In the series Dialectics of the Sexes, no. 17

While evacuating the house that my mother left behind, I could not find the little Chinese porcelain statue of Kwan Yin. I did recover, though, a plaster copy of a Japanese couple, unknown to me.

The Kwan Yin was gifted by one of the curators of the Museum of Ethnology in Leyden to my father, who was an anthropologist. Talk about its origin was wrapped in a secretive shroud, surely a little exciting for a son of just twelve years old.

She was of a serpentine-like grace, a depiction of the Goddess of Mercy and Consolation, the Chinese interpretation of what was originally the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Perhaps a distant cousin of our own Mary – that Consolatrix Afflictorum? Quite a few images of Kwan Yin show her not with a little child on her arm, but with a rose in hand.

This much is certain: For a Chinese woman the thin shape of her frame makes Kwan Yin much longer than normal, a symbolic expression of her sublime eminence.

Any way, I did not find that sculpture in my parental home and feared the worst. Maybe she died, a housekeeper dropping her on the floor, now in shards somewhere, hidden in Nowhere Land. Kwan Yin herself may be in need of our consolation.




This Japanese sculpture may very well have been a substitute for the vanished goddess, put in the study of my father as her replacement. However, the crackled glaze does indeed give it an aura of authenticity. No idea of the production date – not of the original, nor of this copy. The stamped Chinese characters inside are not for me to read…

This much is certain: Unlike the Goddess of Solace this Japanese figurine is decidedly obscene. It represents a pair of lovers. As an aside: The images now in front of me, in the famous book on Chinese erotica – Yun Yu, written by the Frenchman Etiemble – suggest that possibly we do have a Chinese couple in front of us. Yet, the headgear of the young man suggests a Japanese, so I stay with my attribution – if only to save the original plan of this, my little literary invention.




She may turn her head somewhat shyly to one side, however, the little guy’s arm around her butt speaks for itself.




We recognize a geisha with her client, a pair obviously beyond the stage of subtle introduction, past graceful dancing and the delicate plucking of thin strings. The decoration in that unmistakable place and the slit there in her kimono – they tell us enough.




In itself, all this is still not that interesting. Striking, however, is the difference in length between the two. She rises easily a head above the little fellow.

This is not because, as one might think, the man is only a boy, something perchance deduced from his innocent little face. Another statue I found – this one by the way of questionable workmanship – shows us an old man sucking at the breast of a very much larger geisha.




The difference in length is caused by the traditional footwear of the smart Japanese prostitute. She is not walking around in little shoes, but on stilted wooden sandals, equipped as they are with enormous heels. In the picture below this is visible. Normally, however, as in both my sculptures, these are camouflaged by a kimono.This, methinks, is the intention.




Yonder, on those Japanese islands, once a whore is conquered by her client, she must tower over him. Japanese culture makes the legally wedded wife extremely docile and submissive. Once the husband seeks his pleasures outside the home these roles are reversed.

The everyday macho idyll of the Japanese male living the phantom of a samurai is, once he is in the arms of Mama Geisha, mirrored in an erotic infantilism. The impression of a ‘boy’ then, given to the man of the first couple shown above, is again intentional.

A photo shows us Roland Barthes, an overgrown boy who is hanging in the arms of his mother, embracing her. One recognizes the pattern.




Mommy, in this case, is not in need of high heeled clogs to produce the desired effect.

Can it be an incident that Barthes was the author of the famous little book on Japan, l’Empire de signes [1970], certainly prefiguring that illustrious piece of cinematography, Oshima’s l’Empire des sens [1976], in which a man is interfering with a former prostitute in many an imaginative way.

Off with my head, if I am not onto some magical, archetypical link between sadomasochism, infantilism and mama worship.

Sierksma, Haarlem 10.24.2016


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. The reader, interested in my writings on aesthetics, literature, and sociology, may want to open, where various pieces are published.

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