In the series Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 9

Ah! Les expressions ne rendent jamais qu’à demi les sentiments du coeur.

Et comme elles ont un sentiment de cette grandeur, qui les élève au-dessus du vulgaire.

Abbé Prévost: L’Histoire du chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731)

He sleeps with angels
Too soon
He’s always on someone’s mind
He sleeps with angels
Too late
He sleeps with angels
Too soon

Neil Young, Sleep with Angels



Behold this angel! Follow her in this inimitable flight. A woman she is, even if in Holy Books angels have always been men.

John Lely: The Angel, ceramics 1984

In the influential Scofield Bible, a translation with comments dating from 1909, added to Genesis 6: 4 is the note: “Angels are spoken of in a sexless way. No female angels are mentioned in the scripture, and it is told explicitly that angels have no marriage, Matthew 22:30.”

The conclusion that angels are sexless because there is no marriage between them is mentioned, seems to be a full-blown non sequitur. The Christian Bible at various places explicitly refers to angels as men. Whether there is talk of ‘ministering spirits’ as in Hebrews 1:14, or when in Genesis 18:3 he is fatally announcing Abraham the birth of his son, or when two of the three men in Genesis 18: 16,22 plus 19: 1,5 who were sent to Sodom to warn Lot and then to become angels – angels do not appear as women.

The growing profanation of love made of the angel into a woman. In contemporary songs and verses the adored and beloved ‘angel’ is always a woman, perhaps adorned with the features of a goddess.

Can it be a coincidence that in the upper region of the photo of my ceramic Angel there appears a picture on a newspaper’s clipping, showing us the buttocks of Catherine M.? This pair of somewhat timid cheeks is given extra emphasis due to the thin socks just above the knees that lightly constrict her thighs.

Catherines’ timid cheeks

Timid, perhaps even dazed I call these buttocks. After all, in La vie sexuelle de Catherine M. the author writes quite uninhibited about her extravaganzas, ranging from anal sex to group excess, this at any place one might imagine. How Catherine’s report on her experiences could have been described by her publisher as ‘exciting’ remains a mystery. It may have been intended to ‘excite’ the middle class bashful country side girl.

Catherine’s husband, Jacques Henric, has made a good thing of his orgiastic wife. In his book Légendes de Catherine M., written in 2001, he reveals his obsession for photographing his naked wife. The title perhaps plays with the notion of legenda – information needed to read a map, required knowledge for understanding a text, in this case the book of his own wife.

Like the bleak text of La M., the husband’s faded photos of her body will not excite someone interested in porn. The pictures in this little volume would not have been out of place in a nudist magazine or in the ‘dirty’ leaflets that were sold around ’50, from under the counter.

Jacques Henric: Catherine’s Ass

His pictures do not even have an ‘artful’ quality, yet Henric’s comments on the photo’s are even worse. For fans of the pseudo-philosophical genre I quote and translate a passage:

“The photographic record: a display of taking sexual possession. The nude picture: dwelling on an image. The woman’s body: an ensemble of soft flowing forms while light takes a hold over them. The sex: the idea that in the body thus observed there is a sex, a slit which is the opening of the woman’s sexual body.”

I fear that Jacques’ own italics are intended to give some metaphysical ‘depth’ to his vast pictorial platitudes. How right was Prévost, or for that matter his Manon, when she exclaimed: Ah! Expressions can only represent half of the feelings of the heart. One may also quote the great poet William Carlos Williams: Say it. No ideas, but in things. Jacques Henric merely offers us both pale expressions and faint pictorial extracts of the sex ‘thing’.

That Prévost also tells his reader that he/she should elevate the Self above the vulgar – this is another matter. This much seems to be certain: The vulgar can be intensely exciting. Perhaps we should not write it off too speedily.

Back again to my ceramic Angel. Doubtless a woman, even though she is playing here for one of those ‘ministering spirits’. Perhaps unnecessarily so, the artist who created her told this buyer that his work consists of a set of ceramic prints of the buttocks of his girlfriend, first glazed, then baked and assembled into this flying Angel.

How can one not look at her and see in the mind’s eye that mighty ass of Andréa Ferreol in Ferreri’s movie La Grande Bouffe. During a magisterial fuck with Ugo Tognazzi, her cheeks leave an imprint in the dough on the kitchen counter on which she reclined in order to be taken.

Andréa’s Fuck

Call it horny, call it erotic, call it exciting – call it vulgar. This much is certain, such footage and such ceramics beat any writer’s small talk or the statics of a photographer’s images.


Detail of The Angel

Observed under the right angle a watchful eye spies on the Angel’s generous anus and thus virtually on the arse of the ceramist’s girlfriend – of on whomever, imagination knows no bounds. This Nike of transgression…

Given that lack of horny expressiveness of the static image or of an inanimate piece of clay or marble, Lely rested his Angel on a spring.


Detail of The Angel

A slight push against one of her cheeks and the Angel starts dancing, if not floating and even flying.

Hans Bellmer is an exception, an admirable draughtsman and certainly an amateur absorbed in the same fetish as Lely. Although necessarily static, these drawings exude some of the power experienced face tot face with the Secret Eye, offering it to the observing admirer. No ideas – rather the thing itself, if not Das Ding an sich.

Bellmer, Illustration of Bataille’s Histoire de l’œil

Woman in Bellmer’s works often gets the allure of a floating Angel – here in the figure of Europa riding on horseback in her side-saddle pose, raised to high heaven by Zeus the Bull. Everything is focused on her sex and anal orifice, in which so it seems men and women must coincide.


Bellmer: Zeus and Europa

However, there is in Bellmer’s work also a chill at work which may only lead to something by way of the imaginary detour of an observer’s excitement. But what coolness – of a class completely missing in the barren images made by Henric. Cool in the sense that De Mandiargues gave to the notion, calling Bellmer an erotomaniac. “An artist, whose lucidity is more intense because his desire which must not, but also can not be satisfied, is exciting itself by simultaneously raising the mental function into ecstasy.

Which does not prohibit the fetish incorporated in his work to hit an observer full blow. Bellmer once illustrated texts written by Bataille, in whose Le bleu du ciel a woman says to a lover:

“But since I know you and have heard of your habits, I thought that people with low habits … like you … that this is probably because they grieve.”

The protagonist silently contemplates this remark:

“Perhaps – all things considered – I was not a low man, but surely I was a lost man.”

The fantasy that excites is a fantasy that goes to the limit. Some such as Catherine M. want to put that fantasy into practice, however to perish miserably in the act. Not by degrading herself, even if she may have wanted to degrade herself in order to find excitement. But because there hovers over all her activity the hint of cheerless, nymphomaniac failure.

There is also a kind of transgression which is at once imaginative and put into practice. A fetish can be a thing, it may be a body part. How the disposition arose in a person – a mystery. Whence someone’s fetish originated and settled into a mind – a mystery.

Tristram’s Black Page

The ‘I’ may be an open book, yet there will always be that occasional black page such as found in Tristram Shandy – the sure sign of one’s own inscrutability, symptom of what remains hidden and can only be kept alive by its celebration. Clear-cut and precise as a fetish always is for its bearer, its source remains forever shrouded.

Each his or her own glistening fetish. In it love and lust grate and rub against one another. Precisely this provides a fetish with that unfathomable beauty. Nietzsche’s dictum applies: We need Beauty in order to survive Truth. The Socratic command Know thyself seems inadequate here, just too much to ask. To quiz the origin and meaning of one’s own fetish cannot but tarnish the soul.

The fetish is essentially private. Now and then an artist succeeds in expressing that mystery for his public. Even then it remains ineffable.

Sierksma, Haarlem 01.08.2016


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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s