Category Archives: fiction

“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

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].

Bernini @410

Gian Lorenzo Bernini @410

Persephone by Bernini

Pushing against Pluto’s face Proserpina‘s hand creases his skin,

Persephone by Bernini detail

while his fingers sink into the flesh of his victim.

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (December 7, 1598 – November 28, 1680) was a Italian sculptor and architect of 17th century Rome, best-known for his marble sculptures the Ecstasy of St Theresa[1] and the Beata Ludovica Albertoni[2].

Update: The Rape of Proserpina, the Ecstasy of St Theresa[1] and the Beata Ludovica Albertoni[2] are Icons of erotic art #35, 36  and 37.

For a beautiful woman, the battle never ends

Jupiter and Thetis by you.

Click for credits

“An objective and unprejudiced look at the real world shows that only a limited category of men have gorgeous women: religious leaders, billionaires, film and television stars, famous actors, famous directors and gangsters.” —Francesco Alberoni in L’Erotismo (translation mine) [1].

Alberoni arrives at this argument by positing that able, attractive and even fascinating men have been known to choose to be with less attractive or even ugly women. This is because they know the price that comes with beautiful women.

The price – still according to Alberoni (I agree) – is battle. Splendid beauty is indissolubly connected to power, and power is connected to danger, much like that other category in aesthetics, the sublime. Alberoni goes on to invoke Helena as the archetypical beautiful woman in Goethe’s Faust.

Faust asks:

Before the prize of beauty, lo I stand,
But who assures the prize to me?

Because Faust knows, as was the case with Helen of Troy that for a beautiful woman, the battle never ends.

Jacques Mesrine: in the vortex of related events


If there is one current film I would like to recommend, it’s Public Enemy Number One (Part 1)[1], a biopic of French criminal Jacques Mesrine with sympathies for the European radical political urban guerrilleros RAF and Red Brigades, who eventually died in the late seventies for craving his 15 minutes of fame somewhat too eagerly. The film was produced by Thomas Langmann.

If you want to know who Mesrine was, watch this YouTumentary[2] set to “Comptines d’un autre été here as The Pian (Life is a song)” from the Yann Tiersen score of Amelie Poulain. Or better still, this documentary footage[3].

Public Enemy Number One (Part 1) is based on Jacques Mesrine‘s 1977 autobiographical bookL’Instinct de mort” and stars Vincent Cassel (L’Appartement, Irréversible) as Mesrine and costars Gérard Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric and Cécile de France (Haute Tension). A sequel “L’Ennemi public n°1” (“Public Enemy Number One (Part 2)”) was released in French theaters last November.

Mesrine by André Génovès by you.

This is all well-known. Lesser-known and very intriguingly I discovered the film Mesrine, directed by a certain French producer and/or writer of whom not much more than his IMDb filmography. The filmography in case is impressive and noted by a bleak, grim and dark worldview. In fact wholly antithetical to the Amélie score featured above. The man is André Génovès.

André Génovès was born 1941 and is a French film producer noted for working with Claude Chabrol and being involved with Barocco, The Butcher (film), The Unfaithful Wife, A Real Young Girl, This Man Must Die, Mesrine (film), and Les Innocents aux mains sales.

Keystone Kops by you.

In a perverse way, this film reminds me of police comedy films about bungling police officers who almost lose their job due to the excessive intelligence and dexterity of the criminals.

In 1980 the police comedy film Inspecteur la Bavure[4] with Coluche and Gérard Depardieu has Depardieu’s character, Morzini, directly inspired by Jacques Mesrine.

Bungling police officers are part of the making fun authority figures trope, as seen in Keystone Kops, Inspector Clouseau, Police Academy, Taxi (franchise) and Carry On Constable.

Catherine Deneuve  and Gérard Lebovici

Coming back to Mesrine, in the vortex of related events, after Jacques Mesrine’s death, his daughter Sabrina was adopted by Gérard Lebovici, French film producer, editor and patron to Guy Debord. Lebovici was also the manager of Jean-Pierre Cassel, yes the father of Vincent Cassel.

The tale is not finished. This whole history, its thematics and fiction, its personae and actual actors are further interwoven.

“On March 7 1984 Gérard Lebovici was found shot dead in the front seat of his car in the basement of the Avenue Foch carpark in Paris. There was swift confirmation that he had died on 5 March from four bullets fired from behind into the back of the neck. The assassins have never been caught.”

“Whatever happened to Sabrina?” is what Sholem Stein wants to know.

Thomas Cook @200

Thomas Cook @200* 

Thomas Cook by you.

Thomas Cook’s guide books contributed to the concept of the armchair traveler.

Many people still prefer the real thing.

So did our protagonist.

She asks:

Félix Vallotton "La Lecture abandonnée" (1924)

“Where are you going?”

He answers:

Probably 1854. Daguerreotype. Photographer unknown probably Gabriel Harrison

“To the Great Exhibition in London. I took your copy of The Stones of Venice , I hope that’s alright?”

“I booked a ticket with Cook

She shouts:

(Melo)dramatic scenes in painting

“Don’t leave me now!” – “Where are you going?”

He answers:

Probably 1854. Daguerreotype. Photographer unknown probably Gabriel Harrison

“To the Exposition Universelle in Paris. I took your copy of Walt Whitman‘s I Sing the Body Electric, I hope that’s alright?”

*Thomas Cook was a British travel agent, born exactly 200 years ago today. He commodified the Grand Tour and invented tourism as we know it today. He gave you a A Room with a View in Tuscany. His guide books contributed to the concept of the armchair traveler.

Joris Ivens @110

Joris Ivens @110

Misere au borinage by Ivens and Storck

Misère au Borinage

Joris Ivens (18981989) was a Dutch documentary filmmaker and devout communist. He is internationally known as a foremost documentarist of the early twentieth century, noted for his co-direction of the political film Misère au Borinage, which I had the pleasure of screening in class last year.

Borinage is noteworthy in media theory because it proves the inherent ficticiousness of the documentary film.

Like most documentaries, it mixes reality and fiction, and in this case, contrary to authorial intention. For the film, the two directors had arranged a manifestation with extras from the Borinage. The miners were to walk behind a portrait of Karl Marx. The police mistook it for a real manifestation, they intervened and the “protest” was dispersed. This was filmed by Ivens and Storck.

It would cause Walter Benjamin to write in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:

“Similarly, the newsreel offers everyone the opportunity to rise from passer-by to movie extra. In this way any man might even find himself part of a work of art, as witness Vertov‘s Three Songs About Lenin or Ivens Borinage.”

Foretelling Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes dictum, Benjamin added that “Any man today can lay claim to being filmed.”


Rain, accompanied by unknown beats.

If Borinage is a Blakean dystopianand did those feetanti-industrialization document, Ivens also made Rain, a much more impressionist affair, generally considered a “city symphony,” a loosely outlined genre typified by Manhatta (1921) and Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt, (1927).

There was a tremendous fascination with the metropolis, the big city during the 1920s and 1930s, dubbed fittingly for this context, as the Machine Age. Mostly associated with visual culture such as the decorative style Art Deco, the arts movement Cubism, Streamline Moderne appliance design and architecture and Bauhaus style; there were also the films including Chaplin’s Modern Times and Lang’s Metropolis.

Often overlooked are the “city novels,” mostly labeled a modernist subgenre but in reality as old as the novels of Charles Dickens. For our purpose I include Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), John Dos Passos‘s Manhattan Transfer (1925), Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and T. S. Eliot’s vision of London in The Waste Land (1922). Especially John Dos Passos‘s Manhattan Transfer (1925) is of importance here as it offers the most positive view of the dynamics of speed, the modern way of life and the unavoidable fragmentation of existence.

While writing this post, the painting below was constantly on my mind. Paris in the rain. That why Paris invented arcades, and Benjamin could write about the romantic mediatic aspects of the city.

Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist (1995) – Anne Distel
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Gratuitous nudity #14

My previous post provides me with an opportunity to provide you with a new instance of gratuitous nudity: a beautiful still from Africa Addio.

Africa Addio (1966) – Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
Image sourced here. [Dec 2005]

Africa Addio is a 1966 Italian documentary film about the decolonization in Africa. It was shot over a period of three years, by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, two Italian filmmakers who had gained fame a few years earlier (with co-director Paolo Cavara) as the directors of Mondo Cane in 1962. The image was taken from the Captain Trash[1] site somewhere in 2005. This site is a treasure trove of “trash culture“. See its Google gallery here. See for example this image, of which I do not know the provenance.

Any similarity to any person, event, or institution is intentional and anything but coincidential

In search of intentional and unintentional similarities in fiction


Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye, Uncle Tom) (1971) by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi

“All events, characters and institutions in this motion picture are historically documented and any similarity to any person, black or white, or to any actual events, or institutions is intentional and anything but coincidential.” –from the credits to Goodbye Uncle Tom, see fictionalization and fiction disclaimer.

Thus opens or closes Goodbye Uncle Tom of which a clip is listed above and it provides an excellent introduction to the tenuous relation between fiction and reality.

Addio zio Tom (1971) – Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
Image sourced here. [Dec 2005]

Two more quotes provide further food for thought:

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.” Fiction has to make sense – Mark Twain
“The mind of man can imagine nothing which has not really existed.” —Edgar Allan Poe, 1840

If we represent the relationship between fiction and reality on a sliding scale we find on the left hand side: fiction which makes no claim to reality. This kind of fiction is nowadays always preceded by the fiction disclaimer:

“Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

The above is sometimes preceded by “The characters in this film are fictitious,”.

This kind of fiction is helped by Poe’s quote in its theoretical approach. If done well, this kind of fiction is called the fantastique, that area of literary theory which provides us with an unresolved hesitation as to our position on the reality/fictitiousness scale. Another growth of this kind of fiction is the roman à clef a novel and by extension any sort of fiction describing real-life events behind a façade of fiction. The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include satire and the opportunity to write about controversial topics and/or reporting inside information on scandals without giving rise to charges of libel.

On the right hand side of the scale we find fiction that does make claim to reality. This kind of fiction is nowadays usually preceded by the claim based on true events:

This kind of fiction is helped by Twain’s quote in its theoretical approach. Real stories are often so unbelievable that we need to make the claim that they are based on actual events.

As a narrator of fiction, one is always aided by this claim to capture the audience’s interest. This is true in the case of a joke (tell it as if it has happened to you), in the case of novels (Robinson Crusoe was soi-disant based on actual events) and film (Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was supposedly about Ed Gein)

A whole range of concepts falls into this category, listed under the heading fictionalization: faction, based on a true story, false document, nonfiction novel, true crime (genre), histories (history of the novel), stranger than fiction and mockumentary.

The funny thing about the right hand position on the fiction/reality scale is that the act of narrating alters reality by default. I always illustrate this point by going back to your youth. You had a brother or sister and you fought with him over something. You went to your mother or father or any other judge-figure, who gave you both the opportunity to tell the story. You both came up of course with a different version.

Which brings me to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the observer effect. If the act of perception alters reality, the act of telling a story alters reality. That is why I dislike films such as Schindler’s List because in this case, “real” documentary material is available. Maybe this is also the case for Goodbye Uncle Tom, but boy, I sure would like to see that film.

My inner werewolf

The Howling (1981) – Joe Dante [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I woke up yesterday night bathing in sweat. I get up. I look outside, full moon. That explains. My inner werewolf was trying to get out.

So I give you Joe Dante‘s The Howling, IMNHO the best werewolf film since WWII. Dante was an alumnus of Roger Corman, for whom I have an excessively soft spot. The film is WCC #71.