Mirror Images

mirror broken

(This is a post that has previously appeared here, however now with four brand new illustrations by Susanne Rempt).

All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realised that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence.  It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All that was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.

Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples)voodoo mirror

are decorated with mirrors as they are conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’

In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) by Vivant Denon the artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.mirror hand

One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’

However, for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. _20180102_164940 (1)Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.

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Prayer

Man Ray-Prayer-1930
Man Ray-Prayer-1930

The ground-breaking, innovative American photographer and painter Man Ray was another Surrealist affiliated artist who constantly referenced the life and work of the Marquis De Sade (see Illustrating the Divine Marquis for further examples of art inspired by the Divine Marquis).

As well as the art that explicitly points to the Marquis as a source, notably 1933’s witty and scandalous Homage to D.A.F De Sade, the brilliant Imaginary Portrait of 1936 and the geometric surrealism of Aline et Valcour (a nod to Man Ray’s favourite novel by De Sade), there are pieces that invoke the spirit of De Sade, especially the photograph Prayer from 1930.

As always with Man Ray’s photographs, Prayer is brilliantly composed with stark contrasts between the absolute, hushed and sacred darkness that frames and throws into sharp relief the lunar luminosity of the body ‘praying’ on the grubby bed. Wilfully blasphemous and perversely sacrilegious, Prayer highlights the still radical proposition of De Sade’s that the body, and the body alone, is the nexus of desire and the locus of all human motivation.

Man Ray-Homage to D.A.F De Sade 1933
Man Ray-Homage to D.A.F De Sade 1933
Man Ray-Imaginary Portrait of De Sade 1936
Man Ray-Imaginary Portrait of De Sade 1936
Man Ray-Aline Et Valcour 1950
Man Ray-Aline Et Valcour 1950

The Illustrated Unmade Again

My good friend and talented artist S.R has illustrated my erotic short story Unmade Again. Her distinctive drawings have previously graced An Illustrated Promise of Paradise. If you like the below story, my collection Motion No. 69, fulsomely illustrated by T.Kiros will be available this Thursday November 30th, 2017.

unmade-car

Murky, very very murky, decidedly, definitely so –how else could I describe my motives for not fucking Margot. Before getting in the car I stared up at the window where I had just left Margot lying unclothed and spread-eagled on the mussed-up bed. That thought made me hesitate for a moment, but I got in the car anyway and started the ignition.

As I drove at speed through the somnolent streets of her neighbourhood I was in considerable physical discomfort. Pressing my crotch against the steering wheel afforded some relief but what I really needed was the release that can only be obtained through the agency of the other, the rapture of bodies mingling and dissolving in unison until the mutual, desired annihilation of orgasm.

So why the fuck hadn’t I? I thought to myself bitterly as the car jolted over a series of speed bumps. Of course, I could try to convince myself that I was being virtuous by remaining faithful to my wife, but it was going to be a hard sell as the taste of her salty, yet curiously perfumed secretions were on my tongue and coated the inside of my mouth.

Besides, there had been that episode with the plump girl at the chemists even though that had been something of a disappointment to all concerned.

I couldn’t return to work in this state and going home was out of the question, so I merged onto the freeway and headed north towards the suburbs.

Really the whole situation was ridiculous. Here I was driving pointlessly past the strips malls and industrial parks with the semen slowly seeping out of my penis and staining my boxers when I could be enjoying a post coital nap in the arms of a pretty girl.

However, it was absurd that I had somehow become entangled with a girl almost half my age in the first place. That’s not to say that Margot wasn’t smart and precocious for her age but at the end of the day she had just turned eighteen. I pretty much guessed from the start that she was looking for someone to have her first time with before leaving for college. First time with a man that is. From the texture of her kisses and the evasive answers she gave to my leading questions I knew she wasn’t as innocence as she made out, however I figured her experience didn’t extend beyond dormitory romances in that fancy all girls boarding school of hers. Which only increased my attraction to Margot, I’m sorry to say.

Mind you I liked her looks from the moment I saw her. For a split second I almost mistook her for a boy although this was partly due to her been kitted out in the runner’s uniform of black shirt and trousers. She looked so young and frail that her presence amidst the heat and noise of the kitchen of the Mahogany Rooms seemed completely incongruous. What was she doing there? Obviously working but a more unlikely candidate for the position of runner could not be imagined.

Intrigued I sauntered slowly up to the table where she was methodically cutting up a loaf of crusty bread and arranging the slices in metal baskets. Composing my features to look enigmatic I breathed a deep hello. She looked up briefly and gave me a hard stare before returning to her task without saying a word. So much for elective affinities I thought and carried on home.

After a couple of rather more circumspect approaches that yielded the exact same results I gave up trying to engage her. Yet on several occasions I caught her intently staring. She would immediately lower her eyes and would pretend to be absorbed in whatever mundane task she had in hand. What was her problem with me?

I tried not to think about her, but her image always appeared while I made love to Sarah. Brief fantasies of her slender body, her long fingers clumsily grasping my penis, those staring eyes boring into my soul and reading there my polluted desires immediately culminated in a climax of hitherto unknown intensity. Afterwards as Sarah sought the perfect position in her sleep and she tossed and turned I would lie unmoving, staring into the darkness, completely devastated by an aching sense of utter dissolution.

unmade-girlThis wasn’t the first time I’d had an unreciprocated crush of course, but never before had I been so possessed with want.

I had hoped that as this lustful itch was just another diseased product of my overactive imagination which I would tire off when nothing happened. I knew that given time this too would pass before fading away even from memory.

She had other plans however. She’d been waiting all along.

Is there anything more exhausting than driving without a set destination? I had no place to go but home, yet I had to do something that would delay my arrival for as long as possible without being too late or in too much of a state as to arouse suspicions. I stopped at a strip mall coffee shop. Maybe caffeine would straighten out my endlessly circling thoughts.

*

Yes, Margot had plans. At some point she had decided to include me in these plans of hers. Of course, I was totally oblivious of all this when I came across her struggling to fill the ice bin while I was completing my stock take. Being at heart an old-fashioned gentleman I offered and proceeded to shovel the ice for her. Margot (though at that point I was still unaware of her name) came out with from 1984 and so, me being the argumentative person that I am, countered that I always preferred Brave New World. She asked me why as she hadn’t read that particular book, but would make a point of keeping a look out. Eager, so very eager and so easily impressed. I made a quick mental note to tread carefully, yes sir, very carefully indeed.

But of course, I didn’t. I rushed in like I always do and without hesitation agreed to see her outside of work and after that I suppose you could say that one thing led to another but that’s not how it seemed during the moments we shared. It felt more like I had found a fellow traveller; an accomplice to guilty pleasure, a partner in grubby crime. Which made ours a gloomy affair, intensely focused on the inevitability of its dissolution and the rapidly diminishing amount of time left available to us. Even on those languid afternoons when I would kiss and caress her neck, breasts, navel, cunt and the minutes would stretch and expand into a preview of eternity I was still oppressed by the knowledge that this was going to end sooner rather than later.

I couldn’t postpone my homecoming any longer. Hopefully the coffee and the constant cigarettes would mask the taste of Margot on my breath but to be doubly careful I brought a pack of mints which I rolled around my mouth while I was caught up in the constant snarl ups.

unmade-mirror (1)Sarah was busy preparing dinner when I arrived home, enabling me to go upstairs and brush my teeth and change. When I came down she launched into a long-detailed account of her day. At the appropriate moments I would insert what I guessed where the correct comments but all the while I was re-staging my latest encounter with Margot, the sensation of satiny smoothness as my fingertips tracing intricate patterns on her inner thigh, the willowy wands of her arms outstretched over her head, the miracle of firm youthful flesh yielding against the weight of my own body, skin on skin, world without end, amen.

After dinner when we were comfortably entwined on the sofa watching TV Sarah remarked that I seemed rather distant tonight and asked me what was troubling me. I made a feeble excuse about a hard day at work which, thankfully, she didn’t ask me to elaborate on. I made sure to pay attention after that, even though I was developing a dread of the moment when we finally turned in for the night and went to bed.

I knew that Sarah was definitively in the mood by the way she took me by the hand and led me upstairs. I, however, was torn. On one hand my balls had been aching all day long after the frustrations of the afternoon and there was nothing more I longed for than to bury my prick deep inside Sarah and yet on the other I felt that such an act would be a betrayal. A double betrayal in fact. I would be betraying Margot by jumping into bed with my wife and by doing so, as a means to assuage to my lust for Margot I would be betraying Sarah.

Before, admittingly, I had derived a dubious delight in whispering in Margot’s ear full details of my latest couplings with Sarah while I stroked Margot’s slick clitoris and then to gain further devious pleasure later on when I would re-imagine the whole scene as Sarah straddled my hips with her eyes averted as I talked non-stop of touching, kissing, licking, fucking another girl while she watched until she came with a heart-rending sigh and I would shudder at her unwitting complicity. However now that Margot was leaving and there was no knowing when we would next see each other again, if ever, I felt a bizarre sense of loyalty for the girl as well as the stirrings of a probably long overdue guilt towards Sarah.

In bed Sarah made her intentions clear by sweeping her hair back and exposing her slim neck. unmade-womanHaving her neck kissed was always the prelude to sex. As my tongue and lips travelled downwards towards her shoulders I knew I could put an end to her amorousness by simply sinking my teeth into the delicate skin and bite down hard. Sarah didn’t like me to play too rough except on specially designated occasions. I couldn’t bring myself to do it however, some rogue scruple had taken hold of me and instead I suggested that we try something different.

Sarah was initially coy but soon relented when I said that it would be like the old days again when the first flush of love had led us to try everything every which way.

Propping herself up with right arm Sarah raised her body over mine, her knees either side of my closed legs, her cunt just centimetres above my erect penis. At my urging she wetted her middle finger of her left hand and placed it inside herself. Studying her closely I put my right hand on my cock and gently pulled my foreskin down and then up. Soon we were in a rhythm set by my words. When I could see that Sarah was approaching orgasm I would slow the tempo down, dragging out the climax until the tension became unbearable. Towards the end I broke my own rule and raised my left hand to her mouth. She grabbed my wrist and brought my fingers into her mouth which she proceeded to suck and nibble. I remembered from somewhere that this was a sign of orgiastic tendencies.

Afterwards as I drifted to asleep with Sarah in my arms I wondered who hadn’t heard the call of the orgy at some point or another in their lives. Liberation from the self-amidst the writhing bodies. Endless replication in a succession of mirrors. Tender, trembling virgins laid out star-wise within sacrificial circles. An abstracted conceptualization of the act in of itself, divorced from any affect. Recently I had become obsessed by the idea that I would never be really be satisfied until every conceivable act of sexual intercourse in the world had occurred; until the very idea of sex itself was spent. When that day did dawn, though, surely it would herald the apocalypse?

Lovesick and haunted by all the disappointments that attend a failed betrayal I pretend to be sick so that I could stay at home for the rest of the week.

Lying in bed desperately seeking the oblivion of sleep that managed to elude me I realized that Margot wasn’t the first girl I had treated in this fashion. In fact, it was a trait of mine not to sleep with women that I truly craved.

I had tried to forget about them but now the memories returned to taunt me, all my lost loves, those unfulfilled romances, the unmade girls.

Susannah with her depthless blue eyes, delicate ankles, translucent Nordic skin that bruised so easily and so beautifully. Nadine whispering in the taxi as I fumbled with her bra-strap that her fantasy was to be raped. Sharon and her heavy breasts, blood coloured knickers and neurotic hesitation. Rebecca who I shared a flat with for a time and always held my eye as she was being fucked by her Australian boyfriends. Elizabeth and the swish of the riding crop. Georgina, poor little rich girl Georgina at 5:15 am in her massive, empty apartment in Cromwell Gardens after a coke and vodka fuelled night, asking me to stroke her hair, but even this contact was almost too much for us in our brittle state. Brooke, but I try not to remember Brooke in case my heart breaks all over again, even after all this time. However, I cannot escape the knowledge that I have tried to suppress for a while now, that in many ways Margot bears an uncanny resemblance to Brooke; and not just in looks either.

All those girls, where have they gone, and do they think of me like I think of them? What we could have been and what have we become? So how I come I still remember them when I forgotten the girls I did sleep with? Is my nature that perverse?

Yes, it is. Deep down I always knew it, but it took Margot to bring it to the surface. She has unwittingly led me to a place within that I had no desire to explore, into a dark alley where hell is always around the corner.

No doubt her leaving has left me feeling aggrieved and bruised. Like a fluffer after she has finished getting the cast ready for the action that is commencing elsewhere, or like a pimp that has studiously groomed his girl in preparation for turning her out only to find that some bolder, badder pimp had stolen her and beaten him to the punch.

Undoubtedly, I had done my damnest to subtly corrupt her. Otherwise what was the point of all the dirty talk, libertine novels and artful erotica if not to seduce her? But what exactly had I achieved? Was her body to be a banquet and I alone denied a taste of her succulent sweetmeats?

Visions of her kept me up at night. Looking in the mirror after going to the toilet I saw that my brown eyes had gone grey in hue.

In the small hours I really started to lose it. I pictured Margot as some divine slut, the beloved whore of my heart. I could imagine her eyes closing as her mouth closed around the flaccid member of some aging professor… been spied on in the changing rooms of an upscale department store by a handsome middle aged lady store clerk…in the showers after a morning swim been soaped between the legs by a pretty baby dyke with blank doll like features…taking home smooth faced incipient queers from the student bar…on her hands and knees being ridden from behind…her fist inside the womb of a sad-eyed woman with large breasts…and most compellingly of all Margot, just Margot legs wide open with her fingers moving across the inverted triangle of hair searching for the hollow opening…the mark of rapture on her features…

After a few days I returned to work to avoid a trip to the doctor. For a while I thought about visiting Margot but decided it was a little early at my age to have a full-blown mid-life crisis. I promised to Sarah that I would help more around the house. Soon, perhaps I will re-read Crebillion fils Les Égarements du coeur Et de l’esprit.

The Principle

HUGOValentineDmarquis+de+sade[1]
Valentine Hugo-1948

I propose a motion:
To elucidate the principle
Of absolute pleasure;
You may demur and say,
Well, that it is incompatible
With the fundamental nature
Of ultimate reality,
Or at least suggest
Tabling an amendment.
But just give me a night,
To capture a moment
An imitation of eternity,
To turn you on—To turn you out:
Upside down, round and round,
Within 360 seconds
I would take you
Beyond the Seventh Heaven,
Transport you higher still
To the abyss of the Empyrean,
That realm of fire
That burns deep inside
Between your spreading thighs,
I will accept the invitation
Of your parted lips
And swollen nipples:
Then pause— —
— — just for a while,
Not longer than a series
Of hammering heartbeats,
Because I’m cruel like that
And I want to be sure,
That you want me
As much as I need you,
So that when we
Are finally indivisible,
And I have seeded you
With the light of supernovas
And the unbearable heat
Of a million blazing suns
You come —
— not with a scream
But with the softest
And most heartrending of sighs
For after such pleasures,
There will be no sequels
And no tomorrows
Of such agonising intensity.

Curvature

ernst581
Max Ernst-The Garden of France

If you aren’t already aware, my collection of 69 inter-related poems and short fictions Motion No. 69 is available for purchase in both e-book and paperback. Below is the penultimate sample, (one more tease then you are just have to buy it) read by myself.

Curvature

Just close your eyes,
and open your legs.

The curvature
of your soft, inner thigh,
leading to the downy, raw hollow
seems to me like a promise—
that the door to paradise will open up
wide enough to swallow whole
my entire being.
Do I dare to enter the void
into which I spent my life staring longingly?
Maybe if I bury myself deep enough inside you,
then a curvature will result
in the seemingly,
inexorable, forward flow of time.
And I can return again
to that place
I never wanted to leave anyway.
Floating in the protective bubble,
in the gloved darkness,
nurtured by your essence.
The curvature of my posture
recapitulates the evolution of every species
as they lose the innocence
of a blessed total symmetry—
the result of a fall of some fashion—
and all the time,
as I forget and remember,
remember and forget,
the curvature of your belly
mirrors the earth
and further still of worlds, galaxies and universes,
until you burst open with the creation
that can no longer be contained.
And I scream my discontent
at my expulsion from Eden,
until I find succour
at the curvature of your breast.

 

 

The Passionate Philosopher

LWkxBlp[1]
Man Ray-Hommage to D.A.F De Sade
Once the grave has been filled in it shall be sown over with acorns so that afterwards the ground of the said grave having been replanted and the thicket being overgrown as it was before, the traces of my tomb will disappear from the  surface of the earth, as I flatter myself that my memory will be effaced from the minds of men, except none the less from those of the small number of people who have been pleased to love me up to the last moment, and of whom I carry into the grave a most tender recollection.

Marquis De Sade-Last Will and Testament

Regardless of your opinion of the Divine Marquis, it has to be admitted that he got it spectacularly wrong in his prediction that his memory would be effaced from the minds of men. Although he certainly didn’t invent the sexual pathology that bears his name, he does hold the world trademark rights. Rarely has a writer, and a writer so rarely read, achieved such lasting notoriety far beyond the narrow confines of literature and philosophy. Sadism is an important concept in psychology, jurisprudence and is a boon to journalists, not to mention has given rise to an increasingly visible sub-culture, of which Fifty Shades of Grey is the most prominent and commercially succesful.

The pioneering sexologist Krafft-Ebing introduced the term Sadism in 1890 based on the content of his works. In many ways De Sade anticipated both Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud by placing sexual desire and sexuality as the prime, motivating factor in human behaviour, and furthermore  categorising all the possible aberrations inherent in humanity.  It was another German psychiatrist Ewan Bloch who first published The 120 Days of Sodom, De Sade’s most extreme and surely the darkest book ever to be written, in 1904, further spurring interest in his work.

Although it was the psychiatrists who brought De Sade back to public attention in the 20th century, it was the poets who venerated him as the ultimate rebel . Apollinaire proclaimed him ‘the freest spirit to have ever lived’, and in the First Manifesto of Surrealism Andre Breton noted that ‘De Sade is surrealist in sadism.’ Georges Bataille entire oeuvre is a marriage of Sade and Nietzsche. Barthes and Foucault wrote extensively (and infuriatingly) about a figure they saw as an important post-modern predecessor.

Outside of France, Henry Miller was an early champion and a number of Beats either translated his work or produced Sadean erotica for the Olympia Press. In recent years biographies have proliferated (with good reason, De Sade’s life reads better than most novels, no matter how imaginative) and Penguin Classics just issued a new translation of The 120 Days of Sodom, the original manuscript of which was recently sold for 7 million euro at auction.

The Marquis or characters from his novels has made many a cameo in movies as well. In L’Age D’or by Luis Bunuel the coda contains the blasphemous suggestion that Jesus Christ was one of the libertines of the Chateau de Silling. Bunuel would later feature a vignette of De Sade in La Voie Lactee. A sardonic De Sade is the main character of Peter Weiss’s Brechtian film Marat/Sade, while more recently  the Philip Kaufman directed Quills  re-imagines the Marquis’s time in Charenton in gothic horror fashion. And one shouldn’t forget Pasolini’s highly controversial Salo or his influence upon the pornographic and sexploitation genres, especially Jesus De Franco.

Two centuries after his death it is safe to say that De Sade isn’t going away any time soon. Whether he is viewed as the destroyer of traditional values or the apostle of radical liberty, his vision of a total, impossible freedom will continue to haunt the imagination.

(For further information concerning the Marquis De Sade and his works please refer to At the Chateau La Coste, The MomentCitizen SadeYet Another Effort and Philosophy in the Boudoir)

Dreams of Desire 65 (Ingres)

jean-auguste-dominique-ingres-the-turkish-bath[1]
The Turkish Bath-Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres 1862-1863
The French Revolution had swept away the frivolous excesses of Rococo (see Dreams of Desire 64 (Boucher’s Odalisques) and two competing tendencies dominated French during the first half of the Nineteenth Century: the wild grandiose Romanticism of Delacroix and the somber, stately Neo-Classicism best personified by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Ingres painted a number of important erotic paintings including the Valpinçon Bather of 1808, La Grande Odalisque of 1814 and L’Odalisque à l’esclave from 1839, however his most famous painting is The Turkish Bath from 1862-1863, completed when Ingres was 83 years old.

Portraying a group of nude women in a bath at a harem, The Turkish Bath is suffused with a lush hothouse atmosphere that heightens the erotic charge of the painting. Ingres erotic works would have a major impact upon the Modernists including Picasso and Matisse while the Post Modernist German artist Gerhard Richter would base his painting Bathers upon Ingres’s masterpiece.

the_valpincon_bather[1]
The Valpincon Bather-Ingres 1808
Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814[1]
La Grand Odalisque-Ingres 1814

Odalisque_with_Slave_-_Ingres
Odalisque with Slave-Ingres 1839

(Just a reminder to inform you that my book Motion No. 69 is available from November 30th 2017 from Amazon).

 

 

Edition 69

toyen_le-puits-dans-la-tour-21
Toyen-Le Puits dans la tour/Debris de reves-1967

Regular readers will be aware of the high esteem that I hold the mysterious, brilliant artist and co-founder of the Czech Surrealist Group, Toyen, through the many posts that have featured her extra-ordinary artwork. However while I have certainly noted the influence of the erotic upon her work ( notably At the Chateau La Coste), I have refrained from featuring her more explicit drawings that she produced for Edition 69 (see Dreams of Desire 34 (Emilie Comes To Me In A Dream) and throughout her career, instead concentrating on her marvellous paintings and lithographs (see The Myth of Light, Horror and The Shooting Gallery); however these erotic drawings and dry-points are exceptional in their technical execution, mastery of line (unsurpassed within the Surrealist group, with the possible exception of the supremely disquieting Hans Bellmer), visual wit and power to cause unease.

Below are some of Toyen’s illustrations for the Edition 69 series, which included Justine by the Marquis De Sade and Pybrac by that urbane decadent writer and pornographer Pierre Louys, which is without doubt the filthiest poem ever published. Also included are later dry-point illustrations from Radovan Ivsic’s Le Puit dans la tour/Derbis de reves (The Well in the tower/Debris of dreams).

Olympia Press: A Brief History of DBs

olympia[1]
Olympia-Edouard Manet 1863
On James Joyce’s 40th birthday, February 2nd 1922, the Paris based American owner of Shakespeare and Company Sylvia Beach published Joyce’s controversial novel Ulysses, excerpts of which had already been the subject of obscenity trials in the United States. It was immediately banned in both the US and the UK, a ban that was to remain in force for over a decade. However in France, where the book was printed and published, Ulysses was freely available as the French authorities had decided that they couldn’t possibly rule on the possible obscenity and artistic merits of a book in a foreign language.

Jack Kahane, born into a wealthy industrialist family of Jewish origin in Manchester, England and living in Paris with his French wife saw a business opportunity. Kahane was himself a novelist of mildly racy lightweight novels, however he had bigger ambitions and so he founded the Obelisk Press (with a suitably phallic logo).The business model was simple; he would buy out the rights of a novel that was encountering legal difficulties at a bargain basement price and then issue his own edition, with half the cover emblazoned with a BANNED IN…thus ensuring healthy sales from the prurient and/or curious travellers passing through Paris. Mixed in with the heavyweight avant-garde novels that included works by Cyril Connolly, Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin and re-issues of D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Radclyffe Hall’s early lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness were novels of a much more dubious literary pedigree, in other words pornography. Kahane’s greatest succes de scandale however was undoubtedly the publication in 1934 of Henry Miller’s  Tropic of Cancer, with its bold language and sexually explicit descriptions.

Kahane whose health was ruined by his experiences in WWI died on the day that WWII was declared. His son Maurice stayed in Paris and changed his name from the Jewish Kahane to his mother’s maiden name Girodias and took over the family business of publishing DBs (dirty books). It is not sure how he survived the war in occupied Paris, though it was probably a combination of his wily charm and his instincts as a born survivor, instincts that there were to serve him well in his eventful and strife-filled life.

After the war Girodias expanded operations of the Obelisk Press, however the publication of Henry Miller’s Sexus set off a storm of outrage in France that resulted in obscenity trials and imprisonment. Although he managed to get out of jail Girodias was bankrupt and he had to surrender control of Obelisk. This setback, however, only spurred Girodias on and soon he was launching a new venture entitled Olympia Press, so-called because of its similarity to the name of his father’s Obelisk Press and the famous Manet painting of 1863 (see above) of a courtesan whose bold stare confronts the viewer that caused such a sensation on its first showing.

After a particularly cold and difficult winter Girodias came across a group of hungry British and American expatriates writers for the literary review Merlin. He suggested that the best way for them to earn a crust was to write DBs (under preposterous pseudoymns) for his new series the Traveller’s Companion. The group included the brilliant Scottish writer and later Situationist Alexander Trocchi, John Stevenson, Iris Owens and Christopher Logue. Girodias would pay $500 upfront and a further $300 if the title was reprinted. There was no question of the author getting royalties.

Following in the tradition established by his father Girodias also published avant-garde fiction. As well as works by Henry Miller he published Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, William Burrough’s The Naked Lunch, Pauline Reage’s (pseudonym of Sadean scholar Jean Paulhan’s lover Anne Desclos) The Story of O which is undoubtedly the classic text of sado-masochism, Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s erotic romp Candy, Jean De Berg’s (a pseudoymn of Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of the founder of the nouvelle roman Alain Robbe-Grillet) The Image. The Olympia Press also commissioned the first English  translations of De Sade’ s 120 Days in Sodom and Philosophy in the Boudoir.

Unsurprisingly, given the incendiary, explicit and subversive nature of the work published and Girodias’s unfortunate habit of failing to pay his authors, resulted in numerous, ruinous legal difficulties. He was involved in protracted disputes with Nabokov, Terry Southern and the author of The Ginger Man, J.P Donleavy who eventually brought the Olympia Press after a twenty year legal battle in a supposedly closed auction. The collusion of the French, British and American authorities led to his prosecution in 1964 for publishing The Story of O that led to a year in prison, a $20,000 fine and a ban from publishing for twenty years, the most severe penalty ever imposed in France.

After a brief spell as a nightclub owner he moved operations to New York where he holed up in the Chelsea Hotel (where else) and published Valerie Solanas radical feminist pamphlet the  S.C.U.M Manifesto. Solanas became convinced that Girodias and Warhol were in a plot together to screw her out of money and on the day she shot Warhol she first appeared at the Chelsea Hotel intending to shot Girodias, but as he was out she then went in search of Warhol (this is at least Girodias’s account, however as a natural self-promoter and consummate con-man  it is not necessarily to be believed).

Girodias was 71 when he suffered a heart attack while giving an interview for Jewish Community Radio in Paris, resulting in Girodias dying on air. Although Girodias undoubtedly was a deeply flawed and somewhat unscrupulous individual, he published books no other publisher would even look at and he dared to take on the courts and the censors. Girodias, carrying on the work of his father changed the cultural landscape of the mid-twentieth century inexorably.

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Maurice Girodias (Trouble-maker, womanizer and undoubted bon vivant)

Dreams of Desire 64 (Boucher’s Odalisques)

Portrait of Marie-Louise O'Murphy-Francois Boucher 1752
Portrait of Marie-Louise O’Murphy (Blonde Odalisque)-Francois Boucher 1752

During the period when Baroque reigned supreme, overt eroticism all but disappeared from Western Art. It would take the emergence of Rococo, the florid, playful and frankly somewhat sluttish younger French sister of Baroque, to take art back into the boudoir.

Francois Boucher was one of the leading lights of Rococo and enjoyed the patronage of the prime mover of the style, Madame de Pompadour, the Official Chief Mistress of King Louis XV. As well as mythological genres scenes featuring Venus he painted two odalisques stripped of all allegorical trappings, the L’Odalisque Brune from 1745 and the L’Odalisque Blonde from 1752.

France was ongoing a vogue for the mysterious, exotic East during the Ancien Regime. Several libertine novels including Denis Diderot Les bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels) and Crebillon Fils La Sopha (The Sofa) are set in fantasy Oriental lands, partly to give full reign to the imagination but also to disguise the political satire on the luxuriant and decadent Court of Louis XV. Part of the attraction, for men anyway, were the stories of odalisques; mistresses or concubines in a harem.

Boucher’s L’Odalisque Brune from 1745 was reportedly a portrait of Madame Boucher , which led Diderot, Encyclopedist and somewhat risque writer of the above-mentioned  Les bijoux indiscrets and La Religieuse (The Nun) to state that Boucher was prostituting his wife.  L’Odalisque Blonde is a portrait of the courtesan Marie-Louise O’Murphy. King Louis XV was so taken with this painting that he arranged for Marie-Louise to become a petite maitresse (lesser mistress). At least one of her children was the King’s.

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L’Odalisque Brune-Francois Boucher 1745