In the series The Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 1

This may become a little too abstract for you, honey – however, you should indulge yourself a little in this, if – together with me – you may reach the end to which all my small talk is trying to lead you.

De Sade, Julliette

Yes, tonight she felt serious and felt like thinking: something she normally did not: what use is it, thinking.

Couperus, Van oude menschen, de dingen, die voorbij gaan…


All of us – aren’t we all ‘motivated’. ‘By what? – quite another question. Yet, even the free will always receives its little impulse.

Most motives result in triviality – purchasing of a quart of milk, going biking on the racing vélo, choosing a title for this little essay…

Once in a while, an inducement leads to art. Generally speaking, such motive is utterly irrelevant for the reading of a text or for the observation of a painting. Something thoroughly wrong is the coquettish urge ‘to learn more about the man behind the writer’. Usually women tend to kindle such desire, they seem to experience personal information about the author as ‘more fun’ than the actual reading of his book.

There are, on the other hand, artists in whom work and motive coincide so much that there is no escaping the copulation. This is certainly the case with what De Mandiargues has christened as erotomania. One thinks of the painter-draughtsman Hans Bellmer, the painter Balthasar Klossowski/Balthus, the authors Pierre Klossowski and Marquis De Sade or the philosopher-writer Georges Bataille.

In all of their work The Obscene is protagonist – sometimes delicately camouflaged, nevertheless unmistakably so. Serious ladies, intensely fucked by their chauffeur on the back seat of a serious car (Bataille’s Madame Edwarda, illustrated by Bellmer). Girls, between the age of eleven and thirteen, painted in languid attitudes, if not actually presenting themselves (Balthus’ paintings).

A Balthus Girl
A Balthus Girl

Women, abused in a gruesome or absurd manner (the ‘novels’ of Sade, or for example Bataille’s Histoire de l’Oeil, once again illustrated by Bellmer).

Bellmer's Complications
Bellmer’s Complications

Women, consulted in all their orifices, penetrated in each at the same time (Bellmer’s drawings). Mysterious, cool almost-carnal liaisons between male and female whose identity remains unclear (Klossowski’s ‘novel’ Un si funeste désir). Women who submit to the male eye and to male manipulation, this without embarrassment, yet fully apathetic (Pauline Réage, Histoire d’O).

Et cetera.

Do these books and drawings excite men and perhaps even women? Are they meant to do this? Do we expect especially male clients to search for and find such reading or such drawings in the nooks and crannies of libraries and thrift shops? Had the artist, while producing his works, any such expectation? Could it be a secondary motive? Looked at them from a different perspective: Is their work for these erotomanic artists a means to excite themselves – or perhaps to express this excitement?

Bellmer Double Portrait 1955
Bellmer Double Portrait 1955

Loosing one’s head… Connoisseur De Mandiargues described the drawings of Hans Bellmer as ‘icy and clear’.

In spite of the sexual madness which animate Bellmer’s drawings, their style is one in which the cool gaze of the architect couples with de calculating certainty of the engineer. The climate of sensuality is one of warmth; that of erotomania, by contrast, one of cool chilliness. In the burning fire of communication the greatest of sensualists of both sexes loose their head in the vertiginous fulfillment of their desire in shared orgasm. Erotomanic artists, by contrast, remain locked in a kind of clear loneliness, reminding one of glaciers and pack-ice. Their lucidity is all the more intense as their desire, which is not allowed to, or simply cannot be satisfied, excites itself by also transporting the mental function.

This would mean that erotomanic impotence, perhaps one might say: the erotomanic unwillingness to have physical contact, is the motor behind their art. If perhaps also the excitement of others is intended, it would also imply primarily ‘mental’ perturbation.

One might add, in the margin so to say, that all sexual excitement is partly, perhaps even for the greater part a mental issue, certainly if it is the upbeat for lonesome and soulless orgasms. Perhaps, the non-erotomanic may find in erotomania a source of physical excitement – in a sense not intended by the artist, yet certainly via his images.

Doubtless, another kind of erotic literature gives expression to the author’s own lust, while at the same time aiming for similar, thought second-hand experiences in the reader or observer. For instance the novel by Marthe Blau In His Hands, or Irène by Albert de Routisie, or Henry Miller’s Opus Pistorum (probably a fake, written by others, not by Miller). Perhaps also The story of Catherine M. in which the female author documents her serial promiscuity, however in a rather cool and detached manner.

Although Bellmer is a master draughtsman and Bataille now and then writes quite well, one may ask whether in such erotomanic artists art does not get drowned in motive. This may explain why quite a few of these artists are simply no good – Balthus is a meager painter, Sade’s writings are of a questionable literary quality, Klossowski idem.

Could it be, that the reader’s horny, thus extrinsic motive becomes more satisfied, the less the esthetic quality of the art they consume turns out to be? Perhaps the dominance of the obscene in such works – in both the better ones and in those of lesser esthetic quality – makes of such erotomanic art a pornography of the intact.

So much seems to be sure: Real pornography, written or pictorial, never caught the attention of real philosophers. This was, however, the case with the writers and draughtsman of erotomania – Bataille, Bellmer, Sade and others. Such consideration was perhaps triggered by the ‘criticism’ which plays in the margins of these works – the questioning – implicitly, or more explicitly as in the sociological sermons of Sade – of the social constellation in which they lived, or more generally of the human condition and of the nature of the dialectics of the sexes.

And one more question: Does such marginal criticism change the nature of their unconcealed obscenity?

To most of these questions I do not have answers – yet.


Sierksma, Haarlem Augustus 2010


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats. The reader, interested in my writings on aesthetics, literature, and sociology, may want to open, where various pieces are published.

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