Category Archives: nobrow

Beware of the barbarians


When a friend of a friend recommended The Barbarians by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco a year ago I dismissed it as yet another instance of much resented cultural pessimism.

I was wrong.

It is the most refreshing cultural criticism books of the last twenty years. The discourse on the Chinese wall alone — “an idea written in stone,” Baricco calls it — is worth the price of the book.

The book is held together by four mottoes, one of which is “Zu Micky-Maus,” a fragment by personal poulain Walter Benjamin. Benjamin is also quoted with the dictum (new to me) “Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.”

In the first part “plunder” the author takes us on a tour around the pillaged villages of wine, soccer and books to inspect the ravages that the barbarians have inflicted.

The second part is about Google and honors Google with the title “new Gutenberg”. This part also speaks of us humans becoming fish, breathing through gills, becoming mutants.

The third part is about loosing’s one’s soul, a common complaint of cultural elitists.

Part IV is dedicated to some keywords of barbarism. I especially remember spectacle, and I could not help being reminded of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.

10/10 for this nobrow masterpiece.

In praise of pornosophy

Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (2009) – [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I want to read Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (2009) by Kelly Dennis.

Besides that pornosophy is my area of expertise, the book looks rather more clever than many porn studies that have recently flooded the American market and finding smart sentences such as the following has whetted my appetite:

“We can now see that the “sister arts,” the paragone, the hierarchy of genres, and even ekphrasis are all rooted in an opposition between word and image, between an acceptable literary pictorialism and a less acceptable pictorial literacy.”

I found this book while googling paragone and ekphrasis mentioned in my previous post on Baudelaire[1].

On the cover of Art/Porn is one panel from the Every Playboy centerfold, by decade series by Jason Salavon.

Once more, one thing leads to another

Encore” is a musical composition by Nicolas Jaar.

As usual, one thing leads to another.

This particular Youtube upload (above) features the photo “Dancers Wearing Gas Masks In England On February 1940“.

The photo stems from the Edward George Warris Hulton collection and features girls wearing gas masks and dancing a can-can-like dance.

The sample at the beginning of the song:

“from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing”

is from an audio recording of “The Creative Act,” a speech by ‘mere artist” Marcel Duchamp given in 1957.

In view of its non-elitist (although it can also be read as a defence of Duchamp’s own greatness) point of view (considering bad art also as art); its emphasis on reception and audience participation; its view as the artist as a mere medium, I pronounce “The Creative Act” to be a nobrow manifesto of sorts.

“Encore” by my poulain Nicolas Jaar is World Music Classic #699.

The History of Erotica, from Caveman to Marquis de Sade

In September 2009 I bade you farewell.

I’m back with a book, a history of erotica which starts in prehistory and ends for now with Henry Fuseli,  J. – J. Lequeu and Marquis de Sade.

It features some 250 images and about as many citations.

It is for the time being only available in Dutch and costs 25 euros.

The book was presented on the evening of valentine’s day, 2011.

“Lesson #1 for Electric Guitar” is WMC #342

Lesson #1 for Electric Guitar” is WMC #342


Lesson #1 for Electric Guitar[1] was the first album released by Glenn Branca, originally in 1980 on 99 Records as a mini-album. It was re-released in a remastered form in 2004 by Acute Records and is variously classified as no wave or noise rock. It combines punk aesthetics with those classical music.

Glenn Branca[2] is an avant-garde composer and guitarist of the New York “downtown music” scene known for his use of volume, repetition, droning, and the harmonic series.

99 Records was an independent record label that existed from 19801984. 99 (pronounced Nine Nine) Records was run out of a record store with the same name, located at 99 MacDougal Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and owned by Ed Bahlman. Artists included ESG, Liquid Liquid, Bush Tetras, Glenn Branca, Y Pants, and others.

Downtown music is a name given to the New York music scene from the 1960s to the 1980s. A scene that suppposedly began in 1960, when Yoko Ono — one of the Fluxus artists, at that time still seven years away from meeting John Lennon — opened her SoHo loft to be used as a performance space for a series curated by La Monte Young and Richard Maxfield.

Maurice Girodias @90

Maurice Girodias @90

Tropic of Cancer, first edition published by Maurice Girodias's father. Cover drawing by Girodias himself. by you.

In 1934, at the age of 15, Girodias drew the disturbing crab picture seen on the original cover of Tropic of Cancer.

The cover states: “Ne doit pas etre exposé en étalage ou en vitrine,” in English that is: “Cannot be displayed in show window.”

Ah … the good old “sous le manteau” days

“I remember a very funny story told to me by Maurice. He once had to take the train to Belgium, where he needed to bring a great deal of money. He had hidden the money bills in his shorts. Once on the train, he was overcome by diarrhea and forgot to remove the money from his shorts when he went to the toilet with the unfortunate result of soiling this small fortune. He cleaned the money as best as he could and afterwards reserved those bills to use as — quite literally — dirty money.” —Sholem Stein

Maurice Girodias (12 April 19193 July 1990), was the founder of the The Olympia Press. At one time he was the owner of his father’s Obelisk Press, and spent most of his productive years in Paris.

Girodias’s involvement with his father’s business started early. In 1934, at the age of 15, Girodias drew the disturbing crab picture seen on the original cover of Tropic of Cancer. After his father’s early death in 1939, Girodias took over publishing duties, and at the age of 20 managed to survive Paris, World War II, Occupation and paper shortages.

The Affaire Miller ended with Girodias out of jail, but bankrupt and no longer in control of his company.

Olympia Press

Olympia Press was a Paris-based publisher, launched in 1953 by Maurice Girodias as a rebadged version of the Obelisk Press he inherited from his father Jack Kahane. It published a mix of erotic novels and avant-garde literary works, and is best known for the first print of Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita.

Most, if not all, Olympia Press publications were promoted and packaged as “Traveller’s Companion” books, usually with simple text-only covers, and each book in the series was numbered.

Olympia Press was also the first publisher willing to print the controversial William S. Burroughs novel, Naked Lunch. Other notable works included J. P. Donleavy‘s The Ginger Man; the French trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett; A Tale of Satisfied Desire by Georges Bataille and Story of O by Pauline Réage.

English-language presses in Paris

The Enlish-language literary expatriates depended on the presence in Paris of a substantial number of English-language presses, periodicals, and bookstores. These small presses included such famous names as the Contact Press (of American poet Robert McAlmon), the Three Mountains Press (of Bill Bird), the Hours Press (of Nancy Cunard), the Black Sun Press (of Harry and Caresse Crosby), the Obelisk Press (of Jack Kahane), and the Olympia Press (of Maurice Girodias, son of Kahane).

Zizek @60

Slavoj Žižek @60

Zizek in The Birds by you.

Slavoj Zizek inserts himself into The Birds in this promotional image for The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.

Slavoj Žižek (born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian sociologist, contemporary philosopher, filmosopher and cultural critic.

I’ve been drawn to Žižek since the early days of the internet, perhaps making my way to him via Gilles Deleuze, my first philosophy/internet love. My interest peaked in 2006 when he released The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema in which he celebrated his brand of psychoanalytical film theory based on horror films and psychological thrillers. Last summer I spent about 3 continuous hours “getting” Žižek only to find out that Žižek’s entire work is the endeavour to use Lacan as a tool to reactualize German idealism using the Lacanian concepts of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real (see Zizek and the German idealists).

If I had my way, I would organize the David Bordwell vs Slavoj Žižek Celebrity Deathmatch.

Jean Richepin @160

Jean Richepin @160


contemporary version of La Glu by a certain Dorsannes

A la dérive by Jean Richepin

Jean Richepin (February 4, 1849December 12, 1926), French poet, novelist and dramatist, noted for perpetuating tropes such as La Glu (1881). He belonged to the Le Cercle des poètes Zutiques and was an important player in French cabaret, the French avant-garde, the history of the cruel tale and the history of derision.

Richepin was virtually unknown until the publication, in 1876, of a volume of verse entitled Chanson des gueux (see Les Gueux), when his outspokenness resulted in his being imprisoned and fined for outrage aux mœurs.

La Glu

La Glu by Richepin

La Glu first came to my attention[1] a year ago. It is a poem/song by French writer Jean Richepin. It is a story of motherly love, of a mistress who demands of her lover his mother‘s heart to feed to her dog.

The song was a staple in the French cabarets of the late 19th century and has been interpreted by various performers including Eugènie Valladon, Mistinguett and Polaire.

“La Glu” was brought to stage by Richepin for the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique in 1883 and later adapted to musical drama set to music by Gabriel Dupont performed at the opera of Nice in 1910.

Hungarian writer József Kiss used the plot for his novel The Mother’s Heart (“Az anyasziv”, written between 1883 and 1889).

The origin of the story is probably an old Arabian tale. It was updated in the 1920s by Iranian poet Iraj Mirza.

The original lyrics of “La Glu” are:

Y avait une fois un pauvre gars
Et lonlon laire
Et lonlon la
Y avait une fois un pauvre gars
Qui aimait celle qui ne l’aimait pas.
T’es-tu fait mal, mon enfant ?
Et le cœur disait, en pleurant :
Elle lui dit : Apporte-moi d’main,
Et lonlon laire
Et lonlon la
Elle lui dit : Apporte-moi d’main,
L’ cœur de ta mère pour mon chien.
Va chez sa mère et la tue,
Et lonlon laire
Et lonlon la
Va chez sa mère et la tue,
Lui prit l’ cœur et s’en courut
Comme il courait, il tomba
Et lonlon laire
Et lonlon la
Comme il courait, il tomba
Et par terre, le cœur roula.
Et pendant que le cœur roulait
Et lon, lon laire,
Et lon, lon la,
Et pendant que le cœur roulait,
Entendit le cœur qui parlait.
Et le cœur disait, en pleurant
Et lonlon laire
Et lonlon la

Carl Theodor Dreyer @110

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Danish film director (18891968)

Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer) by hipecac

Most iconic image of Dreyer’s career, from Vampyr

 by nequest

Second most iconic image of Dreyer’s career, from Vampyr

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer (February 3, 1889March 20, 1968) was a Danish film director. He is regarded as one of the greatest directors in cinema. Although his career spanned the 1910s through the 1960s, his meticulousness, dictatorial methods, idiosyncratic shooting style, and stubborn devotion to his art ensured that his output remained low. In spite of this, he is an icon in the world of art film.

At the same time he produced work which is of interest to film lovers with sensational inclinations, which merits his placement in the nobrow canon.

Thus, we tend to remember best of his oeuvre films such as Vampyr (a vampire film) and The Passion of Joan of Arc (for its execution by burning scene).

The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film produced in France in 1928. It is based on the trial records of Joan of Arc. The film stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti and Antonin Artaud.

Though made in the late 1920s (and therefore without the assistance of computer graphics), includes a relatively graphic and realistic treatment of Jeanne‘s execution by burning. The film stars Antonin Artaud. The film was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ’s mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers.

Scenes from Passion appear in Jean-Luc Godard‘s Vivre sa Vie (1962), in which the protagonist Nana sees the film at a cinema and identifies with Joan. In Henry & June Henry Miller is shown watching the last scenes of the film and in voice-over narrates a letter to Anaïs Nin comparing her to Joan and himself to the “mad monk” character played by Antonin Artaud.


Vampyr is a French-German film released in 1932. An art film, it is short on dialogue and plot, and is admired today for its innovative use of light and shadow. Dreyer achieved some of these effects through using a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to make characters and objects appear hazy and indistinct, as though glimpsed in a dream.

The film, produced in 1930 but not released until 1932, was originally regarded as an artistic failure. It got shortened by distributors, who also added narration. This left Dreyer deeply depressed, and a decade passed before he able to direct another feature film, Day of Wrath.

Film critics have noted that the appearance of the vampire hunting professor in Roman Polanski‘s film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is inspired by the Village doctor played in Vampyr. The plot is credited to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection In a Glass Darkly, which includes the vampire novella Carmilla, although, as Timothy Sullivan has argued, its departures from the source are more striking than its similarities.

Vampyr shows the obvious influence of Symbolist imagery; parts of the film resemble tableau vivant re-creations of the early paintings of Edvard Munch.

Vampyr and The Passion of Joan of Arc are World Cinema Classics #83 and 84.

Edgar Allan Poe @200

Edgar Allan Poe, American writer and poet @200

A photograph of a daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe 1848, first published 1880

A photograph of a daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe 1848,

first published 1880

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809October 7, 1849) was an American writer, and one of the leaders of the American Romanticism. Best known for his tales of the macabre and mystery, Poe was one of the early American practitioners of the short story and a progenitor of detective fiction and crime fiction. During his lifetime he was more popular in France (thanks to the translations of Baudelaire) than in his native country. After his premature death at the age of 40 he became internationally renowned. The Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo derived his pseudonym of his name. He came to the attention of 20th century audiences via the low-budget film adaptations by Roger Corman starring Vincent Price.

If you only want to read one story by Poe, read “Loss of Breath.”

Loss of Breath: A Tale Neither in nor Out of “Blackwood” (1832) is a short story by Poe, first published on June 9 or November 10 1832. It concerns a man who suspects that his wife has stolen his breath.

David Ketterer describes the story as: “A surrealistic fantasy in which the idea that death involves not loss of life but merely loss of breath is combined with a whimsical but, for biographers of Poe’s psyche, revealing equation between loss of breath and loss of sexual potency on the narrator’s wedding night”.[1]

“Behold me then safely ensconced in my private boudoir, a fearful instance of the ill consequences attending upon irascibility—alive, with the qualifications of the dead—dead, with the propensities of the living—an anomaly on the face of the earth—being very calm, yet breathless.”

“The purchaser took me to his apartments and commenced operations immediately. Having cut off my ears, however, he discovered signs of animation. He now rang the bell, and sent for a neighboring apothecary with whom to consult in the emergency. In case of his suspicions with regard to my existence proving ultimately correct, he, in the meantime, made an incision in my stomach, and removed several of my viscera for private dissection. “