Monthly Archives: June 2008

Jello Biafra @50

Happy birthday Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. In the late 1980s, the band was embroiled in an obscenity trial in the US over the 1985 Frankenchrist album, which included a “biomannerist” poster with art that depicted penises, “Penis Landscape[1] by H. R. Giger, a work in the same vein as jahsonic fave Yoshifumi Hayashi.

Interviewed by Jools Holland:


Go ask the physiognomists, phrenologists, pathognomists and characterologists

“I love this word decadence, all shimmering in purple and gold. It suggests the subtle thoughts of ultimate civilization, a high literary culture, a soul capable of intense pleasures. It throws off bursts of fire and the sparkle of precious stones. It is redolent of the rouge of courtesans, the games of the circus, the panting of the gladiators, the spring of wild beasts, the consuming in flames of races exhausted by their capacity for sensation, as the tramp of an invading army sounds.” — Paul Verlaine, Les Poètes maudits (1884)


Heliogabalus or Elagabalus

Heliogabalus was a remarkable example of psychopathia sexualis; but in his age there were no Krafft-Ebings to submit his case to scientific observation,” said John Stuart Hay in 1911 in The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus. Heliogabalus, or Elagabalus as he is also called, is indeed a prime example in the category of Roman decadence, along with other notorious emperors such as Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

Keywords in the history of Roman decadence are inbreeding, bacchanalia, orgies, vomitoria, Great Fire of Rome, gladiators and pederasty.

The classic account of Roman decadence is Edward Gibbon‘s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, a book that was instantly put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The history of Roman decadence is a necessarily a hybrid mix of truth and fact, but is interesting to note that the view Europe had of Roman antiquity during the Renaissance was that of an highbrow ideal. It wasn’t perhaps — although the existence of Latin profanity was already known to Antiquity scholars – until the excavations of Pompeii and we found the erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum in the second half of the 18th century that our view of the Romans started to change. This gave rise to the very first secret museum, the Secret Museum of Naples.

Back to Heliogabalus.

Two years ago in Amsterdam, I saw a pleasant man who served us in a bar while we were having dinner. His face struck me as perverse. How can someone have a perverse face? Is the nature of your character readable on your face? Go ask the physiognomists, phrenologists, pathognomists and characterologists and they will answer “yes“. Their sciences are long out of fashion and definitely politically incorrect, but I concur, without of course, casting a judgment. You need only look at the face of Heliogabalus.

Walking on water


Bridge by Michael Cross

Bridge is an installation by British contemporary artist Michael Cross currently hosted in Hasselt, Belgium. It gives the impression that one is walking on water.

Every step you makes a floater appear and disappear. It feels like hovering over an abyss. It is mechanically powered. One of the best things I’ve seen in a while.

Principles of an aesthetics of death

Principes d’une esthétique de la mort by Michel Guiomar

And just when you think you’ve seen everything, a book manages to come out of nowhere and amaze you. Today, at the Antwerp book store Demian, I bought Principes d’une esthétique de la mort, les modes de présences, les présences immédiates, le seuil de l’Au-delà, a book essay by French writer Michel Guiomar, published in 1967 by French cult publisher José Corti. The book has not been translated to English, a possible translation of the title is Principles of an aesthetics of death. The book extensively references jahsonic favourite Gaston Bachelard.

Bill Coday (1942 – 2008)

Photo unidentified of Bill Coday

Bill Coday (May 10, 1942 in Coldwater, Mississippi – June 8, 2008) was a blues and soul musician popular on the British Northern soul scene. As a young man he began singing in juke joints in and around Blytheville, Arkansas. Later, Coday travelled to Chicago, Illinois, and there one night he was “discovered” by Denise LaSalle. LaSalle signed Coday to her Crajon label, and introduced Coday to Willie Mitchell of Memphis, Tennessee. Mitchell’s reputation in the soul and soul blues music industry includes producing such artists as Al Green and Ann Peebles. Mitchell agreed to work with Coday, and a result of this relationship, the team of Mitchell and Coday produced songs that included “Sixty Minute Teaser,” “I Get High on Your Love,” “You’re Gonna Want Me,” and “Get you Lies Straight.”


“Sixty Minute Teaser”

The flower of the swamp, a head. Human and sad.

La Fleur du marécage (1885) by Odilon Redon

La Fleur du marécage (1885) by Odilon Redon

In 1885, Odilon Redon depicts a Pierrot entitled La Fleur du marécage and commented with “La fleur du marécage, une tête. humaine et triste.” The engraving is is reminiscent of the fantastic plants of Edward Lear. Marécage is French for swamp, so the title translates as The flower of the swamp, a head. Human and sad.

The Sob of the Earth

Helen by Moreau

Helen by Gustave Moreau


Edward von Hartmann

Yes, this world is indeed flat, while the other nonsense.
I am resigned, without hope, in my fate,
And to kill time until death,
I smoke by the noses of the gods thin cigarettes.

Go, live, strive, poor future skeletons,
I, the blue meander which toward the blue sky twists,
plunge into an infinite ecstasy and end up sleeping
As a perfume dying of a thousand dishes.

And I enter paradise, filled with flowery yet clear dreams
Where seen mingling in waltzes fantastic
Elephants in choirs of mosquitoes.

And then, when I wake dreaming of my verse,
I contemplate the heart full of a sweet joy,
My dear thumb roasted as a goose’s thigh.

See Le sanglot de la terre, a poem that evinces the influence of Arthur Schopenhauer‘s pessimistic philosophy and Edward von Hartmann‘s concept of the unconscious mind.

On caricatures and character

One could easily be tempted to ascribe common etymological roots to the words caricature and character. In fact their etymologies don’t connect but that does not stop us from associating the two concepts.

Characters Caricaturas (1743) by William Hogarth

Characters Caricaturas (1743) by William Hogarth

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an epigraph by Poe: “Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul,” which translates to Such a great misfortune, not to be able to be alone. It is from Poe’s short story “The Man of the Crowd,” but Poe had quoted it before, in his earliest tale, “Metzengerstein.” Poe ascribes it to Jean de La Bruyère, who wrote the Caractères (Eng: The Characters of Jean de La Bruyère). Bruyère’s book is an “augmented” translation of Theophrastus‘s (371 – c. 287 BC) The Characters which contains thirty brief, vigorous and trenchant outlines of moral types, which form a valuable picture of the life of his time, and in fact of human nature in general. The genre of the “character sketch” is generally cited as originating in Theophrastus’s typology.

One of the thirty sketches of Theophrastus reads thus:

Of Obscenity, or Ribaldry
Impurity or beastliness is not hard to be defined. It is a licentious lewd jest. He is impure or flagitious, who meeting with modest women, sheweth that which taketh his name of shame or secrecy. Being at a Play in the Theatre, when all are attentively silent, he in a cross conceit applauds, or claps his hands: and when the Spectators are exceedingly pleased, he hisseth: and when all the company is very attentive in hearing and beholding, he lying alone belcheth or breaketh wind, as if Æolus were bustling in his Cave; forcing the Spectators to look another way …” [1], translation by Joseph Healey

More recent writing inspired by Theophrastus includes George Eliot‘s 1879 book of character sketches, Impressions of Theophrastus Such.

Illustration in a 19th century book about physiognomy

Illustration in a 19th century book about physiognomy

What I particularly like about these character sketches are their plotlessness, their roots as inspiration for the psychological novel, there generalizations into stereotypes and stock characters, and finally, their link to caricatures and physiognomy.

Henry Scott Tuke @150

Sunbathers by Henry Scott Tuke

Sunbathers by Tuke

Today would have been Henry Scott Tuke‘s 150th birthday. Tuke, (12 June 185813 March 1929), a British painter and photographer, is best remembered for his homoerotic paintings of naked boys and young men, which have earned him a status as a pioneer of gay male culture. His nude adolescent boys were depicted doing everyday activities; his images were not overtly erotic, nor did they usually show their genitals.