Primitive man believed the world was full of unseen forces: the orenda (spirit force) of the American Indians, the huaca of the ancient Peruvians. The Age of Reason said that these forces had only ever existed in man’s imagination; only reason could show man the truth about the universe. The trouble was that man became a thinking pygmy, and the world of the rationalists was a daylight place in which boredom, triviality and ‘ordinariness’ were ultimate truths. But the main trouble with human beings is their tendency to become trapped in the ‘triviality of everydayness’ (to borrow Heidegger’s phrase), in the suffocating world of their personal preoccupations. And every time they do this, they forget the immense world of broader significance that stretches around them. And since man needs a sense of meaning to release his hidden energies, this forgetfulness pushes him deeper into depression and boredom, the sense that nothing is worth the effort.
Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party (Virginia Woolf plate), 1974–79. Porcelain with overglaze enamel (China paint), 14 3/16 × 14 1/2 × 4 3/8 (36 × 36.8 × 11.1 cm).
Detail of the Plate for Emily Dickinson in the Dinner Party by Judy Chicago in the Brooklyn Museum, August 2007
Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party (Georgia O’Keeffe plate), 1974-79. Porcelain with overglaze enamel (China paint).
I like to live always at the beginnings of life, not at their end. We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life. I am by nature always beginning and believing and so I find your company more fruitful than that of, say, Edmund Wilson, who asserts his opinions, beliefs, and knowledge as the ultimate verity. Older people fall into rigid patterns. Curiosity, risk, exploration are forgotten by them. You have not yet discovered that you have a lot to give, and that the more you give the more riches you will find in yourself. It amazed me that you felt that each time you write a story you gave away one of your dreams and you felt the poorer for it. But then you have not thought that this dream is planted in others, others begin to live it too, it is shared, it is the beginning of friendship and love.
You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.
Reblogged from here
An ABZ of Love: Kurt Vonnegut’s Favorite Vintage Danish Illustrated Guide to Sexuality
by Maria PopovaA
From common sense to conjugal bliss, by way of corsets and chivalry.
“If you are as interested in sex as you say you are, there is a really lovely book about it in my study — on a top shelf. It’s red, and it’s called The ABZ of Love,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote to is wife Jane in a 1965 letter published in the fantastic new volume Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, and he signed, “Love from A to Z, — K”. Naturally, I went hunting for the obscure vintage tome, which turned out to be as kooky and wonderful as Vonnegut’s recommendation promises. An ABZ of Love (public library), a sort of dictionary of romance and sexual relationships covering everything from radical-for-the-era topics like birth control and homosexuality to mundanities like bidets and picnics to abstractions like disappointment and excess, was originally published in 1963 by Danish husband-and-wife duo Inge and Sten Hegeler, featuring gorgeous black-and-white sketches by artist Eiler Krag reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s Ulysses etchings.
The book is presented with the disclaimer that rather than an ABC textbook for beginners, it is a “personal and subjective supplement to the many other outstanding scientific books on sexual enlightenment already in existence,” setting out to describe “in lexical form a few aspects of sexual relationships seen from a slightly different standpoint.” Indeed, the book was in many ways ahead of its time and of the era’s mainstream, pushing hard against bigotry and advocating for racial, gender, and LGBT equality with equal parts earnestness and wry wit.
The Hegelers, who “have tried to be straightforward and frank,” write poetically in the introduction:
If we look through a piece of glass, irregularities and impurities may distort and discolor the impression of what we see. If we regard something through a convex lens, it appears to be upside down. But if we place a concave lens in front of the convex lens, we correct the distortion in the convex lens and things no longer appear topsy-turvy. Each one of us regards the world through his own lens, his own glasses. The effect of those glasses is that, even though we may be looking at the same thing, not all of us actually see the same thing. The lenses are ground by each individual’s upbringing, disposition and other factors.
This book is neither art nor science — even though it borrows ingredients from both. It is more by way of being an extra piece of glass through which we can regard a part of life. One can slip it in between one’s own glasses and the window.
It is a piece of glass we have found and polished up a bit. We have looked through it and thought the world looked a bit more human. Perhaps some will think the same as we do.
Many of the entries focus on debunking stereotypes and condemning bigotry, accompanied by apt illustrations.
Some are even outright snarky:
A delightful entry under Sense, common echoes Anaïs Nin’s timeless insight on emotional excess and reads:
Everybody talks about using common sense. Many believe that we are all basically imbued with common sense. It is said that women are creatures of emotion, but that men use their common sense. Nonsense. We are all extremely prone to be guided by our emotions in our choices, actions, judgements, etc.
We are none of us so full of common sense as we would like to think ourselves.
So there are two paths we can take: one is try to deny and suppress our emotions and force ourselves to think sensibly. In this way we run the risk of fooling ourselves.
The other way is to admit to our emotions, accept our feelings and let them come out into the daylight. By being suspicious of all the judgements we pass on the basis of what we feel (and not until then) we shall taken a step towards becoming practitioners of common sense.
The Hegelers don’t shy away from the philosophical and the prescriptive:
Under Development, there’s a somewhat humorous infographic look at the stages of erotic development. We would like it to be follow a course in which “we very rapidly and regularly become cleverer and cleverer”:
We imagine it goes something like this:
In reality, however, it’s more something like this:
…after swinging around a certain point for a time, very small swings to and from in either direction, a sudden drop with the resultant feeling of hopelessness [and then] once more pendulation around one point for a time, then a drop, then that hopeless feeling, improvement again, etc., etc., without ever reaching the absolute ideal. Disappointments and depressions are necessary features of any process of learning, every development.
Among the more interesting entries is one under Personality, explaining the Freudian model of the self through a visual analogy of a Native American totem pole, with the disclaimer that personality is still an open question:
A person’s personality is the sum of all the things in a person that go to determine the said person’s relationship to other people.
Many theories have been expounded concerning human personality. Many models have been made in an attempt to show what actually happens. Some of these theories are more practical than others, but none of them is correct. We still know too little — perhaps we shall never find the right one. The one which will be described here is of course not the right one either. It is the one used in psychoanalysis.
This model — like so many other theories — is a picture, an attempt to explain something unknown with the help of something known. If we think of personality as the Indian totem pole with three faces corresponding to three persons it will give us an idea of the model.
The three persons have names and are very different in character:
1) The top face is rather strict and censorious. A bit of a light-snuffer. We call this person the super ego, and it represents everything we have learnt concerning what is right and wrong. The super ego reminds us how to drive through traffic, how to hold a knife and fork and generally speaking how ‘one’ behaves. It is also the voice of conscience.
2) The bottom face on the totem pole is a person we call the id. This person takes care of our wishes and urges and needs — the very honest, primitive, but likewise somewhat ruthless powers with in us. The face of the id is therefore a somewhat primitive, uninhibited, wild and brutal mug.
3) The middle face is our own. It is called the ego and is a little squashed between the other two faces. While the upper face possibly resembles our parents, and the bottom face appears a little strange to us, we find it easiest to accept the middle face — a compromise between what we want to do and what we are allowed to.
We are a little perplexed because if we are very good and reserved — then the bottom person thrashes his tail and rebels while the top person nods approvingly. And if we are too abandoned and let the bottom person have his own way –well, we find ourselves landed with a bad conscience, because the upper person grumbles.
So we have to strike a balance. We have to stick to certain moral code — stick to certain rules of the road in order to mingle with the traffic. But we must also pay attention to our ‘nature’ — our id — who likewise demands his rights.
Both beautifully illustrated and boldly defiant of its era’s biases, An ABZ of Love is, just as Vonnegut assured his wife, absolutely wonderful.
I am better at dry sadness than at cold anger, for I remained dry eyed until now, as dry as smoked fish, but my heart is a kind of dirty soft custard inside.
I am not sad. Rather stunned, very far away fro myself, not really believing you are now so far, so far, you so near. I want to tell you only two things before leaving, and then I’ll not speak about it any more, I promise. First, I hope so much, I want and need so much to see you again, some day. But,remember, please, I shall never more ask to see you — not from any pride since I have none with you, as you know, but our meeting will mean something only when you wish it. So, I’ll wait. When you’ll wish it, just tell. I shall not assume that you love me anew, not even that you have to sleep with me, and we have not to stay together such a long time — just as you feel, and when you feel. But know that i’ll always long for your asking me. No, I cannot think that I shall not see you again. I have lost your love and it was (it is) painful, but shall not lose you. Anyhow, you gave me so much, Nelson, what you gave me meant so much, that you could never take it back. And then your tenderness and friendship were so precious to me that I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me. I do hope this tenderness and friendship will never, never desert me. As for me, it is baffling to say so and I feel ashamed, but it is the only true truth: I just love as much as I did when I landed into your disappointed arms, that means with my whole self and all my dirty heart; I cannot do less. But that will not bother you, honey, and don’t make writing letters of any kind a duty, just write when you feel like it, knowing every time it will make me very happy.
Well, all words seem silly. You seem so near, so near, let me come near to you, too. And let me, as in the past times, let me be in my own heart forever.
Your own Simone
A feminist appropriation of misogynist and patriarchal texts: Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman and The Bloody Chamber.
By Roxie Drayson, Year 3, Goldsmiths College, University of London
It seems incongruous that a self-avowed feminist concerned with the empowerment of women should find anything of value in the writings of the Marquis de Sade, a misogynist libertine who openly advocated the punishment and control of women through sexual means. It is a challenge Simone de Beauvoir undertook in her essay Must We Burn Sade?, in which she attempted to demonstrate ‘the supreme value of his testimony’. Like Beauvoir, Sade understood the powers of mystification, and his writing also unmasked the fictions of bourgeois gender constructs.
When he writes that ‘every man wants to be a tyrant when he fornicates’, he reveals the reality of male desire and it is in this possibility that his importance for Beauvoir and other feminists partly lies. Beauvoir remarks that for Sade, ‘sexuality was not a biological matter, but a social fact’. He did not believe that sexuality was intended only to satisfy the requirements of procreation, and argued, that under the prohibitive social conditions of bourgeois morality, which undermined individualism in favour of an abstract repressive universality, sexual cruelty and violence could provide a subversive political strategy through which to reestablish individuality and passion. Beauvoir comes to view him as a philosopher of freedom, suggesting that ‘it is as a moralist rather than as a poet that Sade tries to shatter the prison of appearances’ by making of ‘his sexuality an ethic’. His work therefore has an exemplary character to the extent that this ethic provides us with ‘insights of surprising depth into the relation of sexuality to social existence’. Beauvoir is able to appropriate Sade for her own ends, weaving her interpretation of his work into an implicit criticism of the conservative morality and hypocritical bourgeois universalism that were employed to undermine female individualism in her own time.
Twenty-four years later, in The Sadeian Woman, Angela Carter similarly appropriates the writings of Sade to further her own feminist project of ‘demythologising’ hegemonic and essentialist conceptions of female sexuality. Like Beauvoir, she also considers his pornography to be unique in that he used it to reveal rather than conceal the actuality of sexual relations ‘in the context of an unfree society as the expression of pure tyranny’. The source of Carter’s interest in Sade is the exposure of the important role that sexuality plays in maintaining the social status quo: ‘since he is not a religious man but a political man, he treats the facts of female sexuality not as a moral dilemma but as a political reality’. Like Beauvoir, she views him as a philosopher of freedom who ‘urged women to fuck as actively as they were able […] to fuck their way into history and in doing so change it’. However, published during the early development of the anti-pornography debate that was to divide the feminist movement throughout the course of the next decade, contemporaneous and subsequent feminist critical responses to The Sadeian Woman demonstrated a profound unease with the ethics of any appropriation of Sade by feminism, an imaginative leap deemed by some impossible to make.
Several critics, such as Susanne Kappeler, have stated that Carter’s use of Sade’s misogynist works did little other than reinforce degrading patriarchal representations of women. Her accusation that Carter is simply ‘playing in the literary sanctuary’ implies a refusal to acknowledge that some pornographic literature may be open to a subversive re-appropriation which could challenge the political and social status quo. Similarly, Patricia Duncker commented in relation to Carter’s use of the traditional fairy tale in The Bloody Chamber ‘that the infernal trap inherent in the fairy tale, which fits the form to its purpose, to be the carrier of ideology, proves too complex and pervasive to avoid. Carter is rewriting the tales within the strait-jacket of their original structures’. It is indeed not coincidental that The Bloody Chamber was published in the same year as The Sadeian Woman, as Carter’s revisionary fairy tales mark a similar attempt to demonstrate how inherited patriarchal discursive structures are not innately monolithic or resistant to appropriation. Carter connects the two texts herself by arguing that Sade’s ‘straitjacket psychology relates his fiction directly to the black and white ethical world of fairy-tale and fable’. If her discussion of Sade’s work stresses its fairy tale abstractions, then her own revision of the classical fairy tale attempts to emphasise the pornographic nature of the representations of women that it circulated. Both texts, like Beauvoir’s essay, highlight the connection that binds sexual and socio-economic relations within a patriarchal society. In her fairy-tale revisions, Carter attempts, just as Sade did in his black fairy-tales, to expose a reality that those tales sought to disguise: that female virginity operates as a token and guarantor of the ruling classes’ property rights. Carter writes in The Sadeian Woman that ‘sexual relations between men and women always render explicit the nature of social relations in the society in which they take place and if described explicitly will form a critique of those relations’.
According to the critic Betsey Hearne, the original eighteenth-century tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont – upon which two of Carter’s stories in The Bloody Chamber are based – can be read as a proto-feminist text. Beaumont lived at a time when the archaic tradition of arranged marriage based on social position and wealth was being challenged by the progressive concept of courtly love. In the classic pattern of courtship, Beauty is represented as having a choice. The Beast repeatedly asks for her hand in marriage which she chooses to refuse on several occasions, suggesting that her final decision to wed is entirely voluntary and therefore indicative of romantic love.
However in truth, when Beaumont’s Beauty first considers the possibility of marrying the Beast, her motivations are primarily those of practicality and gratitude for the generous gifts lavished on her: ‘“Am I not very wicked,” said she, “to act so unkindly to Beast, that has studied, so much to please me in everything? […] It is true, I do not feel the tenderness of affection for him, but I find I have the highest gratitude, esteem and friendship; I will not make him miserable, were I to be so ungrateful I should never forgive myself”’. She is not a woman in love, but someone calmly calculating her prospects and economic obligations. She can therefore be read as a representation of female collusion within the patriarchal exchange system of women.
Mimicking Sade by adopting the role of ‘moral pornographer’ who ‘through the infinite modulations of the sexual act’ reveals ‘the historical fact of the economic dependence of women upon men’, Carter uses her first revision of Beamont’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to illustrate the system of material exchange upon which the original’s romantic concept of marriage is in fact founded. In the ironically titled ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, she highlights the construction of the female as a circulating object of exchange by allowing, in a sentence concerning the white rose that Beauty’s father had promised to buy her, a fleeting syntactic ambiguity about what is being bought, Beauty or the rose: ‘not even enough money left over to buy his Beauty, his-girl-child, his pet, the one white rose she said she wanted’. The white rose, signifying Beauty’s status as a commodity, later becomes a token of exchange in a system of private ownership between the male Beast and Beauty’s father. The Beast’s estate bespeaks a materialism reserved for the male patriarch, it is ‘a place of privilege’. Just as Beauty’s father is the proud owner of ‘his girl-child, his pet’, the Beast is similarly accustomed to being the possessor of beautiful and valuable objects. Carter highlights the inexorability of the male-defined economy that structures the original narrative in a sly aside after the Beast’s quid pro quo proposal: ‘and what else was there to be done’. Beauty is represented as aware of, yet powerless to contravene, her position in this system of symbolic exchange: ‘she stayed and smiled, because her father wanted her to do so […] For she knew with a pang of dread that her visit to the Beast must be, on some magically reciprocal scale, the price of her father’s good fortune’.
As a governess, Beaumont was viewed as a progressive thinker in her day who had a ‘reforming zeal for both the status and the education of women in society’. Originally published in a book that tells of a governess reciting different lessons and stories to a group of girls in her charge, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was designed as a sex-specific tale intended to present a suitable model for little girls. However, as the folklorist Jack Zipes states, the story suggests ‘that the mark of beauty for a female is to be found in her submission, obedience, humility, industry, and patience’. Beauty sacrifices her will to that of two men, her father and the Beast, and seeks for her self-effacement to be praised as a virtuous and courageous act. Carter ironises this position by permitting the derisive description – ‘Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial’ – to emanate from Beauty’s own perspective. In her passive submission, Beauty is revealed to be a copy of Sade’s Justine, a character whom Carter described as ‘a good woman according to the rules for women laid down by men and her reward is rape, humiliation and incessant beatings […] the living image of a fairy-tale princess’.
In ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, Beauty expedites her own domination by offering herself to the Beast in desperation, almost as if she fears not being taken otherwise: ‘if you’ll have me, I’ll never leave you’. Carter is evidently impatient with Beauty’s acceptance of her subordinate status and commented that the original tale is ‘an advertisement for moral blackmail when the Beast says that he is dying because of Beauty, the only morally correct thing for her to have said at that point would be, “Die, then”’. However in her own revision, no such rebellion occurs, instead we are left with Mr. Lyon’s self-regarding, complacent self-satisfaction at the appropriation of his latest acquisition: ‘do you know, I think I might be able to manage a little breakfast today, Beauty, if you eat something with me’.
In an interview with John Haffenden, Carter commented that ‘some of the stories in The Bloody Chamber are the result of furiously quarrelling with Bettelheim’, specifically referring to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as a tale of which her interpretation differed markedly from that of the psychoanalytic critic. While he viewed the fable as an allegory of the successful maturation of the girl into sexual adulthood, in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, she indicates that within patriarchal society autonomous female growth is in effect stunted. Bettelheim framed his reading of the story entirely within the Oedipal narrative, suggesting that Beauty, due to the incest taboo and her desire for her father, has not been able to see the prince correctly and has imagined him as a beast. Once she is able successfully to sever her Oedipal attachment to her father, she can then see the Prince as he is and has always been. In her second revision of the tale, ‘The Tiger’s Bride’, Carter allows Beauty to escape from the Oedipal narrative, offering an alternative model for the development of female sexual desire.
Carter reverses the child’s willingness to sacrifice all for her beloved father into the father’s own willingness to sacrifice all, including his daughter and wife, to his puerile egotism and frenetic pleasure-seeking. The role of women as objects of exchange in classic fairy tales, adumbrated in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, is further accented in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ as Beauty’s father loses her to the Beast in a game of cards. Appropriating the personal voice, this Beauty avatar not only takes control of the narrative, and therefore the patriarchal narrative tradition of the fairy tale itself, but in observing her surroundings from a detached, acrimonious perspective is able to expose the predicament of women within the patriarchal system: ‘I watched with the furious cynicism peculiar to women whose circumstances force mutely to witness folly’. Unlike her twin sister in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’, she does not construct herself as a delicate ‘pearl’ but as a stronger, more resilient ‘woman of honour’ who refuses to play the role of victimized pawn. The white rose, which referred in the previous story to Beauty’s status as cultural commodity, is disdainfully returned by this Beauty to her father ‘all smeared with blood’.
When the Beast asks her to undress, she refuses to discharge her father’s debt and submit to the Sadeian one-way pornographic gaze which she believes will objectify and other her. However, just as this Beauty does not represent the archetypal Beauty, this Beast does not represent the archetypal Beast. He is no longer a man with the appearance of a lion but a tiger wearing the crafted, ‘beautiful’ mask of a man, suggesting that identity is in itself an artefact. Beauty is fascinated by his otherness, and she is soon able to perceive that beneath the constructed façade of his social appearance, they share an innate commonality: ‘we could boast amongst us not one soul since all the best religions in the world state categorically that not beasts nor women were equipped with souls’. Both excluded from patriarchal society, their relationship can therefore escape androcentric structures in which sexual relations are governed by male discourses of sexuality. It is the tiger who first undresses, revealing his animality behind his human mask, allowing her, asserting herself, to do the same. Rather than othering its object, the tiger’s gaze instead requires the engagement of another subject, acknowledges ‘no pact that is not reciprocal’. Moved by his restrained ferocity and non-differentiating gaze, she exposes herself to him and in doing so finds her perception of the ‘fleshly nature of women’ transformed.
Reading The Bloody Chamber alongside The Sadeian Woman, Patricia Duncker comments, in reference to ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ , that ‘all we are watching, beautifully packaged and unveiled, is the ritual disrobing of the willing victim of pornography’, believing that Carter has absorbed Sade’s misogyny and can therefore have ‘no conception of women’s sexuality as autonomous desire’. This interpretation undermines the agency that Beauty displays in refusing to allow the Beast to cover himself and in stripping herself. Not to do so would have confirmed the patriarchal view that she has no animal self to expose. In the story’s final moments, the Beast licks away Beauty’s skin, revealing the beautiful tiger beneath. Instead of the male animalistic libido devouring the sexually unmotivated female, Beauty is in fact revealed to possess an autonomous sexual libido of her own. Her transformation from object of exchange into independent subject is solidified when she dispatches her mechanical twin, a clock-work doll, back to her father: ‘I will dress her in my own clothes, wind her up, send her back to perform the part of my father’s daughter’.
Like Duncker, Avis Lewallen similarly suggests that the tale is trapped in ‘the Sadean framework, fuck or be fucked, both in the literal and in the metaphorical sense’. It is an interpretation rooted in Lewallen’s misreading of Carter’s critique of Sade’s dualistic Juliette/Justine paradigm in The Sadeian Woman. While Lewallen believes that ‘Carter is attempting to promote an active sexuality for women within Sadean boundaries’, Carter’s analysis of Juliette/Justine, the female libertine and the sacrificial victim, stresses that ultimately ‘Juliette’s triumph is just as ambivalent as Justine’s disaster’; she believes that ‘the Sadeian woman does not subvert her society, except incidentally, as a storm trooper of the individual consciousness. She remains in the area of privilege created by her class just as Sade remains in the philosophic framework of his time’. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride’, Beauty is not based on Sade’s Juliette. Moving from clothes to skin to fur, she represents the multiplicity of female identity. Whereas Beaumont’s story emphasises the potential danger of the polymorphousness latent in each individual and tries to castrate and channel it in accordance with the requirements of a fixed social structure, Carter celebrates indeterminacy and liminality as a desirable and excitingly perverse state. In her revisionary tale, Beauty and the Beast are not trapped within the Sadean fuck or be fucked mentality, they are subverting it as neither can be read as predator or victim. Their relationship is modelled on Carter’s concept of reciprocal love in The Sadeian Woman which ‘will not admit of conqueror and conquered’. It is a model which Carter states Sade explicitly controverted as he ‘preserves his ego from the singular confrontation with the object of reciprocal desire which is, in itself, both passive object and active subject. […] It is in this holy terror of love that we find, the source of all opposition to the emancipation of women’. Beauvoir, similarly admonishes Sade for ‘never for an instant losing himself in his animal nature’, and for refusing in his misogyny to acknowledge the way in which the ambiguity of his fleshed subjectivity could open him reciprocally to the female other. Both women situate Sade’s solipsistic ethic of the erotic against their own feminist erotic, one which ‘allows one to grasp existence in one’s self and the other, as both subjectivity and passivity. The two partners merge in this ambiguous unity; each one is freed of his own presence and achieves immediate communication with the other’.
Carter’s dual revisions of the traditional fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’ act as intratextual companion pieces within The Bloody Chamber and exemplify the collection’s textual tactics as a whole. The first version deconstructs the original story by exposing the contrived gender differences and positionalities which inform it. The second reconstructs by permitting the feminine subject to exceed the projected desire prohibited by the patriarchal forces of the classic fairy tale that insist on restricting female sexuality to that of an economic commodity. Employing Sade’s liberatory philosophy strategically, Carter exposes the patriarchal framework that structures such narratives, and reformulates it into a feminist tale of erotic experience. As Marina Warner states: ‘Carter snatches out of the jaws of misogyny itself ‘useful stories’ for women. There she found Sade a liberating teacher of the male-female status quo and made him illuminate the far reaches of women’s polymorphous desires. The effect is to lift Beauty […] out of the pastel nursery into the labyrinth of female desire’. By insisting on understanding Sade, by giving themselves over, through a method of critical sympathy, to the logic of his philosophy, while exposing his misogyny, both Beauvoir and Carter are able to make Sade work for them.
Beaumont, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, 9 January 2007 <http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html> [accessed 14/05/2010].
Beauvoir, Simone de, Must We Burn Sade?, trans. by Annette Michelson (New York: Grove Press, 1953).
Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978).
Carter, Angela, The Sadeian Woman (London: Virago, 1979).
Carter, Angela, The Bloody Chamber (London: Vintage, 2007).
Carter, Angela (ed.), The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (London: Virago, 1992).
Clancy, Patricia, ‘A French Writer and Educator in England, Mme Le Prince de Beaumont’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 201 (1982) pp. 195-208.
Duncker, Patricia, ‘Re-imagining The Fairy Tales: Angela Carter’s Bloody Chambers’, Literature and History, 10:1, (1984) pp. 3-14.
Haffenden, John, Novelists in Interview (London and New York: Methuen, 1985).
Hearne, Betsy, Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
Kappeler, Susanne, The Pornography of Representation (Cambridge: Polity, 1986).
Lewallen, Avis, ‘Wayward Girls But Wicked Women?: Female Sexuality in Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”’ in Day, Gary and Bloom, Clive (eds.), Perspectives on Pornography: Sexuality in Film and Literature (New York: St Martin’s, 1988) pp. 144-158.
Zipes, Jack, Fairy Tales and The Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and The Process of Civilization (New York: Routledge, 2006).
“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it.”
― Moses Hadas
I Never read your novel.
It’s still buried in My Documents underneath feminist manifestos and facts about sigil magick.
“I do like you”, you wrote in your last message.
If the ‘do’ wasn’t there, it wouldn’t have been so cold.
That ‘do’ meant ‘but not enough’ to continue being distracted by me.
So, yes, I do like your writing.
I just don’t like it enough to read it (now that you’re gone)
In order to get my cleaning done, I often put on DVD’s for my daughters to watch. It keeps them busy and makes the process of domestics in the home much easier. ‘Domestic Goddess’ is a play on the Disney movies they watch, using props like crowns and magic wands my daughters play with. I also use a dress I made out of black rubbish bags. It’s also a play on ‘the throne’ which is often used as reference to a toilet. Using urination in my work is not a novelty, it somehow connects me with the primal force which spark my work to begin with.
In ‘Cleaning up’ I explore keeping ‘beautiful’ in conjunction with dishes. It focuses on the female having to shave and ‘clean up nicely’ in order to be perceived as ‘nice’ through the eyes of patriarchal ideals.
It also plays with the idea of being consumed, or being associated with being delicious, then dirty. Once again I place the performances opposite to fairy tales, watched daily by my daughters.
“I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realizing happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven’s name, why is it so important to think the same things all together. ”
– Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
Image: From Renée Cox’s Yo’ Mama portraits
“In the month after my son was born I was standing in the laundry, washing miniature jumpers in the cavernous steel sink. The window overlooked our overgrown courtyard and, at its centre, a multitude of white cotton nappies hung from the Hills Hoist like some conceptual art installation on the theme of surrender. In that moment, I knew what writing meant to me. Amid the frantic chaos that my day-to-day existence had become, my body and much of my mind taken over by the full-time business of mothering, writing became my single act of independence — a mutiny against days characterised by mere sufficiency and selflessness. My journal was mine alone, a place where I still recognised myself as the same person I was before my life got tipped on its head.
Some women bemoan that no one ever told them the truth about giving birth. It feels a scandalous betrayal, to be fooled into entering a place where you are as defenselessness and alone as one who is dying. In those shattering hours of labour, death lurks, angels descend, pacts are made.
Almost immediately after giving birth, I looked back upon myself — the self I was only yesterday — as a girl, wide-eyed with a sense of limitlessness and yet blissfully unaware of my own freedom. I was in my final year of university, living with my boyfriend in a share-house, when I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 27. As my fellow art students continued to paint with ink and turps and oil, I donned masks and confined myself to aerated stairwells where I made detailed pencil sketches of my baby from ultrasound pictures — some attempt at coming to grips with the reality of his tiny, emerging form.
Childbirth is the ultimate lesson in capitulation, performed in an altered state, the mind subjugated to the body’s will. And yet its verity is so quickly lost in the turmoil of the ensuing days that it becomes unexplainable, diminished. Sitting in my hospital bed after a 24-hour labour, ‘daddy’ sent home by the flirtatiously officious nurses, and everything deceptively white and crisp and clean, I sat weeping in a manic state of loneliness and terror, astonished that I had been left in charge of this little life, with no one checking to see whether I knew what the hell I was supposed to do to keep it alive.
Looking around the ward at the other new mothers propped up in their beds, I was reminded of an observation by Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking about the recently bereaved taking on a certain look, ‘recognisable only to those who have seen that look on their own faces … one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness’. At all times of the night, women clutching mysterious bundles were wheeled into the ward. They were transferred into beds, their babies plucked from their chests and placed in transparent cots beside them, kissed farewell by new fathers with the reverence of the shell-shocked witness. Alone at last, these mothers were left to dwell in the muted aftermath, transformed into something both more and less than they were before. As I fed my own child in the dark, I watched them lying opposite, the whites of their eyes gleaming in the dark, and saw my own stunned expression reflected back at me: the look of a woman broken apart and remade anew.
In those days after giving birth, old friends visited, sitting on the edge of my hospital bed and talking about the same things we had always nattered about. I found myself gazing at them as if through a sheet of glass, their world suddenly glamorous and removed. As I was coming to terms with the fact of being everything — source of nourishment, comfort, cleanliness, survival — to a new life, my friends were still dealing with the politics of the workplace, clothes, shoes, new films, uncertain relationships and overseas holidays. Some fussed over my baby; others barely noticed him. Holding him against my chest, I talked to my friends as normally as I was able, flailing against the inevitable shrinkage of my world.
Secretly, I was more intoxicated by my son than I knew how to admit — the warm, sour-milk, fresh-bread newness of him; his proud, defiant little face. It was as if I had stepped into an alternate universe, a perfect replica of my former life but for the fact that my relationship to everything in it had been irreversibly changed.
Though my birth was an ordeal, it was rapidly eclipsed by my struggle to breastfeed. Four months of dogged determination to get right what I had assumed would come naturally sent me into the darkest, most despairing furrows of my being. Somehow, despite the presence of all-night supermarkets and powdered substitutes, my primal instincts were convinced that my son would die if I couldn’t find a way to nourish him with my own body. Already I had failed in my most basic duty as a mother. Every lactation consultant in the city was called in, squeezing my engorged breasts like hamburgers and shoving my baby’s face against them. Each one arrived with the perky conviction of Mary Poppins, rubbing her hands together and saying things like, ‘Right, let’s get this sorted’, and we’d all beam at each other with relief, only to watch the ‘expert’ retreat an hour later, shaking her head as she congratulated me on my determination and then whispered to my partner in the hallway that our child ‘wasn’t thriving’ and maybe it was time to give up. Regularly it would take 40 minutes just to get my baby to latch on well enough to limit the damage to my already mutilated nipples. It took all my strength to avoid pulling back each time his gaping mouth approached my breast, and when he did manage to begin suckling, the pain was so excruciating I frightened him with my shrieks.
Those early feeding sessions — a ritual I had previously imagined in scenes of soft-focus serenity — were a test in endurance far beyond my short-lived encounter with the pain of childbirth. I recall gritting my teeth in agony as tears splashed onto my poor baby’s desperately gulping cheeks. The hours between feeds were spent dreading the next, until I surrendered to the full-time occupation of expressing milk by hand, becoming a permanent fixture on the couch, gazing blankly at old Hollywood re-runs as I pumped myself dry. Up to eight hours of each day was spent this way, with a similar number then spent administering the ‘liquid gold’ to my son and perhaps an hour’s break in between to do everything else (including eat and sleep). Reluctantly, I let go of my naïve plans of penning articles and short stories in all that down-time motherhood was going to present.
In those early months I rarely ventured beyond the front door, except for those weeks that my baby and I found ourselves back in hospital, me hooked up to intravenous antibiotics for mastitis, which eventually became abscesses, while the midwives delighted in my chubby baby, who at six weeks old was a novelty compared to the ‘skinned rabbits’ (as one described them) that they were used to dealing with.
It was a dramatic induction into the all-consuming world of parenting.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf has described babies as enemies to equality. With the so-called ‘mother-wars’ dominating the recent feminist debate, it seems mothering has emerged, at least in the West, as the movement’s final frontier. As a young childless couple, there may be arguments about housework, quibbling about who takes responsibility for the shopping or who forgot to pay the gas bill — of course people come to depend on each other and lives become intertwined in myriad ways — but prior to having children a couple can still consist of two people leading independent lives who come together in the evenings and share breakfast before heading back out into the world.
How rapidly those couples who’ve become parents, even those that had every intention of holding fast to a model of equality, find they have collapsed into conventional roles. As writer Hope Edelman puts it: ‘I don’t remember the conversation where I asked him to support me financially in exchange for me doing everything else.’2 Softly, imperceptibly, the cards divide and fall. Even if there’s childcare involved, someone has to co-ordinate the lunches, the drop-offs and pick-ups, and the relationships with carers. And it is still, by and large, women who are confronted with the question of whether they want to hand their children over to hired professionals in order to return to work. Few mothers I know consider institutionalised childcare the only or even best answer to the ongoing problem of equal opportunity, and for artists this dilemma is complicated by the fact that creative careers rarely pay enough to readily justify paid help anyway. In Susan Johnson’s powerful memoir about becoming a mother, she wrote of her husband’s irritation at her determination to keep writing ‘… though it meant impecuniousness for us as a family’ and left him stuck in the breadwinners’ box.
When my baby was a year or so old, my partner and I agreed to both work part-time. We lived as frugally as possible, and we shared the care of our son. For a while it seemed we were approximating the ideal, even if we were always skint. My partner got a full sense of what it meant to be at home all day with a baby, the stamina required far outstripping the demands of any job either of us ever had, though we’d both worked long hours — or so we thought. He understood the circular routine ruled by a baby’s need for food, play, poo, sleep — preferably but not necessarily in that order — and why it can take two hours just to get out the door. Best of all, he and our baby developed the easy intimacy that comes of sharing daily life; and our son saw both parents engaged in work and domestic life.
And then I became pregnant again, and soon there seemed no choice but for my partner to go out and earn a living that would support us all. By that time we had two children to keep warm and to nourish and to entertain, and we wanted them to be brought up primarily by us (which now, it seemed, meant me). It wasn’t feasible to ask him to step back down a rung or two and return to part-time domesticity when our second baby was old enough to do without me for a day or two. It didn’t seem like anyone’s fault — there just appeared no other way but for me to become the one who did ‘everything else’.
This didn’t mean I avoided becoming consumed by what felt like a whole history of rage about the injustice of the situation, not just for me but for all women, across all time, who have accommodated and compromised and sacrificed in order that men and children thrive. Motherhood is no longer considered a woman’s one social and biological destiny, and yet it is proving to be the point at which many contemporary women discover they don’t have the multitude of choices they thought they had.
With this new separation of roles, when I asked my partner to do something around the house, I found myself requesting ‘help’, as if any domestic work he did was now an act of generosity. Any paid work I did only added to my already significant workload, and the childcare fees cut my income in half, but it helped me retain some semblance of autonomy and intellectual engagement.
If I felt that I had been denied the truth about anything, it wasn’t the realities of giving birth, or the potential for hellish breastfeeding troubles, confronting as they were. It wasn’t even the permanent lack of sleep, or the constant dealings with bodily fluids, though at times the house seemed over-run by milk and vomit and shit.
If anything made me feel like screaming, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this?’ it was to do with the brutal fact of TIME. Prior to having a baby, I had no real concept of time. Though I had work and other responsibilities, these were chosen by me; and I could walk away if I wanted to.
As a parent, your existence is controlled by the routines of your children and the demands of relentless household maintenance. My obsession with the sheer volume and monotony of the domestic work that had suddenly become my lot was like a black hole I clung to the edge of lest I be sucked into its permanent vortex. It is almost impossible to describe the way a whole day can be spent doing little more than picking things up off the floor, only to find yourself worse off than when you started; or to count the fact that you managed a shower and a cold piece of toast as the morning’s biggest achievements.
Author Alice Munro has argued that a mother at home is not in control of her own life. The day can be shapeless; people feel they can drop in at any time, and most women feel under pressure to keep the house presentable. ‘I think women more than men are always presented with choices in which they either do what they want to do or they do good for someone,’ Munro says. Like most adults, I’d spent years with little division between the intention to do something and the simple act of doing it. Now time no longer came free; every moment alone was bought, borrowed or stolen. My relationship with my partner seemed defined by our constant negotiations over who would do what when; never again, it seemed, would we be free to just walk out the door.
To create art once you have children requires the commitment of more than one person. With kids in the mix, if I wanted to retreat, it required the co-operation of my partner. As novelist Eleanor Dark wrote, ‘The balance is elusive; the support crucial’ — a situation I found both humbling and infuriating.
Before having children, I was self-contained, discrete, in control of my actions and my external façade. As my son got older, I found myself increasingly vulnerable in public spaces, the success of each activity shaped by his erratic moods and whims. I would wake up with grand visions about how the day would run, my son and I bright and fresh with morning. As the day rolled on, my fantasy would progressively unravel, leaving a demoralising trail of spilt babyccinos, ripped library books and half-finished conversations in our wake.
I saw a homeopath one day who asked me how I felt about my child. ‘I think I’m a bit scared of him,’ I said. She looked up from her notes with a shocked expression, and I realised she didn’t understand what I meant. Obviously I wasn’t scared of him, as such; I was frightened by how exposed he made me feel.
As my son grew, walking down the street meant frequently yelling ‘STOP!’ without decorum as my expeditious toddler loped towards the road, and trips to the supermarket all too often ended with me lugging home the shopping, my son and the bike he promised to ride all the way there and back.
When my daughter was born, things only intensified. On occasions when my son did one of his regular disappearing acts in museums or parks, I had to dump my poor baby in her pram and sprint off after him before he came to some unimaginable grief. Daily I seemed to be making judgements about which of my children’s safety and comfort to put first. It left me feeling raw and disheveled, a kind of public joke: the harried, downtrodden mother who cannot control her kids.
I looked at the other mothers in the park in the hope of recognising something. But we were smiling, smiling, all noble silence. Inside, are you crushed? I wanted to ask them. Are you gazing at the planes that fly overhead with a barely disguised yearning? Are your legs restless to run? And then, do you see your child grinning proudly at you from the top of the slide and does your heart lurch? Does love storm through your body and cause you to run toward that darling face as if you’ve never wanted anything more in your life?
That is what I have come to understand about the nature of motherhood. It is irresolvable and confounding in its contradictions. And perhaps without it, I would have remained hidden to myself always — pristine and uncarved.
At times, anger and fatigue could send me so close to the edge that fantasies of my children dying and myself swiftly returned to my former life of freedom would flash through my head. But almost as quickly as I’d thought it, the vision was eclipsed by an overwhelming sense of remorse.
I would touch every piece of wood within reach, knowing of course that to lose one of them would mean the very opposite of freedom. Last night I was barking at my children to ‘Go to sleep!’ with that clench-jawed, barely restrained sense of desperation I cannot recall feeling in any other circumstance.
My two-year-old daughter, a picture of innocence, looked up at me and said: ‘Are you yelling at us, Mama?’
‘Yes,’ I said sternly.
‘Why?’ she asked, with genuine curiosity (and not an ounce of fear).
‘Because I’m hitting the wall,’ I muttered.
‘Ha, sometimes you’re funny,’ my son said coolly, not looking up from his bed, which was strewn with Lego.
My daughter cocked her head and pouted in sympathy. ‘Oh, Mama, you wanna Band-Aid?’
In those moments, my earnest pleadings made a mockery of, my defences dissolve and I love my children with a gritty, excruciating tenderness. All else falls away. While on the surface motherhood triggered in me a frantic need to grasp onto any minute that could be called mine, I was also opening out into a newfound sense of infinity. It was strangely liberating to have my children’s needs overtake my own. My ego shrank back to its near-invisible place in the cosmos and with that came an unexpected relief, a sense that I could die knowing I had done all I needed to do.
In a matter of months, what had been the centre of my world — namely, my passion for art — became so flimsy and irrelevant it seemed close to total collapse. I didn’t know if I had what it took to demand all that I had to demand of myself, and of everyone around me, in order to write. I had to rail against my own instinct to admit defeat.
Sometimes a thrilling sense of lightness washed through me: finally I was being given permission to retreat into a ‘normal’ life, free from the burden of the artistic imperative, of that constant desire to record everything almost before it’s happened. Together my babies and I floated around the house, equally delighted by their small discoveries, me vicariously reliving my own babyhood and feeling humbled by the insight that someone had cared for me with this same constancy and devotion.
As they got older, I became more and more aware that those days when I sank into my children’s routine without resistance — when I spent hours building sandcastles or reading the same book over and over again; when I let them cook with me no matter the mess, or turned off my ‘adult’ radio station in favour of Raffi and Patsy Biscoe — were our happiest. Not just their happiest, but also mine. But it was a state reliant on the denial of that niggling compulsion to always be turning my experiences into something else, something more.
A year after my first child was born, I wrote in my journal (the same ‘writing’ journal that has as its first line on its first page in red texta: ‘Whole house — clean!!’):
It is what is sustained in our life — through hard work — that creates fulfillment. It’s the stuff we don’t give up easily. The stuff we have to fight for. Day-to-day is easy; I can get caught up in all manner of small tasks. And these could make up a life. So why can’t I be happy with that? What is a life worth living but one lived attentively, with a passion for the small things? Some days those things are good. Baking a cake. Planting a herb garden. Making a picture for my son’s room. But they feel like small asides — distractions from the bigger picture, from the things I really want to achieve.
For the first time in my life, I envied women without strong ambitions outside of the home. Art was like a monkey on my back and I resented its skittish hold on me, the way it caused me to strain away from my babies, to live a split life, be a split self. I was burdened by the knowledge of what it would cost my family (financially, but more so emotionally) for me to keep writing — just as I became aware of how much it would cost me not to.
More than anything, I longed to plunge into the job of mothering in all its fullness, to wake up each morning needing nothing more than this daily existence: a life for life’s sake. It felt greedy, selfish, unworkable, to try maintaining an identity which seemed entirely at odds with the characteristics of a devoted — a ‘good’ — mother.
While motherhood was calling on me to find ever-greater resources of patience, empathy and composure, art felt like an opposing force — an uncompromising, masculine domain. By this logic, to be an artist would mean putting my babies at risk, starving them of their foremost source of attention and stimulus. My son, and later my daughter too, demanded total fidelity to their need for a mother who was present, alert to their small achievements, sensitive to their coded messages. The moment I sat down to read or to pen a few lines, their antennae seemed to twig that my energy had turned inward, and I was ambushed by demands. I felt like the writer — and failed mother — in Rosellen Brown’s novel, The Autobiography of My Mother, when she laments: ‘I had not known we were to share one life between us, so that the fuller mine is, the more empty hers.’
When I first became pregnant, a friend said to me, ‘Lucky baby, to have such a creative mother’. Five years and two children later, I have discovered that there is a vast difference between living as a creative person and sustaining your own artistic practice.
Usually I’ve felt the antithesis of that radiant picture my friend envisaged, typing with one hand while a cross baby squirms restlessly in the other, or guiltily exploiting the capacity of television to buy me half an hour to jot down a few thoughts. No matter that I once used to relish the early hours of the morning when words seeped out of me in that lush, uncritical state of half-sleep. It is no longer an option to be overtaken by the work, eating and sleeping at odd hours between bouts of creative outpourings, caught up in the obsessive drive to get it right.
I had always verged on superstitious in my belief that the first form a sentence took in my mind was its best, its truest, version, and any attempt at recovering the words later would result in a less potent imitation. Now I dragged myself out of the blankness of bone-deep exhaustion at the call of a hungry baby, and hankered for the moment when I could switch him to the left breast, leaving my writing hand free to make notes — reminders of things I would need to flesh out later, when I had that elusive moment. I learnt to store images, words, even just a feeling that might trigger a memory of something I wanted to express, and when I stole a few moments to write, my hand became cramped with the pace of my scribbling.
Frequently I stormed about the house, pent up with frustration that exploded at any small irritation. Ideas rubbed against the interior surfaces of my brain like grains of sand, chafing till I was raw.
During the day, when my baby slept, I would tidy the house and then sit at the kitchen table to pen a few urgent thoughts into my journal, constantly fighting the urge to check on him. Every 20 minutes or so, the hideous threat of cot death hanging over me, I would desperately squeeze out a few more words before running down the hallway to where my child was sleeping. There his shape would rise and fall; he was pink and warm. My words had not murdered him. Because, spun out to its furthermost consequence, this was the fear: that my baby would die because, for a mere matter of minutes, I put my own self-interest before his precious life — and implicit in this horror was the knowledge that I could lose everything, both my child and my ability to ever again place pen to paper.
Mothers are primed to respond to every sound or movement in a baby’s repertoire. When I was not with them, the world became distorted and every sound seemed like a child’s cry. How would I ever again hear myself through the din? Often my fears for my children were so overwhelming I wondered why anyone would willingly put themselves in a position of such psychological torture.
My partner could lock himself away in the study and the kids barely noticed his absence; a father’s absence is the normal way of things, after all, even if he is an engaged and affectionate dad, as my partner is. Put me behind a closed door, though, and my children would beat it down if they had the strength, hollering as they thrashed themselves against the barricade to their one guarantee that the world is as it should be. As they have grown older, I have learned to steel myself against the wailing through the keyhole, to switch off and get on with my work, but something deep inside me tightens, wincing with shame.
Upon the birth of my first baby, I finally understood the character of Eve in Joanna Murray-Smith’s play Rapture, who upon giving birth is plagued by the thought that with every choice, a million other possibilities vanish forever. In a case of not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone, all my latent ambition flared in the face of deprivation. All the fluff that can fill a day — indeed a life — had subsided.
I no longer had the luxury of caring what anyone thought of me; for months I had barely seen anyone except my partner, lactation ‘experts’ and the hospital staff. All the old reinforcements, the elements that had to be in place in order for me to write, now revealed themselves to be mere excuses, just so much procrastination. There wasn’t time to wait for inspiration to hit, to indulge in the benefits of atmosphere. All the ways I used to fill myself up — devouring novels, going to the cinema alone in the afternoon, sitting in cafés and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations — were no longer an option. Who was going to pay for me to take time out from the kids to ‘indulge’ in all those invisible steps in the creative process?
Historically, the clash between art and life has meant that ‘great’ women artists have been, with very few exceptions, childless throughout their working lives. Feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter has documented the ‘either/or’ theory — that women must choose between art and motherhood — from the early Victorian era, when critics were surprisingly more sympathetic toward women writers with children than those without, as long as the children were grown.3 To favour art over children was to evade one’s authentic destiny, the moral obligations of the ‘good’ wife and mother making it unacceptable to use an artistic vocation to ‘avoid’ the responsibilities of a home life. Creative expression was legitimate only insofar as it was an extension of a woman’s nurturing role. Motherhood was a sacred calling; a life of art was a wilful transgression.
The notion that artworks by women were mere surrogates for children endured into the 20th century, with Freudian therapist Helen Deutsch making the flippant assertion that: ‘The urge to intellectual and artistic creation and the productivity of motherhood spring from common sources, and it seems very natural that one should be capable of replacing the other.’4 As Virginia Woolf famously stated, ‘Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.’5
But even she did not avoid the anxiety that writing was an ‘act that “unsexed her”, made her an “unnatural woman”.’ Anais Nin consciously avoided overshadowing her male counterparts because, she wrote, ‘creation and femininity are incompatible’, presumably meaning that independent success might get in the way of a woman’s appeal, rather than suggesting she is innately incapable.6 A century earlier, George Sand believed that in order to live as a writer, her only choice was to adopt a masculine persona and way of life. In the 1830s, Sand courageously raised her two children alone in Paris on an income made wholly from her writings, created and published as an ‘imitation man’.
By the late 1800s gender and creativity became part of an intensifying public debate in Europe with the emergence of feminism. But, while the views of the conservative establishment are predictable, more surprising was that feminists and anti-feminists alike tended to agree that, if women could be artists at all, their talent was for receptive or interpretive roles as opposed to creative originality. Such dominant ideas have prohibited women from accessing the sphere of cultural and intellectual production on equal terms for centuries. Only the most doggedly determined woman could sustain an artistic practice in the face of extreme logistical and psychological barriers. Those with children had confirmed their ‘primary’ role as nurturers, lacking the will to make the necessary sacrifices for a life of art (though no man was expected to forgo fatherhood for the same purpose). For those women without status or resources it was until very recently virtually impossible to make art alongside the demands of raising a family.
By 1929, Virginia Woolf was optimistic that we were approaching a time when external barriers to women’s art would be dismantled. ‘She will be able to concentrate on her vision without distraction from outside,’ Woolf wrote. ‘The aloofness that was once within the reach of genius and originality is only now coming within reach of ordinary women.’7 She famously envisaged a ‘golden age’ when women would finally have leisure, money and a room of their own — all the elements required for creative work, and in short supply for a mother in any era.
As late as 1972, Tillie Olsen made the contentious claim that: ‘Almost no mothers — as almost no part-time, part-self persons — have created enduring literature … so far’.8 Five years later, Susan Rubein Suleiman was still warning that: ‘At the present time, any mother of young children … who wants to do serious creative work — with all that such work implies of the will to self-assertion, self-absorption, solitary grappling — must be prepared for the worst kind of struggle, which is the struggle against herself’. 9
To be an artist means a compulsive process of self-realisation, a struggle toward the ideal that lurks at the edges of our vision. In spite, or perhaps because of, my battle to find time for creative work after having a child, I began to value it like never before. More than that, I began to write like my life depended on it. Art was the only way I knew of coming to terms with the psychic shock of becoming a mother — a role that uncovered the angriest, weakest and most self-seeking, and in turn the most tender, gracious and devoted parts of myself.
I knew that if I buried that creative urge in myself, it would only re-emerge in some ugly and distorted form; that it would not, in fact, make me a better mother but one full of bitterness and frustration — a recipe for martyrdom. Or, perhaps worse, turn me into a monster whose own thwarted ambitions have been transferred on to her children. Sometimes I looked at my baby and experienced his gaze as a challenge, as if he more than anyone would recognise all my terrible failings. I did not want his mother to be a woman who gave up, who didn’t strive to become all she might have been.
Numerous feminist texts have examined the long struggle against educational and institutional barriers that, among other things, considered art an unsuitable occupation for a woman. Many of these books have counted marriage and motherhood among those institutions that serve to limit women’s sphere of influence to the private and domestic. It hardly needs repeating that, by and large, women are still given almost total responsibility for the rearing of children without the cultural recognition of the difficulty and importance of this role.
We seem no closer than 30 years ago to creating a system that genuinely enables women and men to share equally in raising their children. Yet, despite all it demands of women and the inequities that remain, motherhood cannot be reduced to a mere institution of control. Mothers and their children are bound together in ways that defy all simplistic definitions.
In a comment that has stayed with me, writer Helen Garner once talked of ‘the terrific struggle for women’ striving to fulfil destinies beyond being wives and mothers. ‘It’s terribly sad, it’s a very sad thing — a woman trying to be an artist and a mother at the same time. It’s a tremendous clash … ’10 She trailed off, perhaps aware of having innocently stumbled into one of those quicksand zones, where the implications of what you are saying are so enormous and unwieldy that you risk being swallowed up. ‘Sad’ was the word she used. It’s a terribly sad thing for women trying to be an artist and mother at the same time.
It is a good word, because sadness is a problem of the heart. And as much as motherhood is a political issue, it can never be only that; the predicament of the artist–mother moves well beyond the boundaries of policy and the expectations of society.
As Susan Rubein Suleiman wrote, perhaps the greatest struggle for a woman artist who has or desires children is the struggle against herself. No amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other. “
When she does not find love, she may find poetry. Because she does not act, she observes, she feels, she records; a color, a smile awakens profound echoes within her; her destiny is outside her, scattered in cities already built, on the faces of men already marked by life, she makes contact, she relishes with passion and yet in a manner more detached, more free, than that of a young man. Being poorly integrated in the universe of humanity and hardly able to adapt herself therein, she, like the child, is able to see it objectively; instead of being interested solely in her grasp on things, she looks for their significance; she catches their special outlines, their unexpected metamorphoses. She rarely feels a bold creativeness, and usually she lacks the technique of self-expression; but in her conversation, her letters, her literary essays, her sketches, she manifests an original sensitivity. The young girl throws herself into things with ardor, because she is not yet deprived of her transcendence; and the fact that she accomplishes nothing, that she is nothing, will make her impulses only the more passionate. Empty and unlimited, she seeks from within her nothingness to attain All.
Simone de Beauvoir
If You Only Knew
Far from me and like the stars, the sea and all the trappings of poetic myth,
Far from me but here all the same without your knowing,
Far from me and even more silent because I imagine you endlessly.
Far from me, my lovely mirage and eternal dream, you cannot know.
If you only knew.
Far from me and even farther yet from being unaware of me and still unaware.
Far from me because you undoubtedly do not love me or, what amounts to the
same thing, that I doubt you do.
Far from me because you consciously ignore my passionate desires.
Far from me because you are cruel.
If you only knew.
Far from me, joyful as a flower dancing in the river at the tip of its aquatic stem,
sad as seven p.m. in a mushroom bed.
Far from me yet silent in my presence and still joyful like a stork-shaped hour
falling from on high.
Far from me at the moment when the stills are singing, at the moment when the
silent and loud sea curls up on its white pillows.
If you only knew.
Far from me, o my ever-present torment, far from me in the magnificent noise of
oyster shells crushed by a night owl passing a restaurant at first light.
If you only knew.
Far from me, willed, physical mirage.
Far from me there’s an island that turns aside when ships pass.
Far from me a calm herd of cattle takes the wrong path, pulls up stubbornly at the
edge of a steep cliff, far from me, cruel woman.
Far from me, a shooting star falls into the poet’s nightly bottle.
He corks it right away and from then on watches the star enclosed in the glass, the
constellations born on its walls, far from me, you are so far from me.
If you only knew.
Far from me a house has just been built.
A bricklayer in white coveralls at the top of the scaffolding sings a very sad little
song and, suddenly, in the tray full of mortar, the future of the house appears:
lovers’ kisses and double suicides nakedness in the bedrooms strange beautiful
and their midnight dreams, voluptuous secrets caught in the act by the parquet
Far from me, If you only knew.
If you only knew how I love you and, though you do not love me, how happy I
am, how strong and proud I am, with your image in my mind,
to leave the universe.
How happy I am to die for it.
If you only knew how the world has yielded to me.
And you, beautiful unyielding woman, how you too are my prisoner.
O you, far-from-me, who I yield to.
If you only knew.
“Marchand dreams that in one magical and endless night the rejected manuscripts make love every way possible with his abandoned manuscript: they sodomize it, rape it orally and genitally, come in its hair, on its body, in its ears, in its armpits, etc., but when morning comes, his manuscript hasn’t been fertilized. It’s sterile. In that sterility, Marchand believes, lies its uniqueness, its magnetism.”
― Woes of the True Policeman
“I’d love her until the end of time, he thought. An hour later he’d already forgotten the matter completely.”
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666
“Happy are those who own nothing.”
― The Third Reich
“You can woo a girl with a poem, but you can’t hold onto her with a poem. Not even with a poetry movement.”
― The Savage Detectives
“With every day that passes I am more convinced that the act of writing is a concious act of humility.”
“…I realized my happiness was artificial. I felt happy because I saw the others were happy and because I knew I should feel happy, but I wasn’t really happy.”
“In the current socio-political climate, he said to himself, committing suicide is absurd and redundant. Better to become an undercover poet.”
― Distant Star
“One night I dreamed of an angel: I walked into a huge, empty bar and saw him sitting in a corner with his elbows on the table and a cup of milky coffee in front of him. She’s the love of your life, he said, looking up at me, and the force of his gaze, the fire in his eyes, threw me right across the room. I started shouting, Waiter, waiter, then opened my eyes and escaped from that miserable dream. Other nights I didn’t dream of anyone, but I woke up in tears.”
“I kept having dreams all night. I thought they were touching me with their fingers. But dreams don’t have fingers, they have fists, so it must have been scorpions.”
― Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives
Thurs 3 July 1947
You see it has never been very easy for me to live, though I am always very happy. I like so much to live and I hate the idea of dying one day. And then i am awfully greedy I want everything from life, I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, and to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish. You see, it is difficult to get all I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.
Out of Letters from Simone de Beauvoir
“Society have learnt how to see themselves, in mirrors, as they appear to their friends. I have no friends: is that why my flesh is so naked?”
” How literally can the notion of silence be used with respect to art? Silence exists as a decision — in the exemplary suicide of the artist (Kleist, Lautreamont), who thereby testifies that he has gone “too far”; and in such model renunciations by the artist of his vocation already cited. Silence also exists as a punishment — self-punishment, in the exemplary madness of
artists (Holderlin, Artaud) who demonstrate that one’s very sanity may be the price of trespassing the accepted frontiers of consciousness; and, of course, in penalties (ranging from
censorship and physical destruction of art-works to fines, exile, prison for the artist) meted out by “society” for the artist’s spiritual nonconformity or for subversion of the group sensibility. But silence can’t exist in a literal sense as the experience of an audience. It would mean that the spectator was aware of no stimulus or that he was unable to make a response. But this can’t happen or be induced programmatically. The non-awareness of any stimulus, the inability to make a response, can result only from a defective presentness on the part of the spectator, or a misunderstanding of his own reactions (misled by restrictive ideas about what would be a “relevant” response). But so far as any audience consists of sentient beings in a situation, there can be no such thing as having no response at all.
Nor can silence, in its literal state, exist as the property of an art work — even of works like Duchamp’s readymades or Cage’s 4’33”, in which the artist has ostentatiously done no more to satisfy any established criteria of art than set the object in a gallery or situate the performance on a concert stage. There is no neutral surface, no neutral discourse, no neutral theme, no neutral form. Something is neutral only with respect to something else. (An intention? An expectation?) As a property of the work of art itself, silence can exist only in a cooked or nonliteral sense. (Put otherwise: if a work exists at all, its silence is only one element in it.) Instead of raw or achieved silence, one finds various moves in the direction of an ever-receding horizon of silence — moves which, by definition, can’t ever be fully consummated. One result is a type of art which many people characterize pejoratively as dumb, depressed, acquiescent, cold. But these privative qualities exist in a context of the artist’s objective intention, which is always discernible. To cultivate the metaphoric silence that’s suggested by conventionally lifeless subjects (as in much of Pop Art) and to construct “minimal” forms which seem to lack emotional resonance are in themselves vigorous, often tonic choices. And, finally, even without imputing objective intentions to the art-work, there remains the inescapable truth about perception: the positivity of all experience at every moment of it. As John Cage has insisted, “there is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes a sound.” (Cage has described how, even in a soundless chamber, he still heard at least two things: his heartbeat and the coursing of the blood in his head). Similarly, there is no such thing as empty space. As long as a human eye is looking there is always something to see. To look at something that’s “empty” is still to be looking, still to be seeing something — if only the ghosts of one’s own expectations. In order to perceive fullness, one must retain an acute sense of the emptiness which marks it off; conversely, in order to perceive emptiness, one must apprehend other zones of the world as full. (In Through the Looking Glass,Alice comes upon a shop “that seemed to be full of all manner of curious things — but the oddest part of it all was that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty, though the others round it were crowded full as they could hold.”)
“Silence” never ceases to imply its opposite and to demand on its presence. Just as there can’t be “up” without “down” or “left” without “right,” so one must acknowledge a surrounding environment of sound or language in order to recognize silence. Not only does silence exist in a world full of speech and other sounds, but any given silence takes its identity as a stretch of time being perforated by sound. (Thus, much of the beauty of Harpo Marx’s muteness derives from his being surrounded by manic talkers.)
A genuine emptiness, a pure silence, are not feasible — either conceptually or in fact. If only because the art-work exists in a world furnished with many other things, the artist who creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical: a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or eloquent silence. Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech (in many instances, of complaint or indictment) and an element in a dialogue. “
When that notorious beauty-lover Oscar Wilde announced in The Decay of Lying, “Nobody of any real culture . . . ever talks nowadays about the beauty of a sunset. Sunsets are quite old-fashioned,” sunsets reeled under the blow, then recovered. Les beaux arts, when summoned to a similar call to be up to date, did not. The subtraction of beauty as a standard for art hardly signals a decline of the authority of beauty. Rather, it testifies to a decline in the belief that there is something called art.
“What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do…?”
“We must act out passion before we can feel it.”
“The difference between the who and the what at the heart of love, separates the heart. It is often said that love is the movement of the heart. Does my heart move because I love someone who is an absolute singularity, or because I love the way that someone is? (…)
That is to say, the history of love, the heart of love, is divided between the who and the what. The question of Being, to return to philosophy – because the first question of philosophy is: What is it “to Be?” What is Being? The question of Being is itself always already divided between who and what. Is ‘Being’ someone or some thing? I speak of abstractly, but I think that whoever starts to love, is in love, or stops loving, is caught between this division of the who and the what. One wants to be true to someone – singularly, irreplaceably – and one perceives that this someone isn’t x or y. They didn’t have the qualities, properties, the images, that I thought I’d loved. So fidelity is threatened by the difference between the who and the what.”
“…this is love. I have my self-consciousness not in myself but in the other. I am satisfied and have peace with myself only in this other and I AM only because I have peace with myself; if I did not have it then I would be a contradiction that falls to pieces. This other, because it likewise exists outside itself, has its self-consciousness only in me; and both the other and I are only this consciousness of being-outside-ourselves and of our identity; we are only this intuition, feeling, and knowledge of our unity. This is love, and without knowing that love is both a distinguishing and the sublation of this distinction, one speaks emptily of it.”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
“To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity”
“Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength.”
“You must be like me; you must suffer in rhythm.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
Albert Camus speaking about his play based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Download `The possessed´ by Dostoevsky here.
RAYMOND RADIGUET was born on June 18th, 1903; he died, without knowing it, on December 12th, 1923, after a miraculous life.
The literary tribunal has found his heart arid. Raymond Radiguet’s heart was hard, and like a diamond it did not react to the least touch. It needed fire and other diamonds, and ignored the rest.
Do not accuse fate. Do not speak of injustice. He belonged to the solemn race of men whose lives unfold too quickly to their close.
“True presentiments,” he wrote at the end of The Devil In The Flesh, “are formed at a depth that the mind does not reach. Thus they sometimes make us do things that we misinterpret….A disorderly man who is going to die and does not know it suddenly put his affairs in order. His life changes. He sorts his papers. He rises and goes to bed early. He gives up his vices. His friends are pleased. Then his brutal death seems all the more unjust to them. He would have lived happily.”
For four months Raymond Radiguet became meticulous; he slept, he sorted, he revised. I was stupid enough to be glad of it; I had mistaken for a nervous disorder the intricacies of a machine that cuts crystal.
Here are his last words:
“Listen,” he said to me on December 9th, “listen to something terrible. In three days I am going to be shot by the soldiers of God.” While tears choked me, as I invented other explanations: “Your explanations,” he continued, “are not so good as mine. The order has been given. I heard the order.”
Later, he said: “There is a colour that moves and people hidden in the colour.”
I asked if he wanted them sent away. He answered: “You cannot send them away as you cannot see the colour.”
Then, he sank.
He moved his mouth, he called us by name, he looked with surprise at his mother, at his father, at his hands.
Raymond Radiguet began.
For he left three volumes. A collection of unpublished poems, The Devil In The Flesh, a masterpiece of promise, and the promise fulfilled : Count d’Orgel.
One is frightened by a child of twenty who publishes a book that cannot be written at that age. The dead of yesterday are eternal. The author of Count d’Orgel was the ageless writer of a dateless book.
He received the proofs in the hotel room where his fever consumed him. He intended to make no alteration to them.
His death robs us of memoirs of his development; three short stories; a long appendix to The Devil In The Flesh; Ile de France; and Charles d’Orleans, an historical picture, imaginary in the same way as the false autobiography of his first novel.
The only honour that I claim is to have given to Raymond Radiguet in his life the illustrious place won for him by his death.
I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating magical illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, and been the foundations of nearly all magical practices. These doctrines are—
(1) That the borders of our minds are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.
(2) That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.
(3) That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.
I often think I would put this belief in magic from me if I could, for I have come to see or to imagine, in men and women, in houses, in handicrafts, in nearly all sights and sounds, a certain evil, a certain ugliness, that comes from the slow perishing through the centuries of a quality of mind that made this belief and its evidences common over the world.
Some ten or twelve years ago, a man with whom I have since quarrelled for sound reasons, a very singular man who had given his life to studies other men despised, asked me and an acquaintance, who is now dead, to witness a magical work. He lived a little way from London, and on the way my acquaintance told me that he did not believe in magic, but that a novel of Bulwer Lytton’s had taken such a hold upon his imagination that he was going to give much of his time and all his thought to magic. He longed to believe in it, and had studied, though not learnedly, geomancy, astrology, chiromancy, and much cabalistic symbolism, and yet doubted if the soul outlived the body. He awaited the magical work full of scepticism. He expected nothing more than an air of romance, an illusion as of the stage, that might capture the consenting imagination for an hour. The evoker of spirits and his beautiful wife received us in a little house, on the edge of some kind of garden or park belonging to an eccentric rich man, whose curiosities he arranged and dusted, and he made his evocation in a long room that had a raised place on the floor at one end, a kind of dais, but was furnished meagrely and cheaply. I sat with my acquaintance in the middle of the room, and the evoker of spirits on the dais, and his wife between us and him. He held a wooden mace in his hand, and turning to a tablet of many-coloured squares, with a number on each of the squares, that stood near him on a chair, he repeated a form of words. Almost at once my imagination began to move of itself and to bring before me vivid images that, though never too vivid to be imagination, as I had always understood it, had yet a motion of their own, a life I could not change or shape. I remember seeing a number of white figures, and wondering whether their mitred heads had been suggested by the mitred head of the mace, and then, of a sudden, the image of my acquaintance in the midst of them. I told what I had seen, and the evoker of spirits cried in a deep voice, ‘Let him be blotted out,’ and as he said it the image of my acquaintance vanished, and the evoker of spirits or his wife saw a man dressed in black with a curious square cap standing among the white figures. It was my acquaintance, the seeress said, as he had been in a past life, the life that had moulded his present, and that life would now unfold before us. I too seemed to see the man with a strange vividness. The story unfolded itself chiefly before the mind’s eye of the seeress, but sometimes I saw what she described before I heard her description. She thought the man in black was perhaps a Fleming of the sixteenth century, and I could see him pass along narrow streets till he came to a narrow door with some rusty ironwork above it. He went in, and wishing to find out how far we had one vision among us, I kept silent when I saw a dead body lying upon the table within the door. The seeress described him going down a long hall and up into what she called a pulpit, and beginning to speak. She said, ‘He is a clergyman, I can hear his words. They sound like Low Dutch.’ Then after a little silence, ‘No, I am wrong. I can see the listeners; he is a doctor lecturing among his pupils.’ I said, ‘Do you see anything near the door?’ and she said, ‘Yes, I see a subject for dissection.’ Then we saw him go out again into the narrow streets, I following the story of the seeress, sometimes merely following her words, but sometimes seeing for myself. My acquaintance saw nothing; I think he was forbidden to see, it being his own life, and I think could not in any case. His imagination had no will of its own. Presently the man in black went into a house with two gables facing the road, and up some stairs into a room where a hump-backed woman gave him a key; and then along a corridor, and down some stairs into a large cellar full of retorts and strange vessels of all kinds. Here he seemed to stay a long while, and one saw him eating bread that he took down from a shelf. The evoker of spirits and the seeress began to speculate about the man’s character and habits, and decided, from a visionary impression, that his mind was absorbed in naturalism, but that his imagination had been excited by stories of the marvels wrought by magic in past times, and that he was trying to copy them by naturalistic means. Presently one of them saw him go to a vessel that stood over a slow fire, and take out of the vessel a thing wrapped up in numberless cloths, which he partly unwrapped, showing at length what looked like the image of a man made by somebody who could not model. The evoker of spirits said that the man in black was trying to make flesh by chemical means, and though he had not succeeded, his brooding had drawn so many evil spirits about him, that the image was partly alive. He could see it moving a little where it lay upon a table. At that moment I heard something like little squeals, but kept silent, as when I saw the dead body. In a moment more the seeress said, ‘I hear little squeals.’ Then the evoker of spirits heard them, but said, ‘They are not squeals; he is pouring a red liquid out of a retort through a slit in the cloth; the slit is over the mouth of the image and the liquid is gurgling in rather a curious way.’ Weeks seemed to pass by hurriedly, and somebody saw the man still busy in his cellar. Then more weeks seemed to pass, and now we saw him lying sick in a room up-stairs, and a man in a conical cap standing beside him. We could see the image too. It was in the cellar, but now it could move feebly about the floor. I saw fainter images of the image passing continually from where it crawled to the man in his bed, and I asked the evoker of spirits what they were. He said, ‘They are the images of his terror.’ Presently the man in the conical cap began to speak, but who heard him I cannot remember. He made the sick man get out of bed and walk, leaning upon him, and in much terror till they came to the cellar. There the man in the conical cap made some symbol over the image, which fell back as if asleep, and putting a knife into the other’s hand he said, ‘I have taken from it the magical life, but you must take from it the life you gave.’ Somebody saw the sick man stoop and sever the head of the image from its body, and then fall as if he had given himself a mortal wound, for he had filled it with his own life. And then the vision changed and fluttered, and he was lying sick again in the room up-stairs. He seemed to lie there a long time with the man in the conical cap watching beside him, and then, I cannot remember how, the evoker of spirits discovered that though he would in part recover, he would never be well, and that the story had got abroad in the town and shattered his good name. His pupils had left him and men avoided him. He was accursed. He was a magician.
The story was finished, and I looked at my acquaintance. He was white and awestruck. He said, as nearly as I can remember, ‘All my life I have seen myself in dreams making a man by some means like that. When I was a child I was always thinking out contrivances for galvanizing a corpse into life.’ Presently he said, ‘Perhaps my bad health in this life comes from that experiment.’ I asked if he had read Frankenstein, and he answered that he had. He was the only one of us who had, and he had taken no part in the vision.
Then I asked to have some past life of mine revealed, and a new evocation was made before the tablet full of little squares. I cannot remember so well who saw this or that detail, for now I was interested in little but the vision itself. I had come to a conclusion about the method. I knew that the vision may be in part common to several people.
A man in chain armour passed through a castle door, and the seeress noticed with surprise the bareness and rudeness of castle rooms. There was nothing of the magnificence or the pageantry she had expected. The man came to a large hall and to a little chapel opening out of it, where a ceremony was taking place. There were six girls dressed in white, who took from the altar some yellow object—I thought it was gold, for though, like my acquaintance, I was told not to see, I could not help seeing. Somebody else thought that it was yellow flowers, and I think the girls, though I cannot remember clearly, laid it between the man’s hands. He went out after a time, and as he passed through the great hall one of us, I forget whom, noticed that he passed over two gravestones. Then the vision became broken, but presently he stood in a monk’s habit among men-at-arms in the middle of a village reading from a parchment. He was calling villagers about him, and presently he and they and the men-at-arms took ship for some long voyage. The vision became broken again, and when we could see clearly they had come to what seemed the Holy Land. They had begun some kind of sacred labour among palm-trees. The common men among them stood idle, but the gentlemen carried large stones, bringing them from certain directions, from the cardinal points I think, with a ceremonious formality. The evoker of spirits said they must be making some kind of masonic house. His mind, like the minds of so many students of these hidden things, was always running on masonry and discovering it in strange places.
We broke the vision that we might have supper, breaking it with some form of words which I forget. When supper had ended the seeress cried out that while we had been eating they had been building, and they had built not a masonic house but a great stone cross. And now they had all gone away but the man who had been in chain armour and two monks we had not noticed before. He was standing against the cross, his feet upon two stone rests a little above the ground, and his arms spread out. He seemed to stand there all day, but when night came he went to a little cell, that was beside two other cells. I think they were like the cells I have seen in the Aran Islands, but I cannot be certain. Many days seemed to pass, and all day every day he stood upon the cross, and we never saw anybody there but him and the two monks. Many years seemed to pass, making the vision flutter like a drift of leaves before our eyes, and he grew old and white-haired, and we saw the two monks, old and white-haired, holding him upon the cross. I asked the evoker of spirits why the man stood there, and before he had time to answer I saw two people, a man and a woman, rising like a dream within a dream, before the eyes of the man upon the cross. The evoker of spirits saw them too, and said that one of them held up his arms and they were without hands. I thought of the two gravestones the man in chain mail had passed over in the great hall when he came out of the chapel, and asked the evoker of spirits if the knight was undergoing a penance for violence, and while I was asking him, and he was saying that it might be so but he did not know, the vision, having completed its circle, vanished.
It had not, so far as I could see, the personal significance of the other vision, but it was certainly strange and beautiful, though I alone seemed to see its beauty. Who was it that made the story, if it were but a story? I did not, and the seeress did not, and the evoker of spirits did not and could not. It arose in three minds, for I cannot remember my acquaintance taking any part, and it rose without confusion, and without labour, except the labour of keeping the mind’s eye awake, and more swiftly than any pen could have written it out. It may be, as Blake said of one of his poems, that the author was in eternity. In coming years I was to see and hear of many such visions, and though I was not to be convinced, though half convinced once or twice, that they were old lives, in an ordinary sense of the word life, I was to learn that they have almost always some quite definite relation to dominant moods and moulding events in this life. They are, perhaps, in most cases, though the vision I have but just described was not, it seems, among the cases, symbolical histories of these moods and events, or rather symbolical shadows of the impulses that have made them, messages as it were out of the ancestral being of the questioner.
At the time these two visions meant little more to me, if I can remember my feeling at the time, than a proof of the supremacy of imagination, of the power of many minds to become one, overpowering one another by spoken words and by unspoken thought till they have become a single intense, unhesitating energy. One mind was doubtless the master, I thought, but all the minds gave a little, creating or revealing for a moment what I must call a supernatural artist.
Some years afterwards I was staying with some friends in Paris. I had got up before breakfast and gone out to buy a newspaper. I had noticed the servant, a girl who had come from the country some years before, laying the table for breakfast. As I had passed her I had been telling myself one of those long foolish tales which one tells only to oneself. If something had happened that had not happened, I would have hurt my arm, I thought. I saw myself with my arm in a sling in the middle of some childish adventures. I returned with the newspaper and met my host and hostess in the door. The moment they saw me they cried out, ‘Why, the bonne has just told us you had your arm in a sling. We thought something must have happened to you last night, that you had been run over maybe’—or some such words. I had been dining out at the other end of Paris, and had come in after everybody had gone to bed. I had cast my imagination so strongly upon the servant that she had seen it, and with what had appeared to be more than the mind’s eye.
One afternoon, about the same time, I was thinking very intently of a certain fellow-student for whom I had a message, which I hesitated about writing. In a couple of days I got a letter from a place some hundreds of miles away where that student was. On the afternoon when I had been thinking so intently I had suddenly appeared there amid a crowd of people in a hotel and as seeming solid as if in the flesh. My fellow-student had seen me, but no one else, and had asked me to come again when the people had gone. I had vanished, but had come again in the middle of the night and given the message. I myself had no knowledge of casting an imagination upon one so far away.
I could tell of stranger images, of stranger enchantments, of stranger imaginations, cast consciously or unconsciously over as great distances by friends or by myself, were it not that the greater energies of the mind seldom break forth but when the deeps are loosened. They break forth amid events too private or too sacred for public speech, or seem themselves, I know not why, to belong to hidden things. I have written of these breakings forth, these loosenings of the deep, with some care and some detail, but I shall keep my record shut. After all, one can but bear witness less to convince him who won’t believe than to protect him who does, as Blake puts it, enduring unbelief and misbelief and ridicule as best one may. I shall be content to show that past times have believed as I do, by quoting Joseph Glanvil’s description of the Scholar Gipsy. Joseph Glanvil is dead, and will not mind unbelief and misbelief and ridicule.
The Scholar Gipsy, too, is dead, unless indeed perfectly wise magicians can live till it please them to die, and he is wandering somewhere, even if one cannot see him, as Arnold imagined, ‘at some lone ale-house in the Berkshire moors, on the warm ingle-bench,’ or ‘crossing the stripling Thames at Bablock Hithe,’ ‘trailing his fingers in the cool stream,’ or ‘giving store of flowers—the frail-leaf’d white anemone, dark hare-bells drenched with dew of summer eves,’ to the girls ‘who from the distant hamlets come to dance around the Fyfield elm in May,’ or ‘sitting upon the river bank o’ergrown,’ living on through time ‘with a free onward impulse.’ This is Joseph Glanvil’s story—
There was very lately a lad in the University of Oxford who, being of very pregnant and ready parts and yet wanting the encouragement of preferment, was by his poverty forced to leave his studies there, and to cast himself upon the wide world for a livelihood. Now his necessities growing daily on him, and wanting the help of friends to relieve him, he was at last forced to join himself to a company of vagabond gipsies, whom occasionally he met with, and to follow their trade for a maintenance…. After he had been a pretty while well exercised in the trade, there chanced to ride by a couple of scholars, who had formerly been of his acquaintance. The scholar had quickly spied out these old friends among the gipsies, and their amazement to see him among such society had well-nigh discovered him; but by a sign he prevented them owning him before that crew, and taking one of them aside privately, desired him with his friend to go to an inn, not far distant, promising there to come to them. They accordingly went thither and he follows: after their first salutation his friends inquire how he came to lead so odd a life as that was, and so joined himself into such a beggarly company. The scholar gipsy having given them an account of the necessity which drove him to that kind of life, told them that the people he went with were not such impostors as they were taken for, but that they had a traditional kind of learning among them and could do wonders by the power of imagination, and that himself had learned much of their art and improved it further than themselves could. And to evince the truth of what he told them, he said he’d remove into another room, leaving them to discourse together; and upon his return tell them the sense of what they had talked of; which accordingly he performed, giving them a full account of what had passed between them in his absence. The scholars being amazed at so unexpected a discovery, earnestly desired him to unriddle the mystery. In which he gave them satisfaction, by telling them that what he did was by the power of imagination, his phantasy leading theirs; and that himself had dictated to them the discourse they had held together while he was from them; that there were warrantable ways of heightening the imagination to that pitch as to bend another’s, and that when he had compassed the whole secret, some parts of which he was yet ignorant of, he intended to leave their company and give the world an account of what he had learned.
If all who have described events like this have not dreamed, we should rewrite our histories, for all men, certainly all imaginative men, must be for ever casting forth enchantments, glamours, illusions; and all men, especially tranquil men who have no powerful egotistic life, must be continually passing under their power. Our most elaborate thoughts, elaborate purposes, precise emotions, are often, as I think, not really ours, but have on a sudden come up, as it were, out of hell or down out of heaven. The historian should remember, should he not? angels and devils not less than kings and soldiers, and plotters and thinkers. What matter if the angel or devil, as indeed certain old writers believed, first wrapped itself with an organized shape in some man’s imagination? what matter ‘if God himself only acts or is in existing beings or men,’ as Blake believed? we must none the less admit that invisible beings, far wandering influences, shapes that may have floated from a hermit of the wilderness, brood over council-chambers and studies and battle-fields. We should never be certain that it was not some woman treading in the wine-press who began that subtle change in men’s minds, that powerful movement of thought and imagination about which so many Germans have written; or that the passion, because of which so many countries were given to the sword, did not begin in the mind of some shepherd boy, lighting up his eyes for a moment before it ran upon its way.
We cannot doubt that barbaric people receive such influences more visibly and obviously, and in all likelihood more easily and fully than we do, for our life in cities, which deafens or kills the passive meditative life, and our education that enlarges the separated, self-moving mind, have made our souls less sensitive. Our souls that were once naked to the winds of heaven are now thickly clad, and have learned to build a house and light a fire upon its hearth, and shut to the doors and windows. The winds can, indeed, make us draw near to the fire, or can even lift the carpet and whistle under the door, but they could do worse out on the plains long ago. A certain learned man, quoted by Mr. Lang in his Making of Religion, contends that the memories of primitive man and his thoughts of distant places must have had the intensity of hallucination, because there was nothing in his mind to draw his attention away from them—an explanation that does not seem to me complete—and Mr. Lang goes on to quote certain travellers to prove that savages live always on the edges of vision. One Laplander who wished to become a Christian, and thought visions but heathenish, confessed to a traveller, to whom he had given a minute account of many distant events, read doubtless in that traveller’s mind, ‘that he knew not how to make use of his eyes, since things altogether distant were present to them.’ I myself could find in one district in Galway but one man who had not seen what I can but call spirits, and he was in his dotage. ‘There is no man mowing a meadow but sees them at one time or another,’ said a man in a different district.
If I can unintentionally cast a glamour, an enchantment, over persons of our own time who have lived for years in great cities, there is no reason to doubt that men could cast intentionally a far stronger enchantment, a far stronger glamour, over the more sensitive people of ancient times, or that men can still do so where the old order of life remains unbroken. Why should not the Scholar Gipsy cast his spell over his friends? Why should not St. Patrick, or he of whom the story was first told, pass his enemies, he and all his clerics, as a herd of deer? Why should not enchanters like him in the Morte d’Arthur make troops of horse seem but grey stones? Why should not the Roman soldiers, though they came of a civilization which was ceasing to be sensitive to these things, have trembled for a moment before the enchantments of the Druids of Mona? Why should not the Jesuit father, or the Count Saint Germain, or whoever the tale was first told of, have really seemed to leave the city in a coach and four by all the Twelve Gates at once? Why should not Moses and the enchanters of Pharaoh have made their staffs as the medicine men of many primitive peoples make their pieces of old rope seem like devouring serpents? Why should not that mediæval enchanter have made summer and all its blossoms seem to break forth in middle winter?
May we not learn some day to rewrite our histories, when they touch upon these things too?
Men who are imaginative writers to-day may well have preferred to influence the imagination of others more directly in past times. Instead of learning their craft with paper and a pen they may have sat for hours imagining themselves to be stocks and stones and beasts of the wood, till the images were so vivid that the passers-by became but a part of the imagination of the dreamer, and wept or laughed or ran away as he would have them. Have not poetry and music arisen, as it seems, out of the sounds the enchanters made to help their imagination to enchant, to charm, to bind with a spell themselves and the passers-by? These very words, a chief part of all praises of music or poetry, still cry to us their origin. And just as the musician or the poet enchants and charms and binds with a spell his own mind when he would enchant the mind of others, so did the enchanter create or reveal for himself as well as for others the supernatural artist or genius, the seeming transitory mind made out of many minds, whose work I saw, or thought I saw, in that suburban house. He kept the doors too, as it seems, of those less transitory minds, the genius of the family, the genius of the tribe, or it may be, when he was mighty-souled enough, the genius of the world. Our history speaks of opinions and discoveries, but in ancient times when, as I think, men had their eyes ever upon those doors, history spoke of commandments and revelations. They looked as carefully and as patiently towards Sinai and its thunders as we look towards parliaments and laboratories. We are always praising men in whom the individual life has come to perfection, but they were always praising the one mind, their foundation of all perfection.
I once saw a young Irish woman, fresh from a convent school, cast into a profound trance, though not by a method known to any hypnotist. In her waking state she thought the apple of Eve was the kind of apple you can buy at the greengrocer’s, but in her trance she saw the Tree of Life with ever-sighing souls moving in its branches instead of sap, and among its leaves all the fowl of the air, and on its highest bough one white fowl bearing a crown. When I went home I took from the shelf a translation of The Book of Concealed Mystery, an old Jewish book, and cutting the pages came upon this passage, which I cannot think I had ever read: ‘The Tree, … is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and of Evil … in its branches the birds lodge and build their nests, the souls and the angels have their place.’
I once saw a young Church of Ireland man, a bank clerk in the west of Ireland, thrown in a like trance. I have no doubt that he, too, was quite certain that the apple of Eve was a greengrocer’s apple, and yet he saw the tree and heard the souls sighing through its branches, and saw apples with human faces, and laying his ear to an apple heard a sound as of fighting hosts within. Presently he strayed from the tree and came to the edge of Eden, and there he found himself not by the wilderness he had learned of at the Sunday-school, but upon the summit of a great mountain, of a mountain ‘two miles high.’ The whole summit, in contradiction to all that would have seemed probable to his waking mind, was a great walled garden. Some years afterwards I found a mediæval diagram, which pictured Eden as a walled garden upon a high mountain.
Where did these intricate symbols come from? Neither I nor the one or two people present or the seers had ever seen, I am convinced, the description in The Book of Concealed Mystery, or the mediæval diagram. Remember that the images appeared in a moment perfect in all their complexity. If one can imagine that the seers or that I myself or another had indeed read of these images and forgotten it, that the supernatural artist’s knowledge of what was in our buried memories accounted for these visions, there are numberless other visions to account for. One cannot go on believing in improbable knowledge for ever. For instance, I find in my diary that on December 27, 1897, a seer, to whom I had given a certain old Irish symbol, saw Brigit, the goddess, holding out ‘a glittering and wriggling serpent,’ and yet I feel certain that neither I nor he knew anything of her association with the serpent until Carmina Gadelica was published a few months ago. And an old Irish woman who can neither read nor write has described to me a woman dressed like Dian, with helmet, and short skirt and sandals, and what seemed to be buskins. Why, too, among all the countless stories of visions that I have gathered in Ireland, or that a friend has gathered for me, are there none that mix the dress of different periods? The seers when they are but speaking from tradition will mix everything together, and speak of Finn mac Cool going to the Assizes at Cork. Almost every one who has ever busied himself with such matters has come, in trance or dream, upon some new and strange symbol or event, which he has afterwards found in some work he had never read or heard of. Examples like this are as yet too little classified, too little analyzed, to convince the stranger, but some of them are proof enough for those they have happened to, proof that there is a memory of nature that reveals events and symbols of distant centuries. Mystics of many countries and many centuries have spoken of this memory; and the honest men and charlatans, who keep the magical traditions which will some day be studied as a part of folk-lore, base most that is of importance in their claims upon this memory. I have read of it in ‘Paracelsus’ and in some Indian book that describes the people of past days as still living within it, ‘Thinking the thought and doing the deed.’ And I have found it in the prophetic books of William Blake, who calls its images ‘the bright sculptures of Los’s Halls’; and says that all events, ‘all love stories,’ renew themselves from those images. It is perhaps well that so few believe in it, for if many did many would go out of parliaments and universities and libraries and run into the wilderness to so waste the body, and to so hush the unquiet mind that, still living, they might pass the doors the dead pass daily; for who among the wise would trouble himself with making laws or in writing history or in weighing the earth if the things of eternity seemed ready to hand?
I find in my diary of magical events for 1899 that I awoke at 3 out of a nightmare, and imagined one symbol to prevent its recurrence, and imagined another, a simple geometrical form, which calls up dreams of luxuriant vegetable life, that I might have pleasant dreams. I imagined it faintly, being very sleepy, and went to sleep. I had confused dreams which seemed to have no relation with the symbol. I awoke about eight, having for the time forgotten both nightmare and symbol. Presently I dozed off again and began half to dream and half to see, as one does between sleep and waking, enormous flowers and grapes. I awoke and recognized that what I had dreamed or seen was the kind of thing appropriate to the symbol before I remembered having used it. I find another record, though made some time after the event, of having imagined over the head of a person, who was a little of a seer, a combined symbol of elemental air and elemental water. This person, who did not know what symbol I was using, saw a pigeon flying with a lobster in his bill. I find that on December 13, 1898, I used a certain star-shaped symbol with a seeress, getting her to look at it intently before she began seeing. She saw a rough stone house, and in the middle of the house the skull of a horse. I find that I had used the same symbol a few days before with a seer, and that he had seen a rough stone house, and in the middle of the house something under a cloth marked with the Hammer of Thor. He had lifted the cloth and discovered a skeleton of gold with teeth of diamonds, and eyes of some unknown dim precious stones. I had made a note to this last vision, pointing out that we had been using a Solar symbol a little earlier. Solar symbols often call up visions of gold and precious stones. I do not give these examples to prove my arguments, but to illustrate them. I know that my examples will awaken in all who have not met the like, or who are not on other grounds inclined towards my arguments, a most natural incredulity. It was long before I myself would admit an inherent power in symbols, for it long seemed to me that one could account for everything by the power of one imagination over another, telepathy as it is called with that separation of knowledge and life, of word and emotion, which is the sterility of scientific speech. The symbol seemed powerful, I thought, merely because we thought it powerful, and we would do just as well without it. In those days I used symbols made with some ingenuity instead of merely imagining them. I used to give them to the person I was experimenting with, and tell him to hold them to his forehead without looking at them; and sometimes I made a mistake. I learned from these mistakes that if I did not myself imagine the symbol, in which case he would have a mixed vision, it was the symbol I gave by mistake that produced the vision. Then I met with a seer who could say to me, ‘I have a vision of a square pond, but I can see your thought, and you expect me to see an oblong pond,’ or, ‘The symbol you are imagining has made me see a woman holding a crystal, but it was a moonlight sea I should have seen.’ I discovered that the symbol hardly ever failed to call up its typical scene, its typical event, its typical person, but that I could practically never call up, no matter how vividly I imagined it, the particular scene, the particular event, the particular person I had in my own mind, and that when I could, the two visions rose side by side.
I cannot now think symbols less than the greatest of all powers whether they are used consciously by the masters of magic, or half unconsciously by their successors, the poet, the musician and the artist. At first I tried to distinguish between symbols and symbols, between what I called inherent symbols and arbitrary symbols, but the distinction has come to mean little or nothing. Whether their power has arisen out of themselves, or whether it has an arbitrary origin, matters little, for they act, as I believe, because the great memory associates them with certain events and moods and persons. Whatever the passions of man have gathered about, becomes a symbol in the great memory, and in the hands of him who has the secret, it is a worker of wonders, a caller-up of angels or of devils. The symbols are of all kinds, for everything in heaven or earth has its association, momentous or trivial, in the great memory, and one never knows what forgotten events may have plunged it, like the toadstool and the ragweed, into the great passions. Knowledgeable men and women in Ireland sometimes distinguish between the simples that work cures by some medical property in the herb, and those that do their work by magic. Such magical simples as the husk of the flax, water out of the fork of an elm-tree, do their work, as I think, by awaking in the depths of the mind where it mingles with the great mind, and is enlarged by the great memory, some curative energy, some hypnotic command. They are not what we call faith cures, for they have been much used and successfully, the traditions of all lands affirm, over children and over animals, and to me they seem the only medicine that could have been committed safely to ancient hands. To pluck the wrong leaf would have been to go uncured, but, if one had eaten it, one might have been poisoned.
I have now described that belief in magic which has set me all but unwilling among those lean and fierce minds who are at war with their time, who cannot accept the days as they pass, simply and gladly; and I look at what I have written with some alarm, for I have told more of the ancient secret than many among my fellow-students think it right to tell. I have come to believe so many strange things because of experience, that I see little reason to doubt the truth of many things that are beyond my experience; and it may be that there are beings who watch over that ancient secret, as all tradition affirms, and resent, and perhaps avenge, too fluent speech. They say in the Aran Islands that if you speak overmuch of the things of Faery your tongue becomes like a stone, and it seems to me, though doubtless naturalistic reason would call it Auto-suggestion or the like, that I have often felt my tongue become just so heavy and clumsy. More than once, too, as I wrote this very essay I have become uneasy, and have torn up some paragraph, not for any literary reason, but because some incident or some symbol that would perhaps have meant nothing to the reader, seemed, I know not why, to belong to hidden things. Yet I must write or be of no account to any cause, good or evil; I must commit what merchandise of wisdom I have to this ship of written speech, and after all, I have many a time watched it put out to sea with not less alarm when all the speech was rhyme. We who write, we who bear witness, must often hear our hearts cry out against us, complaining because of their hidden things, and I know not but he who speaks of wisdom may not sometimes in the change that is coming upon the world, have to fear the anger of the people of Faery, whose country is the heart of the world—‘The Land of the Living Heart.’ Who can keep always to the little pathway between speech and silence, where one meets none but discreet revelations? And surely, at whatever risk, we must cry out that imagination is always seeking to remake the world according to the impulses and the patterns in that great Mind, and that great Memory? Can there be anything so important as to cry out that what we call romance, poetry, intellectual beauty, is the only signal that the supreme Enchanter, or some one in His councils, is speaking of what has been, and shall be again, in the consummation of time?
He was one of the most brilliant minds. She was his lifelong companion who pioneered feminism.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were perhaps the most influential couple of the 20th century.
Their legendary love pact – they never married but swore mutual devotion to each other with the freedom to have affairs – was an attempt to overthrow the stifling hypocrisy that, for so long, had dictated most people’s lives.
Serial seducers: Simone de Beauvoir and lover Jean-Paul Sartre, whose writing paved the way for our Godless permissive times, lived private lives of utter depravity
Always pushing new boundaries, they explored their thoughts in novels, plays and philosophical works.
It earned Sartre the world’s greatest literary accolade, the Nobel Prize.
Yet he refused to accept it because he thought it would make him an establishment figure and thus silence his inquiring mind.
Their private lives were wildly experimental. Simone de Beauvoir had affairs with both men and women, while Sartre, despite his stunted stature and ugly squint, was always surrounded by adoring muses happy to pamper his genius.
When he died in 1980, 50,000 people turned out on to the Paris streets.
But that was not the end of the story. For their influence continues to this day – often with disastrous consequences.
For this luminous pair, who were at the peak of their fame just after World War II, arguably legitimised the Godless and permissive society in which we now live.
On the other hand, de Beauvoir to her credit became an iconic figure for feminism and the battle for equality between the sexes.
Yet a fascinating new book paints this supposedly high-minded duo as serial seducers bent on their own gratification and as a couple who used their apparently lofty philosophy as a springboard to excuse their multiple liaisons, often with under-age teenagers who were broken by the experience.
And while Simone de Beauvoir preached her ideal of feminist independence and equality, eschewing such ‘bourgeois’ concepts as marriage and children, and claiming women should behave just like men, the truth is such a lifestyle made her bitterly unhappy and she became obsessively jealous over Sartre’s countless conquests.
Despite her high-flown rhetoric, it was only for revenge and out of frustration that she embarked on affairs, always secretly hoping they would provoke Sartre to return to her.
And, astonishingly, it was her craven desire to please him that led de Beauvoir to groom young female lovers for Sartre, commonly girls she had bedded herself.
In this sordid relationship of supposed equals, he was always one step ahead of her – though it didn’t start that way.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir bonded as soon as they met as students in Paris in 1929.
Simone had decided to qualify as a secondary school teacher, a calling only just available to women. She was one of the first women to take the exams at Paris’s Sorbonne university.
Sartre, three years older and driven by a hatred of his provincial stepfather, was a thief and a teenage tearaway, until he realised his brilliant school results made him a magnet to women.
At the Sorbonne, Sartre liked to shock his fellow students. At one dance, he turned up naked; at a university ball he paraded a hooker in a red dress.
But when he met the beautiful, young Simone he was entranced. She was as intelligent as any man, and, similarly disenchanted with her bourgeois family, she shared his fascination with the Paris underworld.
After their finals, in which he passed top, and she second, Sartre proposed marriage.
Simone refused – not for any philosophical reason but because she was sleeping with one of his best friends.
And so on October 1, 1929, Sartre suggested their famous pact: they would have a permanent ‘essential’ love.
They would sleep together and have affairs on the side which they must describe to each other in every intimate detail.
During the first years, Sartre embarked on the arrangement with gusto. He liked to sleep with virgins, after which he rapidly lost interest.
This left the highly sexed Simone, now teaching philosophy, constantly frustrated, despite the lovers she took.
It was when she developed a relationship with one of her young female pupils that the first of her love triangles with Sartre came about.
When Sartre had a breakdown after experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, Simone asked her new lover to nurse him.
But she was not prepared for the crippling jealousy she felt when Sartre tried to seduce not only the girl but her younger sister as well.
Simone’s reaction to Sartre’s faithlessness was to sleep with another of her pupils, and when Sartre retaliated by deflowering another virgin, Simone pinched her lover’s 21-year-old boyfriend.
If this couple expected their arrangement would spare them the trials and heartache of a conventional marriage, they were wrong.
Their multiple affairs went on until World War II when Sartre was called up and their sex games had to be conducted through letters.
Left behind in Paris, Simone continued to seduce both men and women, writing titillating descriptions of her activities to Sartre behind the Maginot Line, which reveal her heartlessness and the vulnerability of her conquests.
Today, she would be behind bars for her sexual activities with her young pupils, but in those days she got away with it.
Tragically, the lives of these girls, who were pathologically jealous of each other over their teacher’s attentions, were permanently blighted.
One took to self-harming, another committed suicide. Most remained pathetically unfulfilled and dependent on the childless Simone, who perversely referred to them as her ‘family’.
Yet Simone had no maternal feelings for them at all. She showed no empathy even when one of them, a Jewish girl whom she seduced when she was 16, nearly lost her life at the hands of the Nazis who were advancing on Paris.
Simone’s lack of scruples extended to her war record.
She took no part in the Resistance, like other writers of the time, concentrating on her sex life.
Indeed, the only thing that aroused her to action was the pregnancy of one of her entourage.
She found the condition of pregnancy ‘insulting’ because it was an impediment to woman’s self-fulfilment in the wider world, and Simone arranged an illegal backstreet abortion which nearly ended the girl’s life.
Sartre’s war record was equally dubious. Captured by the Germans, he got on so well with his guards that he managed to engineer his release in 1941.
But he did not rush straight into Simone’s arms. He had been in Paris with another woman for two weeks before he told her he was free.
In 1940, when the Germans occupied Paris, Sartre’s first reaction was to preach resistance, yet he soon lost interest and, instead, accepted the teaching post a Jewish professor had been forced to leave by the Nazis.
Sartre even fraternised with the German censor when he wanted his work published.
Since the couple were free to come and go as they pleased, the war proved one of the most exciting periods of their lives and the one which has gone down in history.
Writing in the pavement cafes of St Germain, with Picasso and his mistress at the next table, and going to nightclubs with the black-clad singer Juliette Greco, they enjoyed themselves to the hilt, fully expecting the Germans would remain in Paris for at least 20 years.
They now had at least five lovers between them – men and girls – all sleeping with each other.
It was too much for the mother of one pupil who brought an official complaint in 1943 against de Beauvoir, accusing her of corrupting a minor and acting as procurer in handing her daughter over to Sartre.
The charges failed to stick because de Beauvoir’s little ‘family’ closed ranks and lied.
And though Simone lost her teaching job, she compensated for it by publishing her first novel.
Born from her real life experiences, it was about a menage a trois. Sartre’s weighty philosophical tome Being And Nothingness was also published that year.
This was the rallying cry of existentialism, the creed that preaches there is no God and that man and woman are, therefore, free to do as they will.
It would become the bible of our licentious times, taken up by liberals everywhere in the West, and yet it was practically ignored at first.
Sartre drowned his sorrows at its lack of success with rampant womanising, this time in the company of the writer of the moment – the handsome, tall, dark Algerian Albert Camus, who joined in most of the couple’s sex games.
Camus slept with all their impressionable young girls, but he could not bring himself to sleep with Simone herself whom he found ‘a chatterbox, a blue stocking, unbearable’.
As an Allied victory became inevitable, Sartre began to paint himself once again as a Resistance fighter and, as such, was lionised when he visited America in 1945.
Sartre had always said the best way to learn about a country was to sleep with its women.
In New York he chose Dolores Vanetti, a radio journalist. Within two days he was in her bed and was soon proposing marriage.
Left behind in Europe, de Beauvoir fought back by sleeping with a succession of married men and telling Sartre all about it. Yet when he finally returned to Paris, he ignored her completely and moved in with his mother.
Simone threw herself into her work and, after a visit of her own to America in 1947, she wrote her most important book, The Second Sex.
The Americans did not take to Simone as they had to Sartre. They disliked her drinking, they mocked her clothes and they noticed her faint whiff of body odour.
She, in turn, disliked the bland faces of American women who did everything they could to please their men. The American woman she really did not care for was, of course, her love rival Dolores Vanetti.
And it was to take revenge on Dolores and Sartre that she fell into bed with the Chicago writer Nelson Algren.
The two had much in common, as she couldn’t wait to tell Sartre. Algren was a Bohemian, a rebel, a Leftwinger – and he could match her drink for drink.
As she committed such details to paper, she longed for Sartre to insist on her immediate return to Paris. But he told her not to come back – Dolores had joined him.
Stunned by his rejection, Simone abandoned herself to Algren. She was 39, she hadn’t had a lover for many months, and now, for the first time in her life, she experienced a ‘complete orgasm’ and fell in love.
Before she left America, Algren bought her a cheap silver ring which she would wear for the rest of her life.
But he was not prepared for Simone’s fidelity to Sartre. Though she professed in many letters that she loved Algren passionately, she would not leave Jean-Paul.
‘I am awfully greedy,’ she wrote. ‘I want everything from life, I want to be a woman and to be a man.’
Read the rest here
“There is not love of life without despair about life.”
― Albert Camus, The Outsider
The novelist Roberto Bolaño died in 2003. What follows is an excerpt from his last interview, published in Playboy Mexico the month of his death and now appearing in English in “Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations” (Melville House Publishing). The interview was conducted by Monica Maristain and translated by Sybil Perez. (It is also reprinted in the current issue of Stop Smiling, though not available online.)
Monica Maristain: If you hadn’t been a writer, what would you have been?
Roberto Bolaño: I would like to have been a homicide detective, much more than being a writer. I am absolutely sure of that. A string of homicides. I’d have been someone who could come back to the scene of the crime alone, by night and not be afraid of ghosts. Perhaps then I might really have become crazy. But being a detective that could easily be resolved with a bullet to the mouth.
M.M.: Have you shed one tear about the widespread criticism you’ve drawn from your enemies?
R.B.: Lots and lots. Every time I read that someone has spoken badly of me I begin to cry, I drag myself across the floor, I scratch myself, I stop writing indefinitely, I lose my appetite, I smoke less, I engage in sport, I go for walks on the edge of the sea, which by the way is less than 30 meters from my house and I ask the seagulls, whose ancestors ate the fish who ate Ulysses: Why me? Why? I’ve done you no harm.
M.M.: Which five books have marked your life?
R.B.: In reality the five books are more like 5,000. I’ll mention these only as the tip of the spear: “Don Quixote,” by Cervantes; “Moby Dick,” by Melville. The complete works of Borges, “Hopscotch,” by Cortázar, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” by Toole. I should also cite “Nadja” by Breton; the letters of Jacques Vaché. Anything Ubu by Jarry; “Life: A User’s Manual,” by Perec. “The Castle” and “The Trial,” by Kafka. “Aphorisms,” by Lichtenberg. “The Tractatus,” by Wittgenstein. “The Invention of Morel,” by Bioy Casares. “The Satyricon,” by Petronius. “The History of Rome,” by Tito Livio. “Pensées,” by Pascal.
M.M.: John Lennon, Lady Di or Elvis Presley?
R.B.: The Pogues. Or Suicide. Or Bob Dylan. Well, but let’s not be pretentious: Elvis forever. Elvis and his golden voice, with a sheriff’s badge, driving a Mustang and stuffing himself full of pills.
M.M.: Have you seen the most beautiful woman in the world?
R.B.: Yes, sometime around 1984 when I worked at a store. The store was empty and in came a Hindu woman. She looked like a princess and well could have been one. She bought some hanging costume jewelry from me. I was at the point of fainting. She had copper skin, long red hair, and the rest of her was perfect. A timeless beauty. When I had to charge her, I felt embarrassed. As if saying she understood and not to worry, she smiled at me. Then she disappeared and I have never again seen anyone like her. Sometimes I get the impression that she was the goddess Kali, the patron saint of thieves and goldsmiths, except Kali was also the goddess of murderers, and this Hindu woman was not only the most beautiful woman on earth, but she seemed also to be a good person — very sweet and considerate.
M.M.: What do you wish to do before dying?
R.B.: Nothing special. Well, clearly I’d prefer not to die. But sooner or later the distinguished lady arrives. The problem is that sometimes she’s neither a lady nor very distinguished, but, as Nicanor Parra says in a poem, she’s a hot wench who will make your teeth chatter no matter how fancy you think you are.
M.M.: What kinds of feelings do posthumous works awaken in you?
R.B.: Posthumous: It sounds like the name of a Roman gladiator, an unconquered gladiator. At least that’s what poor Posthumous would like to believe. It gives him courage.
found this here
“The battle will rage most fiercely around the question of sex….Mankind must learn that the sexual instinct is…ennobling. The shocking evils which we all deplore are principally due to the perversions produced by suppressions. The feeling that it is shameful and the sense of sin cause concealment, which is ignoble and internal conflict which creates distortion, neurosis, and ends in explosion. We deliberately produce an abscess and wonder why it is full of pus, why it hurts, why it bursts in stench and corruption.” -Crowley
Read this fascinating text here
I am not where you are lying in wait for me, but over here, laughing at you. Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.
42. clear water along the way
What’s yet to come. The wind in the trees.
Everything is the projection of a forlorn kid.
He’s walking alone along a back road. His
mouth moves. I saw a group of people
opening their mouths, unable to speak. The
rain filters through the pine needles.
Someone is running in the woods. You can’t
see his face. Just his back. Pure violence. (In
this scene the author appears with his hands
on his hips watching something offscreen.)
The wind and the rain through the trees, like
a curtain of madmen. The wind blows like a
ghost on a deserted beach: lifts his pajamas,
pushes him across the sand until he
disappears in the middle of an asthma attack
or a long yawn. “Like a rocket sliced open”…
“The poetic way of saying that you no longer
love back streets lit up by patrol cars” …
“The melodic voice of the sergeant speaking
with a Galician accent” … “Boys your age
who’d settle for so little” … “It’s too bad” …
“There’s a kind of dance that turns into
lips”… Wells of clear water along the way.
You saw a man on the ground under the
trees and you kept running. The first wild
blackberries of the season. Like the screwedup
eyes of the excitement that rushed to
from Antwerp by Roberto Bolano
‘I don’t like obscurity because I consider obscurity to be a form of despotism. One must expose oneself to pronouncing errors. One must expose oneself to possibly saying things which are probably going to be difficult to express, and which obviously are going to make one fumble for words.’
Michel Foucault. (1994) . ‘Sexualité et pouvoir’. In Dits et Ecrits vol. 111. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 137-58. p. 570. (This passage trans. Clare O’Farrell).
We do not need any more actors directors playwrights designers critics.
We do not need any more love, hate, psychology, politics, history, space,
intimacy, stages, or especially money.
We need so much that we can’t need anything but a theatre of the mind.
Crawl through the dark cave of mind that is the womb of all theatre and you
will discover the theatre of the mind. The theatre of the mind is the
loudest, brightest, most theatrical space in all of creation. It is
collective and individual, invisible and all envisioning, narcissistic and
universal, beautiful and ugly and brutal and tender; it is the only
theatrical hope/experience that keeps us going back and back, performance
after putrid performance; it is why we love to read the plays of
Shakespeare, to enact the magic incantation of their story heart and
language smell in our minds and why so often its stagings disappoint,
frustrate and limit our imaginings. The theatre of the mind is the stage of
perfect wonder that each one of us and every one of us ever smitten by live
performance longs to see again, a lost Eden that comes so easily in our
secret thought and appears so hard to realize on the living stage. And it
is a tragedy– this loss of a live, transformative theatre, this cavern of
twisting into labyrinth into gorge into ocean and sky because we need its
external presence as a people, as community to act in the very fact of its
occurring as omen, talisman, catalyst, to dream out the potentiality of
life; to dream a new blue print of civilization, together.
When I was a child, a stage could be anything–a piece of the linoleum
basement floor, the top of the oval chrome and formica kitchen table, the
rotting top step of the back porch stoop, an empty grandmother’s bed, a
patch of dirt under a willow tree. It could be anything and with some words
and performers and watchers (sometimes just two people who kept trading
places with each other) we en-acted the great battles of good and evil and
the dilemma of greed, the hunger of selfishness, for an arrested breath of
time we could be glorious, heroic, in harmony with the earth under our
feet and the sky above our dreams. Children play, live together in the
theatre of the mind with all its darkened nooks and bright alleys; there
they meet and spin the promise of our future and learn to become the adult
actors of history to come.
The theatre of the mind defies the narrow stage definition of time–time
man-made gives way to time star-made and rock-made; rain-made and
This is a theatre you can dwell in–as actor and audience, both actor and
audience–for the rest of your life and for the time before and after your
living, before fame money power ambitions and other theatrical delusions
came to play upon your mind, to cut it up into apartment complexes,
factories, and statements.
Sole condition of a theatre of the mind
that it cannot be done
(that it is as Plato’s perfect bed; the pure, conceptual pre-
textual non material ideal of all fabrication. But, despite all this,
it is the least cerebral of
all performances; it is the most active, most
In the painted cave of the theatre of the mind are the actors of the
theatre of the mind–a sea bed throng of signs and questions, humans and
beasts; monsters and butterflies
all of whom we recognize/have seen before in our sleep and our moments
outside of linear birth to death time and dreaming of illimitable sky. Now
here they come, these performers, perpetrators of our dreams, parading like
a beauty pageant– weddings and murders, pairings and disappearing taking
place right before our unwatchable eyes where each of us sees the play
unfold exactly as her own soul requires.
Action in the theatre of the mind
In the theatre of the mind things are never as comforting or as
recognizable as they seem. Here, plot is a trap, character a land
mine–you enter one broken being after another, survive one explosion after
another; the fragment of you, the audience, that is left is the play to be
performed live at that moment in your head in dialogue with the life on
stage that night so that each night of theatre of the mind is a thousand
nights of theatre, a thousand different plays being performed on stage in
the dark cave behind the curtain of audience eyes all at once, each play a
different one–the broken bits of humanity that speak therefore journey
like the constellations in the sky. And yet, for the theatre of the mind to
thrive we need the living stage to serve as the catalyst and clearing house
between minds, engendering a vital, imaginative, ethical community of minds
with common foes and goals and most of all a common language, a vocabulary
of discourse that does not reduce but expand ad infinitum our possibilities
as human beings.
The theatre of the mind is the theatre of yearning, humanity’s yearning
where we admit/confess to the darkened stage and the light flooded finale
that it is impossible for any one play to speak to see to hear whole.
Through the theatre of the mind of mosaic visions this wholeness of sense
that is ultimately denied us can at least be glimpsed, in a
thousand clapping hands in each of our own theatres of the mind, echoed and
beckoned and seduced to performance by the theatre of the impossible set
upon the stage that night.
Aspects of space and imagination in the theatre of the mind
Here stage space is a book in which the makers of theatre of the mind
write down dreams and fears to be ‘read’ by the audience who are themselves
writing other books in the theatres of their minds. This book that is the
theatre of the mind is like the medieval stained glass walls of cathedrals.
You can read them as sign and story–loud bright bloody vocal outpourings
of myth. In the theatre of the mind that is the illuminated manuscript of
images, the images don’t move but the audience moves, from mansion to
mansion, station to station in the house of wonder agony and compassion
that is our common home. The compassion comes when the show is over, a
death of signs and acts, the final peace from the exhausting accretion of
The theatre of the mind says:
How dare you pretend to resolve anything? How dare you erase the resonance
of myth, the germinal of theatre, by dividing it into ‘acts’; budgeting it
into this character and that; calling forth beginning middle and end when
the sole purpose of theatre as the locus of memorialized action is to set
the individual on journey after journey of discovery (which is the movement
of text, of ‘forwarding the action’ or plot in the theatre of the mind)
until a play’s end is the pile up/collision of a series of explorations
into the sense of universe; wherein the character traveling is not just
himself but a voice of the unison–the compilation of all characters–an
illumination burning itself up with life on a field of darkness which is
the stage at the beginning and end of every drama. Action in the theatre of
the mind is the playing out of hands, the turning over of a deck of chance
illuminations, placed one atop the next until there is so much overlay of
light we come to the thankfulness of darkness, of ending, again. Then we
are again at the beginning so that the theatre of the mind whose individual
play pieces may appear diametrically opposed are always the detritus of the
same never ending show.
Actions for a theatre of the mind
gesture of taste
sight of sound
will burning itself up
destiny melting down
Images for an theatre of the mind
worm choir in dirt bath
medieval flat perspective overlaid with
quick time movies
movie stars pasted in the eyes of enormous
TV screens that walk the stage like
lamplighters in renaissance time
algae and fish life flying through
the stage a tank of sharks
the stage a solar system with planets,
moons, fallen stars
the stage empty but for magnified dirt on
its floor boards, amplified sound in its wings
the stage empty but for the tears and
hisses of audiences who cannot bear to go to
hear to see anymore the kindergarten of lies
put before them when they came to play out
the end game of cosmos.
Elements of a theatre of the mind
lip stick stains on galaxies
hip hop music and magic spells recorded
live on CNN
language of distinctive voice without
definable meaning as we beg to know it and
debase it; the word, the poor holy word
a certain kind of weeping which only the
The theatre of the mind refuses to answer any questions; in fact, it seeks
to kill all answers (the catharsis of tragedy) which strews the proscenium
with a sea of irrefutable dogmatic blood that rationalizes the forward
march of history. In the theatre of the mind, all answers are beaten into
questions. All the images and text of the theatre of the mind are pre-text
for unanswerable questions. The theatre of the mind is the stage of these
unanswerable questions and thereby the theatre of the miraculous.
characters of the theatre of the mind
lightning thunder earthquake volcano meteorite rain
all angels of air and its dragons
all denizens of the deep
pure mouths rescued of bodies
the blood after cold blooded murder
the rotund earth
what we call divine
In the theatre of the mind, language kills and in the best of senses; that
is to annihilate into other wondrous matter. Words here are visceral and
the fortress of language with its bricks of sound, rhythm, and alphabet-
vowel-consonant cliché innuendo context pretext make up the iconic
language which is the vicious unassuagable appetite of the theatre of the
A theatre that you see and hear in your mind as you walk through the days
that walk you through your life.
the matter of plot or story lines of theatre of the mind
the story of the big bang
the story of the creation of love in the western world
the story of war on earth
the story of earth
the story of separation
conditions for the theatre of the mind
no subscribers to placate
no specializations or division of labor among the
a diviner’s gift of salvaging garbage treasure
a green thumb for resurrecting raw materials:
the stage as the tramp’s last supper
In the theatre of the mind are a thousand roving characters who may be
performed by one or a million actors on the stage who turn into each other
as readily as reproducing and dividing paramecium. Consistency of
anything–plot, character action point of view–has no place here for we
are inside the action of time where nothing stands still or remains the
same–neither star nor rock plate is without its parallel eternal
metamorphosis. This is the drama and cast of the theatre of the mind.
(she who was there, is not)
We go to the theatre neither to see nor hear nor understand; we go to dream.
aims of the theatre of the mind
to have and foster revelation
a notion of our limitlessness and our obscurity
a coming to beauty after devastation
screaming, laughing, weeping
to do away with all blue haired matinee ladies
to scare off all those who demand to know what the play is
to create the equivalent of a rose growing in quick time
and slow motion that you can touch and smell inside your self
to be reminded of wonder and magic everywhere
To forge alchemists and theatre of the mind makers for an impossible
theatre of us all; a theatre alive and on stage that is as magical for the
collective as the solitary one within.
From “Dada Manifesto”  and “Lecture on Dada” , translated from the French by Robert Motherwell, *Dada Painters and Poets*, by Robert Motherwell, New York, pp. 78- 9, 81, 246-51; reprinted by pernlission of George Wittenborn, Inc., Publishers, 10l8 Madison Avenue, New York 21, N.Y.
*There is a literature that does not reach the voracious mass. It is the work of creators, issued from a real necessity in the author, produced for himself. It expresses the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away. Every page must explode, either by profound heavy seriousness, the whirlwind, poetic frenzy, the new, the eternal, the crushing joke, enthusiasm for principles, or by the way in which it is printed. On the one hand a tottering world in flight, betrothed to the glockenspiel of hell, on the other hand: new men. Rough, bouncing, riding on hiccups. Behind them a crippled world and literary quacks with a mania for improvement.
I say unto you: there is no beginning and we do not tremble, we are not sentimental. We are a furious Wind, tearing the dirty linen of clouds and prayers, preparing the great spectacle of disaster, fire, decomposition.* We will put an end to mourning and replace tears by sirens screeching from one continent to another. Pavilions of intense joy and widowers with the sadness of poison. Dada is the signboard of abstraction; advertising and business are also elements of poetry.
I destroy the drawers of the brain and of social organization: spread demoralization wherever I go and cast my hand from heaven to hell, my eyes from hell to heaven, restore the fecund wheel of a universal circus to objective forces and the imagination of every individual.
Philosophy is the question: from which side shall we look at life, God, the idea or other phenomena. Everything one looks at is false. I do not consider the relative result more important than the choice between cake and cherries after dinner. The system of quickly looking at the other side of a thing in order to impose your opinion indirectly is called dialectics, in other words, haggling over the spirit of fried potatoes while dancing method around it. If I cry out:
Ideal, ideal, ideal,
- Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge,
Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom,
read the rest here
American photographer Thomas Allen constructs witty and clever dioramas using figures cut from the covers of old pulp paperbacks. Using salacious pulp art drawing’s of the ’40s and ’50s that covered books such as ” I Married a Dead Man” and ” Marihuana Girl’, Allen constructs one set of pictures up close while obscuring another, and in the process creates a different context. Each piece is given a brand new storyline, though never quite strays from their cheeky origins.
Andres Serrano´s Piss Christ is a photograph is of a small plastic crucifix submerged in what appears to be a yellow liquid. The artist has described the substance as being his own urine in a glass. The photograph was one of a series of photographs that Serrano had made that involved classical statuettes submerged in various fluids—milk, blood, and urine.The full title of the work is “Immersion (Piss Christ)”.The photograph is a 60×40 inch Cibachrome print. It is glossy and its colors are deeply saturated. The presentation is that of a golden, rosy medium including a constellation of tiny bubbles. Without Serrano specifying the substance to be urine and without the title referring to urine by another name, the viewer would not necessarily be able to differentiate between the stated medium of urine and a medium of similar appearance, such as amber or polyurethane.
Serrano has not ascribed overtly political content to Piss Christ and related artworks, on the contrary stressing their ambiguity. He has also said that while this work is not intended to denounce religion, it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture.
” Here’s a thought experiment. Are you deeply offended by works of art such as Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, which depicts Jesus as seen through a jar of urine, or Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, which shows Mary smeared with elephant dung? So offended that you think they ought to be banned and the galleries that display them prosecuted? No? OK, then try replacing the religious figures in these pictures with the sacred icons of progressive politics, people such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. How would you feel if you walked into an art gallery and saw an image of King submerged in urine or Mandela smeared with excrement?
Many people are likely to feel torn. Liberals know the reasoned arguments for freedom of expression and the importance of being consistent on matters of principle. On the other hand, it would be surprising if they did not also feel disgusted and affronted. How dare anyone pass off such gratuitously offensive images as works of art? Shouldn’t they be stopped? Jonathan Haidt, who gives a version of this thought experiment in his provocative new book, wants us to know that reason and instinctive outrage are always going to co-exist in cases like this. What’s more, in most instances, it’s the outrage that will be setting the agenda.
The arresting image Haidt gives for our sense of morality is that it’s like a rational rider on top of an intuitive elephant. The rider can sometimes nudge the elephant one way or the other, but no one should be in any doubt that the elephant is making the important moves. In fact, the main job of the rider is to come up with post-hoc justifications for where the elephant winds up. We rationalise what our gut tells us. This is true no matter how intelligent we are. Haidt shows that people with high IQs are no better than anyone else at understanding the other side in a moral dispute. What they are better at is coming up with what he calls “side-arguments” for their own instinctive position. Intelligent people make good lawyers. They do not make more sensitive moralists.
Where do these moral instincts come from? Haidt is an evolutionary psychologist, so the account he gives is essentially Darwinian. Morality is not something we learn from our parents or at school, and it’s certainly not something we work out for ourselves. We inherit it. It comes to us from our ancestors, ie from the people whose instinctive behaviour gave them a better chance to survive and reproduce. These were the people who belonged to groups in which individuals looked out for each other, rewarded co-operation and punished shirkers and outsiders. That’s why our moral instincts are what Haidt calls “groupish”. We approve of what is good for the group – our group.”
Read the rest of Runciman´s text here
“Still, American television is full of smiles and more and more perfect-looking teeth. Do these people want us to trust them? No. Do they want us to think they’re good people? No again. The truth is they don’t want anything from us. They just want to show us their teeth, their smiles, and admiration is all they want in return. Admiration. They want us to look at them, that’s all. Their perfect teeth, their perfect bodies, their perfect manners, as if they were constantly breaking away from the sun and they were little pieces of fire, little pieces of blazing hell, here on this planet simply to be worshipped.”
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666
27. OCCASIONALLY IT SHOOK
The nameless girl spread her legs under the sheets. A policeman can watch any way he wants, he’s already overcome all the risks of the gaze. What I mean is, the drawer holds fear and photographs and men who can never be found, as well as papers. So the cop turned out the light and unzipped his fly. The girl closed her eyes when he turned her face down. She felt his pants against her buttocks and the metallic cold of the belt buckle. “There was once a word”… (Coughs)… “A word for all this”… “Now all I can say is: don’t be afraid” … Images forced up by the piston. His fingers burrowed between her cheeks and she didn’t say a thing, didn’t even sigh. He was on his side, but she still had her head buried in the sheets. His indexand middle finger probed her ass, massaged her sphincter, and she opened her mouth without a sound. (I dreamed of a corridor full of people without mouths, he said, and the old man replied: don’t be afraid.) He pushed his fingers all the way in, the girl moaned and raised her haunches, he felt the tips of his fingers brush something to which he instantly gave the name stalagmite. Then he thought it might be shit, but the color of the body that he was touching kept blazing green and white, like his first impression. The girl moaned hoarsely. The phrase “the nameless girl was lost in the metro” came to mind and he pulled his fingers out to the first joint. Then he sank them in again and with his free hand he touched the girl’s forehead. He worked his fingers in and out. As he squeezed the girl’s temples, he thought that the fingers went in and out with no adornment, no literary rhetoric to give them any other sense than a couple of thick fingers buried in the ass of a nameless girl. The words came to a stop in the middle of a metro station. There was no one there. The policeman blinked. I guess the risk of the gaze was partly overcome by the exercise of his profession. The girl was sweating profusely and moved her legs with great care. Her ass was wet and occasionally quivered. Later he went over to look out the window and he ran his tongue over his teeth. (The word teeth slid across the glass, many times. The old man had coughed after he said don’t be afraid.) Her hair spilled over the pillow. He mounted her, seemed to say something in her ear before he plunged into her. We knew he had done that by the girl’s scream. The images travel in slow motion. He puts water on to boil. He closes the bathroom door. The bathroom light softly disappears. She’s sitting in the kitchen, her elbows resting on her knees. She’s smoking a cigarette. The policeman, the fake policeman, appears in a pair of green pajamas. From the hallway he calls her, asks her to come with him. She turns her head toward the door. There’s no one there. She opens a kitchen drawer. Something gleams. She closes the door.
33. THE REDHEAD
She was eighteen and she was mixed up in the drug trade. Back then I saw her all the time but if I had to make a police sketch of her now, I don’t think I could. I know she had an aquiline nose, and for a few months she was a redhead; I know I heard her laugh once or twice from the window of a restaurant as I was waiting for a taxi or just walking past in the rain. She was eighteen and once every two weeks she went to bed with a cop from the Narcotics Squad. In my dreams she wears jeans and a black sweater, and the few times she turns to look at me she laughs a dumb laugh. The cop would get her down on all fours and kneel by the outlet.
The vibrator was dead but he’d rigged it to work on electric current. The sun filters through the green of the curtains, she’s asleep with her tights around her ankles, face down, her hair covering her face. In the next
scene I see her in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, then she says good morning and smiles. She was a sweet girl and she didn’t avoid certain obligations: I mean sometimes she might try to cheer you up or loan you money. The cop had a huge dick, at least three inches longer than the dildo, and he hardly ever fucked her with it. I guess that’s how he liked it. He stared with teary eyes at his erect cock. She watched him from the bed … She smoked Camel Lights and maybe at some point she imagined that the furniture in the room and even her lover were empty things that she had to invest with meaning … Purple-tinted scene: before she pulls down her tights, she tells him about her day… “Everything is disgustingly still, frozen somewhere in the air.” Hotel room lamp. A stenciled pattern, dark green. Frayed rug. Girl on all fours who moans as the vibrator
enters her cunt. She had long legs and she was eighteen, in those days she was in the drug trade and she was doing all right, she even opened a checking account and bought a motorcycle. It may seem strange but I never wanted to sleep with her. Someone applauds from a dark corner. The policeman would snuggle up beside her and take her hands. Then he would guide them to his crotch and she could spend an hour or two getting him off. That winter she wore a red knee-length wool coat. My voice fades, splinters. She was just a sad girl, I think, lost now among the multitudes. She looked in the mirror and asked, “Did you do anything nice today?” The cop from Narcotics walks away down an avenue of larches. His eyes were cold, sometimes I saw him in my dreams sitting in the waiting room of a bus station. Loneliness is an aspect of natural human egotism. One day the person you love will say she doesn’t love you and you won’t understand. It happened to me. I would’ve liked her to tell me how to endure her absence. She didn’t say anything. Only the inventors survive. In my dream, a skinny old bum comes up to the policeman to ask for a light. When the policeman reaches into his pocket for a lighter the bum sticks him with a knife. The cop falls without a sound. (I’m sitting very still in my room in Distrito V, all that moves is my arm to raise a cigarette to my lips.) Now it’s her turn to be lost. Adolescent faces stream by in the car’s rearview mirror. A nervous tic. Fissure, half saliva, half coffee, in the bottom lip. The redhead walks her motorcycle away down a tree-lined street … “Disgustingly still” … “She says to the fog: it’s all right, I’m staying with you”…
translated by Natasha Wimmer
images © cecilia ferreira
To lift yourself out of a miserable mood, even if you have to do it by strength of will, should be easy. I force myself out of my chair, stride around the table, exercise my head and neck, make my eyes sparkle, tighten the muscles around them. Defy my own feelings, welcome A. enthusiastically supposing he comes to see me, amiably tolerate B. in my room, swallow all that is said at C.’s, whatever pain and trouble it may cost me, in long draughts.
Yet even if I manage that, one single slip, and a slip cannot be avoided, will stop the whole process, easy and painful alike, and I will have to shrink back into my own circle again.
So perhaps the best resource is to meet everything passively, to make yourself an inert mass, and, if you feel that you are being carried away, not to let yourself be lured into taking a single unnecessary step, to stare at others with the eyes of an animal, to feel no compunction, in short, with your own hand to throttle down whatever ghostly life remains in you, that is, to enlarge the final peace of the graveyard and let nothing survive save that.
A characteristic movement in such a condition is to run your little finger along your eyebrows.
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir