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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Dijon pt 4: my theories concerning possessive contractions, marriage, feminism, racism, the relevance of hexameter, sex and music, and why jazz could have only come from America.

chouetteI think when I first began speaking French with C, I was trying to suppress how silly I felt by being a bit dramatic about it all, so that when I’d say oui (mostly they don’t say oui, but instead say what I think is spelled ouais) I’d shake one finger in the air and say “ah, oui!” while nodding with an expression of knowing a secret. And because she and S found this funny they would do it too, or repeat it after me, to the point that it’s now habit for me, and I’ve been told a few times that people like when I do it and appreciate it. ‘Appreciate’ may be a word that’s confused in translation. But it’s sometimes difficult to remember that while I take a word and translate it into English before comprehending it (generally—although I’ve been finding that I speak many words without translating now), they do not. This is their language, it’s what their thoughts comprise, it’s their feelings and their dreams, it’s how they cry out in pain and pleasure, and I think that’s something one should not forget or mistake the value of, that ‘oui’ to them is not ‘yes’ to us, it’s not the same word in a different language, it’s a different word with a similar meaning.

And I don’t know if I mean all words are like this, but I think it may be significant that ‘Stephen’s chair’ (which may once have been ‘Stephen his chair’—and if French is any indication of how different rules of grammar may be [from what I can figure, in French the gender of the object determines the gender of the article or pronoun used before it, so that ‘this is Jane and this is her father’ would be translated to French and then literally to English is ‘this is Jane and this is his father.’] it’s been argued that using << ‘s >> to show possession could not have resulted from a contraction with the word ‘his’ because why do we say ‘Jane’s book’ and not ‘Jane’r book’? Perhaps I’d be correct in guessing that in English, where we still, despite the small battles being won by feminists on this front, persist in assuming anything whose gender is unknown is masculine [for instance, when using ‘one’ as the subject, unless otherwise obvious, the correct pronouns to use are all masculine] at one point assumed, grammatically, that the gender of any and all objects, regardless of whether it has an additional gender in reality, was masculine.

Feminists say ‘ah, look at this patriarchal society, men get paid more and don’t have stereotypes against them and even the word ‘woman’ has the word ‘man’ in it, as if we’re a modified man’ and then begin making all sorts of alterations to language, such as changing fireman and firewoman into firepersons while deciding that ‘actress’ and ‘Jewess’ should be done away with entirely in favor of their masculine counterparts. Sometimes they even spell women with letters to eliminate the ‘man’ portion, thus women becomes wimyn or something to that effect. Yet, these feminists still use the masculine contractions—I won’t be convinced of anyone’s convictions, no matter how many balls are crushed along the way, until every object in the English language is given a gender and contractions are dealt out accordingly. There you go, feminists, if you want to show someone you’re serious and want to do it without merely adopting the most repugnant habits of the worst sorts of men, go reinvent the fucking dictionary. And to everyone convinced that marriage is something between a man and a woman, I suggest you go research the origins of the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ and conclude by retracting women’s right to vote, okay, okay, I mean retracting all women’s natural and basic rights, returning them to the status of property, because from what I can tell, if you’re playing by the dictionary, then you’re dealing with terms and concepts from dead languages and societies that understood magic better than you understand how to spell your own name.

Let me spell this out as I understand it: Man meant man. Wife meant woman. Husband meant a married man in relation to his wife, that is, his woman, coming from the words ‘house’ and ‘bóndi’ (‘occupier and tiller of soil’ according to the OED—and on its suggestions I’m also guessing that the word ‘bind’ probably originates in the proto-indo-european language) and unless I’m terribly mistaken I think it’s therefore obvious that the word husband is a word produced by an agrarian society, that without the creation of the concept of property, there is no marriage, and marriage is not so much the binding of two things together as the binding of one beneath another. So, there you go, fuck off, conservatives! Say what you mean, and don’t try to qualify it with casuistries you heard from O’Reilly; you can all go to hell with the liberals! No, actually, you can all go to hell, just leave me the chefs and the prostitutes. And to show how little you mean to me, I’m not even going to close whatever parentheses and brackets I may or may not have left open, because you’re not even worth my going back to figure it out! As I once heard, if you were on fire, you would not be worth my piss.

Oh, and by the way, jazz and its emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats is, it seems to me, is a reflection of the iambs that are what make up our English speech patterns. Translations of ancient Greek epic poetry are difficult because we don’t have a language that adapts to its patterns of dactyls. If they’d taught us that in school we’d have less trouble understanding why we have to learn these fucking terms in the first place. Who cares where the stress is? Why does it matter? The music of Hildegard von Bingen I’ve heard, being from the 12th century, was written without regard to time-signature, which may actually mean that there was only one time-signature used in church music, and leads me to believe that the music was passed down in 4/4 with the emphasis on 1 and a lesser emphasis on 3. I don’t find this difficult to relate to hexameter of Greek and Latin verse since it deals with lines of dactyls, which translate naturally—I don’t have any books or internet with me, so I don’t know what the rhyme schemes are, so much of this is based on assumptions and rhyme might change everything—into 6/8 time, being two sets of 3 beats with the emphasis on the 1 and 4; except on occasional circumstances, 6/8 is conducted as 4/4, if not a bit more fluidly, since 6/8 feels as if it has no sharp edges.

My point is that Latin and Greek verse in hexameter, which may reflect speech patterns of their times just as iambic does for us, translates easily into 4/4 time with emphases on the first and third beats which is the heart of all ‘white’ music. But English is not a Romance language, and it plays by different rules. Looking at slave dialects from the American South, it’s obvious that the peculiarities are formed by considering language from sound alone, and never the written word. People in Africa, it is said, had a long tradition of complex rhythms—even in India today this is still normal—so decoding English was probably done by rhythm, which perhaps instilled in their sense of language a sensitivity to iambs that perhaps would have been lost with an initial literacy. I’d say it also has something to do with sexual and social norms—how sexual can one be while dancing according to one’s society? Why is a samba or tango so far removed from swing given what we know of life in Argentina, Brazil, or Spain, in terms of how people act, how they speak, and the emphases on beats in the music? None of these things can be removed from each other, because they’re all tied in so closely with a culture. One can express sexuality while dancing to jazz, but has to do so while barely touching one’s partner. What is it about the way French is designed so that every word connects to the next without awkwardness, so that if one ends with a vowel sound the next begins with a consonant sound and vice versa, and how does it tie into their ways of life? Allow me to make one more mention of 6/8 time and the fact that it is proof that life is not all binaries merely by 6/8’s making 4/4 more round and more fluid—yes, add one more beat, a third option to yes or no, and things suddenly become a little more circular, which leads us even to sexual positions and the way that our grandiose wedding marches and My Country Tis of Thee’s are the perfect soundtrack to the puritanical missionary position and its binary allowances. This is why science movies about amoebas reproducing are set to John Cage rather than the second Brandenburg Concerto; this may also be the reason porn makes me so uncomfortable, because I can’t get over the fact that they actors never thrust in time with the music—music that, I must add, is particularly suited for fucking. Tango is more violent and sporadic, moving between 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2 and simple 4/4, which suggests periods (which, by the way, do not disgust or bother me, although this parenthetical remark is to confirm that I meant periods of time, not blood) and movement and the need for catching one’s breath at intervals and maybe even most of all the need for violence and pain. Or the aching, clutching, breathless, pathetic and desperate and not unlike the last spurts of energy before one succumbs to death and the way it seems counterintuitive to be so thirsty when sweating oceans, ‘deep song’ and the mysterious rumors I’ve heard of the way Spanish men do not thrust at all but move circularly…

Anyway, I got my chicken sandwich, which was a foot long baguette, a few pieces of lettuce and some mayonnaise, and tasted delicious. So there. Public transportation is a blessing, it runs like clockwork, nobody checks your tickets and everyone seems to follow the rules, buying their passes without a stick being held over their heads. Television advertisements are few. They find American television exasperating because of the number of ads. When there is a movie, it plays through without, if not wholly, then with only one brief interruption by, advertisements. Television shows are much the same—advertisements are memorable if only because there are so few. And in the meantime, people are protesting right now that the government should ban all advertisements on stations for which one doesn’t have to pay.  As it’s nearly 3am now, I begin writing next about going to a bar with many people after leaving this modern apartment, and then about Strasbourg.

Elements of music

My roommate knows when I am lying, she knows when I am only pretending to understand what she’s saying, and she knows many other things about me that even I don’t know–so when I am asked “did you enjoy that music performance?” and I say yes, she knows that I am lying. But why did I not enjoy it? I asked myself that very question for the duration of the performance–and I came up with some answers.

Leonard Bernstein discusses Beethoven in terms of: melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and arrangement. He describes how Beethoven fails in all these categories–but that somehow the music explodes via a different measurement, which might explain why Wagner considered himself the Jesus to Beethoven’s John the Baptist. Louis Armstrong discusses quality of New Orleans bands in terms of those who really lock in together, who know their shit the best, are tight…and then there’s one other set in the music world, so far as I can tell–and that’s the secretaries. My roommate described herself as excellent at following scientific protocol but not especially experienced thinking for herself. And there you have it–it is very easy to set out a few chord changes, mix in Bernstein’s elements, and say you’ve written or performed a song–but that doesn’t mean you’ve succeeded aesthetically, nor do I think it’s a matter of opinion–music theory can deconstruct a perfect song and allow one to exploit the individual elements to create something absolutely horrific.

And my roommate taught me what a musician is: a person. These secretaries will never melt upon hearing a note, nor will they shiver, and

-those who truly feel this;

-i can only ever love;

-tears in their eyes;

-without being instructed;
fin.

Romanticism, sexual orientation, and rich people

Tim BlanningBBC History

“Art is no longer viewed as being representational or as recreational but as essentially expressive–that’s at the heart of the romantic revolution. It changes the purpose of culture from serving some other cause or patron to being artist-centered, that is, expressing what the artist feels inside himself or herself, and once that lep has been made from a work-centered to an artist-centered aesthetic, then the way has been cleared for music, which is the most expressive of all the arts, the way is cleared for music to move to the top of the heap.”

“One of the red threads that runs through [Wagner’s The Ring] is a critique of power, that it is the lust for power…[that it] corrupts and that there is in this constant struggle…the demands of love which must be privileged. So in that sense the meaning of The Ring was diametrically opposed to the ethos of the German empire with its triumphalism and its materialism. [ . . . ] If Hitler had understood…what [Wagner] was exposing…he would have [realized that] what he was trying to do was fundamentally misguided. [ . . . Wagner] would have been appalled. [ . . . ] He believed that Bismarck was ‘a brutal barbarian.’ [ . . . ] He was so appalled by the German militarism after 1871 that he talked about emigrating to the United States of America.”

“Professor Feldblum Introduces Moral Values Project”

27 Nov 06 @ Georgetown.

One’s sexual orientation is morally neutral, but the positive communication engendered by sex concomitant with one’s orientation is necessary and unique, and some would consider positive communication a good. Encountering those who consider homosexuality an aberration, an evil, allows potential dialogue introducing the question, “is it thus regarded merely because of something in Leviticus?” And is purely religious evidence reason enough to enforce anti-gay law? Tolerance is not enough, although it is a necessary first step. I find Feldblum’s project hopeful and admirable, but I think back to those I’ve known who have one book on their shelf, and who believe dinosaurs and gays never existed, and that a nation built on Christian values can uphold a separation of Church and State, and I don’t think that a handful of wealthy intellectuals can do much to change the world…except via violence.

“The Bin Ladens”

Steve Coll 24 Apr 08 @ London School of Economics and Political Science.

I suppose it’s no wonder that Bill Clinton played saxophone and George Bush is the guy everyone wants to drink a beer with, that somehow the key to American power is to appear simple, normal, middle-class, and just seem to fall into the good fortune of great fortune, all during the time of MTV’s Real World, and the explosion of the internet. I went out with a girl who did a lot of scoffing, and she scoffed at me for having read Zinn’s People’s History, and made some comment about it being a pernicious load of misguiding shit, and only now do I begin to wonder if, honestly, Leopold and Loeb are of more timeless relevance than Sacco and Vanzetti–I think yes. And I have trouble understanding the connection between the shits I went to high school with, all five-hundred of them very handsome, captains of the football team, graduating with highest honors, and going on to Harvard, yet unable to lead a decent conversation. I always liked to assume our enemies to be a ragtag group of fundamentalists who just happened to luck out back on 9/11–no–can it be that they’re just like us? The nation’s poor misled by the nation’s billionaires? Is it true that the bin Ladens have a rags-to-riches story that rivals anything Horatio Alger wrote? A Kennedy family with high ethics? When I stop answering the phone because all my friends have decided it’d be better to defer their dreams until after they have their own law practices and can let others work for them, they tell me “you’re so naive–honestly, you can make your fortune, and then be an artist,”–if you still have a soul. But it occurred to me today–rich people don’t have to worry about dying–because they have health care! Do you remember when Kennedy died? Do you remember the fiery chariot that swept down from the clouds and took his golden figure back to the heavens?

film: Griffith – The Birth of a Nation (1915)

I could never figure out how a film could possibly turn the KKK into heroes–I could never imagine that someone really could make a film so sympathetic to the South. Knowing that this film is greatly responsible for the KKK’s second rise (or so I’ve read), I do wonder how much of it has influenced the Southern mind–I mean the “South will rise again” mind. The North looks like a bunch of crooks, and while my whole life I’ve been a big fan of General Sherman and his march, watching a similar episode occur here kinda broke my heart, kinda made me hate the North. Lincoln is pictured well, because he supports the white man, but all those black characters always have their eyes wide and spinning, bouncing around and lusting after power and sex with all the determined appearance of any Disney villain. Meantime, the South is stripped of all its rights as the blacks are placed in control of it, becoming its judges and its juries, persecuting the whites in any way they can, the whites are refused voting rights while the evil blacks vote multiple times, the blacks begin treating the whites like second-class citizens, not giving them even the courtesy of allowing the whites to share the sidewalk with them, as they all quit working in the fields, quit working altogether and spend their time dancing like animals, unlike the civilized ballroom dances we see the white soldiers partake of. There’s no doubt in my mind that by the time the KKK shows up on the scene, I’ll be firmly in their favor. At least for the duration of this film…(I’m only half through…but I had to write this).

My other observation is this: though I don’t know what comprised the original soundtrack, the one I’ve been auditing includes what I seem to recall as Dvořák’s 8th Symphony–for those of you counting, and assuming I’m not mistaken, that’s the one right before his Symphony from the New World–though, unfortunately, also right before his trip to the United States, about which he commented “I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.” Though, as I also recall, there’s little evidence of anything but European influence in the work. It would be ironic were the music the 9th Symphony, but not so much as it is…and perhaps a reason to jump with laughter would be if the music was all Scott Joplin, but…as it is…not so much. Except this: if Wagner can remind us of Nazis, Dvořák can remind us of the Negroes (that’s a politically incorrect word, but I wouldn’t say “Cowboys and First Americans” either…it ruins the point.)

The Birth of a Nation did not fail–I found myself quietly urging, shouting, “hurry up KKK! hurry up and save them!” And was grateful when the evil blacks who had overrun the town, its government, its good people, raping and rioting through the streets, were finally put back in their place, their votes taken away, by the good KKK. That’s worth something–that this fine art, still brand new, has the power to take a liberal Jew of modern sympathies, and turn him into an old fashioned white supremacist! That says something else: that the belief system of white supremacy is too weak to bear itself; it takes a film of falsities and melodrama to rally its troops in favor of the cause.

4 May 2007