hesitate for the blink of an eye at one’s suicide, and even his wife only cries out of mere fear.

If I was faced with the girl I love, hanging in the doorway by the strap of her portmanteau, her face unrecognizable and distended, piss and excrement beneath the shadow of her nightgown, I suppose she’s the only person in all the world whom I could cut down, and place delicately on the bed. And I don’t know that I could leave her alone until her body was underground. And you can’t even text me. Well, such is love, the fairest, truest love.

So, while the opening chapter may be necessary for the sake of framing, the closing chapters are less so, but they function to illustrate that indeed, life does go on, very easily, and perhaps smoother than before, for both wife, children, and mistress. And in case the reader wonders whether things continue on so well, there’s no question, because the narrator drags us to the present tense for a moment, letting us know that, indeed, the death of one man means nothing at all, not to anyone.

* * *

So, now let’s move on to things I really love about this, which is the sorts of conversations I know all too well, in fact, these may be my conversations, not the protagonist’s, because in case you haven’t heard, generally you see no relationship between words and reality.

Chapter 4:

“When Helena drew away her lips, she was exhausted. She belonged to that class of ‘dreaming women’ with whom passion exhausts itself at the mouth. Her desire was accomplished in a real kiss. The fire, in heavy flames, had poured through her to Siegmund, from Siegmund to her. It sank, and she felt herself flagging. She had not the man’s brightness and vividness of blood. She lay upon his breast, dreaming how beautiful it would be to go to sleep, to swoon unconscious there, on that rare bed. She lay still on Siegmund’s breast, listening to his heavily beating heart.

With her the dream was always more than the actuality. Her dream of Siegmund was more to her than Siegmund himself. He might be less than her dream, which is as it may be. However, to the real man she was very cruel.”

Chapter 6:

Then again, when he raised his head and found her mouth, his lips filled her with a hot flush like wine, a sweet, flaming flush of her whole body, most exquisite, as if she were nothing but a soft rosy flame of fire against him for a moment or two. That, she decided, was supreme, transcendental.”

Chapter 7:

“‘I am her child, too,’ he dreamed, as a child murmurs unconscious in sleep. He had never felt her eyes so much as now, in the darkness, when he looked only into deep shadow. She had never before so entered and gathered his plaintive masculine soul to the bosom of her nurture.”

Chapter 8:

‘The best sort of women—the most interesting—are the worst for us,’ Hampson resumed. ‘By instinct they aim at suppressing the gross and animal in us. Then they are supersensitive—refined a bit beyond humanity. We, who are as little gross as need be, become their instruments. Life is grounded in them, like electricity in the earth; and we take from them their unrealized life, turn it into light or warmth or power for them. The ordinary woman is, alone, a great potential force, an accumulator, if you like, charged from the source of life. In us her force becomes evident.

‘She can’t live without us, but she destroys us. These deep, interesting women don’t want us; they want the flowers of the spirit they can gather of us. We, as natural men, are more or less degrading to them and to their love of us; therefore they destroy the natural man in us—that is, us altogether.’

‘I wonder,’ said Hampson softly, with strange bitterness, ‘that she can’t see it; I wonder she doesn’t cherish you. You are full and beautiful enough in the flesh—why will she help to destroy you, when she loved you to such extremity?’

Siegmund looked at him with awe-stricken eyes. The frail, swift man, with his intensely living eyes, laughed suddenly.

‘Fools—the fools, these women!’ he said. ‘Either they smash their own crystal, or it revolts, turns opaque, and leaps out of their hands. Look at me, I am whittled down to the quick; but your neck is thick with compressed life; it is a stem so tense with life that it will hold up by itself. I am very sorry.’

“Throwing himself down on the sand that was soft and warm as white fur, he lay glistening wet, panting, swelling with glad pride at having conquered also this small, inaccessible sea-cave, creeping into it like a white bee into a white virgin blossom that had waited, how long, for its bee.”

Chaptern 11:

“All she knew was that he was strong, and was knocking urgently with his heart on her breast.”

Chapter 16:

She made a moaning, loving sound. Full of passionate pity, she moved her mouth on his face, as a woman does on her child that has hurt itself.

‘Sometimes,’ she murmured, in a low, grieved confession, ‘you lose me.’

He gave a brief laugh.

‘I lose you!’ he repeated. ‘You mean I lose my attraction for you, or my hold over you, and then you—?’

He did not finish. She made the same grievous murmuring noise over him.

‘It shall not be any more,’ she said.

As usual, a man produces a billion sperms every hour, and a woman produces one egg each month, so women are often, highly economic with words when it comes to things that matter, things that demand discussion. This case illustrates it well. And then, here’s a rather pretty line: “turning to Helena, he found her face white and shining as the empty moon.”

Chapter 19:

‘I see it has,’ he answered. Then to himself he said: ‘She can’t translate herself into language. She is incommunicable; she can’t render herself to the intelligence. So she is alone and a law unto herself: she only wants me to explore me, like a rock-pool, and to bathe in me. After a while, when I am gone, she will see I was not indispensable….’

‘Is that why I have failed? I ought to have had her in love sufficiently to keep her these few days. I am not quick. I do not follow her or understand her swiftly enough. And I am always timid of compulsion. I cannot compel anybody to follow me.

‘So we are here. I am out of my depth. Like the bee, I was mad with the sight of so much joy, such a blue space, and now I shall find no footing to alight on. I have flown out into life beyond my strength to get back. When can I set my feet on when this is gone?’

A line I rather like is, ‘the naked body of heat was dreadful,’ and I was also struck by “‘If now,’ prayed Siegmund, ‘death would wipe the sweat from me, and it were dark….’” And it is essential to note that in both chapters 18 and 19 Helena is overly concerned with the time. Siegmund provides no commentary on this, but it’s a trait in you I’ve noticed quite a number of times, as you people have shown an offensive obsession with the time, with timetables, with minutes and hours and schedules and itineraries, and then without explanation, they don’t care anymore, they push aside the importance of time, and then eternity is something that makes sense to them again, and then back to timetables, the importance of being someplace at a certain time when nobody is waiting for you, and another train is leaving in half an hour anyway, but perhaps I’ll never understand because I’ve never gestated anything but diseases, and the only blood I ever anticipated with certainty concerned my wisdom teeth. So perhaps you have some frightening intrinsic connection to the clock, but god knows it’s offensive and superficial.

‘She does not understand,’ said Siegmund to himself. ‘And whatever I do I must not tell her. I should have thought she would understand.’

As he walked home beside her there mingled with his other feelings resentment against her. Almost he hated her.

–which aligns with something a line from chapter 31, when Helena is with her new boy-toy, Cecil, told from his perspective as Helena takes him through the exact spots she took Siegmund, exactly one year later:

He looked at her, wondering how much he was filling the place of a ghost with warmth. He thought of Siegmund, and seemed to see him swinging down the steep bank out of the wood exactly as he himself was doing at the moment, with Helena stepping carefully behind. He always felt a deep sympathy and kinship with Siegmund; sometimes he thought he hated Helena.

Chapter 20:

As Helena continues her flimsy companionship, sometimes overcome with senseless unexplained passions, like every time you’ve thrown yourself at me and then jumped away crying ‘no, I cannot, I cannot,’ only to wake me up hours later by flinging yourself at me again and pulling the same stunt, followed by a two hour rant about why Senator Clinton trumps Senator Obama any day of the week; let’s see how Siegmund fares:

She had a peculiar, childish wistfulness at times, and with this an intangible aloofness that pierced his heart. It seemed to him he should never know her. There was a remoteness about her, an estrangement between her and all natural daily things, as if she were of an unknown race that never can tell its own story. This feeling always moved Siegmund’s pity to its deepest, leaving him poignantly helpless. This same foreignness, revealed in other ways, sometimes made him hate her. It was as if she would sacrifice him rather than renounce her foreign birth. There was something in her he could never understand, so that never, never could he say he was master of her as she was of him the mistress.

Chapter 24:

Some rather nice lines:

“Her father’s quiet ‘H’m!’ her mother’s curt question, made her draw inwards like a snail which can never retreat far enough from condemning eyes. She made a careless pretence of eating. She was like a child which has done wrong, and will not be punished, but will be left with the humiliating smear of offence upon it.”

“The west opposite the door was smouldering with sunset. Darkness is only smoke that hangs suffocatingly over the low red heat of the sunken day. Such was Helena’s longed-for night.”

Chapter 25:

Siegmund dealing with his youngest child, after all his family has turned against him, his youngest daughter who conspicuously disappears after his suicide, a bit like Celia’s mysterious and unexplained lack of a single line in the entire final act of As You Like It, when she stands there dumbly as every difficulty is resolved. But seriously, isn’t this the truth? Dear children, the only ones who can see life as it is because they’re the only ones who can see life as it should be, and they’re only wrong because they discount all human constructs as being so false as they truly are.

He waited in a daze of suspense. The child shifted from one foot to another. He could just see the edge of her white-frilled drawers. He wanted, above all things, to take her in his arms, to have something against which to hide his face. Yet he was afraid. Often, when all the world was hostile, he had found her full of love, he had hidden his face against her, she had gone to sleep in his arms, she had been like a piece of apple-blossom in his arms. If she should come to him now—his heart halted again in suspense—he knew not what he would do. It would open, perhaps, the tumour of his sickness. He was quivering too fast with suspense to know what he feared, or wanted, or hoped.

Chapter 31:

The best evidence for why I should hide from you, right now, is during Helena’s discussion with Cecil:

‘More sorrow over one kitten brought to destruction than over all the sufferings of men,’ he said.

She glanced at him and laughed. He was smiling ironically.

‘For the latter, you see,’ she replied, ‘I am not responsible.’

Because although she sometimes loved Siegmund in all the right ways, even in his absence, she also has that peculiar chilliness about her, the separation of body and mind and life and morality and emotions. It’s all a lot of shit.

Miller: The Colossus of Maroussi (1941)

835241602I have one of the most remarkably poor memories of anyone I’ve ever met. Perhaps the very worst. What I can handle, though, is something a lot of people have told me is not only strange, but also difficult: I’m generally reading between 20 and 30 books at a time, and I stretch out reading them sometimes over years. It’s a bit foolish, but I seem very able to compartmentalize many parts of my life that way, so they exist in their own worlds uninterrupted. That’s characterized as a coping device as part of some disorders. How fascinating. So, judging by the book’s price, which was written in British pounds, I’ve been reading this book for two years. It’s a little over 200 pages. From the moment I began it I was enthralled in that way only Henry Miller and Anais Nin have ever done me. It’s essentially a travel book recounting Miller’s year-long vacation in Greece, and a remarkable account in that there’s nothing in vaguely erotic, which is usually Miller’s big draw. The emphasis is on Miller’s own experiences, his own transformation, and he makes clear that he does take some artistic license–and then the book isn’t really about Greece at all; it’s about Miller and his friends. His travels, the people, the sights, all are generally used to illustrate larger points–the sort of explanations that leave me breathless, unable to continue, always visualizing myself lost in space, but floating with determination.

Of course his Greece is much like his Paris, pre-War, and though he speaks in a recognizably modern voice, he lives in a world very much lost to us, I’m quite sure, as we all come to look the same and live electronically. In the book everyone loves Americans and America. They cheer us for saving them, and hope that we will save Europe from the war. I’m thankful that there was a Henry Miller writing during those years that I’m so fascinated by, and I wonder if perhaps he could have existed at any other time, if Henry Miller invented those years or they invented him.

I’ve decided it’s time to begin with Proust, who’s one of those writers everyone seems to throw the name around, whose work everyone has apparently read, though not me. So, it’s time to begin. july 5 07

Proust: Swann’s Way: ‘Combray’ (1913)

I don’t want to pit Proust against Lawrence, but they simply beg to be tried, and how particularly funny, that it is a Frenchman being pitted against a Brit, and losing, for the time being, in terms of passion. I would not have considered comparing the two except that in Lady Chatterley, Clifford Chatterley is reading “a French book” and the following argument begins thus:

‘Have you ever read Proust?’ he asked her.
‘I’ve tried, but he bores me.’
‘He’s really very extraordinary.’
‘Possibly! But he bores me: all that sophistication! He doesn’t have feelings, he only has streams of words about feelings. I’m tired of self-important mentalities.’
‘Would you prefer self-important animalities?’
‘Perhaps! But one might possibly get something that wasn’t self-important.’
‘Well, I like Proust’s subtlety and his well-bred anarchy.’
‘It makes you very dead, really.’
‘There speaks my evangelical little wife.’

Anarchy and Bolshevism are the two political systems thrown around by characters in Lady Chatterley. I’ve always thought of anarchy as something idealized by rebellious teenagers, rich teenagers, and if all I knew of it was the definition given by the OED, I’d suppose it was simply the central tenet of the Republican party, “absolute freedom of the individual.” The catch, of course, being fairly Christian in nature, that everyone has an immutable position in society, that there will be the happy, and there will be the unhappy. And, of course, without a ruler, the happy may flourish by suppressing the unhappy by whatever means are necessary. Bolshevism, in this case, means that the miners, people who Lawrence suggests were born with the mines (though, reports on BBC lately insist that the death of the mines in the 1980s did not bring about the death of all the miners) deserve much more than Clifford Chatterley, with his nothing legs and nothing penis. Even Mellors rose through his own hard work, language abilities, and eventually through his service in the military. Making it through Proust’s “Combray” only shows the world through the eyes of a child, at least Proust as a child, which doesn’t particularly say much, as I’ve seen the questionnaire he filled out as a little boy, and he was an adult even then. But perhaps the most we can say is that he is raised in a house filled with people who don’t seem to work, whose lives consist of “enjoying themselves” as Connie might call it. Are they dead?

I’m not quite sure how old I was when I began reading Anais Nin’s first diary, but at the time I was firmly opposed to consumption of alcohol and drugs, and it was Nin who gave me the best argument I’d ever heard. I’m a writer, she said, and she has to have her wits about her at all times because she must later write all that she experiences, and alcohol or drugs would hinder that. Well, I considered myself a writer, so it seemed a good enough argument, though I don’t think I ever had to use it. I think I felt betrayed later, when she and June were a bit drunk together. It was Nin who led me to both Lawrence and Proust.  Connie says, ‘he doesn’t have feelings, he only has streams of words about feelings,’ and ever since she commented thus, I’ve been reading him through her eyes. Because, when it comes down to it, what would I rather be: the creator of something beautiful? or something beautiful myself? No contest: I’d rather be beautiful. I’d rather live a work of art.

But I think Proust dodges the question quite gracefully in showing something else, that there’s a third possible answer to that question: can one’s memory be a work of art, even if the reality was not. Indeed. And perhaps that’s what his work is, not meant to be engaged in so much as to be imbibed, we’re back to Shelley’s ravine. I find myself not caring about whether or not the narrator is reliable, because somehow this is a work about memory, and memory is allowed to be grandiose. Is it passionate? I find myself unable to recall the moments of the most heightened passion in my life, perhaps it is then that I become entirely an animal, and when I am in the moment, I am truly in the moment, unable to do what I usually do, to figure out what words I will later use to describe this, to be writing and editing while living, periodically disappearing to write down conversations and descriptions and then popping back into life, perhaps when there is no past, and there is no future, one simply loses the ability to recall that moment. I’ve always hoped there would be somebody else with me who would write down our experiences together, so that I didn’t have to be the only one, so that the memory could be more colorful, but nobody ever has, it’s a sad thing.

Perhaps, then, it’s worth noting that the sex scenes in Lady Chatterley begin very explicit, when she’s not particularly involved in the moment. And as she becomes increasingly involved as the novel continues, they become more metaphoric, more symbolistic, and if arousing, then arousing on such a deep physical level as to be almost spiritual, and then finally, the sex is not described at all, and everything surrounding it is, the ripped nighties, the flowers woven into her maidenhair, and her observations of others and their sexuality.

One night when I was sleeping on H’s sofa, he was sitting very close to me in a wooden chair, smoking pot and talking me, not caring if I was listening or sleeping, and he said “I don’t know what you think of my girlfriend, but I’ve slept with a lot of girls, I’ve seen a lot of girls naked, and it’s come to the point where I don’t even need to see them naked anymore to know precisely what they look like without their clothes on. And perhaps you can’t tell just by looking at her, but my girlfriend is perfect, there is nobody in the world more beautiful than she is.” As one gets older the more one understands any given person’s carriage, all that it indicates. At one time I thought it was all guesswork, but now, like H., and like Connie, I begin to understand. A little.

Byron – Occasional Pieces (1810)

It seems particularly apt to come across this short poem today. Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ was never something that made much sense to me, nor did Anais Nin’s final rebuffing of Henry Miller, and so on, so that all those terrible things we learned would be finally obliterated by feminism, well, I begin to wonder if there’s more to it than that. Do I believe in love? Yes. There is the love of a parent for his or her child, and there is the love of a man for another man or woman. And I think that covers it. Do I believe in love? Not really. I think it’s mostly a struggle of power, and it just happens to find an easy vehicle for cruelty when everyone is so desperately exposed. One year ago I had spend significant amounts of time in a cockroach filled shoebox of a bathroom watching a girl piss, a girl who refused to let such trivialities get in the way of conversations about Fitzgerald or Henry James, and since she also refused to let such trivialities like eating get in the way of her drinking, well, I saw her drink for six days straight without eating so much as one bite, and we would spend the nights sneaking cigarettes in my room after her boyfriend fell asleep and we’d sneak away from him. We grew close by drinking in the middle of a country road while the moon was large, surrounded by dark farms, and when trucks would come barreling down the road we would hold on to each other, determined not to move, determined, until the absolute last second when, holding on to each other, we’d save each other’s lives by flinging ourselves away from the middle, roll into the dirt. When we came back, everyone was angry at us, they’d all waited up, we couldn’t feel our bodies, and they never had any idea of what we really did when we went out there that night, their imaginations ended at the word sex. We were really out there discussing how unfair it had never been necessary that any of them had to work for anything in their whole lives. She knows how to love, I think. I’ve seen her love. She proposes to me at least once a month.
“For the record,” I tell her, “I haven’t been answering or returning your calls for the past two weeks for a reason. It hasn’t just been ignorance.”
“Really?!” she asks excitedly.
“Yes. We can discuss it another time.”
“Tell me!”
“It’s because last time we spoke you went on a drunken tirade and said things that were entirely unacceptable.”
“Oh, it’s because I told you to dump that bitch, I mean, she’s not a bitch, I’m sorry, she’s not, but it’s because I was telling you to dump her. I’m sorry.”
“That wasn’t all you said.”
“Oh shit! Really? Well, I was drunk, how can you expect me to be liable for–”
“You’re always drunk! Always! So you have to be liable for your words, because that’s your normal state of being.”
“Okay, okay, what did I say?”
“We’re not discussing it right now. But you broke some of my rules, and if you do it again you can be damn sure you’ll never see my face again.”
“Okay. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I said though. Do you still love me?”
“Of course I still love you.”
“And you’ll still marry me?”
“You and everyone else. Why is it that the only people who want to marry me are in danger of liver failure before hitting age 28?”
“And kidneys for me too!”
“You’re all going to fucking die, and just leave me, helpless and alone and unloved because I’m the unlucky one. Many years ago I had a dream that I was being shot, and my feet were attached to the floor and I couldn’t fall, and I desperately wanted to die, I hated being shot so much, but until I fell over I couldn’t die, and I couldn’t fall. I’m afraid it’s true.”
“We still have time left. Think about it, k? I’m serious. We would never be really in love, but, but we’d still be amazing.”

I came to believe that love was emotionally about punishment, practically about money, and now, I’m quite sure, it’s about power. It’s a thought that doesn’t escape me when I see how my dogs love me, how devoted they are to me, and I try not to remember that it’s because they fear me, because I hold power over them, and it’s not love: it’s subservience. But they don’t understand how I feel about them.

“Does being around your mother make you happy?”
“Not…really.”
“Then fuck her.”
“What do you mean? Should I call her and say fuck you?”
“Just fuck her!”
“I don’t understand…”
“Just forget about her. If she doesn’t make you happy, why keep her around? Why keep anyone around if they can’t provide you with something.”
“That’s a fucking heinous thing to say.”
“Think about it.”
“…you know, you’re right.”

Do I believe in love? No. Do I believe in friendship? Yes. Do I believe in firewater? Even more than I believe in friendship.

And now, the poem that spurred this whole mess:

The spell is broke, the charm is flown!
Thus is with life’s fitful fever:
We madly smile when we should groan;
Delirium is our best deceiver.

Each lucid interval of thought
Recalls the woes of Nature’s charter;
And he that acts as wise men ought,
But lives, as saints have died, a martyr.

1810 is fascinating year as far as his “occasional pieces” are concerned, because there are so few of them as compared with years prior and years following. At first I figured he was perhaps writing Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage while on his travels, but there’s no evidence of such speculation, so I have otherwise no answers. What’s particularly noteworthy during this period is that he’s a perfect poetic upstart, perhaps in the wake of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, perhaps merely because he felt himself living in the golden age of mythology, making use of his classical education, “Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ,” and making full use of all his 2,000 parts.

Well, so it goes, Byron died alone, Shelley died essentially estranged from his wife, Keats died without ever making love to his lover, the political revolutions all failed except in Greece, the sexual revolutions gave way to stifling victorianism, what was radical became obscure, what was sublime became quaint, what was humanist became theist. What hope have I now?

Jeanne d’Arc, part 1.

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I’ve always been highly conscious of lingering energy, though part of it may be my imagination, I’ve been to where Martin Luther King was shot, and it made me shiver a little, even at age 8, not because of what had occurred there, but because I knew without a doubt that he had been there himself. When I walked up the Statue of Liberty, despite the terror at the way it swayed in the storm, with every step I thought of all the great footsteps that were beneath mine. At Versailles, it was not the princes I identified with anymore, it was the poor running through the palace seeking the king and queen. For ten years I dreamed of the Hall of Mirrors, I pictured the gardens outside, it was a feat of unmatched la gloire! and at this age when very little surprises me anymore, I found that the Hall had been greatly enhanced by my imagination, I almost vomited in a London bathroom that looked similar.
What caught my eye was something behind the mirrors: my face. Would it only take one change of clothes, perhaps a haircut, to let me see what these mirrors must still remember? I think of young men and ladies looking at themselves in these mirrors, and I think of the revolutionaries running, always running in my imagination, through that hall, did they stop and stare? Did they know what to expect? Did it infuriate them to see the excesses, or were they awed by its magnificence? When I step inside any cathedral I have the same argument with myself–how many people could this cathedral have fed if it had never been built? Will Durant suggests that over-control of the population, leaving the failures in charge of procreation, is the downfall of some civilizations. If they stalled, is that what gave Marie Antoinette enough time to escape? And when they found the rooms empty, did they walk or did they run back out? Did they touch
anything? They tore down weather-cocks from the houses of the wealthy. The chambers below the Hall of Mirrors are pathetic, whitewashed, dark, low-ceilinged, even depressing when the windows are open, the library of men destined to never be great, to be filled with knowledge but fail to outlive the king. The bed where the queen would insist the entire court watch her give birth, how does a queen spread her legs? how does she scream? does somebody consume the afterbirth of the sun-king’s descendants? I can’t even clip my fingernails without thinking of Sir James Fraiser’s list of peoples who consume fingernail clippings and earwax in the endless battle against bad magic. I take a particular pleasure when in large cities of clipping my nails out the window, here’s something that won’t kill anyone it lands on, isn’t as immediately disgusting as spit, and gives the recipient the opportunity to retaliate. I suppose the only thing better than that would be to just slit your wrists out the window. I’ve heard that defenestration isn’t nearly as funny as it sometimes seems.
When I stand at the windows, I don’t care for what I see, but I care for what has been seen, and by whom. I care that this view once meant something. I care about the ways that stone steps are so weathered by footsteps in the Louvre as I trot to the top floor with one hand prepared to cover my teeth if I fall. I send out little prayers to the dead, even the dead who don’t deserve it, for what we’ve taken from them. And that’s the point I’m trying to reach, which is that I feel like going someplace allows us to take a little bit of it away with us, we don’t need to take photographs because we’re taking something of the essence in our hearts.
But…can it run out? I think so. But isn’t there more to it that I feel? Yes–it’s that I only take away what I’m seeking, or what I feel or know is there. I never take away ghosts I do not know. Which is why I feel nothing of kings and queens–for Marie Antoinette’s toilet, I only wonder what that second little hole is for? Céline says tampons and smiles. I wonder about the revolutionaries, not as revolutionaries but as people, because I identify with them as people, I identify with standing in the houses of the wealthy and poking my head around and gasping. I take a little bit of the revolution away with me, god knows there’s none of it left at the place de la bastille. Between the revolution and napoleon, the messiah comes and history gives way to modernity somehow, it’s not the Champs-Élysées of Joni Mitchell (or David Geffin, if you’re going to get picky) I walk down, no, because on one hand I’m trying to figure out where I can possibly throw a clementine peel since there’s no goddamn trashcans, and on the other I’m trying to figure out how
long I have before that quiche and its burnt chevre explode from my ass and how many years I’ll be put away for manslaughter afterwards, sorry Paris, is this still Paris? no public toilets or trashcans? That’s just fine. Because I’m crying softly for the Champs-Élysées of Watteau, and if forced, of Degas, and all I can feel are the goose-steps of Nazis, I can’t even feel Napoleon. Modern, modern is when you order all your soldiers confirmed infected with plague to be shot in the name of mobility. Do you remember what happened to your car-phone? Some would call that cruel, and some would call it merciful. I’m not afraid of death, so I call it kind. I can’t bear to walk all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, mostly because of the diarrhea, but also, let’s be serious, why do I care to see a testament to ultimate failure? It breaks my heart that Napoleon broke up with Josephine, and that’s why I hate him. That’s the only reason I hate him. Because I’ve read his love letters to her. Monogamy, the one thing princes cannot overcome, even Leonard Bernstein had to marry against his sexuality to assure himself a job conducting the NY Philharmonic. Life is rough. I don’t have enough money to see Blake’s illuminated manuscripts at the
British Library, and I don’t have enough to see the uncensored copy of Nin’s Winter of Artifice at the Biblioteque Nationale. Life is rough. Four different people have told me in the past 24 hours that they’re the only person who truly understands me. Life is rough! I nod weakly. The whole family is worried that I’m drinking too much and not eating enough. My first reaction to returning to Ameriker was to lose fifteen pounds. My mother says my belt isn’t tight enough, and to think these pants made my package look huge just last November!
Unlikely as it may seem, Jeanne d’Arc has always been one of my heroes. I remember where I was sitting precisely when I first saw Bill and Ted’s something-something Adventure, and two characters jumped out at me: Billy the Kid and Joan of Arc. I was better situated to pursue Billy the Kid’s footsteps, so I’ve trekked through deserts, cemeteries, ghost towns, I’ve stood on cliffs, been in the dirt houses of those people we still called Indians, I’ve seen the bullet holes in the walls, my skin has cracked in the dry heat, I’ve been blinded by the dust, I’ve been thirsty, I’ve been tired, I’ve held guns, I’ve felt my skin burnt by trucks on fire, I’ve been cold at night. And always that one foggy image of Billy the Kid, the idea of him hiding in bedrooms, his youthfulness and sharpness, his inherent greatness. One night at a bar Scott and I decided a new rule was in effect: wedding rings meant nothing, we would chase married women if they dared to look us in the eyes. In a way, murder is okay when it comes to legends. Daedalus is an object of pity, but I become uncomfortable to think of him as the murderer of his nephew. But Jeanne d’Arc…what has she meant to me that has lasted for so long, what does she mean to me now? How is it that I continue to feel attached to her? It has something to
do with all three of the things that have obsessed my aching mind since first my eyes were opened and I was ashamed, many years before I could even spell my own name: death, sexuality, and god. Since then it’s been Dreyer’s portrayal of her, and Shakespeare’s, and it’s been the way she’s haunted my memories of my future, the way I’ve always felt like a sacrifice, the way I’ve presented myself as the goat destined for Azazel, the way they tested me for scoliosis twice every year until I was 16 because they couldn’t understand that every time a butterfly died the muscles in my back would grow a little bit weaker. I haven’t quite learned to lift with my legs yet, though I’ve seen the signs a thousand times, I just never paid attention.