Monthly Archives: December 2008

“Women read fiction, men read non-fiction” revisited

Women read fiction, men read non-fiction[1], I wrote in 2006 and the subject has continued to intrigue me from three perspectives.

Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard by you.

So what about the depiction of literature in painting? How about visual depictions of women reading? What about the female reader, the lectrice?.

Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard[2] (c.1780) is an oil painting measuring 81 x 65 cm .

It was painted by French painter Auguste Bernard d’Agesci and its subject was a female reader swooning over the star-crossed correspondence by Abelard and Heloise in the posthumously published Letters of Heloise and Abelard. The Letters of Heloise and Abelard are a series of letters between French priest Peter Abelard and his female student Héloïse after their separation and his castration.

Simonetti Redheaded woman tensely opens a love letter by you.

Love letters, it must be said, has been one of the most popular genres in the history of literature. Consider the aforementioned Letters of Heloise and Abelard, but also Letters of a Portuguese Nun and Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister. See also amatory fiction and the epistolary novel.

Love letters, it must be said, has been one of the most popular genres in the history of literature.” Why? Because it reduces the reader to the part of eavesdropper or voyeur, it allows you to step out of yourself and live the life of another.

Abelard and his pupil, Heloise by Edmund Leighton. by you.

The passage you all want to read: the castrastion episode

“[Philintus] bribed my servants; an assassin came into my bedchamber by night, with a razor in his hand, and found me in a deep sleep. I suffered the most shameful punishment that the revenge of an enemy could invent; in short, without losing my life, I lost my manhood. So cruel an action escaped not justice, the villain suffered the same mutilation, poor comfort for so irretrievable an evil. I confess to you that shame more than any sincere penitence made me resolve to hide myself from the sight of men, yet could I not separate myself from my Heloise.”[3] in a translation/edition by John Hughes, Pierre Bayle

Introducing Coyle and Sharpe


The Warbler, 1963,  “man on the street” interview

Coyle and Sharpe was the name of American comic duo Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe who appeared on television and radio during the early sixties, exhibiting their mastery of the “man on the street” interview, with humorous results.

Coyle and Sharpe began their comedy team in 1958 in a boarding house. In their official website Jim Coyle is described as a “benign conman who talked his way into 119 jobs by the time he was 25”. Mal Sharpe. At the time of their meeting, Mal Sharpe had just graduated college and was interested in the burgeoning scene that was happening in in the San Francisco area in that time.

In 1964, they were hired by radio station KGO in San Francisco to pull pranks, or as they jokingly referred to them, “Terrorizations”. The radio show was called “Coyle and Sharpe On The Loose”. Shortly after these broadcasts aired, they released two records: “The Absurd Imposters[1] and “The Insane Minds Of Coyle And Sharpe[2], which were released on the Warner Records.

The whereabouts of Jim Coyle are unkown, but in their website, a supposition is offered that he left the act to pursue a career in “tunneling” and that he died in 1993 burrowing under the city of Barcelona.

Mal Sharpe continued to do the “Man on the Street” interviews. In the year 2000, Sharpe hosted a centennial exhibit at the Whitney Museum, called “The American Century“. Coyle and Sharpe were featured in the Soundworks Exhibit for this presentation.

They have one record that re-presented their seminal comedy material in 2000 from Thirsty Ear, entitled Coyle And Sharpe-Audio Visionaries[3].

  • The Best of LCD: The Art and Writing of WFMU
  • RE/Search #11: Pranks!. RE/Search Publications, 1986.

De Daemonialitate et Incubis et Succubis

Pierre Antoine Baudouin by you.

La Dormeuse (1765) by Pierre Antoine Baudouin

Recent scholarship by Sholem Stein has revealed that the protagonist reader in this painting by French artist Pierre Antoine Baudouin had been reading either Sinistrari d’Ameno‘s Demoniality Or Incubi and Succubi or Claude Le Petit‘s “Apologie de Chausson.”

The woman reader was previously believed to have fallen asleep of boredom by reading Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, professor Stein now confirms that she probably died of excessive lasciviousness.

Introducing Alcide Bonneau ( 1836 – 1904)

Alcide Bonneau (Orléans, 1836, Paris, 1904) was a French intellectual, philologist, literary critic and translator of erotica and curiosa. He is also the author of Padlocks and Girdles of Chastity. In 1887, he collected a number of these essays and published them as Curiosa: essais critiques de littérature ancienne ignorée ou mal connue, it is said that the later bookselling category curiosa thanks its coinage to this collection.

The Love Academy by Vignale by you.

La Cazzaria by Antonio Vignali (a Latin novel by Antonio Vignale, written in the mid 1520s, first published in Napels in the 1530s. It was translated by Alcide Bonneau into French and as The Love Academy by Rudolph Schleifer (for Brandon House Library Editions)).

Alcide Bonneau followed in the footsteps of Antoine Galland and was a contemporary of British translator Richard Francis Burton.

Bonneau, like printer Isidore Liseux was an ex-priest, and they had known each other since seminary.

He was lexicographer at the Grand dictionnaire of Pierre Larousse (on Spanish and Italian literature), as well as the Nouveau Larousse illustré.

From 1876 to 1893, he was the principal collaborator of the editor Isidore Liseux (1835-1894), for whom he edited, translated and annotated some fifty works labelled as erotic or simply « curieux » : la On Civility in Children by Erasmus (1877); the Facetiae by Poggio Bracciolini (1878); the Raggionamenti by Aretino (1879-1880); the Dialogues de Luisa Sigea by Nicolas Chorier (1881); the Sonetti lussuriosi by Aretino (1882); the Apophoreta, or De Figuris Veneris, by German scholar Forberg, under the title Manuel d’érotologie classique (1882); La Cazzaria by Antonio Vignali (1882); Poésies complètes by Giorgio Baffo (1884); Raffaella by Piccolomini (1884); the Hecatelegium by Pacifico Massimi (1885); The Mandrake, a comedy by Machiavelli (1887); Portrait of Lozana: The Lusty Andalusian Woman by Delgado (1887); Hermaphroditus by Beccadelli (1892); etc. All translations were annotated, often running longer that the actual text.

Fanny Hill @ 260

Fanny Hill @ 260

Rebecca Night is Fanny Hill in Fanny Hill

Rebecca Night is Fanny Hill

“…and now, disengag’d from the shirt, I saw, with wonder and surprise, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant. Its prodigious size made me shrink again; yet I could not, without pleasure, behold, and even ventur’d to feel, such a length, such a breadth of animated ivory! perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish and velvet softness might vie with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which the fair skin shew’d as in a fine evening you may have remark’d the clear light ether through the branchwork of distant trees over-topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and blueish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature. In short, it stood an object of terror and delight.

But what was yet more surprising, the owner of this natural curiosity, through the want of occasions in the strictness of his home-breeding, and the little time he had been in town not having afforded him one, was hitherto an absolute stranger, in practice at least, to the use of all that manhood he was so nobly stock’d with; and it now fell to my lot to stand his first trial of it, if I could resolve to run the risks of its disproportion to that tender part of me, which such an oversiz’d machine was very fit to lay in ruins.”

Fanny Hill is a fictional character which debuted in 1748 in the novel of the same name as its titular character. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure as it was originally titled is a novel presented as a memoir (see literary mystification) by John Cleland, written in 1748 while Cleland was in debtor’s prison in London (see also: literature written in prison), often called the first pornographic novel, it has become a byword for the battle of censorship of erotica.


“How should you like to be a virgin again, Fanny?”

The novel was adapted for film several times, most recently in the Andrew Davies-directed BBC serial in 2007. Andrew Wynford Davies (born 1936) is a British author and screenwriter. His film and television adaptations include Othello (2001), Moll Flanders (1992), The Chatterley Affair and Fanny Hill (2007), where Rebecca Night is Fanny Hill.

The book concerns the titular character, who begins as a poor country girl who is forced by poverty to leave her village home and go to town. There, she is tricked into working in a brothel, but before losing her virginity there, escapes with a man named Charles with whom she has fallen in love. After several months of living together, Charles is sent out of the country unexpectedly by his father, and Fanny is forced to take up a succession of new lovers to survive.

What is remarkable and innovative about the novel is that Cleland’s writing style is witty, learned, and full of Classical asides. Also, Fanny herself does not, like Roxana or Moll Flanders, repent. She has no remorse for her education in sex, although she does realize that she is being exploited. Further, Fanny acts as a picara: as a prostitute she shows the wealthy men of the peerage at their most base and private . Samuel Richardson and Daniel Defoe had written about women forced into compromised situations before, and they had hinted graphically enough that the subversive and erotic context was present, but neither made their heroines women of pleasure. Neither of them imputed to their women any joy in their situation, whereas Cleland does.

The novel satirised the literary conventions and fashionable manners of 18th century England, it was more scandalous for depicting a woman, the narrator, enjoying and even reveling in sexual acts with no dire moral or physical consequences. The text is hardly explicit as Cleland wrote the entire book using euphemisms for sex acts and body parts, employing 50 different ones just for the term penis. Two small earthquakes were credited to the book by the Bishop of London and Cleland was arrested and briefly imprisoned, but Fanny Hill continued to be published and is one of the most reprinted books in the English language. However, it was not legal to own this book in the United States until 1963 and in the United Kingdom until 1970.

An obscenity trial of an unexpurgated edition of Fanny Hill in Denmark in 1964 led to the conclusion that pornography was not harmful to adult readers. Pornography was subsequently decriminalized, first in Denmark, the rest of Scandinavia following suit.

This decision influenced obscenity and pornography laws in the United States, because some of the Danish findings (most prominently the work of Dr. Berl Kutchinsky) were republished in the first Presidential Report on Obscenity and Pornogarphy, the so-called Lockhart report.

On March 21 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that the previously banned novelFanny Hill” did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity.

Fanny Hill is — along with Robinson Crusoe (1719), Pamela (1740), Dom Bougre (1741), Le Sopha, conte moral (1742), Thérèse Philosophe (1748), Les Bijoux indiscrets (1748), Tristram Shandy (1760-1770), The Castle of Otranto (1765), Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), The 120 Days of Sodom (1785), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), La Religieuse (1796), The Monk (1796), L’Histoire de Juliette (1797) — one of the undisputable instances of 18th century cult fiction, and central too any serious study of 18th century literature.

There is so much too say about Fanny, I’ll summarize it in a tag cloud:

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Erotic literature, Memoir, European erotica, History of erotic depictions, British erotica, 18th century in literature, Erotomania, Memoirs v. Massachusetts, Whore dialogue, Sexual revolution in Scandinavia/Notes, The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture, Characters in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Literature written in prison, Jahsonic’s literary canon, Preponderance of female characters, The Lustful Turk comparison to Fanny Hill, A maypole of so enormous a standard, Novel presented as a memoir

Let me end with an excerpt, that shows the beauty of the purple prose

“[t]here alone she existed, all lost in those delirious transports, those extasies of the senses, which her winking eyes, the brighten’d vermilion of her lips and cheeks, and sighs of pleasure deeply fetched, so pathetically express’d. In short, she was now as mere a machine as much wrought on, and had her motions as little at her own command as the natural himself, who thus broke in upon her, made her feel with a vengeance his tempestuous tenderness, and the force of the mettle he battered with; their active loins quivered again with the violence of their conflict, till the surge of pleasure, foaming and raging to a height, drew down the pearly shower that was to allay this hurricane.” —Fanny Hill

… and point you in the direction of some valuable remarks on slowed down time in literature:

Colin Wilson aptly observes in the The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders how John Cleland in Fanny Hill had succeeded to slow down time by which he meant that “the time it takes to read [some scenes] is obviously a great deal longer than the time it took to do.” He goes on to describe how Richardson had done the same in Pamela and Clarissa, assuming that

“Pamela and Clarissa became so real to the reader’s imagination that we want to linger. A century and a half later, Marcel Proust will carry the same assumption to extraordinary lengths, virtually persuading the reader to abandon his normal sense of time. No writer before the time of Richardson would have dreamed of attempting such a feat: Cervantes, Lesage, Defoe, all relied on a profusion of incident to hold the reader’s interest. –page 84.

Richardson and Cleland had the excuse that their era was pre-cinema, Proust wrote his most time-oriented work in In Search of Lost Time (1913 -1927) when cinema was already happening, but not during the sound film era. Is this kind of writing, which slows down time, still done? And how has cinematic time influenced time in literature?

See also: literary technique

Edwin Abbott Abbott @170

Edwin Abbott Abbott (18381926) was an English writer, best-known for his allegorical science fiction novel Flatland.

Flatland by you.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is an 1884 science fiction novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott.

As a satire, Flatland offered pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. However, the novella’s more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions; in a foreword to one of the many publications of the novella, noted science writer Isaac Asimov described Flatland as “The best introduction one can find into the manner of perceiving dimensions.” As such, the novella is still popular amongst mathematics, physics and computer science students.


Flatland: The Movie

Several films have been made from the story, including a feature film in 2007 called Flatland[1] and a short film with Martin Sheen titled Flatland: The Movie[2].

The text is in the public domain[3].

On the semantics of sex

Ten years ago today, on December 19, 1998, then U. S. President Bill Clinton is impeached because of alleged sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, known at the time as the Lewinsky scandal.

The scandal was primarily interesting from a semantic point of view, it was a rare instance of a public discussion regarding the semantics of sex.


I did not have sexual relations with that woman

From a personal point of view, I was tremendously insulted by Clinton saying of his relation with Lewinsky: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman[1]. It’s the “that woman” that struck me as totally offensive to Lewinsky, only later in his sentence referring to Lewinsky by her name.

On the semantic side:

The nature of the Clinton’s statement was called into question within hours when skeptical reporters noted that the term “sexual relations” can be defined as meaning coitus, and asked whether the President and Lewinsky had been engaging in other forms of sex. The controversy deepened when Clinton was revealed, in fact, to have had sexual contact with Lewinsky, although the issue remained a semantic one as to whether the words “sexual relations” includes oral sex.

Lewinsky on the cover of Cigar Aficionado by you.

Clinton later admitted that he lied to the American people and that he had had inappropriate intimate contact with Lewinsky but only after a blue dress with Clinton’s semen stain had shown up as testimony, as well as testimony from Lewinsky that the President had inserted a cigar into her vagina.

After this admission, Clinton denied having committed perjury because, according to Clinton, the legal definition of oral sex was mutually exclusive of “sexper se. In addition, relying upon the definition of “sexual relations” as proposed by the prosecution and agreed by the defense, Clinton claimed that because certain acts were performed on him, not by him, he did not engage in sexual relations.

On the ambiguity of sexual terminology, no one can top the bible which terms sexual relations as knowledge, see biblical literalism.

A flawed piece on the origins of dark cabaret

Hildegarde Knef

A flawed piece on the origins of the dark cabaret strain in the American entertainment industry, the roots of American cabaret in German cabaret and the aesthetics of death.


Wieviel Menschen waren glücklich[1] is a 1970 musical composition interpreted by Hildegard Knef and released on Decca Records as the b-side to “Tapetenwechsel“.

Café Elektric

Click for credits

I’m cross-posting this from Facebook. It’s a very sad song and I associate it with boudoir noir[2] and dark cabaret traditions, along the current fad in music criticism: hauntology.

Hildegarde Knef, German actress, singer and writer, probably best-known outside of the Germanosphere for her interpretation of “Mackie Messer” and her performance in Die Sünderin. Along with Marlene Dietrich, she is most firmly associated with dark cabaret, a genre of music represented by The Dresden Dolls and Marilyn Manson(The Golden Age of Grotesque) but the aesthetics have older ancestors.

Hildegarde Knef in the German film Die Sünderin

Click for credits

Two iconic images illustrate dark cabaret: the album cover to Swordfishtrombones[3] and the Charlotte Rampling‘s cabaret scene in The Night Porter[4] [5], and here[6] in a Youtube clip. Note the suspenders both on Rampling and Waits.

In the history of cabaret, three or four local histories have been written: French cabaret (Le Chat Noir), German cabaret (Überbrettl) and American cabaret (Cabaret). British cabaret isn’t documented because in the United Kingdom cabaret has historically been called music hall and existed much longer, since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

The clearest mental image most of us have of cabaret is Liza Minelli in Cabaret with its iconic songs Willkommen[7] and “Life Is a Cabaret[8]. The imagery of this musical was inspired by German cabaret as witnessed by Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin (1939) during the 1920s in Berlin.

Jo Steiner (1877-1935) - Manifesto per spettacolo di cabaret di Claire Waldoff, a Berlino, nel 1914.

Click for credits

So the archetypical American cabaret is rooted in German cabaret. German cabaret was the darkest of them all because it happened in 1920s Berlin, the birthplace of, literature (Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929), film (Lang, Metropolis, 1927 and M, 1931, Dietrich, Der blaue Engel, 1930 and German Expressionism), painting (Grosz, Circe [9], Dix, Großstadt-Triptych[10]), music (Weill, Threepenny Opera[11], 1928), criticism (Benjamin), philosophy/psychology (Jung), and fashion.

Most of these dark manifestations of Weimar’s culture were labelled degenerate and banned after Hitler’s rise to power.

Dietrich in The Blue Angel is the most iconic image of dark cabaret. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg in 1930, based on Heinrich Mann‘s novel Professor Unrat. The film is considered to be the first major German sound film and it brought world fame to actress Marlene Dietrich. In addition, it introduced her signature song, Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It). This song was originally entitled Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt[12] and was composed by Frederick Hollander for Der Blaue Engel. The English language words were written by Sammy Lerner, but are in no way a direct translation of the original.


Most of my music activities have moved to Facebook where I post 3 tracks per day.


“Prisencolinensinainciusol” (1972) by Adriano Celentano

However, “Prisencolinensinainciusol[1] by Adriano Celentano is too good to not give to non-Facebook surfers. I’ve known this track for 20 years or more, but it took a good friend of mine three days of calling his friends, checking the web and more to identify the interpreter. The track shows similarities with “Stop Bajon[2], especially because of its likeness in rhythm section.

While we’re in Italy, let me just give you one more (I just discovered it now), which may end up on my Facebook page tomorrow: Lucio BattistiAncora tu[3]