Category Archives: European culture

Everybody continually kills the Mandarin

Examining the bibliography of Art and Its Objects for my thesis Can Porn Be Art?, I came across Alain‘s System of the Fine Arts which in turn led me anew to the “killing of the hypothetical Mandarin“, a subject I had contemplated in some detail for the first time in 2013. I spent about six hours on the subject over the afternoon, time I did not spend on my thesis.

A new element in this afternoon reading and studying binge was “Killing a Chinese Mandarin“, an essay by Carlo Ginzburg (the current heir to Umberto Eco?) first published in 1994 and essential to the parable, referencing Aristotle’s Rhetoric, “Conversation of a Father with his Children” and “Letter on the Blind” (Diderot), Charles de PougensModeste Mignon (Balzac), Ordinary Men (Christopher Browning) and David Hume.

As far as I’m concerned Alain made the definitive statement about the “hypothetical Mandarin” when he said ” proving that we are all victims of collective guilt, a point particularly poignant in the current migrant crisis.

Having lost a lot of time (time I should’ve spent on my thesis), I decided to write this snippet reporting my vagrancies. As I was thinking of a picture that could illustrate it, I suddenly thought of Death by a Thousand Cuts. Are we not guilty — with every Chinese product we buy — of the violations of human rights in China perpetrated on a daily basis? But then I couldn’t. The image is just too cruel.

Instead, I give you a cover of Alain on Happiness [above], from whence came Alain’s dictum on the mandarin, not referenced by Ginzburg in his sublime essay on emotional and social distance.

RIP Mark E. Smith (1957 – 2018)

Mark E. Smith was an English musician, known for his post-punk group the Fall, a renowned and idiosyncratic offshoot from the UK post-punk popular music scene.

His voice is reminiscent of Jonathan Richman and tracks such as “Big New Prinz” [above] are as weird and danceable as Richman’s “Roadrunner” for example.

On a personal note: the covered “Mr. Pharmacist” in 1986, at a time when I was into garage rock.

P.S. The train footage in the clip of “Big New Prinz” is an example of slow television.

A nude woman isn’t indecent

Via peeking into Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (mentioned in previous post[1]) come Diderot’s thoughts on the difference between decency and indecency, or, by extension, the difference between erotica and pornography. According to Diderot, “it is the difference between a woman who is seen and a woman who exhibits herself.”

Here are Diderot’s thoughts in full from an unidentified translation:

“A nude woman isn’t indecent. It’s the lavishly decked out woman who is. Imagine the Medici Venus is standing in front of you, and tell me if her nudity offends you. But shoe this Venus’ feet with two little embroidered slippers. Dress her in tight white stockings secured at the knee with rose-colored garters. Place a chic little hat on her head, and you’ll feel the difference between decent and indecent quite vividly. It’s the difference between a woman seen and a woman displaying herself. (translator unidentified[2], probably John Goodman)

French original:

“Une femme nue n’est point indécente. C’est une femme troussée qui l’est. Supposez devant vous la Vénus de Médicis, et dites-moi si sa nudité vous offensera. Mais chaussez les pieds de cette Vénus de deux petites mules brodées. Attachez sur son genou avec des jarretières couleur de rose un bas blanc bien tiré. Ajustez sur sa tête un bout de cornette, et vous sentirez fortement la différence du décent et de l’indécent. C’est la différence d’une femme qu’on voit et d’une femme qui se montre.”

Please do not take Diderot too seriously when it comes to eroticism, I’ve previously written on Diderot’s hypocrisy. In my view, if it isn’t indecent, it isn’t erotic. That is why I do not consider many pieces of erotic art, erotic at all since they do not provoke erotic arousal. Shame is the most powerful aphrodisiac.

The eeriness of hanging, dripping mosses

Following my previous post[1], Paul Rumsey identifies the mystery print[2] as one from the hand of Georg Lemberger, an Austrian artist so obscure he does not even have an English language Wikipedia page.

One of Lemberger’s paintings, Saint George Freeing the Princess (Lemberger)[3], has an Italian-language Wikipedia page, which I’ve partly translated and partly augmented:

The scene takes place in a fantastic forest. St George is preparing to face the monstrous dragon, hitting him with a spear, while the horse rears its head and front legs, according to the traditional iconography.

On the left the princess kneels in prayer.

Despite the small size of the work, it is emblematic of the role of landscape in the German art, full of fantastic effects and symbolic meanings, which characterizes the Danube School.

The trees are particularly elongated, and seem to germinate the one above the other, waving their spectral fronds, like in a dream vision.

The forest has a feeling of great mossy humidity and the branches of the trees seem to be covered with hanging, dripping mosses, like Spanish moss.

The feeling of being lost in the dark forest prevails and the work conveys a sense of the unknown, dominated by mysterious forces of nature.

RIP German sex educator Oswalt Kolle (1928 – 2010)

Oswalt Kolle played a significant role in the sexual revolution in Germany.

Of all sexual revolutions (see here), the one that occurred in the 1960s was the most pervasive, due to mass media, the pill and general economic prosperity.

It was a funny revolution. A friend once told me that it was just an excuse for all alpha males to bang as many women as they could get their hands on. This is an exaggeration, of course, but contains some truth.

It was the start of sex education in state schools, like the Sexualkundeatlas of 1969, but also of state-funded sexual education films Helga – Vom Werden des menschlichen Lebens.

Illustration Zázrak Lásky (Czech translation of Wunder der Liebe by Oswalt Kolle). For more visuals of Oswalt Kolle’s products, see my old page here[1].

Icon of Erotic Art #55

There is a scene in the film Story of O which juxtaposes a woman’s face in the throes of orgasm and the face of another woman who is being tortured. Supposedly, the facial expressions of both women cannot be distinguished, at least, that’s what the film claims (I don’t know whether the same claim is made in the book).

This is the first thing that came to my mind when I laid eyes on the recently published supposedly long-lost upper section of Gustave Courbet’s masterpiece The Origin of the World[1], a painting of a young woman’s face and shoulders which was — again supposedly — severed from the original work.

The woman depicted is the Irish redhead Joanna Hiffernan, who must have been around 23 when this work was painted. Joanna “Jo” Hiffernan (ca. 1843 – after 1903) was also the model of and romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who painted her as The White Girl. Courbet also painted her as La belle Irlandaise and Le Sommeil.

I think the work is fantastic (regardless if it is a part of L’Origine or not) and frankly, just as exciting as the world famous beaver shot of the lower section. I love orgiastic faces (and swooning women) and I am not the only one. There is the website ‘Beautiful Agony,’ of which the name at least seems to corroborate the claim of the narrator of the Story of O.

The upper section of ‘L’Origine is Icon of Erotic Art #55.

Nightmares of emptiness and nightmares of overgrowth

The Jamnitzers were a family of goldsmiths who lived in the 16th century. They worked for very rich people and filled the ‘Schatzkammer‘ of Northern Europe with highly luxurious items, fuelling the general economy.

However, it is their works on paper which interest us here.

First there is the father, Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507/08 – 1585). He is the author of Perspectiva Corporum Regularium (1568), a fabulous work on  perspective and geometry. Of special interest in the Perspectiva is a series of architectural fantasies of spheres[1], cones[2] and tori[3].

Second there is the grandson, Christoph Jamnitzer (1563–1618). Where his grandfather favoured mathematical precision and the sounding voice of reason, the grandson, author of Neuw Grottessken Buch (1610), favoured sweeping curvilinearity, abject grotesqueries and feasts of unreason. The most famous print of Neuw Grottessken Buch is the Grotesque with two hybrid gristly creatures, shown left.

If you see the work of grandfather and grandson side by side, both Jamnitzers seemed to have been plagued by the sleep of reason, the grandfather suffering from nightmares of abandonment and the grandson challenged by nightmares of being overwhelmed by the dark forces of nature.

Alfred Hitchcock @110

Alfred Hitchcock @110


Alfred Hitchcock KBE (August 13 1899April 29 1980) was a highly influential film director and producer who pioneered many techniques in the suspense and thriller genres.

Hitchcock’s films draw heavily on both fear and fantasy, and are known for their witticisms. They often portray innocent people caught up in circumstances beyond their control or understanding.

Until the later part of his career, Hitchcock was far more popular with film audiences than with film critics, especially the elite British and American critics. In the late 1950s the French New Wave critics, especially Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and François Truffaut, were among the first to see and promote his films as artistic works. Hitchcock was one of the first directors to whom they applied their auteur theory, which stresses the artistic authority of the director in the film-making process.

Psychoanalytical film theorists such as Slavoj Žižek (The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema) have noticed how Hitchcock often applied Freudian concepts to his psychological thrillers, as in Rebecca, Spellbound, Vertigo, Psycho, and Marnie. Additionally, Hitchcock often dealt with matters that he felt were sexually perverse or kinky, and many of his films aimed to subvert the restrictive Hollywood Production Code.

Cover: Murders on the Half-Skull by Alfred Hitchcock (1970, Dell [New York]). Cover artist ID anyone?

Floris and Blancheflour (is) (not) the missing link …

Floris and Blancheflour (is) (not) the missing link between European medieval literature and the Arabian Nights.

Many of the details, such as the Tower of Maidens (i.e. harem), eunuch guards, and the odalisques (white slavery) derive from material carried to the west via The Arabian Nights. The frame tale of The Nights (the king “re-marries” every night) is reflected in a plot element (“the king re-marries every year”) in Floris and Blancheflour.

The tale could be originally French, or possibly of Oriental origins, or a synthesis of motifs. Kathleen Coyne Kelly, in her essay “Bartering of Blauncheflur,” summarized the discussion of the sources as follows: “Scholars disagree as to whether Floris and Blauncheflur is an oriental tale that was adapted for Western audiences, or a tale whose European author simply supplied it with an oriental setting.”

Compared to other medieval romances, the story has not frequently been brought to the screen. In 1978 Fabrice Luchini and Arielle Dombasle (photo) portrayed Floris and Blancheflour in Perceval le gallois by Éric Rohmer.

RIP Simon Vinkenoog (1928 – 2009)

RIP Simon Vinkenoog, 80, Dutch poet and writer.

Vinkenoog with Spinvis in a totally Fela Kuti-esque track

Simon Vinkenoog (1928 – 2009) was a Dutch poet and writer. He was instrumental in launching the Dutch “Fifties Movement“.

In the Anglosphere Vinkenoog’s name is associated with the Albert Hall poetry event (and the film Wholly Communion) and his connection with IT magazine.

He was one of the Néerlandophone beat writers. The same cultural climate that begot the beat writers in the United States engendered European counterparts.

These countercultures must be looked for in two spheres, the sphere of European counterculture and the sphere of European avant-garde.

In France this was the Letterist International, in Germany perhaps Gruppe 47; visually and on a European scale there was COBRA.

Vinkenoog was born in the same year as Andy Warhol, Serge Gainsbourg, Jeanne Moreau, Nicolas Roeg, Guy Bourdin, Luigi Colani, Stanley Kubrick, Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, William Klein, Roger Vadim, Yves Klein, Jacques Rivette, Alvin Toffler, Ennio Morricone and Oswalt Kolle.