Category Archives: psychology

Poetry is like painting, cooking, and cosmetics

Title page[1] from the Carlos Schwabe illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.

I have no clue what plant it is (a flesh-eating plant perhaps?), nor if it is real or imaginary, but I’m pretty sure it fits in the horticultural horror category.

Additionally, as far as I know, this illustration is the only literal interpretation of the flowers of evil.

One thing inevitably leads to another:

On opening my copy of The Romantic Agony for the nth time brought up this passage:

“That poetry is like the arts of painting, cooking, and cosmetics in its ability to express every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, of beatitude or horror, by coupling a certain noun with a certain adjective, in analogy or contrast” writes Baudelaire in an unpublished preface to a 2nd preface of The Flowers of Evil (translation by Marthiel and Jackson Mathews).

Beautiful isn’t it, this trying to connect poetry to cuisine and cosmetics via adjectives and nouns in logical combinations, evoking diverse sentiments?

See also: literature and olfaction, synesthesia and literature, paragone and ekphrasis.

Poe’s impotence

Somewhat of a surprise was waiting when I finally held all 700+ pages of Marie Bonaparte‘s The Life and Works of E. A. Poe: a Psychoanalytic Interpretation in my hands and skipped to the psychoanalytical interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Loss of Breath.”

There, on page 373, Marie Bonaparte utters what any man dreads to hear: that he is impotent. Ouch. Poe must have turned in his grave when he heard of his post-mortem psychobiography and Bonaparte’s concern with his vita sexualis.

In “Loss of Breath”, my favourite Poe story, Marie Bonaparte finds the ultimate proof of Poe’s impotence. She equates the breath of Mr. Lackobreath, the sorry protagonist of the tale, with “pneuma,” “life force,” hence “sexual potency.”

To strengthen her argument, she cites Baudelaire who once said “There is not in all of Poe’s work a single passage that tends to lubricity or even to sensual pleasure“.

Not only was Poe impotent, according to Marie Bonaparte, he was a “repressed sado-masochist and necrophilist” (299) and his body of writing was the product of neurosis.

Illustration: photo of a silicone packer[2] by Canadaworker from Wikimedia Commons.

See also my two previous two odes to the flaccid phallus, the limp male member: Un priape marchant sur des pattes de coq[3] and votive phallus[4].

“Gradiva” by Alain Robbe-Grillet out on DVD Gradiva (C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle) by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Still from Gradiva (C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle) by Alain Robbe-Grillet

The good people at Mondo Macabro[1] are releasing Gradiva (C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle), the last film by French master-erotomaniac Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Monell points out in a recent post [2].

C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle (2006) is a French language film by Alain Robbe-Grillet starring: James Wilby, Arielle Dombasle and Dany Verissimo. It premiered at the 2006 Venice film festival on September 8 and in French cinemas on May 9 of 2007.

The film, Grillet’s last, is a Franco-Belgian production loosely based on Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fancy by Wilhelm Jensen. The setting has been updated to modern times, at least, no earlier than the 1970s, based on vehicles and appliances seen in the film. It begins with an English art historian named John Locke is doing research in Morocco on the paintings and drawings that French artist Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) produced when he spent time in that country (back then, a French colony) more than a century before. Locke spots a beautiful, mysterious blonde girl (Gradiva, of course) in flowing robes dashing through the back alleys of Marrakech, and becomes consumed with the need to track her down. Like most of Robbe-Grillet’s cinematic output, this film is highly surrealistic and also involves a surprisingly explicit amount of “sex slave” nudity and S&M, although it is a serious film and not just softcore fluff.

Some of the film’s prehistory.

via Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fancy

A Pompeiian Fancy is a novel by Wilhelm Jensen published by in German as Ein pompejanisches Phantasiestuck (Dresden and Leipzig: Carl Reissner) in 1903.

The story is about an archaeologist named Norbert Hanhold who holds a fascination for a woman depicted in a relief that he sees in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Hanhold later dreams that he has been transported back in time to meet the girl, whose unusual gait captivates him as he imagines her walking on the stepping stones that cross the roads in Pompeii while the hot ashes subsume the city in 79 AD.


Delusion and Dream in Jensen’s Gradiva (1907) is an essay by Sigmund Freud that analyzes the novel Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen from a psychoanalytical point of view.

After that, Gravida became a favourite of the Surrealists. Salvador Dalí used the name Gradiva as a nickname for his wife, Gala Dalí. He used the figure of Gradiva in a number of his paintings, including Gradiva encuentra las ruinas de Antropomorphos (Gradiva finds the ruins of Antropomorphos)[3]. The figure Gradiva was used in other Surrealist paintings as well. Gradiva (Metamorphosis of Gradiva)[4], 1939, by André Masson explores the sexual iconography of the character.

In 1937 the Surrealist wirter Andre Breton opened an art gallery on the Left Bank, 31 rue de Seine, christening it with the title: Gradiva. Marcel Duchamp designed it, giving its door the form of a double cast shadow.

via Gradiva

Introducing Le Comte de Gabalis

Introducing Le Comte de Gabalis

Title page

I’ve just spent a good deal of hours researching Comte de Gabalis, a quest prompted by a new release on Creation Books’ Creation Oneiros imprint and the reference I found there to occult fiction. Wikipedia has no entry on occult fiction but Googling them did bring up Gabalis.

I am not that a big a fan of occultism except when I find it represented in fiction, such as supernatural horror or le fantastique.

A recap of what I found:

The Comte De Gabalis is a 17th century grimoire (posing as a novel of ideas) by French writer Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars, first published anonymously in 1670. The book is dedicated to Rosicrucianis and Cabalism and based on Paracelsus’s four elementals: Gnomes, earth elementals; Undines; water elementals, Sylphs, air elementals and Salamanders, fire elementals. It is composed of five discourses given by a Count or spiritual master to the student or aspirant. The Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology by the Gale Group notes that the work may be a satire of the writings of la Calprenède, a popular French writer of the 17th century.

David Teniers the Younger. The Alchemist. Oil on canvas. 44 x 58.5 cm. Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina, Florence, Italy.  Comte de Gabalis The Comte De Gabalis is a 17th century grimoire (posing as a novel of ideas) by French writer Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars. The book is dedicated to Rosicrucianis and Cabalism and based on Paracelsus’s four elementals: Gnomes, earth elementals; Undines; water elementals, Sylphs, air elementals and Salamanders, fire elementals. It is composed of five discourses given by a Count or spiritual master to the student or aspirant.  It was anonymously published in 1670 under the title: “Comte De Gabalis.”  The meaning suggests the Count of the Cabala as the text is cabalistic in nature.  The “Holy Cabala” is mentioned explicitly throughout. The Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology by the Gale Group notes that  the work may be a satire of the writings of la Calprenède, a popular French writer of the 17th century.

The Alchemist by David Teniers the Younger

The most interesting aspect of The Comte De Gabalis is the sexual union of gods and mortals. I like half creatures and I like the sexual part of it. It was the work of the minor British publisher of  anthropologica Robert H. Fryar who most clearly brought this link to my attention by reprinting in the late 19th century the Comte de Gabalis with its tale of the immortalization of elementals through sexual intercourse with men and supplementing the work with long citations from the recently discovered Demoniality Or Incubi and Succubi, an eighteenth-century work by Father Sinistrari on the dangers of incubi and succubi.

James Mason @100

James Mason @100

via James Mason @100

James Mason (15 May 1909 – 27 July 1984) was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. He acted in such films as Madame Bovary (1949), The Tell-Tale Heart[1] (1953) (animated short subject) (voice), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), North by Northwest (1959), The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), Lolita (1962) and Mandingo (1975).


To me the man is remembered by his voice, there are even spoken word albums by him. Listen to it in the Youtube clip of The Tell-Tale Heart, the cinematic animated adaptation of Poe‘s story about the compulsion to confess, a psychological complex first described by Theodor Reik in The Compulsion to Confess in 1925.

Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray is Icon of Erotic Art #44

Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray

As well as being blatant in his observations, James Gillray could be incredibly subtle, and puncture vanity with a remarkably deft approach. The outstanding example of this is his print Fashionable Contrasts;—or—The Duchess’s little Shoe yeilding [sic] to the Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot. This was a devastating image aimed at the ridiculous sycophancy directed by the press towards Frederica Charlotte Ulrica, Duchess of York, and the supposed daintiness of her feet. The print showed only the feet and ankles of the Duke and Duchess of York, in an obviously copulatory position, with the Duke’s feet enlarged and the Duchess’s feet drawn very small. This print silenced forever the sycophancy of the press regarding the union of the Duke and Duchess.

The print was originally published by Hannah Humphrey on January 24, 1792.

It is Icon of Erotic Art #44.

Nikolai Gogol @200

Nikolai Gogol @200

Poprishchin (protagonist of the novel by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol “Diary of a Madman”.  by Ilya Yefimovich Repin by you.

Poprishchin, protagonist of Nikolai Gogol‘s “Diary of a Madman” painted by Ilya Repin

Nikolai Gogol will be 200 tomorrow morning (that’s the day after tomorrow, I skipped a day here). Like so many of us of the internet generation, we stumbled upon Gogol via Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

He is an icon of 19th century literature, Russian literature, grotesque literature and fantastic literature.

“What an intelligent, queer, and sick creature!” —Ivan Turgenev

“I don’t know whether anyone liked Gogol exclusively as a human being. I don’t think so; it was, in fact, impossible. How can you love one whose body and spirit are recovering from self-inflicted torture?” —Sergei Aksakov

Gogol wrote in the literary tradition of E.T.A. Hoffmann (The Sandman) and Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy), often involving elements of the fantastic and grotesque. In addition, Gogol’s works are often outrageously funny. The mix of humor, social realism, the fantastic, and unusual prose forms are what readers love about his work.

Havelock Ellis @150

Havelock Ellis @150

Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis

Pan Piper was an imprint of Pan Books

Havelock Ellis (February 2, 1859July 8, 1939) was a British sexologist, noted for his seven volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex and for his translation of Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

He was an astute observer, a quote I use regularly is:

What we call ‘Progress’ is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance. —Havelock Ellis

Havelock Ellis

The sexologist and writer Havelock Ellis “looked like a tripartite cross between Tolstoy, Rasputin, and Bernard Shaw; was one of the many semi-pagan ideological nudists that England produced at the end of the nineteenth century; and never achieved full sexual arousal until his second wife urinated on him in his late middle age.” (Our Culture, What’s Left of it by Theodore Dalrymple)

His impotence and urolagnia

According to Ellis in My Life, his friends were much amused at his being considered an expert on sex, what with the fact that he suffered from impotence until the age of 60, when he discovered that he was able to become aroused by the sight of a woman urinating. Ellis named the interest in urination “Undinism” but it is now more commonly called Urolagnia.

His marriage

In November 1891, at the age of 32, and still a virgin, Ellis married the English writer and proponent of women’s rights, Edith Lees (none of his four sisters ever married). From the beginning, their marriage was unconventional; Edith Ellis was openly lesbian, and at the end of the honeymoon, Ellis went back to his bachelor rooms in Paddington, while she lived at Fellowship House. Their ‘open marriage‘ was the central subject in Ellis’s autobiography, My Life.

On sexual inversion

His book Sexual Inversion, the first English medical text book on homosexuality, co-authored with John Addington Symonds, described the sexual relations of homosexual men and boys, something that Ellis did not consider to be a disease, immoral, or a crime. The work assumes that same-sex love transcended age-taboos as well as gender-taboos, as seven of the twenty-one examples are of intergenerational relationships. A bookseller was prosecuted in 1897 for stocking Ellis’ book. Although the term homosexual itself is attributed to Ellis, he wrote in 1897, “‘homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word, and I claim no responsibility for it,” the hybridity in question being the word’s mix of Greek and Latin roots. Other psychologically important concepts developed by Ellis include autoerotism and narcissism, both of which were later taken up by Sigmund Freud.

On sadomasochism

A lot has been written on masochism, from Freud to Reik, but one of the best descriptions is by Havelock Ellis:

“The essence of sadomasochism is not so much “pain” as the overwhelming of one’s senses – emotionally more than physically. Active sexual masochism has little to do with pain and everything to do with the search for emotional pleasure. When we understand that it is pain only, and not cruelty, that is the essential in this group of manifestations, we begin to come nearer to their explanation. The masochist desires to experience pain, but he generally desires that it should be inflicted in love; the sadist desires to inflict pain, but he desires that it should be felt as love….” — From an unidentified volume of Studies in the Psychology of Sex

Many of Ellis’s texts are featured at the public domain library I do wish I could lay my hands on an indexed copy of Studies in the Psychology of Sex for a reasonable price. He is, I feel, an underappreciated writer.

World Cinema Classic #70

In search of nonspace and unthought thoughts.

Sans Soleil

Sans Soleil

In search of nonspace and unthought thoughts.

I’ve been mulling over French director Chris Marker‘s Sans Soleil for four days now. The key scene for me was the shooting of the giraffe, which gave its origins away as far as genre-theoretics are concerned.

The key phrase was perhaps the “salute to all unposted letters,” but is safe to say that the film is brilliantly written throughout.

I saw the film at MuHKA on last Saturday, introduced by a Belgian scholar (who?). He stated that the film was unclassifiable, because the “film essay is not a genre but a small category”. However, in my opinion, the film fits the mondo film category, and functions as a highbrow counterpart to Mondo Cane. The film also begs a viewing of the masterwork Blood of the Beasts. But Sans Soleil is a different film altogether. It is a philosophical film that raises questions of medium specificity, multimedia, memory and authenticity.

I have a feeling that Sans Soleil can be invoked to clarify Gilles Deleuze‘s any-space-whatever (see B. C. Holmes – “The Deleuzian Memory of Sans Soleil” [1]), but to prove that would need some more studying of Gilles Deleuze on film.

The “pin-up girl” of the French Surrealists

Augustine, Charcot's star patient at Salpêtrière by you.

Charcot‘s Louise Augustine, later dubbed the “pin-up girl” of the French Surrealists, attempted many escapes. The hospital’s last entry concerning Augustine, dated September 9, 1880, notes that she “escaped from the Salpetriere, disguised as a man.”  [2]

Surprisingly, Les démoniaques dans l’art – Charcot et Richer[3], a book I acquired over the summer, does not feature the photograph depicted above, nor others from this set[4].

British writer Helen Kitson has written a fictionalized account of the Charcot/Augustine history here[5].

An excerpt:

‘I have named her Augustine.’
‘Named a lunatic after a saint! Well, perhaps they are much the same. The idiot, the mystic…’
‘She is not an idiot.’
She listens at the door, biting her fingernails. She needs to know what they want from her so that she can perform when asked. She has to know how mad she’s supposed to be. Satisfied, she goes back to her room where she dreams of blood and fire. Faces hidden behind shrouds. Dead men.

Visual postscript:

illustration du livre Hystéro-épilepsie de Paul Richer 1881