Jun 042010

Ah&Oh Studio created a line of perfume packages based on male writers, including George Orwell, LaClos (author of Dangerous Liaisons), Edgar Allen Poe and the Marquis de Sade.

We found inspiration in the great, dark literature and distinctive, strong characters. We tried to describe the dark sides of men’s nature with line of scents named after famous writers.

Interesting that all four writers, not just Sade, could be seen as factoring into the history of BDSM. LaClos wrote about seduction and power games, and Poe about obsession and imprisonment. Even Orwell’s vision of dystopia in 1984 became fodder for masochistic fantasy.

I wonder what Sacher-Masoch or Richardson would smell like? Perhaps a complementary line of women’s fragrances: Stowe, Radcliffe, Rachilde, Reage, Rice, Carey?

Jun 022010

Sooner or later, I knew I had to deal with Michel Foucault. Not only is his name pretty much synonymous with the study of the history of sexuality, he was a practicing perv himself. So, with trepidation, I checked “The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1” and read it.

I’m a concrete thinker: I understand prefer examples to abstractions. Foucault writes at such high level of abstraction, it sounds impressive, almost poetic, but I have a hard time applying it to any real world example. It’s almost Hermetic, an intellectual model so seductively attractive that it may have little or nothing to do with the real world. This is precisely the kind of thing I want to avoid in this book, but if you study the history of sexuality you inevitably bump up against this kind of rarefied, critical theory language.

Not to say there aren’t interesting ideas here. Foucault says that we need to junk the repressive hypothesis of the late 20th century, that the 19th century was an era of censorship and sexual repression. Instead, the modern age (i.e. the last few centuries of the West) is a flourishing of sexual discourse. Foucault uses Diderot’s story of “The Indiscreet Jewels,” an Orientalist fable about a sultan’s magic ring that makes women’s genitals talk about their experiences. The starting point for all this was the Catholic pastoral, manuals for taking confession that advised going into great detail about the act. Sex had to be said. In this view, Walter, the author of My Secret Life, was not unusual, but just took the compulsion to speak of sex to an extreme.

Censorship and regulation of sexuality, for example, are both aspects of this compulsion to speak about sex and skirmishes in the struggle over how and by whom it was to be spoken. When we are confronted with people who express little or no sexual desires, we concoct a clumsy designation, “asexuality”, to fit them into our scheme.

I think Foucault is on shakier ground when he imagines some idyllic pre-discourse form of sex, when trading handjobs for pennies from the village idiot was part of every child’s life (or so Foucault seems to think.)

Another interesting idea is that the sexual repressions of the 19th century began with the bourgeoisie imposing sexual restrictions on itself, and then extending those restrictions to the aristocracy and the proletariat.

Sexuality is not the most intractable element in power relations, but rather one of those endowed with the greatest instrumentality: useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies.

Pg. 103

If sex is not only or even primarily for reproduction (and everything else a perversion), that’s a good answer to what it is for.

May 272010

Commenter Citizen Kinkster tipped me off about avant garde film director Kenneth Anger and his abortive attempt at making a film of The Story of O. From an interview in the Quietus:

I got permission from the publisher of an erotic book called Histoire d’O [The Story of O], which was later made into a rotten commercial film, which I never saw because it would spoil my vision. But even with the help of some literary people I couldn’t find the money to do it so I just move on and make another short film if the longer ones don’t work out.

Of the many longer projects you have conceived of that haven’t been realised, which of them do you most regret not happening?

Well, The Story of O, would have been beautiful because I was doing it in the style of Robert Bresson, like Les dames du Bois de Boulogne which is very understated. The subject is kinky eroticism but in my concept, I never showed anything. There are things implied but it’s a bit of a tease.

Which you have said is more powerful.

Yes, suggestion. Which is why I’m quite opposed to . . . I’m not advocating censorship, but to me, porno is a very problematic area because they defeat what they’re doing by having too much and too long and you get very bored with it, it’s like watching a sewing machine or something.

From what I’ve found so far, it’s unclear how much, if any, of this film was actually shot, or whether it was one of those things that never got out of development hell.

Another article on Anger says footage was shot, and then the story got even weirder:

He recounted his failed attempt to direct a feature-length film version of Pauline Reage’s mythic S&M novel The Story of O in Paris (“Don’t try it at home”). Describing the story as “a wanking fantasy, if you know what that means” he claimed that the production was bankrolled by money acquired by the young star’s boyfriend–ransom money from the kidnapping of the nephew of the Citroen car company’s owner. That this starlet was the daughter of the French minister of finance–and required to wear a chain attached “inside her little down there” for the shoot–ignited such a scandal that “M. Ange” was threatened with expulsion by some “magnificently cool guys” from the French government. Apparently the twenty minutes of footage that was successfully shot is lying somewhere in the archives of the Cinematheque Francaise…

Yet another interview:

When I was living in France,my publisher was Jean-Jacques Pauvert.
He brought out the original edition of Hollywood Babylon, which I
wrote in French, before it came out in English. At that time Jean-Jacques
was the publisher of a rather notorious novel, Histoire d’O, by Pauline Reage.
It was an erotic novel; I guess you could call it a sadomasochistic fairytale
because it’s absolutely a fantasy, nothing that could actually happen in real
life. I met the author, whose real name is Dominique Aury, and she gave me
permission to film the book, and I began work on a black-and-white, silent
film. My model for the project was Bresson. I shot about twenty minutes,
and then the production came to a halt: it turned out that the father of the
young lady who was playing the lead was the French minister of finance.
The girl was in her late teens, old enough to make up her own mind about what she wanted to do, but at any rate, the filming had to stop when it became
known that she was playing a part in an erotic film. It wasn’t pornographic,
but did involve some nudity and some simulated S&M; most everything
takes place of camera. The film was basically an exercise in style. I
had a work print of what I had shot, which I left at the Cinémathèque
Française. Another unfinished project.

Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is a 1945 film by Robert Bresson that was itself an adaptation of an anecdote in our old friend Diderot’s novel Jacques the Fataliste.

The story concerns a woman, Helene, who is spurned by her lover Jean. To get revenge, Helene hires a dancer and prostitute, Agnes, and passes her off as a bourgeois woman to trick Jean into marrying her.

The lesbian subtext of this scene could give a hint of what Anger’s low-key version of The Story of O would have been like.

Anger’s Scorpio Rising was definitely a contributor to the leatherman style, as you can see below:

Ah, what could have been. I suspect that coyness is not something that would have worked with the source material. What’s distinctive about The Story of O is its lack of gentility or discretion, its directness and bluntness. I think, if it had been completed, most would have criticize it as a poor adaptation, perhaps even more so than the Just Jaeckin version.

PS: Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon alleges that Rudolph Valentino liked to get beaten by dominant women.

Nov 062009

Fetish Pop Culture turned up an interesting French book called La Papesse du Diable (The Devil’s female Pope) by Jehan Silvius and Pierre de Ruynes, 1931.

From a Google-translated summary:

Excellent example of the surreal eroticism of prewar, The High Priestess of the Devil (1931) appears to be due to the collaboration of Ernest Gengenbach and Robert Desnos. (Alexandrian.)

It attends to the entry into Paris of the Mistress of Asia, now Archimagesse Queen of the World, at the head of his hordes coming to conquer Europe. Theme dear to the surrealists, the high priestess of Satan is actually Isis, the wife, the mysterious, the archetypal.

Paris is upset, the streets be renamed; victory of evil forces absolute beneficial: the Great Androgyne throne at Notre Dame, the Pope prisoner is crucified on the Eiffel Tower. Everything ends with the end of the world and in a final orgy sacred General: A desire lascivious half opened the knees of women, men’s eyes gleamed. Everywhere tears, gasps, collapses paintings and cultural objects, cramp-like bristles. Dogs came from who knows where, covered the women gasped. An adolescent, arms outstretched, moaning slowly, half-stifled by four women. Three men in a corner hugged by meowing like girls entwined writhing on a couch …

So, is this an apocalyptic fantasy, the end of the world with a female Antichrist presiding over an orgy? Or is it a sexual fantasy with apocalyptic window-dressing? Is the sex sugar-coating the political/racial content, or vice versa? Books like this are a site for many discourses, and the surrealists had the eye for the end of the world, a key theme of the Gothic.

This is actually a little reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the modern, rationalist West invaded by the sexually deviant yet seductive East/Orient. The possibility of invasion/corruption is also the possibility of revolution and transformation.

Right now, our bookshelves and movie theatres and TV screens are crawling with the sexy undead, though often of a rather neutered strain. The dewey-eyed, sparkling-in-sunlight, heteronormative vampires of the Twilight franchise are a far cry from the polymorphously perverse, disturbing bloodsuckers of older literary incarnations. (By drawing explicit parallels between vampirism and homosexuality, True Blood at least injects a little queerness into the proceedings.)

Can a monster get worn out? Through excessive familiarity, does a monster loose its ability to frighten or inspire? Can you extract the sublimity from something? I’d like to raise Bram Stoker from the dead and sit him down in front of Twilight or The Vampire Diaries and ask him what he would think of the idea as vampires being heroes or romantic partners.

I think that on some weird, subconscious level, the threat of impurity, as represented by Dracula or The Devil’s Papess, also represents the possibility of change. Just as the classic “rape/ravishment” fantasy resolves the paradox of female desire vs. purity, the fantasy of the apocalypse resolves the need for revolution.

Jul 092009

Fetish Pop Culture has a selection of spanking illustrations by Louis Malteste.

From what I can tell, the above novel was published in 1911 or 1912, and “Sadie Blackeyes” was one of the many pseudonyms of Pierre Dumarchey, better known as Mac Orlan. Dumarchey seemed to have a different pseudonym for each kink. “Sadie Blackeyes” was all about the spanking/flagellation and lesbianism.

Mar 052009

Darnton, Robert. The Forbidden Best-sellers of Pre-revolutionary France WW Norton & Co, 1996 Link

Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography as, “I know it when I see it.” The same could be said of genre in general. The genre of a given work is obvious, unmistakable, self-evident. A mystery story is a mystery because, well, there’s a mystery and it is solved.

However, genre is rarely pure, and there are many instances of works that defy categorization. Is James Cameron’s Aliens horror, science fiction or action? Also, genre becomes even less distinct when we backtrack, trying to find the first example of a given form. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often cited as the first science fiction novel, but is it actually that, or a Gothic novel?

This gets even harder when you try to excavate the history of pornography. Case in point: the anonymous novel Therese Philosophe, published in 1748 (the same year as Denis Diderot’s erotica/satire The Indiscrete Jewels, and John Cleland’s apolitical Fanny Hill). It is usually attributed to the Marquis d’Argens.

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Jun 302008


The 20th century’s answer to Sade is probably Jean Genet, a novelist and playwright who developed a strange kind of ascent through descent, finding a kind of apotheosis. If heroism is impossible, one distinguishes oneself through cultivating betrayal and abuse.

One of his plays was The Balcony (1956), a surreal exploration of fantasy and fetish.

Most of the scenes occur in the Balcony, a “house of illusions” or a brothel, depending on the mood of Irma, the house’s madam. Irma presides over the constantly shifting boundaries of fantasy and reality, dealing with clients who want to be Bishops and Generals, and may in reality be those things, a pimp who is actually a cowardly crossdresser and a whore who wants to be a saint. The Judge insists on hearing “true confessions” from a whore dressed as a criminal, who technically is a criminal, but the Judge shrinks from the thought that the woman actually committed any crimes.

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