Monthly Archives: October 2013

Anything coming out of the mouth of a ‘wise fool’

Pantagruel by Gustave Doré (prologue)

I’ve been reading up on the grotesque body, finally taking the trouble and the time to read how its ‘inventor’ Mikhail Bakhtin defined it.

Here you have it, from Rabelais and His World:

“Contrary to modern canons, the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits. The stress is laid on those parts of the body that are open to the outside world, that is, the parts through the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world. This means that the emphasis is on the apertures or convexities, or on various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose. The body discloses its essence as a principle of growth which exceeds its own limits only in copulationpregnancychildbirth, the throes of deatheatingdrinking, ordefecation. This is the ever unfinished, ever creating body, the link in the chain of genetic development, or more correctly speaking, two links shown at the point where they enter into each other. This especially strikes the eye in archaic grotesque”. (tr. Helene Iswolsky)

It’s quite a beautiful piece of prose. It reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari saying “there is no castration” and Sloterdijk’s genius comment on the the arse: “the arse is truly is the idiot of the family.”

See embodied cognitionbody genres and body politics.

Also, anything coming out of the mouth of a ‘wise fool‘: morosophy and its mutant siblings serio ludere and spoudaiogeloion are still of great interest to yours truly.

Vices he never committed look out of his eyes in a wild revolt

Charles Baudelaire by Étienne Carjat (ca. 1863)

Charles Baudelaire by Étienne Carjat (ca. 1863)

Charles Baudelaire by Étienne Carjat (ca. 1863) is a photographic portrait of Charles Baudelaire taken by Étienne Carjat.

The photo was published in a widely distributed series entitled Galerie contemporaine, littéraire, artistique.

The piercing gaze of Baudelaire has not gone unnoticed. Arthur Symons in Charles Baudelaire: A Study (1920) noted:

In the portrait by Carjat, his face and his eyes are contorted as if in a terrible rage ; the whole face seems drawn upward and downward in a kind of convulsion ; and the aspect, one confesses, shows a degraded type as if all the vices he had never committed looked out of his eyes in a wild revolt.

Super Sottsass

I remember quite clearly driving to Paris in 1994 and seeing for the first time the ‘Superboxes[1][2] by Ettore Sottsass on the occasion of his retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou.

I seem to remember — I’m not sure if this actually happened — but it now seems that somewhere along the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring around Paris, we entered a tunnel which took us all the way to the underground parking below the Centre Georges Pompidou. I like to drive in tunnels and it felt like I had lucked out in finding a secret passage to the belly of the Parisian temple of postmodernity.

In 1966, the ‘Superboxes’ — monolithic wardrobes or closets — were at the same time extremely minimalistic, seemingly a tribute to the “less is more” credo of high modernism; yet very maximalist: the colours and the laminate of these box-shaped wardrobes foreshadowed postmodernism.

In retrospect, the prefix super- in ‘superbox’ was rather popular in Italian design during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Apart from the ‘superboxes’ there was superarchitettura and Superstudio.

But even outside Italy and outside of design, super was a popular prefix. There were supermarkets, there was ‘super’ leaded fuel, you had the Lee Perry Super Ape album and the Superfly film in entertainment.

See: “I Remember

On the rehabilitation of serial killers Elizabeth Báthory and Gilles de Rais

I’m confused.

First, while researching my book on female murderers I discovered that notorious serial killer Elizabeth Báthory (1560 – 1614) in reality probably never killed 600 girls, not even a hundred, perhaps not even one.

Portrait of Elizabeth Báthory

Portrait of Elizabeth Báthory

It was just a ploy to steal the fortune of the richest lady of Hungary, say new sources I’m inclined to believe.

And then yesterday I researched Gilles de Rais (1405 – 1440) and here too historians offer a rehabilitation of the gruesome knight, one-time brother-in-arms to Joan of Arc. In the words of Fernand Fleuret writing in Le procès inquisitorial de Gilles de Rais, maréchal de France:

“Let me begin by pointing out that I’m not the first who dared doubt the impudent crimes of pseudo-Bluebeard, or who was simply struck by the strangeness of the procedure. There was before me King Charles VII, the Benedictines, Voltaire, Charles Lea, Vizetelly, Salomon Reinach, Gabriel Monod and Charles-Victor Langlois.” (tr. JW Geerinck)

Fleuret concludes that de Rais was “an innocent victim of one of the most heinous judicial machinations of history.”

There are no certainties anymore.

I wonder what Georges Bataille said on the guilty/not guilty question of Gilles in his book The Trial of Gilles de Rais (1965). I know that at the time of publishing The Tears of Eros in 1961 he still believed de Rais guilty, citing with relish the most-quoted passage:

“lesquels enfants morts il baisait, et ceux qui avaient les plus belles têtes et les plus beaux membres, cruellement les regardait et faisait regarder, et se délectait, et que très souvent, quand lesdits enfants mouraient, s’asseyait sur leur ventre et prenait plaisir à les voir ainsi mourir, et de ce riait.” —Fleuret

English translation:

“when the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed.” (tr. Jean Benedetti)

One of the reasons that historical trials are so unreliable is the use of torture. How much is a confession worth if it was obtained by torture? What is the reliability of such a forced confession?

While cycling to my local library I realized that there are limits to historical revisionism. There can be for example, no denying the Holocaust, although strangely enough many people continue to do so.

The poignant potency of ‘The Bitter Potion’

The Bitter Potion  (c. 1635) by Adriaen Brouwer

The Bitter Potion is an oil on wood by Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer. It depicts a “low-life” young man with a grimacing face holding a bottle of medicine in his hand.

This type of painting is called a tronie.

It is a textbook example of Flemish genre painting and an excellent way to illustrate disgust, perhaps only equalled in poignancy by the noted self-portraits by Oscar Gustave Rejlander, which I’ve posted before.

The Bitter Potion is World Art Classic #300.

On twilight zones, transition areas, liminal states, limbo, shadow- and borderlands

Alle Weissheit ist bey Gott dem Herrn... (1654), informal title of a calligraphy of the Sirach by an anonymous artist

Alle Weissheit ist bey Gott dem Herrn… (1654) by an anonymous artist

There is something fascinating about twilight zones, transition areas, liminal states, limbo, shadow- and borderlands. I love objects and regions which are unresolved in nature, even impure.

Ah … classificatory disputes about art!

Is the above an example writing or visual art? Is it poetry or calligraphy, art or decoration?

Visual poetry is perhaps its best description.

Whatever it is, it is one of my World Art Classics, #294 to be exact.

The 819th entry in my ‘World Music Classics’ series

Am I the only one to notice the similarities between “In the Fast Lane” [1] by Jean-Luc Ponty and “Good Life[2] by Inner City?

“In the Fast Lane” — released one year earlier than “Good Life” — was popular at Sunday Afternoon at Dingwalls.

I was there.

“In the Fast Lane” is the 819th entry in my World Music Classics* series. Think of it as a giant mixtape which you can put on shuffle.

*If you are not logged in, you cannot see the World Music Classics series in its totality.

Tying the loose ends of erotic history

Three years ago I find Le Bât[1], a painting by Pierre Subleyras of a man ostensibly painting on the private parts of a woman. While I knew that it was based on a tale by Jean de La Fontaine, I could not figure out which one.

Last week my friend Paul Rumsey brings the Renaissance print known by the mysterious name “Purinega tien duro” to my attention. It represents a phallic bird.

I start researching.

I find that uccello is Italian slang for phallus. The proof is the Decameron; in the tale of the nightingale (“he hath put the nightingale in his own cage and not in that of another”).

Via that episode I find an enumeration of the more bawdy episodes from the Decameron, being ‘Alibech and Rustico‘ (which I treated at length in my book De geschiedenis van de erotiek), ‘the priest metamorphosing a woman in a mare‘ and ‘Alatiel‘s revirgination‘.

While doing this, I stumble on another Pierre Subleyras painting, The Mare of Peasant Pierre (French: La Jument du compère Pierre), also apparently based on a tale by de La Fontaine, which is the equivalent of above-mentioned Decamerone’s “the priest metamorphosing a woman in a mare”.

The source of the La Fontaine tale is in his Contes et nouvelles en vers, a book I had short-changed in my own book: I only mentioned his rendition of Hans Carvel’s ring, failing to see that it is a compendium, a summary of a great many interesting stories, a  history of written erotica up until that age.

I find that “Le Bât” is translated as “The Pack Saddle.”

I go back to the Contes et nouvelles en vers and I find the text of “The Pack Saddle”. It is the story of a jealous husband who paints a seal (a painting of an ass) on his wife’s private parts, making her inaccessible to other men because the paint would wipe off during physical contact. The wife predictably does engage in amorous encounters, her lover decides to re-paint the wiped-off painting of the ass but he erroneously paints one detail too many. He paints a saddle where before there was none.

         A FAMOUS painter, jealous of his wife;
         Whose charms he valued more than fame or life,
         When going on a journey used his art,
         To paint an ASS upon a certain part,
         (Umbilical, 'tis said) and like a seal:
         Impressive token, nothing thence to steal.
         A BROTHER brush, enamoured of the dame;
         Now took advantage, and declared his flame:
         The Ass effaced, but God knows how 'twas done;
         Another soon howe'er he had begun,
         And finished well, upon the very spot;
         In painting, few more praises ever got;
         But want of recollection made him place
         A saddle, where before he none could trace.
         THE husband, when returned, desired to look
         At what he drew, when leave he lately took.
         Yes, see my dear, the wily wife replied,
         The Ass is witness, faithful I abide.
         Zounds! said the painter, when he got a sight,--
         What!--you'd persuade me ev'ry thing is right?
         I wish the witness you display so well,
         And him who saddled it, were both in Hell.

Case closed.

I feel like I am tying the last loose ends of erotic history.