Heavenly Bodies

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Nadia Maria

The ethereal portraits of Brazilian photographer Nadia Maria evokes the mysterious borderland between waking and dreams. Citing the hypnagogic visions glimpsed in the moments before sleep as the primary source of her creativity, Maria shows solitary figures (usually women) enmeshed in constellations of stars or seemingly about to undergo a transformation to an entirely different order of being. These photographs confront us with the beautifully bizarre revelations that we each experience nightly when we close our eyes and that we seek to dismiss  every morning; though no light is strong enough to totally dispel that blissful darkness that is the source of all true inspiration.

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An Unsentimental Education

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I refuse to be
Just another sentence
In your story.

Loitering around
Like a skiving schoolboy
Hands deep in shapeless pockets
Vainly searching for loose coins
Or bent cigarettes
Restlessly looking out
For amusement
To keep me occupied
Until the instant
When you remember
The mystique of arousal
Yes those fires of summer
Will rage again
I will not let you
Deny your desires
To yourself again
Persuade you to admit
The depths of attraction
Stage manage the occasion
For your surrender
And listen with delight
As you whisper into my ear
Long contained obscenities
Teach you with a truly
Sadistic patience
My philosophy in the bedroom
Nice and slow
Whoa now
Sleazy does it
Until the moment comes
When you’re good
And willing
To go out into
That great beyond
And divide others
And conquer accordingly.

The Moment

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Along with a very sweet tooth I share with the Marquis De Sade a quasi-mystical obsession with numbers. Certain numbers that have cropped up recently suggested a piece on the 18th century libertine tradition in French which the Divine Marquis radically re-envisioned at its culmination.

Originally the term libertine was used to describe political opponents of Calvin in Geneva, and went on to develop connotations of atheism and dangerous free-thinking. However by the 18th century the definition had narrowed to describe someone who was a sexual adventurer and debauchee. In the narrow homogeneous confines of French aristocratic circles in the Ancien Regime there flourished a literature which was entirely dedicated to examining the erotic manoeuvres and cynical mores of a fashionable society that pursued pleasure at all costs yet had to hypocritically maintain face .

Several novels including Diderot’s Les bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels) and Crebillon fils La Sopha (The Sofa) transposed the setting to Oriental locations to disguise the political satire of the court of Louis XV. Others were less cautious and set their novels in a contemporary setting with thinly veiled portraits of famous influential figures; the resulting scandals ruined careers and damaged reputations. Laclos the author of the masterpiece of libertine fiction and to my mind the greatest novel ever written, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liasions) never escaped the notoriety that the book brought him; he unjustly became the byword for cynicism and Machiavellian scheming.

One of the central features of the libertine novel is the conflict between sense and sentiment that readers of Jane Austen will be familiar with. However unlike Austen they resolve themselves as an unsentimental education where the hero or heroine is taught the ways of the world and learns how to exploit others for their sensual gratification. As the prophet of the enlightenment Voltaire noted ‘Pleasure is the object, duty and the goal of all rational creatures’, and the aristocrats portrayed are above all rational creatures.

During their education, which always involves seduction and a subtle corruption the characters are taught about the moment. The moment is a key concept in libertine philosophy, it is when the object of desire is most susceptible to seduction. The newly minted libertines are made aware of when the moment is approaching, how to take full advantage of the moment and even how to manufacture the moment in someone who is inimical to seduction. The classic novels of sexual education are Crebillon fils  Les Égarements du cœur et de l’esprit ou Mémoires de M. de Meilcour (The Wayward Heart and Head or the Memoirs of M. de Meilcour) and the Marquis De Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir ou Les instituteurs immoraux (Philosophy in the Boudoir or The Immoral Teachers). De Sade of course is notably more extreme than his predecessors and combines elements of the Gothic and Baroque while pointing forward to Romanticism and Decadence.

Modern Hotel Rooms

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We get along better
Far away from home
In modern hotel rooms.
They become us
No horror here
Not when you are
This high up anyway
The Thirty Third floor
Down below maybe
With it uncertainties
And the people
Walking between
Fearful terraces
Realm of coruscating
Trapped sunlight
Down there
Out of place
We feel and are
Not for the likes
Of you and me
Better to stay
Up here watching
Inside a cliff face
Cloud-scraping
Rarefied altitude
Closer to a heaven
Of promised oblivion
Then the hell
Around every corner
Down there, below.

Hotel rooms have to be
Absolutely modern
Belonging to no one
Except the absentee owners
Hilton-Tetragrammaton Inc
Trading as the Very
Heavenly Heaven Hotels
Registered in Paradise, NV
Ten miles above the Strip
Somewhere in the stratosphere
Belonging to the now
Existing only for a moment
Nothing of other past
Occupants must remain
As our traces in time
Will be likewise eradicated
For you and me dear
Are ourselves only
Temporary residents
Restlessly shuffling
In between places
Solace seeking
Desiring respite
From ourselves
Here in these rooms
Devoid of relevance
Of even semblance
Except the resemblance
To other rooms
The urgent necessities
Of our inmost beings
Can be unleashed
We can be free
Not to be ourselves
Shed the accumulations
Of settled habits
The accrued hours
Between these walls
So neutrally tinted
May we be granted
Requisite anonymity
To become, at last
Something other than
What we have become.

The Road Is The Same

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Sammy Slabbinck

Now that you are on this trip
I know that you want a taste
But please try to remember,
Though I am sure you will forget
That to come up here,
First you have to go down.
The road is the same
As above, so below.

Caution ahead:
Illusory surface
Expect delays
Of a thousand years
The hallucination
Of this instance
Will conflict with
The reality of the next
But keep on keeping on
Carry on ahead
Don’t look back
Because you will only
See indistinct ghosts
Acid etched dissolves
Swerve away from
Distant lights
Pulsing neon red
For everything here
Is all consuming fire
The only constant
Is mutability.

So below, as above
The road is the same.
I will go down so
That I may come up there
I will surely forget,
Though I will try to remember
Because I really want a taste
Now that I am on this trip.

Dreams of Desire 51 (Erwin Blumenfeld)

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Erwin Blumenfeld-Nude 1939
Erwin Blumenfeld was one of the most celebrated fashion photographers of the 20th Century, renowned for his vivid and innovative colour photography  that graced the cover of Vogue more times than any other photographer before or since. He was also a member of the German avant-garde, a close friend of the savage Berlin Dadaist Georg Grosz (see Eclipse of the Sun) whose techniques of photo-montage and collage he used throughout his career. His discovery of Man Ray shaped his earlier black and white nude photography leading Blumenfeld to experiment with solarisation and double exposure.

With Hitler’s rise to power, Blumenfeld, a Jew, moved to Paris in 1936 where he was discovered by Cecil Beaton who got him a job at French Vogue, however he was soon on the move again with the Nazi invasion of France, this time to America. In the United States he continued his connection with Vogue which allowed him to pursue his lifelong obsession with photographing beautiful women away from the genocidal horror of a war-torn Europe. It has been remarked that Blumenfeld found shame thrilling and he certainly instilled that sense of illicit eroticism into his images.

Fire

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Yves Klein-MG17- 1960
There is an anecdote about the young Yves Klein (see Dreams of Desire 48 (Blue) lying on a beach in the South of France with his friends, the artist Arman and the poet Claude Pascal, where they decided to divide up the universe between themselves.  Arman wanted the riches of the earth and tangible, material things, while Pascal claimed words and language itself. Klein chose ‘le vide’, the void, ethereal space empty of all matter.

Klein spent his career, cut short by his early death at 34, giving pictorial representation to the void, most famously in his blue monochromes using his own patented colour International Klein Blue (see the header image for my story A Promise of Paradise for an example of Klein’s monochromes), but also in the fire paintings, painted in his last years. Klein was something of an esotericist and was familiar with Rosicrucian and alchemical doctrine. As he noted ‘…fires burn in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man.

The above golden monochrome is part of a triptych (the other colours are blue and pink) that represents the colours seen in the heart of a flame. In a lecture given at the Sorbonne, Klein further elaborated on the transformative and unifying  nature of fire . ‘Fire is both intimate and universal. It resides in our hearts; it resides in a candle. It rises up from the depths of matter, and it conceals itself, latent, contained, like hate or patience. Of all phenomena it is the only one that so obviously embodies two opposite values: good and evil. It shines in paradise, and burns in hell. It can contradict itself, and therefore it is one of the universal principles.’  Such comments are reminiscent of the patron philosopher of occultists, the gnomic Heraclitus who remarked that ‘everything is fire.’

Klein made his fire paintings using a flame thrower on specially treated cardboard. Supplementary techniques were also involved to evoke a synthesis of the four classic elements, for example a nude model would be moistened with water and directed to leave an imprint on the surface before Klein applied the flame.

The Ultimate Spectacle

 

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Guy Debord-Howling for De Sade 1952
“Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?”  Raoul Vaneigem,The Revolution of Everyday Life 1967

“In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.” Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle 1967

In 1967 the French film-maker, writer and head theorist of the Situationist International (Moving ImagesThe Hacienda Must Be Built), Guy Debord published an influential book of Marxist critical theory, The Society of the Spectacle, consisting of 221 thesis. Within its elegantly written and rigorously argued pages Debord advanced the theory of the Spectacle. The Spectacle has degraded authentic life and replaced it with mere representation, a decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing. The Spectacle has supplanted relationships between people with relationships between commodities and we passively identify with the Spectacle. “The spectacle is not a collection of images,”  Debord notes,  “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”  The Spectacle obliterates the past and annihilates the future so that we live in an never-ending present. In this affect-less neuter-time there has been a systematic degradation of knowledge and we are incapable of critical thought, unaware that we are living in a moment in history.

In 1992 Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History, announced that Western neo-liberalism was the final point in human evolution; it wasn’t going to get better than this and that we were living in a post-historical period: the Spectacle had won.

But of course the statement by the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem quoted above holds true, and after a period when the Spectacle lacked a certain zest and an inability to hold our complete and undivided attention, the world has really turned upside down again. The true is a moment of the false. And we watch and wait with bated breath, in a rapt trance, with a horrified fascination as to what comes next. Maybe this time it will be the Ultimate Spectacle?

 

Proof

 

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All weekend long I had failed to act upon the ultimatum handed down by Sarah on the Friday night I left her to return home to my wife. Breakfast on Monday morning was my last opportunity. But I realized —as I sat down to cereals, toast and tea— that putting an end to a twenty-three-year marriage at 7:50am on the drabbest of all days, seemed wildly inappropriate. I couldn’t cope with the inevitable ugly scene of harsh words, bitter tears, righteous indignation and promises of reprisals before leaving for the city and work. The trouble was, I could now expect a row with Sarah. Hopefully, she would have the discretion to wait until after office hours, though I wasn’t optimistic. Her tact had been embarrassingly absent lately. Continue reading

The Object of the Eye

René Magritte, The Eye (1932-35)
René Magritte, The Eye 1936
Magritte’s The Eye from 1936 presents the image of an eye and the surrounding areas of the face, painted in Magritte’s usual dry, meticulous and unsettling bland style. The painting is contained within a Victorian shadow-box that gives the illusion that the unblinking eye is staring through a peep-hole. The effect is profoundly unnerving; the object we are looking at returns our gaze and exposes us for the voyeurs that we are. Everything we see we objectify, with the exception of ourselves, of course.