The Succubus

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Gustav Klimt-Water Serpents II-1904
Nightly, though sometimes in the daytime too, it has to be admitted, whenever I close my eyes, empty my mind and begin to drift, you appear against a shimmering, shifting background of various shades of blue. Sky, Klein, Royal, Electric. The hues of sex, sorrow and the sense of shame that can only be savoured because there is no succour to be found anywhere in this world.
An anthology of every one of your conceivable postures is imprinted indelibly upon my memory.
Sometimes you tentatively gesture with your forefinger, knowing full well that your feigned shyness is the ultimate aphrodisiac and that I will follow you wherever.
The red zonal markings of your target areas (mouth, tongue, the areola, the labial lips and the cleft of your cunt) beckon to me against the white hesitations of your flesh. You lead me into the shower where the water beats against our shoulders while outside the rain drums against the windows and the roof. I hold your glacial stare with difficultly (never have I known such icy depths) as we embrace each other with one arm (our other hands exploring our respective tropics).
Some nights I am rendered immobile. Yet you still approach, straddle my face with your firm flanks as you take me in your mouth.
While on the still deeper nights, you torment me with black echoes of our imagined union with a succession of strangers –your heavy breasts rubbing against the swollen nipples of a series of sluts or mounted from behind by a stable of studs.
During the interminable nights (and days too, if the truth be told) you taunt me, tease me, tempt me, tie me, bind me… I can never get enough, I will never be sated; this fire cannot be quenched.
Till the time when I unwillingly open my eyes and the vision vanishes, all my lust fades in the grey half-light of an ashen dawn and I am left with an unbearable leaden ache in the centre of my being that weighs down every passing moment. That is, until I fall asleep again.

Always Crashing In The Same Car

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Andy Warhol-Red Car Crash 1963
J. G Ballard’s 1970 collection of interlinked ‘condensed’ novels, The Atrocity Exhibition had been the cause of considerable controversy. One of the short stories, Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan was issued as a separate booklet that had resulted in the prosecution for obscenity of the publisher. The American edition of The Atrocity Exhibition had been printed by Doubleday & Co when the company’s president Nelson Doubleday, Jr. ordered the entire run pulped as he feared potential legal action from the many celebrities featured within its pages.

Undeterred Ballard wrote Crash, a novel even more controversial and transgressive. One publisher’s reader verdict was simply, “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!” As Ballard express intention in writing Crash was to, “rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror” and considering its extreme and disturbing content, the reader’s comment is understandable.

The narrator of Crash is an advertising executive named James Ballard (a bold, daring move: no authorial distancing to be seen here) who after being involved in a serious traffic accident that causes the death of the driver of the other vehicle, becomes obsessed with the sexual possibilities inherent in car crashes. He meets Vaughan, a rogue scientist and former television presenter, the ‘nightmare angel of the expressways’, who is the leader of a clique of similarly affectless crash devotees. Vaughan has one over-riding ambition: to stage the ultimate sex death with the actress Elizabeth Taylor.

The style of Crash is hypnotically detached. As I noted in my previous post on J. G Ballard Living The High Life its hallucinatory cadences render it a prose poem of twisted metal, broken glass and wound patterns, as can be seen from the following quote. It is also, without doubt, spectacularly deranged.

I think now of the other crashes we visualised, absurd deaths of the wounded, maimed and distraught. I think of the crashes of psychopaths, implausible accidents carried out with venom and disgust, vicious multiple collisions contrived in stolen cars on evening freeways among tired office workers. I think of the absurd crashes of neurasthenic housewives returning from their VD clinics, hitting parked cars in suburban streets. I think of the crashes of excited schizophrenics colliding head-on into stalled laundry vans in one-way streets: of manic-depressives crushed while making pointless U-turns on motorway access roads; of luckless paranoids driving at full speed into brick walls at the ends of known cul-de-sacs; of sadistic charge nurses decapitated in inverted crashes on complicated interchanges; of lesbian supermarket manageress burning to death in the collapsed frames of their midget cars before the stoical eyes of middle-aged firemen; of autistic children crushed in rear-end collisions, their eyes less wounded in death; of buses filled with mental defectives drowning together in roadside industrial canals.

The novel soon achieved cult status in France, unsurprisingly as the French have a long tradition of intellectual, transgressive pornography dating back to De Sade (see Philosophy in the Boudoir) and carrying on through Bataille to The Story of O. Most editions include the Introduction to the French Edition which carries Ballard’s spirited defence of pornography, as he notes “pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other in the most urgent and ruthless way.”

Crash was later filmed by David Cronenberg in 1996 and was itself the subject of further controversy.

A Curious Quaint Appeal

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Courbet-The Origin of the World 1866

You possessed certain attributes
(And still possess I so dearly hope)
Namely an uncertain smile,
A naive, gauche charm
But most of all a unique,
Curious, quaint appeal.

Do you remember that morning
(I definitely remember
But how I ever possibly forget)
It was summer, humidity was high
The stifling atmosphere
Was almost unbreathable
You called, I came
I rang the doorbell
Anxiously waited on the step
Until you open the door
Undressed but for a duvet
That you let slide to the floor
Revealing a naked miracle
I stood there rooted
Torn between illicit desire
And the better angels of a nature
I had never thought existed.
I had a hundred and one perfectly
Valid reasons for leaving
Right there and then:
But maybe there
Is salvation in sin
Maybe the glamour
Of evil and betrayal
Will outweigh the guilt;
Maybe the heavy load
Of a troubled conscience
Is lighter than the
Billion dying spermatozoa
Seeking their only destination
That is within reach
As my fingers testify
As they glance and skirt
In a preliminary skirmish
Through the thickets
And lush undergrowth
Towards the entrance
Of your flooding hollow
You reach down and by
Interlacing our hands
Lead me towards
The bedroom where
Beneath a portrait
By your sister whom
I would never get to meet
I traverse the territory
Of your exposed body;
The sleek Modigliani neck,
The scallops of your ears,
The peaks of your aureoles,
The curvature of your belly,
And deeper still my tongue
After gliding over every
Pore and inch of skin
Penetrates your lips
Into the cavern of
Your mouth with its
Stalactites and stalagmites;
Again you hands lead me
To where I always wanted to go:
Ever since the first moment
That I saw you and I was stunned
As the blood left my brain;
You guide my head down below
And I practice my cunning stunts
To taste your essence
Unusual in its scent
Of honey and vanilla
With biscuit-y undertones
And I dive for oysters
While hunting for pearls
Hidden in this marine realm
Your long legs wrapped
Around my head so tight
That I don’t hear the phone
Ringing out over and over
But you do to infinite regret
And eternal sadness.
To amuse myself I fondle your breasts
And whisper sweet nothings
As you try to cut the call short
But already my work is messaging
To ascertain my whereabouts.

Time, alas, wasn’t on our side
And the circumstances never presented
Themselves to be repeated:
But still to this day I wonder
About your curious, quaint appeal.

Negative Revelation

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Max Ernst-Long Live Love 1923

My love for you
Was a negative revelation
The intensity of the darkness
Where we embraced
Outshone the brilliance
Of the heavens above.

You were beyond understanding
No words I utter could delineate you,
Beyond mere comprehension;
How could I possibly define you
The meaning of your innermost being
Eluded me though I pursued you
And search for you still from place to place
Down the avenues, up the highways
And through the byways of a transformed city
I’m standing on the corner just waiting
For the moment that our paths cross
Once again in the hope of that succour
That escapes me even in my dreams
To listen to the swelling ocean inside
Avert my gaze from the dual
Suns of your blazing eyes
Inhale the scented distemper
Of your rapid breathing
Traverse the landscape of your body
The contoured dunes, the flooded valleys.

Sisters

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Gerhard Richter-Schwestern 1967
The German artist Gerhard Richter is famous for the astounding hyper-realism of his photo-pictures (see The Reader), smudged interpretations of various masterpieces by the Old Masters (see Bathers) and a truly breath-taking versatility, however his greatest contribution to painting is probably  his introduction of the blur in pictorial representation. After centuries of painters seeking to reproduce nature in ever starker clarity, Richter shifts the focus, blurs the outlines and forces us to question our perceptions. Richter achieves the effect by a typically torturous route; using photographs (the invention of photography, lest we forget, was the single greatest contributing factor in the creation of all the various schools of modernism) which he then paints an exact reproduction of and then proceeds to accentuate any blurring present in the original.

1967’s Schwestern (Sisters) is a fine example of the technique (it also recently sold at Sotheby’s London for over four million dollars). The whole painting has a decided air of ambiguity, the salacious poses of the scantily clad women and their over-eager smiles is suggestive and strikingly at odds with the title. The heavy blurring only adds to the air of uncertainty as to what we are exactly witnessing.

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.

Scarlet Woman

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Marjorie Cameron-Aleister Crowley’s Guardian Angel

In 1946 Marjorie Cameron had re-located to Pasadena, California after serving with the US Navy during WWII. While waiting in line at the unemployment office she met an old acquaintance who suggested that she had to  visit ‘The Parsonage’, the huge house of a ‘mad scientist’,  Jack Parsons.

She took her friend up on the offer and went to ‘The Parsonage’. What she didn’t know was that ‘The Parsonage’ was the headquarters of the Agape Lodge, a branch of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, and its leader, the ‘mad scientist’ and rocket propulsion engineer Jack Parsons had been engaged in the Babalon Working with science fiction writer (and later founder of Scientology) L.Ron Hubbard for the previous weeks. The Babalon Working was based on the sex magic theories of Crowley and was an attempt to conjure up an incarnation of the archetypal feminine principle named Babalon or The Scarlet Woman.

Cameron was a flame haired beauty and they immediately fell in love, holing up in Parsons bedroom for two weeks. Parsons declared that the working had been a success, and proceeded onto the next stage, which was to conceive a Moonchild with the Scarlet Woman, while L.Ron Hubbard stayed on to record the effects the sex magic was having on the astral plane.

Although they never had a Moonchild, they married in 1946 and Parsons introduced her to Thelema, Crowley’s ‘New Religion’. At Parsons urging she went to England in 1947 to visit Crowley but he had already died in a Hastings boarding house with less than a pound to his name before she arrived. Parsons would die in a laboratory accident in 1952.

Cameron was very much at the centre of the L.A occult and avant-garde scenes for the rest of her life. She appeared in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration Of the Pleasure Dome, as the The Scarlet Woman (unsurprisingly) and Kali, and Curtis Harrington’s The Wormwood Star. She was also a talented artist, as the above and below illustrations demonstrate.

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The Flowers of Evil: The Balcony

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Frederic Bazille-La Toilette 1870
It is impossible to overestimate the influence  of Charles Baudelaire upon modernity. The entire Symbolism/Decadent movement that so dominated the 19th Century fin-de-siecle in Europe owed its very existence to Baudelaire.

Baudelaire’s importance extends  far deeper that the creation of one transitory artistic school however. Although he didn’t invent the concept of dandyism (that honour belongs to Beau Brummel), his example gave it a wider cultural currency that eventually resulted in the carefully constructed persona of the ultimate aesthete and wit, Oscar Wilde. His wanderings around the Parisian streets led to Walter Benjamin formulating a new type of man, the flaneur. The figure of the flaneur  recurs frequently in Benjamin’s massive, unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project. The spirit of the Baudelairean flaneur guided the Surrealists in their impromptu flea-market jaunts and nocturnal adventuring. The Situationist International (see Moving Images) took the flaneur a step further and the central tenets of the SI, Unitary Urbanism and psycho-geography are based upon the needs of this recently evolved city-dweller.

Beyond shaping some of the major artistic and intellectual currents of the 19th and 20th Century, Baudelaire presence can be felt in Punk (with his dried green hair and urgent provocations) and dominated Goth (Dreams of Desire 5 (That Look).

His influential art criticism (and the inspiration he provided to visual artists, see The Sleepers) and his re-definition of the poet as cultural agitator and arbitrator paved the way for Guillaume Apollinaire (In The Zone) and Andre Breton (The Pope of Surrealism).

Baudelaire’s fame largely rests upon his volume of poetry, Le Fleurs Du Mal. First published in 1857 it immediately caused a scandal. Baudelaire’s originality lay not in the versification (which is traditional) but in the explicit, morbid subject matter.

Below is a translation of one of his finest love poems, Le Balcon, inspired by his muse and mistress of twenty years, the ‘Venus Noire’, Jeanne Duval (she was a Creole of Haitian-French heritage).

The Balcony

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
you who are all my pleasures and all my duties,
you will remember the beauty of our caresses,
the sweetness of the hearth, the charm of the evenings,
mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.

On evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire
and evenings on the balcony, veiled with pink mist,
how soft your breast was,
how kind to me was your heart!
Often we said imperishable things
on evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire.

How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!
How deep is space! How powerful the human heart!
As I leant over you, oh queen of all adored ones,
I thought I was breathing the fragrance of your blood.
How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!

The night would thicken like a wall around us,
and in the dark my eyes would make out yours,
and I would drink your breath, oh sweetness, oh poison!
And your feet would fall asleep in my brotherly hands.
The night would thicken like a wall around us.

I know how to evoke the moments of happiness,
I relive my past, nestling my head on your lap.
For why would I seek your languid beauties anywhere
except in your dear body and your oh-so-gentle heart?
I know how to evoke the moments of happiness!

Will those sweet words, those perfumes, those infinite kisses
be reborn from a chasm deeper than we may fathom
like suns that rise rejuvenated into the sky
after cleansing themselves in the oceans’ depths?
Oh sweet words, oh perfumes, oh infinite kisses!

 

Translation Peter Low 2001

Bathers

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Gerhard Richter-Badende (Bathers) 1967
As I noted in my previous post on the extraordinary German artist Gerhard Richter (see The Reader) his constant re-invention, technical mastery and breath of subject matter has created a body of work without parallel in contemporary art.

He has also shown an constant engagement with and re-visioning of the work of the Old Masters, including Vermeer, Titian and Ingres. Badende, featured above, takes as its starting point Ingres’s The Turkish Bath, one of the most sensual and erotic paintings ever, while Kleine Badende below references the same artist’s The Small Bather. Grey is to Richter what blue was to Yves Klein (Dreams of Desire 48 (Blue), however the smudged obscurity of Badende actually accentuates the erotic possibilities inherent in the scene. Richter’s third wife Sabine Moritz is the model for Kleine Badende, painted in the blurry photo-realistic style that he is justifiably famous for.

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Gerhard Richter-Kleine Badende (Small Bather) 1996

Dreams of Desire 50 (The Decisive Moment)

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Henri Cartier-Bresson-The Spider of Love, Mexico City 1934
The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was another giant of the field who, although not an official member of the Surrealism movement, socialized with the Surrealists and fruitfully applied their ideas in his own work.

This can be seen clearly in his important and influential theory of ‘the decisive moment’, which further develops Andre Breton’s doctrine of ‘objective chance’. Cartier-Bresson argued that, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”, and for the photographer to be truly creative they have to recognise that moment; because once you miss it, the moment is gone forever.

A striking example of the decisive moment can be found in his 1934 photograph, The Spider of Love, Mexico City. While attending a party in that city, he felt a little worse for wear and went upstairs to the bathroom. Passing by a bedroom he heard a noise and upon opening the door he discovered two women making love. He later described the event as a miracle of sensuality, which could never be duplicated by posed models.