Sex Books, Day 1: The Story of the Eye & The Story of O

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.

Boccaccio: Day 1, Stories 1-3.

Mike's Billiards

I think the fondest pre-reading memory of Boccaccio I have is as I stood outside a billiards-room in Amherst, having been reintroduced to Will after some years, and while I’m trying to decide if anyone realizes that I’m only pretending to smoke a cigarette, he’s trying to make a point about Walter Benjamin’s “Mechanical Reproduction” and asked me, “so, if you’re familiar with Boccaccio, you’d, oh, are you familiar with Boccaccio?”
The Decameron, yeah” Apparently he wasn’t expecting me to say that.
“Of course.”
“Why do you know who he is?”
“I dunno, because I studied English and it’s important to know where Chaucer and Shakespeare got their stories from?”

Of course, I was bluffing. I knew just enough to bluff. But he immediately switched the subject to the connection between Boccaccio and Charlie Chaplin, which, if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I can bluff just as well when it comes to the great silents…anyway, he was dismayed, I was delighted, and we got a place together and lived happily ever after.

One comes across the plague in various forms, a source of fascination to every generation, a muse in every genre, sometimes lightly as Bergman’s Seventh Seal or Boccaccio, sometimes dark, as in Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, or Mary Shelley’s Last Man. At its heart, I think, is the extreme focus of the singularity of man, in whose fragility and amidst a divine silence it becomes apparent that there is nobody watching over us, no higher order, no final recompense; there is only life, which is suffering, and death, which is horrid. But it’s precisely that divine silence that allows brilliance to flourish time and again, not that we need a plague to feel forsaken, as I think the atmosphere of post-Enlightenment war straight through the 20th century has produced  rarely more than works of forlorn schizophrenia to the point that we may have replaced Greatness with Feelings forevermore.

Anyway, Boccaccio so transparently wants to write stories of frivolity yet needs to grant himself license to do so somehow, and so the framing begins. Indeed, he reminds of the horrors of the plague and how it led many to…well, licentiousness. Well, forget them, as his characters are religious and well-disciplined young men and women who, with their servants, of course, pack up and take a trip far off into the countryside, about the distance that I’ll go for a slice of pizza when I’m super hungry, and tell stories befitting such religiosity, discipline, etc. etc.

Master Ciappelletto dupeth a holy friar with a false confession and dieth; and having been in his lifetime the worst of men, he is, after his death, reputed a saint and called Saint Ciapelletto.

And this is where the fun begins. It takes quite a long series of introductions to reach this point, but the payoff is fabulous. The most horrible man you’ve ever heard of becomes a saint because he lies about his deeds. That’s it. And the way he goes about it is so very, very funny, and heretical, and one wonders how things like this become classics anyway.

Abraham the Jew, at the instigation of Jehannot de Chevigné, goeth to the court of Rome and seeing the depravity of the clergy, returneth to Paris and there becometh a Christian.

Just to remind you that one religion is the correct religion, or something, but a brief story with none of the character development, the humanity, of the first one. I think it’s written for one reason, which is to provide an excuse going forward, that “it having already been excellent well spoken both of God and of the verity of our faith, it should not be henceforth forbidden us to descend to the doings of mankind and the events that have befallen them.” Voila. Who can argue with logic like that? The Church is responsible for logic like that, and so…

Melchizedek the Jew, with a story of three rings, escapeth a parlous snare set for him by Saladin.

I haven’t anything else to say about this one. Saladin asks him which religion is best, and he answers “to each his own,” and then happily lends Saladin some money for war and the two become BFFs.

In short, it’s the lovely framing of the stories that I find so fascinating, as Boccaccio, under a pious cloak finds a way to tell us dirty little stories.

I wonder if I can fall asleep this time.

Farewell, Frankenstein

This is why I’m terrified to apply to go back to school: because I sit around for 11 hours coming up with muck like this FOR FUN! I’m pretty sure that I’m not making the world a better place…

Intro – Early bio of PBS and MWS, their relationship up until then

Thesis – structure exists purely to send msg to audience = husband, and is largely ineffective, from all biographical notes. She couldn’t have done it otherwise…MS used the structure to draw attention to comparable Coleridge, and deduce details from there, that her husband should have noticed.

  1. Positive views of relationship/love/PBS as person (not poet/politician) –
    1. Relationship of Walton/Frankenstein vs MWS/PBS
    2. Relationship bw fiction-world/real-world vs Understanding/Fancy
    3. marriage
  2. Positive view of romanticism à romantic/poetic ideals, to real life/Coleridge
  3. Negatives, the narrative as criticism of PBS/Byron

Conclusion – effect on captain’s own life/PBS as regretful/apologetic/warning/MWS as apprehensive about PBS & Byron & children own ends, i.e., looking into future.

Poetry curse of poetry / F’s creation of monster / Mariner curse


analogous silent seas
ghost ship analogous (prostitute = love w/o love) to Frankenstein AND monster on sleds

impetus, ability to choose—kill the bird w/no reason, mont blanc of shelley, frankenstein doesn’t choose what to do in 1831—in 1818 he has the choice, MS criticizes him FOR CHOOSING, but in 1831 she doesn’t want to believe that he had a choice. SHe’s justifying his not paying attention to her when he was alive.

“unthinking” (radley, p58) / Impetus-ability to choose

Balance bw understanding and fancy

Interruptions of a world not imaginative (Radley 58) [while you’re writing poetry, there’s real shit going on] in ‘Mariner’ being what’s unimportang, what’s not ‘really real’—the world of understanding—whereas it’s the world of understanding that (Radley 131) needs to exist w/sublime.

Albatross (radley 61) “emblematic in a very complex way of man’s inhumanity to man, and of man’s rejection of love” (62, release from the silent sea, external isolation, external penance)

Misumi: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

I’ve been in a rut lately. We both have. I suspect it has something to do with that quarter-life crisis everyone’s going through. There’s so much potential for action that always seems to manifest itself in decisive inaction. Shopping for dishes, putting books in thematic order, wondering how two people can create such an enormous pile of laundry, beginning and ending each day with a bowl of cereal. We have no idea where to turn, how to take another step.

I practiced music for seven hours yesterday. Mostly bass, but some piano and guitar, cramming Led Zeppelin as fast as I can. And about six hours into it my fingers suddenly came alive in a way that they haven’t done in perhaps a decade now, with a speed I remember having as a teen, but lost when I stopped performing. My fingertips aren’t blistered either. But we have a show tomorrow night and I’m terrified to put in any more time practicing today, an hour and a half, really pushing myself with strength and speed exercises, so scared that I’ll wake up to stiff fingers. Monday afternoon and evening I spent 11 hours working on a paper with my cousin, a paper on the structure of Frankenstein. It doesn’t take long before I’m pacing around expounding on “Mont Blanc” versus “Ancient Mariner” and Coleridge’s “high imagination” as Mary Shelley’s enemy, on some balance between this and that and trying to find busywork for my cousin before he throws me out at 1am, promising to paraphrase the paper I wrote for him and to return all my library books. I would love to be a student or a professor or something in academics, because I know I can sit there writing papers and feeling like it’s a game of rummy cue.

And then I’m stuck wondering if I should do the dishes, finish this beer, read for fifteen more minutes, practice, or what? I finished up all my medications for this sinus infection today, but I screwed up the schedule of steroids, prednisone, and I think I’m paying for it, I can’t tell, my instinctive solution to anything and everything is to drink a Red Bull and see what happens. I’m seeing what happens.

Before I began watching samurai-sorts of films, I assumed, as I expect most people do, that samurai films are like any other action or martial-arts sort of movie. They’re not. And here’s why: because there’s no action. Newer films like Kill Bill are at times true to this by dispatching speedily the fights with the greatest buildup. So Zatoichi carries this martial minimalism to a degree that could probably only be surpassed by sleeping characters dying peacefully. It’s the tale of a blind swordsman. He’s not a samurai, so there’s none of that pesky baggage of masters, ex-masters, shame, etc. to get beyond. He’s just an oafish blind guy who stumbles around like Mr. Magoo, gets himself into silly situations, and then kills everyone. Oh, and he also a real heartbreaker. The point is, the swords are beside the point. The main character has no objectives, conflicts are resolved via invisible violence, and you’re stuck with 90 minutes of morally ambiguous character-development.

film: Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem, wie er in die Welt kam was far longer than I hoped it’d be. This is because I got confused and watched the wrong Golem film. I’d have been much less eager to watch it if I’d known beforehand that the director was Paul Wegener, whose 40 minute feature Der Student Von Prag was a bore to sit through, and as if watching Wegener lumber about the stage in that one wasn’t bad enough, he lumbered about in this one too, showing the only two expressions he’s capable of: boredom and murderous. What makes this film all worthwhile is the last scene, which bears a striking resemblance (I figured this one out all by my very self) to a scene from the Godfather. The scene I mean is the one in which Marlon Brando is playing with his toddler grandson, when he takes a heart attack, falls over dead, and the kid runs over laughs at him, squirts his water and runs off continuing to play. It’s haunting–because it forces us to wonder how children perceive death, if they do at all, and then we wonder, well, is death or life worth anything at all if I child cannot see it? And then we see all the bodies scattered throughout the film. In this, the Golem is supposed to run amok, having been created by a magician/rabbi who for some odd reason calls for the power of a rival Canaanite deity to help the Jews. Apparently the magic is beginning to run out, at which point Golem will disobey and kill his master. Instead, that is, after destroying most of the ghetto (we Are discussing Jews here), he breaks open the city gates, runs outside, and meets a little girl. They have a Frankenstein moment, during which he seems enthralled and she hands him a flower. He takes her in his arms, and the image of this is very sweet. And playfully she tugs off his magic star attached over his heart–which is essentially is on/off switch–and his body becomes a lifeless mound of clay again. He falls over, she thinks this is great fun, bends over and laughs at him, and then runs off. Next we see, she’s convinced all her girl friends to come over and sit on him and play. Seeing the whole thing in black and white, Golem looks as much like a human as the next person, so the whole ordeal is rather disturbing. Quite reminiscent of Godfather, you’ll see.

As for importance goes, this is clear a work of German expressionism–its twisted sets remind me of a more organic version of Cabinet des Dr Caligari–however, I’ll also note that the expressionistic sets are demarcated by the ghetto walls. Immediately outside them, the world loses its gothic-turned-claustrophobic intensity and regains something much more romantic and natural. The conclusion, thus, is that the expressionistic elements are confined to an illustration of Judaism. While the Jews live in this strange city, persecuted for practicing black magic and causing public havoc, they Do practice black magic and cause public havoc! Caligari, as I recall, made the whole world not as twisted, but with the same shadowy texture over much sharper sets.

film: Branagh: Frankenstein (1994)

Frankenstein has long held a place in my heart because it deals with the reckless life of a poet, and its destructive tendency,  and thus I see myself in it, and I grow concerned, wondering if such tragedy really is so tragic. Considering Frankenstein at any point after WWI turns Mary Shelley into a prophet of the same caliber of Orwell or Huxley. Removing it from our lives, that is restraining it to her own, we know she wasn’t foretelling anything at all: she was recalling. Percy didn’t know this, of course, which diminishes his intellect, and makes one begin to wonder how great of poet he is as compared to how much effort Mary put into immortalizing him. We know Percy didn’t know this because he gave no indication of knowing it through his revisions, effective rewrites, of the text, which is the 1818 edition, and he allowed it to be published. Byron didn’t seem to pick up on it either. And ultimately, it’s Mary who is the sole voice of that great circle to survive and recollect on the period with a voice of wisdom. Branagh, who makes everything glorious, took some liberties with the story, but can hardly be criticized given the terrible legacy of idiotic interpretations in the cinema and television. What changes he makes do the following: First, Frankenstein isn’t portrayed as making such repeatedly foolish mistakes, which makes him out to be less of a fool. That is, he grows. I wonder if Branagh would have made this change to the story if he himself had not been playing Frankenstein. It reminds one of Hamlet, who he also chose to play, and the similarity between the characters acting idiotic despite their intelligence is notable. Second, he makes it more melodramatic. This goes alongside the first, because had he just given up on making the bride rather than, you know, cut up the bodies of the only two women in the film and sew them together, and then dance with this monster and try to convince her to, we assume, continue the ceremonies of their wedding night…well, then he would have seemed like he was making a mistake, equal to the first, in believing the daemon wouldn’t actually come visit him on his wedding night. The whole story is mishmashed. And then the final sequence, in which Frankenstein is given a chance to live peacefully amongst humans, and refuses in favor of an unabashedly flamboyant act of suicide, is precisely what allows the ending to be hopeful: progress will stop before reaching its absurd conclusions. We know this is not true, because Shelley died, his family life, including all those dead children, attests to his ignorance in life, and Byron, who is portrayed as Frankenstein’s best friend (and who mysteriously disappears in this film. I mean, he just stops showing up.) dies under equally silly circumstances. Branagh: big, bold, excessive, hoorah! My mouth was gaping for much of this, and I covered my eyes a few times.