EROS/THANATOS

 

 

 

 

Emaciated countenance, bleach white,

with coffee and a cognac on the side,

to find her courage, yet seem stable,

sampling me straight from the reading table,

in a grand hotel in my hometown.

 

She interrupts my coitus with Proust, no less,

and lures me straight into her hotel bed.

While being ploughed, I hear her crying,

she whispers “I am dying, I am dying”.

Post coitum and feeling sad,

I know, it was not just her Little Death.

Sierksma February 2018

 

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FETISHISM

 

And his mother had not even made love

Before she conceived him.

Thia was not a woman, she was merely a vessel

In which from heaven he had descended.

Caeiro/Pessoa, The Shepherd of the Flocks.

_____________________

 

In his rather curious novel The Fermata (1994) Nicholson Baker has reconstructed a personage with strange aptitudes, even more so with an extraordinary hang-up. This Arno will never be a person, this does not seem be the aim of his author. Perhaps balancing between person and personage might be the theme of the book.

Arno has discovered that he may stop the flow of time by merely making small manoeuvres with an object: “My skill at jamming time”. To be more precise: Stopping the flow of time for others; Arno is just living on, active while during other men’s time failure capable of doing with the world and with those others what he wants. Caprice.

 

 

Hans Bellmer’s obsession

 

During these time locks his idée fixe is to partly or even fully undress the women. He wants to observe their cheeks, tits and sex. Voyeurism seems to be his specialty. His main motive is that immense variety of the feminine, something never exhausting. To let his book remain acceptable, perhaps also suitable to female readers, to let it remain a novel and not drop it into the decadence of pornography, Baker takes care that his protagonist with his victims never ‘does it’.

All the more he becomes a voyeur in the clinical sense of the word, one who in this time deferred leaves something behind, little things that may surprise or even excite the women once they have become his partners again in actual, functioning time. For instance, little porn stories that Arno writes himself and which his author Bakers inserts in The Fermata, then found by a woman who will read them.

While reading this novel, irresistibly picnolepsy came to mind, that curious phenomenon of someone’s non-experience of his own intense absenteeism. In the majority of younger children this is quite normal. For a little while they may drop out of their existence, loose a morsel of time, suddenly popping up again, without a trace in their minds of what ‘happened’ in the meantime. In grown-ups, however, this is very unusual and considered to be a mental defect. Something may happen in that lost time, with for instance serious consequences while driving a car. The picnoleptic person may also miss a quarter of an hour of an important lecture.

One who suffers from this disease may be said to be non-existent for a while. Our condition humaine condemns man never to be fully identical with himself, and always self-conscious. Zen training claims to bring you in such a condition, though only actively so: a man being one with his sword. In a fit of picnolepsy, however, someone loses consciousness, yet without fainting.

Perhaps the picnoleptic has other mental duties at the time, perhaps none at all, he may also be in nirvana before his time, who knows? He is not dreaming, he simply is, albeit not consciously so. Dreaming awake – presens in absentia. Presumably, Baker may have taken this as his psychological starting point and give it a literary turn, elevating the condition of picnolepsy into Arno’s morally malleable reality.

In what is supposed to be his autobiography, Arno claims that “I really have no ongoing fetishes, I don’t think, because each woman is different, and you never know what particular feature or transition between features is going to grab you and say, ‘Look at this – you’ve never thought about exactly this before’.” Of course, this is very sympathetic and praiseworthy of Arno, and implicitly directed by him and his auctor intellectualis Baker against that evil specimen of The Male who will tell you ‘that when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’. Once more making the novel acceptable for women readers.

This theoretically good man Arno is, methinks, beside the practical truth of man, or at least partly so. In true love each person is indeed unique, even if to realize this fact some fantasy is needed and in latter-day times it seems more difficult to realize that condition of unique reciprocity. In bed, however, other laws rule. Everyone has his or her own fetish, that special part of a body, that special sound and tone of voice, that one little movement which is the key to excitement, opening the road to carnal delight. The crux of our lust.

 

 

Catherine M, a shot taken by husband Jacques Henric

 

Once our sexual labour has gone into the groove of its vigorous rhythm, each lover will disappear into the act, more specifically so into the image of his fetish as it accompanies the activity. The Little Death is, like picnolepsy, deadly for all nuance and difference, pernicious for all tenderness. For just a while the dominance of our fetish is garrotting Time, jamming it. As if it were for an eternity. The zero degree of the flesh.

 

 

 

 

In this respect porn-time is even more confusing. When looking at a mere picture of a naked woman, one would say that it is not even necessary to bring time to its standstill. It has already happened, after all that is the miracle of photography. However, the real voyeur, in his roundabout way, is actually still doing this: he makes time stop. He has been looking at a journal or at a pile of photo’s, going through a time-consuming process which he then suddenly breaks off, all at once fixing his gaze – fixating it. This then is the moment when the eye hits upon the ‘right’ kind of nakedness, one that contains a version of his particular fetish, the very trigger which will put him to work and keeps him going at it for a short while.

Of course, porn video is the sexual soloist’s ideal terrain. Here the act itself is going through its moves, while he or she is waiting for that moment when, lo and behold, the person’s fetish appears. Then the film is stopped and spooled backwards till the very shot which may then be stopped again – to observe it, perhaps again and again

This effect is almost perfect when a little surprise is involved, when such a movie is watched for the first time, which is also the real reason behind the accumulation of ever more DVD’s by the porno lover. They may be all the same, ‘when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’ – yet, waiting for that very moment in which in a new scene a new version of one’s fetish appears forms the plot. As with the sublime, it diminishes after the first confrontation, because we are mere creatures of routine and habituation.

 

 

 

It always remains an embarrassing situation, touching oneself while the porn cineaste is bothering you with his erotic artistry and gimmicks. After all, this is what you want to see and what you put the dam disc for into the video player, certainly not for all that goes on before or comes after, even though those scenes may involve other people’s fetishes. Porn watching is all about that self-selected still, that summum bonum of inactive activity, that pinnacle of unmoved moving. Perhaps like being one’s own Aristotelian God.

A magnificent arse is always unique, with its own variety of rust-red taints, it’s never ending nuances of shape and curvature, the furrows each time like the unique finger print of its female owner. Each breast is always the only one of its kind, with its special spheres and nipples. The porn market thrives on this unembarrassed desire to contemplate and gaze over and over again at yet another version of the same.

 

Nonetheless, those subtle differences between the diverse specimens become irrelevant at the moment supreme, that carnal zero degree in which the person drowns for a while. The very first skin flick bought might have done for life.

 

Sierksma January 2018

LOVE RECYCLED

Where the lock of longing was opened

There, there will be a perpetual wound.

Vik Seth, Summer Requiem

 

I came to believe long ago, not to make a meal out of

one’s emotional life…, there’s always world enough outside.

Brodsky, Watermark

________________

The semantics of shopping. On what the French would call a brocante, in what the Dutch – ecologically aware as they are – will call een kringloopwinkel, a recycling shop, I bought what surely has served as a French bijouterie box, for the purpose of salvaging my chess pieces in there after a game is over.

 

 

Silk-covered it is, replacing the plain wooden box once owned by a female Dutch Chess Champion, however not from Dutch origins, on which I dropped a bronze made in Belgium by a Dutch sculptor, of such a weight that it ruined that first box in a Teutonic manner. Not the pieces, thank God; weathered as they are now, they were also used by this champ and hopefully they do inspire a Dumbo like me to play a good game now and then.

 

 

Having come home with my prize purchase, inside the box I found to my surprise two little keys, tied together with a very old piece of string. Two similar keys, obviously used to open some little lock. There must have existed a third one in the pocket of some owner, otherwise some little box somewhere is forever locked – or forever open.

 

So much is certain, this new box of mine does not have a lock at all. The keys must have fitted another little coffer, they have nothing to do with what has once been inside of this one.

 

 

The mystery can perhaps be solved by returning to that ancient philosopher Plato, who has his Proto-Romanticist Aristophanes assure us that once upon a time there was an entity hermaphroditic. It suffered from hubris, aspiring to take over the heavens.

 

The Super God decided to cut it in two, thus separating it into a male and a female half. From then on these two orphans would forever roam the earth in search for their counterpart. Call it a cruel fate, however in a more optimistic perspective it can also be considered the beginning of sexual frivolity…

 

Observe those cute little keys, tied together so thoroughly that they could almost serve as a symbol for this ever deficient, yet would-be love affair.

Being lookalikes they would refer to same-sex love, whereas my own preferred encounter is the one between man and woman, more specially between me and My Woman, the one that Zeus once separated from me, the one meant for me as I was meant for her.

 

From now on, I shall wear those little keys close to the heart, waiting for that rather improbable meeting with my Platonic other half, the kind of meeting that seems fated, always turning out miserably in the end… Anyway, she must be out there as I am right here, the two of us still awaiting our reunion. In that case I would have the key to her heart ready.

 

But wait a sec! These keys are identical… And perhaps they should be similar, as the two of us are fashioned from the same flesh and more or less manufactured in the same mould, thus presumably also having the same lock. But in that case, shouldn’t there be only one key in my possession, the other one being with her? After all, once we would meet, we should each be opening our respective hearts, to become one again at the very same moment.

 

Could it simply be that this designated Woman-Half of mine has been living two streets further up; or even that I have already met Her, however not successfully so? Could it be that Zeus’ designs do not work all that well? After all, this world created by the gods was always already a mess and surely never a paradise, either lost or regained?

 

Do these two tied-up little keys, left behind in a French bijouterie box, imply that without her key to my heart she has already long ago given up the search, leaving it up to me, who is now too old and too ill to really perform that tricky feat?

 

Tied together, these keys were separated from their intended locks. Of a sudden, they seem to be orphaned from Woman seeking Man. No future for the two of us. And apart from those keys, I am beyond it by now, irredeemably weathered by age, disease, and disappointment.

 

Sierksma 7.12.17

FREUDIAN CADAVERS

In answer to this, and I say that the accusation against that I do not believe in the accusation against me is precisely my justification. I do not believe it because I am the only who does not see it. Would I have seen anything, then I would have believed it like you do.

Lucianus van Samosata (around 160 A.D.)

As long as you do something, you are not guilty. Sinning is when you step out of the circle and become an observer.

Sándor Márai, The Disaffected (1930)

_______________________________

I

On the retina is still that torn skin of a cyclist’s thigh after his downfall during the Classic Race Paris-Roubaix, the red, battered meat visible thanks to splendid close ups made by a camera man, a co-passenger on the back of a motor cycle rumbling over the same dangerous cobble roads that caused that racer to fall. With the raw red, uncovered meat still the memory, I commence writing what follows, an essay on naked bodies, on the nude and on exposed flesh, destitute of cover or camouflage. As well as trying to find words for the frisson and the tightening of the chest that overcame me while gazing at the canvasses of the Germanic Londener Lucian Freud.

In the past I had seen a live Freud here and there. Now, in Berlage’s Haags Gemeentemuseum, I was suddenly confronted with a whole company of his canvasses. What an enormous pleasure to see art again, made by somebody who does not consider his artist’s eye as a separate entity from the craftsman’s handling of paint and brush, or for that matter the etcher’s knife. Also someone, who obviously considers the babble about so-called concepts as something belonging to the world outside his atelier and who is, when returned to that outside world, still averse to such gibberish.

Not all too great is the jump from the exhausting poetry of the cobbled roads near Roubaix, that pimpled skin covering the flesh of the landscape northern France, the ripped-open thighs of cyclist, to the skin of Freud’ nudes; from the ‘gruelling sprint of biker Balan’ to the perhaps even more arduous portraits by Lucian. Like Kafka’s violent writing machine is engraving its text into the flesh of its victims, so classic races as well as classic painters write themselves into your skin – getting under it. Lectori salutem.

Curiously enough, the catalogue accompanying the exhibition opens with the following phrase:

Is striving for resemblance by way of painting really of our time?

The use of that little word really, a sure sign of the silly ones. Painted corpses and their resemblance to the living, subcutaneous matter and surface, life and death, those are indeed the things that matter in Freud’s canvasses. Perhaps a quote from the painter has triggered the catalogue writer question. Freud does not want any ‘resemblance between skin and paint’:

I want the paint functioning as skin… I want that my portraits are portraits of people, not images like people.

But, Dear Lucian, that has always been the design of all great portraitists! And what is more important: the quote from the catalogue suggests that your remark on portraits can be simply applied to your nudes, which is not the case. Perhaps, you may consider your nudes as portraits, which is your privilege. However, there is a crucial difference between the two genres of painting, and you know it because you show it – in your work.

II

The nude in art is a tender subject; the word alone is already delicate. A little exercise via the etymological dictionary: At First sight there seems to be no significant difference between naked and nude. The Dutch bloot covers both naked as well as nude and refers to the word ploten, which meant the de-fleecing of sheep, cutting their hair close to the skin, making it look bare and smooth. This makes being bare an anthropinon, a characteristic defining the condition humaine. Evolution has bared mankind, except for some silly tufts on spots that immediately stand out erotically or otherwise.

 

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fur_(_Het_Pelsken_)_-_WGA20386

Het Pelsken/The Fur, 1638

Ruben’s painting The Fur is in all respects a masterpiece, the word fur, better perhaps translated as skin, obviously referring to both its versions visible. The painter’s wife, a redhead, is voluptuously residing in her own flesh and skin. Her pubic hair – surely, that tuft must also be red – remains hidden from our view by a superbly painted fur coat, in Flemish called a Pelsken, a Skinny. The artist is giving back the hair that evolution once has stolen from her, thus transforming Woman into an animal again, at least half way so. Eroticism of the highest order.

 

SILVERNAAKT

 

Apart from the tricky question as to whether photography is an art, we can say of Jeff Silverstone’s picture on the cover of Créatis, no. 18, that once again it concerns a woman posing, a female who is flesh wise generously equipped. In what is perhaps an attic room, there are placed at her feet two round sticks of wood. Standing, her arms spread, even though she is seen on her back this pose allows the observer’s gaze to settle on her breasts for a while. One is reminded of those Cubist women of Picasso, whose attractions can been all seen at once.

Silverstone’s woman is also holding one such pole in her right hand; the flag seems to be missing, which makes it at least an obscene reference. The picture, though, like the half-clothed women on the paintings of Rubens en Rembrandt, is not a nude. This beauty wears two black bandages, all the way from her crotch to the of her knees cavities.

Whereas Rubens’ Fur has not the slightest horny effect on me, far more evoking admiring attention for the painted image, there is surely something like porn seeping through the surface of Silverstone’s photo. Only a category mistake of the first order would allow Rubens’ canvas such lewd effect. Neither has a Cubist nude by Picasso anything to do with the obscene; at most, it is playing at it by using a multiple perspective on the nude’s sexual characteristics.

Could the difference have to do with the realist medium of the photo as opposed to the imaginary quality of the art of painting? McLuhan coined the contrast between cool and hot media, the cool version demanding of the observer some addition to the image, whereas a hot medium is more like ‘what you see is what you get’. All this brings us a step closer to the difference between ’being nude’ and ‘being naked’, an insight which will be of the essence when turning once again to the work of Lucian Freud.

An almost self-evident metaphor is at hand, circumscribing the periphery of the word naked: a poor pauper, in the sense of being literally stripped of whatever makes you a human being. This metaphor slides into the macabre when in Homo Sacer Agamben describes ‘the Mussulman’ in Auschwitz as the naked human being, a zombie stripped of his human existence. In the concentration camp he is reduced to pure zoë, the sheer physical survival of someone who has completely lost the bios of a full social life. Thus, even dressed, a human being can be naked, upset and shaken in all the meanings of those words. Not nude – naked.

However, this is not yet enough for this essay. What in English is called a nude, a painting with on it a woman or man more or less denuded, the French call a nudité. The English, however, also call a flesh-coloured nylon hose a nude stocking. Perhaps literature may be of help. Hawkes, in The Frog, writes: She was clothed only in my night shirt, and hence feeling inappropriately nude… The protagonist ‘I’ at this moment claims that time will come when he will speak of unfettered flesh, and there is more in store in his story than the mere stockinged leg. And so he does: She turned to me most all of her buttocks. Another woman he calls a modest woman, exposing her breasts, while concealing her chest.

In the German language things are more openly awkward, nackt (naked) and bloss (being nude) being more or less identical in meaning. However, a nude painting is called ein Akt, bundling a range of notions from copulation, to acting in general and to the stage. All of a sudden we feel that nude, as it were, is nakedly related to carnal pleasures, to the flesh. This may be considered more realistic than the camouflaged language of the Brits who always seem to be keeping up appearances, especially while talking about what as prudes they consider ineffable.

Not following the British lead, but being the Continental who I am, I shall follow these coordinates when writing on Lucian Freud’s work. Nude seems to refer to a context of self-willed intimacy, perhaps even involving a touch of feelings of shame. Flesh by contrast refers to either the intended, perhaps even affected, yet non-intimate showing of nakedness, or the situation of being unwanted naked in the eyes of a voyeur.

However, one should be aware of subtleties not so easily phrased in words. In Sándor Márai’s novel The Disaffected we read this: How terribly naked a man must feel when, in the presence of another human being, to take off his shoes and to then lie next to that other – without those shoes. This, to be sure, after the man is invited into the bed of a whore. Curiously enough, many a whore is keeping on at least one piece of clothing and quite often also her shoes. One might claim: to excite her customer, but I would also suggest: in order not to be completely naked, as is her jobs condition of work.

This same Márai also described the wig that is snatched from someone’s head: The suddenly bared skull of the actor, smooth as a billiard ball, was so naked, so corporeal, so undisguised and shamelessly bare, that it seemed as if the man had thrown off all his clothes and was standing stark naked in front of them.

Schama, in his Rembrandt’s Eyes, distinguishes between nude and naked. He considers those women on the Dutchman’s canvasses who are partly clothed as being quasi-nude, that is in a transitional state. The same, methinks, would apply to Rubens’ Pelsken. As a consequence they cannot be considered as nudes in the current everyday use of that word. However, because the observer may very well consider these bodies not only as art, but as also desirable, we may interpret them as vulnerably exposed and thus at least as half naked. Schama’s plot: We are all nudes before the act, and we are all naked afterwards. Perhaps this applies to the observer of such paintings, their gaze changing from an art-lover’s into the eye of the one who is judging her flesh?

Summing this up, if summing up is the right expression for getting on with it while leaving the conceptual maze by plainly cutting one’s way-out through the hedges, amazed as it were by my own destructive nerve: Nude is someone who is willingly undressing the self for someone known, often a mutual activity. There is no real shame involved here, although it might if only because of the thought of what usually happens next after the undressing: the act. By contrast, people become naked if their flesh is exhibited, exposed against their will. This would involve being stripped in both the literal and the figurative meaning of the word.

 

soutine-albright-knox

 

To become pure flesh is a whole different ball game. Here a person is showing off, exhibiting herself in all his or her carnality like, say, the carcass of Soutine or the porn star in an obscene movie. After all, once so exposed the distinction between live and dead flesh has become rather irrelevant.

In a normal situation of two people meeting, a man might say to a woman – or vice versa – Show me your body!, not however: Show me your flesh! This last phrase would be an obscene remark, as the act then would be obscene, something only becoming possible when a woman would be literally asked to open her legs to show that one little piece of the female body not covered with skin; thus true flesh, if not meat. It is asked of the whore or the porn star, perhaps even of a spouse – but obscene it remains, reducing the other to that little ounce of flesh. It reminds one of the ripped open thigh of the biker who has crashed on the cobblestones around Roubaix.

III

In Hawkes’ novel, already quoted before, he describes a set of wooden decoy-ducks as lifeless but not dead; he also speaks of the violence of pure paralysis. Combined with what has been said before, we may develop a critical perspective on the large, sometimes gruesome nudes by Lucian Freud. His paintings of women laying on beds or leaning into an enormous pile of soiled linen ready to be washed, do remind one of the genre of the still-life, well-known for its lifeless pewter and dead fowl hanging from iron hooks.

Some critics like Tamar Garb consider the nude, in painting developed since the end of the 19th century, as individually and sexually differentiated. Perhaps so – after all, modern bodies are indeed rather lively when compared to the non athletic era which went before. In the milieu of the arts there is much talk about what we may coin as bodyology, so much so that it may become nauseating. Lucky enough for us, Lucian Freud’s models do escape from this rather oppressive theoretical dungeon. Perhaps for this reason they escape this postmodern cackle and may simply be seen as intensely classical.

Especially his female models seem to enter Freud’s atelier for their interment in his monk like cell which is filled with lots of artificial light and shadows. This sombre quality of the workspace, contrasting with the often clearly lit ateliers of his colleagues, is seen both on photo’s and sometimes on the paintings as well.

 

20171125_173924.jpg

 

His sitters are mostly lying down, often on a slovenly made bed. For just the making of one such painting Freud’s models were expected to arrive daily on a fixed time of day, then to lie on that bed for hour after hour, often for months on end. Thus Lucian himself, quoted form an interview in a Dutch paper:

Flesh is living clay.

This tunes with the distinct impression these Freudian nudes make on me, of a violence of pure paralysis. Unmistakably, these are no portraits of persons, but a depiction of personages and bodies, perhaps even of personages as bodies. Attached to these bodies seems to an indistinct head plus face, proving my point. The moment one places one of his delicious portraits next to such a nude, you become well aware of this: Those portraits do not show us a personage, but rather real persons with their distinctive individual countenance. Not to talk about his etchings, often portraits of the first order.

This comparison between Freud’s nudes and his portraits may be enlightening in another respect, instructive as an Englishman might say. Pay some attention to the coloration! The faces in his portraits of men are often rosy, images of real guys, healthy and suntanned. The exceptions to this ‘rule’ all have their reasons: for instance The Big Man, with the face of a ruddy drinker, a true British Saxon. Or take the magnificent self-portrait from 1965, in which the face seems to brown-blackened like a chimney sweeper’s.

 

SELFPORTRAIT

 

Now compare this with the skin of almost all of Freud’s female nudes, their greyish tone is striking. Living corpses, who do not look like persons as do the faces on his portraits – whatever the man who organized the exhibition may have said about resemblance. Whereas the portraits do indeed resemble, the nudes do not. Thus, the painter – on purpose – is denuding most of his ‘nudes’, thus turning them into naked, dead meat. Most of his nudes are in fact living cadavers. The living dead.

In the catalogue there is one photograph which seems to fully prove my point. On it we see both the model, a fattish man of about forty years old, naked in the sense already discussed, as well as his image on the painting, a canvas called Leigh under the Skylight. Whereas the actual man must be a treat for someone with the proper taste for it, Freud’s picture has transformed him into a fat, sixty year old greyish colossus, a living corpse if there ever was one.

 

dubbelereus

 

Strikingly so, the painter once forbade one of his models to come back to his atelier. She had gone away for a sun holiday, to one of the more benevolent realms of this world, and now had to wait for months till her skin had recovered and was showing her natural bleached grey hue. An artist with whom I went back to see the exhibition a second time denied my thesis of the dominance of grey in the painted bodies. Me thinks, a matter of projection: The human body is pinkish, is consequently always supposed to be pinkish; thus what one tends to see is a pinkish nude, even if they are greyish with now and then a touch of pink. Observing closely, you see the dominance in the palette of a corps gone grey.

Apart from the obvious grey on the canvasses, there is also circumstantial evidence. On Naked Portrait the little pallette-stool standing in front of the woman, who is depicted as an aborted foetus, is covered in grey, accompanied by grey coloured brushes. On Large Interior a mortar full with grey paint is to be seen. Grey is dominant on the palette which Freud has in his hand on a picture from 2000. The colour photograph of his atelier shows the floor right under the easel as well as the steps seen with an overtone of blackish grey.

 

freudatelier

 

Ecce Homo, Ecce Femina! With Freud no carcasses á là Soutine, nor for that matter meat hooks. However, there is that bed with the iron tubes, supporting those skin diseased women. Disposable nudes as it were. However, these canvasses are nudes no more, they are depictions of the flesh – meat paintings. On one of them we observe a female, sort of leaning, or rather hanging against a huge pile of filthy hotel linen: Standing by the Rags, the by in its title not all together right, one might say, nor so methinks is the word rags.

 

FREUDLAKENS

 

From the navel up, especially the face, she has the skin of syphilitic patient; the lower body resembles that of a woman who has just been bathing in red hot cooking oil, the skin of her legs is dripping from its flesh like too loose trousers not properly fitting. Of a gruesome beauty, surely; yet unmistakable an excellent cadaver, to abuse the title of a Francesco Rosi movie, Cadaveri Eccelenti, which in its turn used the Surrealists’ nickname for their collective, unconscious drawings.

Most of Freud’s so-called nudes have something posthumous about them. However, they are before the funeral, even if only just, as seems to be the case of the woman Standing by the Rags, who appears to be dying or even seems to be already in a steady state. Looking at Freud’s almost-corpses, I regularly came to think of Hitchcock’s effect of suspense. Even though most of his women are lying on a bed, they seem to be suspended between life and their death. The way of all flesh…

Perhaps the notion of das Erhabene, the Sublime, fits these images: one is abhorred by a repulsive kind of beauty, enjoying its horror, a delight like the great Irish conservative Edmund Burke once confessed to have found in an execution. And a Westerner Lucian Freud turns out to be. His canvasses, always painted under by artificial light, do not show any real shadows of the kind that is described by the Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki, who was praising shadows. We Easterners, we do not discover beauty in the things themselves, but in the shadow patterns one thing causes in another object. Out there, in the East, things always are seen in relation to one another. By contrast, the objects of Freud’s personages face the music and have to dance all alone.

While wandering through the halls of The Haags Gemeentemuseum, I was constantly reminded of Grϋnewald’s Crucifixion, hanging out there in far French Colmar. That Christ, hanging there on the cross, fixed on the wood with gruesome looking nails, his bony body covered with a skin that is putrefied with the boils of a ghastly disease – awesome it is, and awesomely well painted.

 

Grunewald_Isenheim1 crucifixion small

 

In some of his paintings Freud seems to be aiming at precisely the effect I have tried to describe. His Naked Portrait in Red Chair not only juxtaposes the genres of portrait and nude which, as I have tried to indicate, in his case is problematic; at the same it also shows time an intense grey cadaver-like skin, as well as intense red flesh in the utterly obscene sense of that word.

 

WIDE OPEN

 

This woman – an uggely, whether live, dead or painted not encountered all too often – is leaning onto the back of a typically English chair, her thighs wide open. Ostentatiously she shows her red slit, what in American journalism is called a wide open beaver, a thing never to be published in a journal, always censored. Simultaneously, Freud has allowed her a deep-red blush, perhaps stemming from sheer sexual arousal, or rather from shame – or from both. This pose performed periodically so, this for months… The canvas is a show of flesh, la chair giving you la chaire de poule – Goosebumps. Only a necrophile, or perhaps the whoremonger will get excited by this image.

Summing it up. Lucian Freud’s so-called nudes resemble isolated insects that the votary may inspect through his loupe. The paintings give you both a feeling of enormous splendour, however also impregnating you with that impression of the eerie which is exuded by the cold-blooded species of evolution, the snakes and the lizards. Before these women were screwed into the cell of their frames, the artist first fucked them with his brushes and the palette-knifes.

Lucian Freud once reminded the art critic Sylvester of a pathologist. However, in that profession the specialist is cutting up his corpses, which is exactly what Freud does not. That metaphor would well apply to that master draughtsman Hans Bellmer, an erotomaniac who is drawing his women-in-parts as if he were a anatomic-pathologist.

 

BELLMER

 

Freud, by contrast, is more an entomologist of women, a panoptical painter of female horrors. Nabokov, the master of semantic chess, was an amateur lepidopterist who caught gorgeous butterflies in his net, to subsequently stick them with pins on pieces of cardboard. In the same way, Lucian Freud is pinning his women onto the canvasses. An anatomist only shows us his meat after he has dissected it; Freud, however, is metamorphosing whole bodies into fleshy meat. Freud’s own characterization of his work as giving the feeling of mortality thus seems to be an enormous understatement. After all, the women on his ‘nudes’ are already dead.

IV

Exiting from the Freud Theatre, let me remind my reader of three works of art, to contrast or to compare them with his work. This may expand the perspective on his work and on my interpretation.

First contrast: Klimt’s women, and I mean especially the drawn versions. They are rather special because, on their sheets of paper, they seem to be there merely for themselves, to lie there as if they are of no concern to anyone. They do not exist, that is: to be for others – they are simply enveloped in their own being.

Perhaps satisfying themselves, they are also self-satisfied, not exposing themselves for Klimt, their painter, not for us, the observers of his work. Precisely such observation makes us into voyeurs, into a stranger entering forbidden because private territory. Being art, even such an outsider is allowed to enjoy these drawings, though they seem to be meant never to be exposed to a public.

 

KLIMT

 

This is the result of Klimt’s artistry. After all, this woman is posing, perhaps the draughtsman has explicitly asked her to lie before him like this. Yet, I have the distinct impression that this is a loved one of his, whom he as espied by chance, lying on their bed, either asleep or in half sleep touching herself. It is not a painting, which takes hours; it is a drawing, given Klimt’s mastery probably done in a few minutes time.

This, then, would be a true nude, in the full artistic sense of the word. By contrast, Lucian Freud’s painted women are there expressly for him, as objects used to make a painting, and indirectly for us who come to see those paintings. They are made available to his eye, and to ours.

Secondly, a similarity: Those Freudian women are as desolate and isolated as Hopper’s houses. City-less objects, Hopper’s buildings are floating in some kind of ineffable eternity. Freud’s women do also not seem to have any relationship to anyone at all. The universe of Hopper’s houses and the one of Freud’s women remind one of the Cartesian cosmos, in which there are only self-absorbed atoms, lucky bastards who are only kept together by God’s invisible breath.

 

Hopper_Josephine_Hopper-House

 

And finally no. three, again a contrast: Eric Fischl’s women. His nudes are not per se obscene, not as they are depicted. They become so, thanks to a social context which on Freud’s canvasses is completely, structurally absent and which Fischl often inserts by way of the titles of his works.

 

FISCHL

 

On Fischl’s Bad Boy a nude woman is lying on her bed, in an attitude which is strangely enough similar to both the chaste woman in Klimt’s drawing and the obscene one in Freud’s Naked Portrait in Red Chair. However, given the title she becomes the bad boy’s son and suddenly acquires the airs of a whore or of a woman exposing herself.

She may not be aware of the boy, in which case one is referred to the Klimt drawing. If, however, she knows that he is standing there, lets it be and has him peep into her slit, we are back with Freud’s exposed flesh. The last interpretation is favourite, because her Peeping Tom seems to know that she knows of his presence; he is doubly bad in that he is in the act of stealing money from his mother’s purse, hiding this from her possible view.

Now we have Freud, the other one; slit and purse do enter into a perverse interaction.
What could have been a beautiful nude, well executed by Fischl, easily turns into a seductive female, wilfully naked and perversely exposing herself to the son. What might have been part of the whole woman, suddenly becomes shameless flesh…

This perverse play with nude and naked is what Fischl successfully aims at with his paintings. On his The Bed, The Chair, Jetlag a voluptuous woman is approaching the observer. She is watching her husband who, in the background, is lying on a settee taking a sunbath, dark sunglasses obscuring his face. Watching her like this, exposed to our view, she is transforming into useless meat, perhaps useful to the naughty mind of the voyeur the observer of the image has become. During the contemplative stroll of our gaze over the canvass Fischl’s men and women become mere bodies, objects to be manipulated.

By contrast, Freud’s ‘nudes’ are always already pure flesh, that is: from the start and the very first moment we have them before our eyes. It is an instant impression, no becoming. They are there, wholly for the artist’s manipulation, not to be changed by us, the observers. These women are his, to be turned from live models into his personal corpses.

Sierksma January 2018

EROS IN CHIAROSCURO

Like animals in forests and the deep,
I love to lose myself and while away,
To hide, a happy fool in meditation,
Then lure myself back home again,
To finally – seduce myself into myself.*

Nietzsche, 1886

How long must we wait,
one more time,
for that simple twist of fate?

It is not dark yet, but it is getting there…

Bob Dylan

______________

As always a present is emerging in the mirror of a past. Memory scatters experience into a kaleidoscopic fan of shards and even smaller bits and pieces, then again gluing and sowing these into a patchwork of actual facts and confabulations of the present now, fed with the scanty fabrications and facts from a then gone.

How better to phrase this than Borges once did:

We are our memory,
we are that chimerical museum of shifting contours,
that pile of broken mirrors.

Wandering through the large space of Café Américain in the Amsterdam American Hotel, the eye scans the walls, its arches and ceilings, the tables and their furniture. A gaze full of wantonness and confusion. Why and since when this café has French, the hotel it belongs to an English name – not the foggiest. Américain sounds chic, American so much more pedestrian. A linguistic and architectonic half-breed it is. Discord between a American Way of Life and the French joie de vivre, once, so I presume, a difference to be felt.

Some decades ago this space was my port of transit. In between the classical matinee in The Concertgebouw which is situated at the southern border of Amsterdam’s Museum Square, and an evening full of wilder music jazz in the jazz club of the BIM-House on the Oude Schans, here is where for an hour or two I moored. Preferably at the reading table, with a book or one of the journals. Coffee would suffice, in those days my favourite lukewarm Belgian Triple was not yet served here. That would have to wait till the jazz came around.

In a sometimes pensive, then again frivolous mood, I would find peace on one of the four little sofas, formed into a little square and situated in the middle of the café, a little overgrown with a few palms and other, larger pot plants standing in its centre. To conquer a seat like that, especially the one with a fine view on the trees and the square outside the hotel, the connoisseur was willing to submit to a long wait, standing at the bottom of the room. The lucky one always occupied a whole sofa all by himself, unless of course accompanied by a lover.

 

 

In the archives I only found this photo with the reading table in view. It can only have been providence that made me fail to find an image of that carré and those plants. My memory will have to do. Years later, now after long months of interior redesigning of both the Hotel and the  Café Américain, with that mental souvenir I enter the space again.

Of a sudden, on the site which once hosted the quartet of little settees, is now towering a ludicrous, glaring and overly highlighted sort of column. Its foot of a gaudy marble, with up there lots and lots of ruddy copper, its roof made of a custard yellow, here and there greyly veined plastic. Obviously meant to suggest a bazaar where various victuals were parked on their respective dishes, the designer must have aimed at the fabrication of something Art-Decoïsh.

This food scraper is disgusting, an eye sore missing the proportions that might have fitted it into the surrounding space – if this is possible at all. In this, at the same time vast, yet limited and cosy room, a thing like this is standing there like a disenchanted mountain, a word coined by Manfredo Tafuri with what surely must be a wink at Thomas Mann, to describe America’s anonymous sky scrapers.

The concert that afternoon still in my ears, thus innocent and uninhibited, entering Américain after this long period of restoration, I experience a nauseating, soul-eating distaste for the thing that is befuddling my gaze and ruining my appetite. In anger, forcing the words from my mouth, I address the gérant of the establishment, who also happens to be renovated.

With a piercing index pointing at the food tower, I ask him why something disgusting like that has been deemed a necessary attribute of the place.
He then speaks the following words, signs of the times that have come over us, words I shall never forget until I die:

“But, Sir, now and then things need to be changed, don’t they?”

With a cracking voice, many eyes of countless guests directed at me, I sort of scream:

“And why then, Sir, why is this necessary?”

As if it could count as a threat I announce, once again in a loud voice, that I will never again enter this place, a promise which I have kept only for a few years, perhaps for not more than a year. After all, where else can a reading table like this be found!

American Hotel / Café Américain, adultery of two cultures. In the beginning of the Ninety’s of the last century, on the pavements of New York City, I had already seen the thousand-headed caricature of the biz-bitch, a nervous gallery of puppets on an open air catwalk, a proliferating stencil of identical female suits and makeup.

On Manhattan only men were looking at one another, at other men, like intimidating hunters and competitors. Women in public, whether bitches or not, were gazing with downcast eyes at their own shoes or perhaps at the pavement. Gone the ambiguous chiaroscuro of ambivalent seduction and thrilling uncertainty. Temps perdu for sure – if in The States there ever was this European art of seduction. By now, already deep into the 21st century, we are eating America’s prudish food in all too clean spaces, we are in training to be healthy and fit the American way, and we watch on video the produce of their porn factories, mostly as clean as their food is.

Once upon a time the Occident was an erotic theatre in which men and women were courting one another, a slow, time-consuming ritual. Before darkness fell, in that gently tempered late afternoon light, with her eyes wide open each woman was a promise of tenderness. Old-fashioned flirtation, the repetitive slight touching of tangent and circles. Two options – to deflect after the touch, then follow her curves; or, like two billiard balls, just touching, then to shoot away at a different angle into the wide open spaces of other cosmic circles leaving the pleasure of sheer reciprocal appreciation behind.

The square of little sofa’s in Café Américain was the very symbol of this age of flirting in a semi-darkness. Ever since this got lost, also those living in the Occident have become actors in the glaring spotlights of postmodern narcissism. As happened some time before in the Wild West, the once so delicate screen between the private and the public had been torn. The great poet Auden knew:

Distinct now,
in the end we shall join you
(how soon all corpses look alike)

The reading table in Américain granted you the chiaroscuro of a Caravaggio. Right in front of you, on the green court of this elongated desk, from underneath nicely curved messing covers clear light was shed on a book or on a journal. Not only was one’s own face lit up, but also the countenance of a woman on the other side, reading or just sipping from her coffee or a glass of wine, the two of you, yet strangers, floating in dusk dark, mirroring one another.

Slightly leaning backwards against the back of your chair, the eyes skimmed the surface of the pages lying there, at the same time observing, perhaps even inspecting that person on the other side who might just be in the act of doing the same thing. Certainly overstepping the mark, exceeding the limits, going beyond the bounds, however, leaving the privacy of the other intact.

The contestants, playing this game on the table’s two green courts and the screen of lamplight, might bring their eyeballs into play and, if serving gently, the other party could always opt out and choose not to hit it back, simply returning to the book or the journal.

There is a portrait, a drawing of the 19th-century revolutionary, albeit also rather ambivalent priest-politician, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand.

 

 

This man experienced horror when in Europe the philosopher Rousseau and his comrades began their sentimentalist destruction of our privacy. That Frenchman had pleaded in his Confessions total transparency and a public honesty, reaching into the most intimate details and the inner recesses of a person’s mind. De Talleyrand’s eyelids can be seen falling over their irises, covering two thirds of the eyeball, French blinds whose cover he uses to hide his innermost self from the surrounding world, shades behind which he is dissembling himself, in order to spy on the others.

That Master of Language, Junichiro Tanizaki, lashes out at the shrill and vivid light used in the West. Japan, by contrast, values the glow of dirt, the age of things and their patina, the diversity in shades and smoked lustre. For the sake of this twilight the Oriental creates his architecture, while asking himself in amazement how in such a dark place gold is yet attracting so much light. In the East beauty is not residing in individual things, but in the shadows that one thing affects and throws over other things.

There was a time when even in the West the quiet glow of candlelight and gas lamps would gently illuminate the nightly world. Meanwhile, in our hellishly lamp-lit halls even that chiaroscuro has attenuated, turning into the glare of cheap, shiny tinsel. The architecture of the through lounge, sunlight splattering in from all sides, has banished all dusk.

According to the Jewish faith this world as we know and see it came about when a Yahweh, being of an awesome and fierce light that would burn and blind all and everything, withdrew somewhere into the cosmos. He left enough light, light that we came to know as daylight. Thus, instead of going blind, man came to see the upholstery of the world He left behind – a kindly luminous world. Only the Oriental took His cue seriously, so it seems, he dimmed this light once more, if just a little and just enough.

In my antediluvian, if not prelapsarian Café Américain there was still a little of this mild Oriental brilliance. Light was playing with itself. In between the dark of its walls and the jagged light outside, out there in the square in front of the Hotel, the space was filled with a lustre which passed through the sieve of the roof of foliage of the trees standing there. In the niche, inside the recess carved out in the cosmos by that square of little settee’s, filtered light clenched into sublime being. Perhaps, what was at stake was not so much the light itself, as a sentiment inside me, one of harmony and fusion.

To intensify this feeling of complete privacy I took off the minus-nine glasses compensating my myopia. Thus, all around me, a territory of a whispering chiaroscuro came into existence, leavened by a colour which had much in common with the caffè latte that was once served to me by the owner of a Roman pensione – alleviating the heaviness of my inner soul. A couple, lovers in spe, finding such a little settee empty and ready for them, immediately recognized in one another kindred spirits. Like the bond between those in Titian’s Concert, who – in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke – are being designated by that one single bit of twilight, this in a most subtle manner.

 

 

Nietzsche knew so well that what makes us think what it is we are thinking, is equally ineffable and unknowable, hiding for ever inside the chiaroscuro of our unconsciousness, never to be cleared up, not even in the shrill light of all gathered psychiatric wisdom. Not doubting drives us crazy, but the clear certainty of the know-all. We all need our own perspective, a point of view, not even of the few but all our own, which transforms our biologically given vision into an attentive watching, nevertheless always leaving us in some kind of dark. In order not to perish from the truth, we need art, thus once more wise Nietzsche; or perhaps a space like the one in Café Américain in which one may ponder one’s very own self.

A scene it was, also a stage for the lonesome one and for loners. Some might consider this little theatre an obscene institution, simply because a stage needs a public and also because in the Netherlands there are still many Calvinists who consider all public acting as sinful. In some of the smaller theatres, however, all present become one another’s public, sometimes against one’s will and inclination. Everyone becomes a spectator. In that dusky niche of settees one could surrender to illusions, only to let them, like a true pyromaniac, go up in smoke again.

It was also an asylum for those emotionally upset, pensively gazing through an invisible cordon, observing others faraway. At times this recess would yet allow someone suicidal an alibi to continue living, a motive to exist, perhaps as someone else.

A former actor in this theatre, one who would like to describe what befell him there, is perforce delivered up to the Imp of the Perverse – that nasty tormentor, our very own self pestering us, our alter ego observing our doings and non-doings from his comfortable seat on our shoulder. It is according to Poe reflection urging us to forbear; and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. Because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. Perhaps I should be silent, is what The Imp is telling me, thus I write down what needs to be written down.

A settee – a true matchmaker – engineered the encounter of what sharp Sade so pointedly defined as our species: Those unhappy, two-legged individuals. Sitting on one of them, one night lasted a thousand nights. It was the place of origin of little stories that somewhat later one came to realize, or rather the site where something happened that one would be able to retell. Two spaces, outlined by the Dutch writer Brakman, were flowing into one: The weak space of what is hidden and the strong space of safety.

 

 

Just having opened the evening paper under the glow of the messing lamplight, for one second I look over my should and shiver. That miserable food-tower evokes the ‘shifting shapes’ of my own past. I am suddenly reminded of the artist in Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s Contract.

As the price for drawing a series of aspects and elevations of The House, this man stipulates in a contract drawn up between him and the Lady of the house, that his Lordship’s servants pile up a stack of voluptuous cushions on the grassy lawn next to the easel on which he works out his drawings, in order to take that Lady in any position he prefers, at any time it pleases him. A divertimento in between strokes of his pen. His Lordship, of course, will be absent all this time.

My souvenir d’un temps perdu, with images of the copulations on those pillows, brings back the square of settees now sorely gone, as well as the women whom I met there and on whom I later meditated when sitting there, once again alone. Had they perhaps been Madonna’s, considered by Rilke beacons along the grave and dark road to the sun?

More lying, lounging instead of actually sitting on my sofa, a copy of Flaubert’s Éducation sentimentale in my hand, the mind that evening was focussed on my own sentiments. In those days the body, at the time of this writing now tired and grown weaker, was still vital, soul and body yet willing. Without any express permission from me – for the regular possessor of such a settee a self-evident ‘must’ – an unknown Lady set herself opposite of me, this at a slight angle. Even more surprisingly so, from one of the little tables a second woman drew up a chair towards our niche and joined what must have been her friend.

The second female immediately began to make eyes at me, this the very first moment she saw in their conversation an opening for her move, trying to implicate me by asking some silly question. Still shocked by the unfair intrusion of my private territorium, I had no appetite for this, anyway no desire to talk to her. The Lady was a different cup of tea, but she did not even glance at me. She could not be called a beauty, however she was very appetizing, seductive yet not seducing me like her friend was doing.

In the Lady’s countenance I recognized the beauteous consumptive patient from that great novel The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann: Clawdia, indeed with a w, the woman with the dark-grey Kirgizian eyes. No escaping her, not from her, thus not from that other female… The key to the one was obviously my acceptation of the other. The Dutch rhymer Cats put it so well:

The eye, only the eye,
May well disturb all of a man –
That open door, the entry for all lust:
One not so prudent, opening those windows,
Before he knows what’s going on,
Receives a thief inside his heart.**

This Lady was my thief, ma Belle Dame sans Merci, the woman, who so kissed men’s mouths that they went sick or mad. However, how was I to know this? There I sat, what else could I do on my settee in Café Américain, no God to help me in my sinful ways. Yet, a miracle did happen, the other woman must have registered my aversion for her as well as my affection for her friend, and after half an hour she chucked it, shooting out from our little cosmos.

Now, of course, the title of Flaubert’s novel which I had dropped next to me on the sofa demanded an exegesis with its proper turn – an interprétation sentimentale which I performed with great dedication. In the distance the sinner was seeing his adultery, that intercourse with non-spouses in which the limits are transgressed and bodies plummet over the edge of the universe.

Our subdued dialogue took its gentle time. Then came the shock of amazement when I suddenly found out that the Lady knew my name already before I had told it, as well as whom I was. Ignoring me had been her brilliant show of indifference. Who she was, of this I had not an inkling. Then she started to tell our common story. After they met in a literary circle in Friesland, the northern Province of the Netherlands, her mother had known my father. Both My Lady and I had been born there some thirty-five years ago. How she had come to know this, how she had detected me as the one I am, sitting there on my settee – she never told me, even though I asked her this.

What she did was offering me a ride in her car to the town where we were both living and where already quite some time ago she must have somehow found me out. She had a vehicle, I was car-less. Once under way, along a the grey and windy canal which connects Amsterdam with Haarlem, its surface lighting up in the light of a meagre little moon, she asked me to come with her, to her house. I had been certain of this, ever since I brought up the subject of a sentimental education, call it male intuition. I had not known, however, what weird things she had in store for me.

There is no need to bother my reader with the nuances of our copulation that night. Suffices to recount the miraculous conversation that followed in a deep, dark autumn night. My Lady knew things about which I had no idea.
In my parent’s house it had never been a secret that my begetter had been having maîtresses. There was a time when I myself lived for a while in the house of one of them, the time before we settled from Friesland into the West of our country. This night I learned that our parents – to be precise: her mother and my father – had been sharing the same bed, nine months before the two of us were born, almost on the very same day of the year.

With the greedy trepidation of her behind still in my loins, I suddenly understood what in fact cannot be understood. My Dame Sans Merci and I – we could have been one another. The semen flowing into my mother nine months before I was born could have been the semen that went into her mother’s womb and had produced her. And vice versa so to say.

Différence et répétition, that everlasting zone of twilight between the sexes. I never could do anything with the by now fashionable notion of androgyny. Yet, there it is: That night I fucked myself. On the altar of sex, that Meditation Mat of the Flesh, I sacrificed My Lady who could have been I. We never met again, for a long time I did not dare to look her up again, and once I dared she had vanished, moved without a trace.

Adultery is but a convention – our excess struck out over the edges of all order. In lucid frenzy the masks fell of our bodies. In one and the same move we were both hetero- and homogeneous. Incest as onanism. Not only did we transgress the limits of the social, the periphery of one’s own Ego was also rent, that chiaroscuro instance trying to escape from itself. For one singular moment I did indeed break out of my Self. Immediately thereafter I became more that ever my own prisoner.

The delinquent, so it is said, always returns to the site of his crime. Maria Consolatrix Afflictorum, restore that square of little settees in Café Américain in all its splendour! If only to allow me, once more, to meet my Dame Sans Merci in that inimitable chiaroscuro.

Sierksma

*Ich liebe es, gleich Wald- und Meerestieren,
Mich für ein gutes Weilchen zu verlieren,
In holder Irrnis grüblerisch zu hocken,
Von ferne her mich endlich heimzulocken,
Mich selber zu mir selber – zu verführen.

** Het oogh, alleen het oogh,
kan gansch den mensch ontrusten,
Het is een open deur, een inganck van de lusten;
Die, sonder goet beleyt, die vensters open doet,
Krijght, lichter als hy meynt, een dief in sijn gemoet.

PORNO, POLITICS, MARQUIS DE SADE

Cruelty in practice is rather difficult to perform, unless within modest boundaries…

Simone de Beauvoir, Marquis De Sade

________________________________________

It must be because we have a French laic State in which almost anybody who isn’t Jewish is a catholic and an anti-Semite, that a manuscript considered ‘forbidden literature’ in the fifties is now suddenly elevated to the status of French Artistic Heritage. This made it impossible for the text to be sold to ‘foreigners’. Otherwise some horny Saudi or Russian Oil Robber Baron might have bought it at an auction. They are their money’s worth, these 120 Days of Sodom, written by Marquis de Sade in the 18th century. It is going to cost the French 8 billion Euro.

This might still be called ironic. Shameful is the word befitting the crime which the French State committed not all that long ago. Now it is saving this pornographic papyrus once hidden in Sade’s cell in the Bastille; a decade ago, however, the Ministry of Justice robbed France of a future President and the man Dominique Strauss-Kahn of his career – IMF president, a socialist and a learned economist.

The French state opened a tin of whores to perform their trick.

Already before this, in his hotel Strauss-Kahn was tripped up by a New York cleaning lady who accused him of sexual harassment and attempted rape. Later she turned out to be part of a little conspiracy, a hoax get money from the man so it seemed, perhaps already a political set-up. Out of the blue Tristane Banon appeared on stage to also accuse him of rape – attempted rape that is, this ages ago. Again the case was dismissed from the courts. However, other weapons were held ready to bring him down.

In a hotel in Lille, together with some friends, Strauss-Kahn had participated in so-called ‘sex orgies, this with ‘luxurious prostitutes’. The man never denied it. However, the Ministry of Justice assembled some of the ladies who had wilfully taken part in these parties and who had been paid liberally – by Strauss-Kahn that is. In this manner not only could Strauss-Kahn be accused of being ‘a pimp’; suddenly, why not posthumously, after their ‘little deaths’ the whores also felt bad about what had happened at that party: ‘Against their will they had been anally abused by the accused…’

Even though once again the case was dismissed from court, the political career of Dominique Strauss-Kahn ended. Would it have happened in a different manner if he had not been a socialist and a Jew, but instead a neat and good catholic husband, just having gone astray ‘for once…’?

Now for the plot: Precisely this Marquis de Sade, that aristocrat who filled his papyrus roll with all kinds of so-called filth, has always made propaganda for anal fornication. From a curious opinion he ventilated, we may conclude that philosophy had supreme primacy in his work: “Buttfucking is not more agreeable than other positions, simply because one likes it better, but because of the philosophical argument which serves as its foundation.” Strauss-Kahn and his libertarian friends will know the book by heart, perhaps even taking prescriptions from it to organize their orgies. So what!

Interestingly enough, you will always find mystification going on when The Dialectics of the Sexes is at stake. My morning paper shows a gorgeous little picture of the ‘papyrus’ on which Sade’s manuscript is written. The man had hidden it in his cell; later the French State hid it in what was called l‘Enfer of the Bibliothèque Nationale, the State’s secret porn museum where all naughty books could only be seen by ‘specialists’. I had never seen that roll before:

 

sade1

 

However, another ‘medium’ – methinks the web journal Nu.NL – shows a large stack of sheets of paper. Perhaps this contains another manuscript from Marquis de Sade, certainly not his 120 Days, even though it looks rather cute:

 

m1mxs00a7r43_wd640

 

In the margin of all this French Shame, some remarks which I borrow from an essay written quite some time ago, titled Eternal Sin:

One thing becomes crystal clear to the attentive reader of 120 Days.

What is shameful about the text is not so much its naughty content, as the fact that Sade has reduced literature to vulgar bookkeeping.

Sade’s obscenity resides in the violation of the reader’s sense of literary quality and proportion. Seldom has so much paper been used for such small substance, this in a stupidly tedious manner. He manages to write about things in such a way that what might have excited a well-bred person becomes boring as hell. What the wrong kind of man says about ‘women’ seems to apply to Sade’s repetitive fraction of the obscene: When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…

Thus, what is obscene is the repetition itself, specifically so because after a hundred pages the reader gets completely used to it. Sade must have been aware of this. His apology for the monotony, however, is once more obscene. Not only does he consider ‘female virtue monotonous’ and is he warning his heroes ‘never ever to preach’; he also states in advance, anticipating his critical reader’s objections against his endless litany and the literal repletion of phrases and passages in his Philosophie dans le boudoir, that this “is merely the semblance of repetition – after all, can wise words be repeated enough?”

It would be a serious mistake of his reader of 120 Days of Sodom, thus the Marquis, to interpret his literary heaping of shards of language as a reflection of is rather barren piling up of bodies. After all, “there is always a small difference between what is only seemingly identical.” Sade, in short, posing as the avant-garde of minimalism and guardian of a philosophy of difference – protagonist of the minimal pedagogy which tells people that monotony may be exciting. This may indeed be true in the case of Reich’s music, however it is not true as far as the language of Sodom is concerned.

In The 120 Days of Sodom De Sade expressly states as his aim: “The description of all our passions.” He considers the dichotomy between sin and virtue to be absolutely dependant on ‘local ideas’ and cultural context. This then is his apology for the description of every single variation of every single sexual position and act. Our Don Juan of the Senses “has only one desire left, to be in hell where the last bit of knowledge that may seduce him resides.” Perhaps this is the main reason why he negates people’s everyday carnal pleasures and considers only so-called perversions. From his survey he hopes that only one will be enough to excite his reader. “I would have achieved my goal.”

There are of course all kinds of grades of the scandalous. With a wink towards the protagonists of so-called Operationalism – epistemologists who define intelligence as what the IQ test measures – one might say that there are as many definitions of the obscene and the scandalous as there have been written obscene and scandalous books.

Sierksma December 2017

MARILYN’S CHEEK

Ai! Not so much Marilyn’s cheeks plural, as that one left buttock singular… Not even wearing a négligé, the Great Monroe is elegantly elevating herself, her ass that is. Ignoring her – impossible.

 

MARILYN

 

Quel cul! Spread out like a treat, Marilyn is actually lying on the reverse side of a Dutch paper cutting which I was reading in order to prepare myself for the future acclimatization in Holland; I have been spending the last six months in Ma douce France – on my own. Something political, an analysis of the last elections.

Only by chance did I turn that piece of paper. After that I never turned it upside down again. Now and then my wife sends me these cuttings. That I may not lose my grip on the past as well as on the future. Out here in my little hamlet, I tend to lose track of what others consider relevant.

She, my wife that is, was probably not aware of this buttock, merely concentrating on the outline of the article to be cut out from the reverse side of the paper. What a fortunate bastard I am, by pure coincidence her cutting has not damaged my Magnificent Marilyn. Now however, my far-away wife is not only saddling me with a serious stimulation in the underbelly, she is also giving me the pleasure of contemplating what might be considered a philosophical issue. It is necessary, though, to first put this cheek in the proper materialistic perspective.

What the fuck was beautiful Marilyn doing with her abdomen, how did she manage to transform that small, yet sublime bulge into this magnificent Mont Ventoux? A long pensive gaze brings me to the following conclusion: Not visibly for one who is observing the photo, she must have drawn her left leg up sideways, in such a way as to prop it on a solid, rather eminent cushion.

With this still utilitarian hypothesis at the back of our mind, we may now ask more philosophically, interested as we are in plural perspective and projection, if apart from the photographer there was someone else present during the shooting of the image. What magnificent view that man must have had! Montre moi ton cul, Marilyn! This, then, would have been the end of his world, from the right position evaporating into an anal mirage.

Did a whole cosmos end with Marilyn’s death? How she reminds me of the ravishing Violetta, the woman who in my lonely French little farmhouse is acting and singing her ancient black-and-white videotaped version of Verdi’s Traviata. Fallen by the roadside, orphaned and lost she is in the web of morals of this, our civilized world.

What remains is Marilyn’s shadow hovering over Every Man’s consciousness. In stills of movies; on a photograph like this one; or on the move, like in Billy Wilder’s great picture Some like it Hot, waving her ass like the semaphore flag of her personal empire.

How hot would I not have liked to have her! Posthumous wishful thinking.

Sierksma, La Roche 17.9/2013