Saturday, 30 January 2010

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

RAPE




Rape: an insidious little word. Those four letters, in that order, conjure up a variety of emotions. We’ve an unwritten, unspoken contract, drawn up between ourselves, about what words convey to us. What they signify. Rape, signifies violation; and much, much more.





The word rape itself originates from the Latin verb rapere: to seize or take by force. To us, it is much more than that. It connotes fear, anger, guilt, shame. Sadly, those emotions are burdens, carried by far too many people.






We talk about “victims of rape.” So why is rape a favourite fantasy of so many people? Why do artists paint pictures of rape? Why do writers of erotica write their carefully crafted rape stories? Why is a word that conveys that a violation, a heinous crime, has taken place, a turn on? Why do we find the paintings and stories such a turn on? We know exactly what is going on; yet still we look at the pictures and read the stories.

The tale of Persephone is a favourite subject for artists. Here is her story. She was abducted by Hades and starved into submission.



In the days when gods and goddesses walked on the Earth, the three most powerful gods were brothers. Zeus was ruler of the sky, Poseidon was god of the sea and Hades was the Lord of the Underworld.

The Underworld was a terrible place, a place without light, where the spirits of the dead went. Having entered the underworld, and having eaten there, no-one was allowed to re-enter the world of the living.

A beautiful girl lived on the Earth and her name was Persephone.
One day Hades visited Earth and rode past Persephone while she was gathering flowers in a field. He was dazzled by her beauty. He wanted her. And being one of the three most powerful gods, he kidnapped her and drove off in his chariot.

Persephone was terrified. She was pinned to the floor of Hades' chariot while he drove faster and faster, down and down, into the darkness of the underworld. In the black halls of Hades, Persephone crouched and cried, refusing all food, refusing to speak to the god who had snatched her away.

Days passed. Persephone's hunger grew. At last she could resist no longer, she ate some pomegranate seeds and, having eaten, she could not return to the world above.

Meanwhile, her Mother, the goddess Demeter, grew distracted. She knew what had happened but she could do nothing. She raged all the more because she was powerless against Hades. She went to Zeus, the king of gods, and she begged him to bring about Persephone's return. Zeus could not bear Demeter's crying. Her tears were destroying the harvest. He had to do something.


Unfortunately, he was too late to stop Persephone eating the Pomegranate seeds. The rules of the Underworld had to be obeyed. Yet, Zeus being Zeus, the rules could be stretched a little. He sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to strike a deal with Hades. The deal was this. Persephone would marry Hades and remain Queen of the Underworld, living there half the year. In the spring she could return to earth, and live there in the warm, bright light of the summer.

And this is what happened. While Persephone lives in the underworld, the days are short and dark and cold. But with her return to Earth in the spring, the flowers start to bloom, the leaves to bud, and the birds to sing in the sky.


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

VOYEURS: PEEPING TOMS.





In the 19th century artists and writers, turned the viewer and the reader into a voyeur. In painting the viewer was no longer just a spectator, he or she was invited into the narrative of the painting. Writers like Emile Zola, gave the reader the opportunity to engage with their stories. To see other people’s lives from the inside.

The painting told a story and the viewer, now the voyeur, gazed on sights that may never before have been dreamed of. Imagination was given free rein and the voyeur was drawn into participating in the story. What is going on here? What has just happened? What is going to happen next? It’s up to the voyeur. This can be as titillating, or as debauched as he, or she, likes. The mind is free to wander. There is little room for an innocent story to be told; the images are as shocking and arousing today, as for the 19th century voyeur. Sex is in the truth of the narrative of the painting. As writers today, we carefully craft our pornography and erotica, but I think we have to concede that those guys, painting over one hundred years ago, did it before us, and did it very well.


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ women in THE TURKISH BATH (1862) are blowsy, drowsy, voluptuous. The heat from the steaming room drifts through the atmosphere. One woman lazily caresses another woman’s breast. Another strums some sort of lute. In the background a woman dances. The scent of slippery sex juices warm the air; the viewer can taste the women’s arousal. The women are available, lounging carelessly. Ingres’ erotic scene invites participation. The women are thinking only of sex. Perhaps the women are waiting the arrival of the master of the harem. The man who will choose, to take one, maybe two or three of them, to his bed chamber. The women left behind might roll together in a sleepy orgy.

At the end of his life, Ingres created the most erotic of all his works with this harem scene. In it he combines the figure of the nude with an oriental theme, taking as his inspiration the letters of Lady Montague (1690-1760), who recounts a visit to a women's baths in Istanbul in the early eighteenth century. Ingres has borrowed figures from some of his previous paintings for this composition full of arabesques. This late masterpiece was only revealed to the public many years after his death. (from the web).

Dozens of nude Turkish women are sitting or lying on sofas in various poses, in an Oriental interior which is arranged around a pool. Many of these bathers have just emerged from the water and are stretching themselves or dozing off; others are chatting or drinking coffee. This picture, dating from 1862, combines two subjects which had been close to Ingres’ heart for more than fifty years: the nude and the Orient. (from the web).

You can see Ingres’ THE TURKISH BATH in The Louvre Museum, Paris.






In THE SLEEPERS, Gustave Courbet paints an erotic ideal of lesbian love.(1866) Courbet highlights the importance of the lesbian theme in contemporary writers and artists. The lesbian image, in the 19th century, was, as now, a popular theme in erotica.

Two women lie in an exhausted, erotic embrace. The viewer’s focus is fixed on the women’s languorous caress. There is little to distract the viewer from the image of the two sleeping women. Their limbs are entangled; the broken string of pearls, the hairpin strewn on the bed are indicators, as if they are needed, of the nature of their embrace.

Who is this painting for? One needs to consider the nature of the artist’s sexuality, and that of his patron. Also the male heterosexual approach to female sexuality; and there are more general implications about the role of art in sexual fantasy, imagination, voyeurism and titillation.

You can see Courbet’s THE SLEEPERS, at the Musee de Petit Palais, in Paris






THE NIGHTMARE is a 1781 oil painting by Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (1741–1825). Since its creation, it has remained Fuseli's best-known work. With its first exhibition in 1782 at the Royal Academy of London the image became famous; an engraved version was widely distributed. Due to its fame, Fuseli painted at least three other versions of THE NIGHTMARE.

We see a voluptuous woman, asleep, and in the grip of a nightmare. Her dream is erotic and fearful, yet Fuseli displays her, open and ready to succumb to the hideous incubus, claiming her and squatting on her chest. The dream image is further signified by the entrance of a crazy horse at the back of the painting.

THE NIGHTMARE simultaneously offers both the image of a dream—by indicating the effect of the nightmare on the woman—and a dream image—in symbolically portraying the sleeping vision. It depicts a sleeping woman draped over the end of a bed with her head hanging down, exposing her long neck. She is surmounted by an incubus that peers out at the viewer. The sleeper seems lifeless, and, lying on her back, she takes a position believed to encourage nightmares. Emerging from a part in the curtain is the head of a horse with bold, featureless eyes. (Wiki)

Today, post-Freud, we can see that the painting is primarily about sex - although whether it is about submission, empowerment or voyeurism is still being debated by art historians.
Contemporary critics were taken aback by the overt sexuality of the painting, which has since been interpreted by some scholars as anticipating Freudian ideas about the subconscious. (Wiki)


I think that the NIGHTMARE is a liberating force for women; women are allowed to have erotic dreams. Women don’t need to feel guilty about giving in to their darker side; for waking wet and flushed from orgasm. For that reason it’s a sexual leveller; it’s not just men who are permitted to have sexual fantasies.

You can see Fuseli’s painting at the Detroit Institute of Arts, although it would be wise to check before you visit; it is often on loan to various exhibitions around the world. Another version of the painting is at the Goethe Museum, Frankfurt.

Ingres, Courbet and Fuseli are allowing morally subversive art to stand alone, independent of the accustomed role of service if the state, or official religion. The paintings are devoid of sentiment, but they do create an emotional impression and move the viewer.

The voyeur, is a polite way of saying “peeping tom.” There’s something deliciously naughty about that. We are peering in at the object’s most private moments. Spying and prying into affairs that are none of our business. The object has no control of how they are seen. It is in nakedness and sleep that we are at our most vulnerable.

While 19th century middle class women were expected to be chaste and to have little, or no knowledge of their bodies; artists went quite a way to giving women back control of their sexuality. They have as much right as men to erotica and to be voyeurs, “peeping toms,” if that is what they choose.

Monday, 18 January 2010

WHEN I AM OLD...

My antidote for growing old disgracefully, is writing porn-but there is another way.

Check out Jenny Joseph's great poem!



Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

By Jenny Joseph






When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple

with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired

and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

and run my stick along the public railings

and make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

and pick the flowers in other people's gardens

and learn to spit.



You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

and eat three pounds of sausages at a go

or only bread and pickles for a week

and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.



But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

and pay our rent and not swear in the street

and set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

REVIEW OF THE FORSYTE SAGA: JOHN GALSWORTHY





I love the Victorians. Those generations of restrained, repressed men and women, that have provided writers and thinkers with such a wealth of material. I don’t supposed the Victorians recognised that they were repressed; we just see it now with the clarity of hindsight. I guess we are the backlash to the Victorians’ discourse of silence, with our counsellors and therapists. And if we can’t afford those, our friends are usually willing listeners.


Soames Forsyte doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He doesn’t even want to talk to Irene, his beautiful wife. He just wants to consummate their marriage; he wants his conjugal rights, that are his by law. He wants her not to shudder when he touches her. It’s not too much to ask, is it?


Through Soames’ character, John Galsworthy gives us the central theme of his Victorian novel, THE FORSYTE SAGA. The theme is ownership; particularly ownership of property. Property is everything and anything touched with the Forsyte name, therefore Irene is property. Soames embraces the creed, body and soul. If the theme is ownership, it is Soames’ and Irene’s relationship that drives the plot of the novel.


The family saga opens at a gathering of the Forsytes, in 1886. They are celebrating June Forsyte’s engagement to Philip Bosinney, a flamboyant architect. One by one, Galsworthy introduces us to the central characters.


Galsworthy published the first book; THE MAN OF PROPERTY, in 1906. Galsworthy would have been aware of the laws and the mood of that time; he was writing about his contemporaries. This is an erotic novel; not in the sense of where erotica takes us today -- the sex, here, is in the sub-text. It’s hinted at and explored through the characters’ relationships, the constraints of Victorian times and the constraints members of the family, place upon themselves.


I think that this shows how forward thinking and brave Galsworthy was in publishing his book. Freud had only published THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, in 1899. The FORSYTE SAGA, was published just seven years later. I don’t know whether Galsworthy would have been aware of Freud’s theories, he would certainly been aware of the stringent laws constraining women -- I don’t think it matters whether the reader is aware either of Freud, or the legal position of women in Victorian England; the story of this up-tight family is so cleverly woven by Galsworthy, that the novel is pure pleasure to read. As is always the case with great fiction, the reader keeps turning the pages. What happens next? We want to know.


Soames has pursued the beautifully, enigmatic Irene, with the relentlessness of a stalker, for two years. Finally, she capitulates and agrees to marry him. Irene was young, only nineteen years old, when Soames finally wore her down. She was na├»ve; ignorant of the physical relations of a man and wife. Within a week of married life, she knew she had made a big mistake. We join Galsworthy’s novel at the point where Irene is asking for separate rooms.


"The fact that Irene never agreed to a union with Soames seems
inconceivable to contemporary readers as her reluctance is obvious from the beginning. Scholars have tried to explain in various ways Irene’s acceptance of Soames fifth time he proposes, but none of their explanations is ultimately convincing. Irene herself when asked responds only with a “strange silence”. (Linda Strahan).


The mysterious Irene haunts the pages. She is both charismatic and enigmatic. We never know what she is thinking; we only ever see her through the eyes of other characters. She is always placed in situations where her alluring beauty can be displayed. Galsworthy arranges her as if she is continually posing for a photograph. She is seated like a goddess, in a green woodland setting. She is stylishly arranged at the piano. In both Old Jolyon and Young Jolyon’s thoughts, Irene is Venus.


Galsworthy introduces us to Irene in a passage that is pure poetry.


“ A tall woman with a beautiful figure, which some member of the family had once compared to a heathen goddess…Her hands, gloved in French Grey, were crossed one over the other, her grave, charming face held to one side, and the eyes of all men near were fastened on it. Her figure swayed, so balanced that the very air seemed to set it moving. There was warmth, but little colour, in her cheeks; her large, dark eyes were soft. But it was at her lips - asking a question, giving an answer, with that shadowy smile - that men looked; they were sensitive lips, sensuous and sweet, and through them seemed to come warmth and perfume like the warmth and perfume of a flower.”


Irene is hypnotic; desirable. She has an ethereal, sublime, other worldly beauty, that is all her own.


I don’t know who I would cast as Irene, in a new adaptation. Gina Mckee in the ITV version didn’t cut it for me. Nyree Dawn Porter was convincing, in the much earlier BBC adaptation. There certainly aren’t any actresses around today that have Irene’s class. Anyway they’re all far too skinny. Their little faces have been cosmetically modified to all look the same.


Soames Forsyte is a funny little man. Funny in the peculiar sense -- definitely not ha ha! You don’t get a laugh, or a joke, from Soames. He’s cold; indifferent to the feelings of others. He doesn’t care about the effect he has on other people. I’m trying to think of a counterpart to Soames, for today’s world.


I can’t.

Soames is the worst kind of creep. You see him today, reconstructed in photo fits for CRIMEWATCH; he is usually wanted for sex crimes. Galsworthy describes Soames’ movements as “mouse like.” Soames doesn’t walk; he “mouses.”


Soames, is the character whose head we get into the most, and Galsworthy allows Soames' own narrow thoughts to speak for him. Soames’ only passions in life are the Forsyte name, his art collection and his beautiful wife Irene. All of these things Soames owns.


Irene is a wife and therefore a possession, both in the eyes of the law at that time, and by Soames.


Irene’s unhappy marriage to Soames Forsyte has become a metaphor for the plight of women in nineteenth century England before the passage of the Woman’s Property Act (1881) and the agitation for further reforms. (Linda Strahan)


Irene is repelled by Soames.


Much has been made of the rape scene, both in the ITV 2002 adaptation of the novel and in the 1967 BBC adaptation. I can only imagine how it would be written today, writers scrabbling around for lurid metaphors, to convey the repulsiveness and violence of Soames’ violation of Irene. It would go on for pages. Galsworthy simply says;


“The morning after a certain night on which Soames at last asserted his rights and acted like a man, he breakfasted alone.”


There is no contrition; no regret. Soames has decided that his act will be a step towards reconciliation for him and the wife that he owns. Irene’s smothered sobs haunt him throughout the day. He simply reads the newspaper; he hears again and again the "sounds of her broken heart." Soames keeps himself busy. Even in the final pages of the book, Soames is still justifying himself. It wouldn’t have happened if Irene had been a good wife.


Damian Lewis played the part of Soames in the ITV version of Galsworthy’s book. Eric Porter, in the BBC much earlier version. I think both actors captured the essence of Soames.


“Funnily, Lewis does very little indeed. One scene has him manipulating events to his way of thinking without actually saying a word.
But there is a smouldering power to him and you correctly fear for anyone who tries to confront him.” (from the web).


And of Eric Porter’s performance;


“Among the most famous scenes were one in which the hapless Irene, unloved by her cold and possessive husband Soames, was brutally raped by him as their marriage fell apart. The scene was rendered even more convincing by bloodstains on Irene's dress (Eric Porter had inadvertently cut his hand on her brooch when tearing off her bodice).” (Wiki)


Read THE FORSYTE SAGA as a Victorian soap. Read it as a false construct of the bliss of the family; the spoken lies, the unspoken truths. Read it and analyse it, if that’s what you want to do; or read it as a great story -- but, oh, please do read it.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

REVIEW OF M.CHRISTIAN'S: ALL EYES ON HER.

Enjoy this lovely review, from my friend; the Viscount. Chris -- I hope you like it!



I loved this short story by M. Christian. He has a fabulously descriptive writing style that places one there in the scene with the eager participants. I could smell the tar and feel the heat of the sun beating down. I was on that rooftop. I even found myself getting slightly aroused, at this young women amusing herself in such a public place. She is surrounded by the all seeing eyes, hidden behind the blank looking glassy panes of the buildings all around her. For a queer reader like me that's saying something as this guy likes guys. They can see her, she can't see them and my -- what a display she gives.


Most of us are voyeurs to some degree or other, even general cinema, or TV is a kind of voyeurism. However in these circumstances the subject of desire isn't physically present. Is it the physical presence of the object of our desires, is that what makes voyeurism so arousing? Is it the fear of being caught that turns us on?


This story got me thinking. The subject of most voyeuristic desires don't know they are being watched, so that must add to the 'thrill' the voyeur has. The power -- he/she is in control.


As a young teenager of around 13, I would sometimes on my way back from babysitting some neighbours kids, peer through the garden fence that overlooked our neighbours. Most Saturdays they would be making out in front of porn on the TV, you could really see pretty much everything but they had no idea I was there. I got really turned on by that as I was in control, but also I was terrified that I would be caught.


A bit later on in my formative years, at around 15 I caught a voyeur, looking. I was the voyeur watching a voyeur being a voyeur and that was quite thrilling. My aunt employed a lad to do some gardening work one summer and he was hot in every respect. I watched him from the bathroom window and he was as buff as anything and about 10 years older than me at the time; I guess around 25. I noticed him trying to get a better look at something and from my vantage point I could see a young woman sunbathing topless a few gardens down. She had no idea our randy gardener was watching her and he had no idea I was watching him. He was really turned on and so was I at his arousal.

My Mr Christian, what has your story done to me all of these memories as a result of your trigger.

Cindy in Christian's story on the other hand takes control; she is empowered and is turned on at being the subject, not the unwilling participant. Could I give this delightfully titillating short story a feminist reading? Well yes, I expect so. Cindy is woman taking back what is hers, she is no longer the passive pin-up, or downtrodden street walker or abused porn star. She isn't doing this for the kids, or to pay for mum's care home, she is doing it because she wants to.

M. Christian really does know how to write, and write well. I want some more please so get busy with it!

Monday, 4 January 2010

ACTIVE MALES: PASSIVE FEMALES> CONTRADICTIONS

I love the people who come to my blog. Clever writers and thinkers. Creative people, who gently challenge me and make me consider my opinions. Even if I return to my original idea, and think -- well that’s fine; my friends have helped me to think things through.

I’m referring here, to my last post FEMALE BONDAGE. I’d been playing with the notion that in female bondage in Art, women seem to be passive; they do not fight their tormentors. Whereas in images of male bondage, the men are active; they struggle and fight their oppressors.

I made a massive generalisation.
Oopsie!

Janine Ashbless sent me this image of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s
THE FLAGELLATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.







In the painting, Christ, is passive. He is in chains and is willingly letting the two men beat him. He is not fighting back. A third is tying together bundles of sticks -- presumably to take up beating Christ himself, when one of the other guys tires.

In 1607, Caravaggio paints the same theme. Caravaggio’s Christ is strong and as muscular as the men binding him. He could easily fight back. Yet he succumbs.







It is important to remember here, in both of these paintings, the man who is the focus of attention is Christ. As Janine says, Christ is “ Not Like Other Men.” He is the Son of God. His power is from God. There’s a lot going on; the paintings have a narrative. They tell the story of Christ’s Passion. Christ has an ancient, Old Testament prophesy to fulfil. He also needs to show that he practices what he preaches. Turn the other cheek. What use have his sermons been if he turns, and strikes a blow at his enemies?

People may have been shocked at the pictures. They’re pretty shocking today; but they would have understood the story that the Artists were telling.

This brings me on to Jude Mason’s point. Who is the audience? Who is the reader? Who are the pictures painted for? Men? Women? Are Bouguereau’s and Caravaggio’s paintings homoerotic? The men tormenting Christ, seem to me, to be one step away from violation.; from rape. Are the paintings meant to make us weep, or turn us on?

And then there’s those women, whom I claimed took a passive role in bondage. “The Doc” tells me, not so, and he sent me a couple of Aubrey Beardsley’s dirty pictures. The women here are playfully taking control of the sexual act. Size here is important. The women are huge; they dwarf the men. The women are engaging in activities not usually associated with females. One woman farts in a man’s face; another throws the contents of a piss pot over him. In the other picture, a tiny man masturbates as he powders his lady’s arse.









The Doc, also talks about the “goodness” in the active role. How it is perceived as positive and passivity as negative. Sure, both have aesthetic and erotic qualities, and I’m going to stick to defining those qualities in Art. That’s where I feel safest. I’m on familiar ground. I don’t feel comfortable taking on arguments about ethics and moral philosophy. Not at the moment anyway, and not here.

So, yes, Art. Human beings are complex creatures; sexuality even more so. It maybe that the Artist is getting hard, as he tells the story of Christ’s torment. It maybe the viewer, or both. Or neither. And who is getting turned on by Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings? I’m tempted to say “men!” But really -- who the hell knows?