I’m Waiting For You

Yves Tanguy-Je Vous Attends (I'm Waiting For You) 1934
Yves Tanguy-Je Vous Attends (I’m Waiting For You) 1934

I have always been intrigued by the bizarre landscapes of the French Surrealist Yves Tanguy, paintings that demand a creative response far beyond the standard art historical entry. With this in mind I approached the enigmatic Mia, aka Copper Cranes, one of the finest poets that I know, who constantly crafts verses that are elusive and hermetic, dense yet delicate, if she would compose a piece on the above painting, Je Vous Attends (I’m Waiting for You), that played such an important part in the personal mythology of Tanguy and his wife Kay Sage.

I am delighted that Miss Cranes not only agreed but produced such an outstanding and haunting poem as Last Call Before You Go, which is published below. My contribution to this collaboration is a brief essay on Tanguy, Sage and the concept of the chance encounter within Surrealist aesthetics.

Last Call Before You Go

Within a blinding sanguine flash
Escaping the unbridled muzzle of destiny
I find myself riding a scorching bullet,
The train of deliverance, to a place of remains:
Human cairns, les piles de vertèbres
Unrecognizable, yet familiar skinless parts
In this: historic, prehistoric, futuristic,
Post-apocalyptic landscape
With perpetual dinner parties’
Sunsetting shadows: 7 pm
All in search of the multifaceted singular you
Chasing craggy friction, smooth from tracing
A longing desire for all your bigness:
That which fills the heat of any room,
Your fanfare flames a come-hither awareness:
Clarity: the drive for scorn:
Perfection that leads me here
I sense your startling presence
Larger than life, surrounding, smothering
A gyration of hovering stillness
With its annihilating posture: verbal trysts:
Cruelty and misunderstandings:
The heaven on earth I cannot live without:
Effortless drunken brush strokes:
Wire and bullets, forever holding us together
Alas, I have found you: a gaping hole of loss
Collecting plundered eons
And inconsequential landmarks:
The keys to nothing — home to everything

The Dictates of Chance

The concept of chance was of vital importance to Surrealist aesthetics. Taking as a starting point the beautiful chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella upon an operating table of the Comte De Lautreamont and Stephane Mallarme’s enigmatic dictum that ‘a throw of the dice will never abolish chance’, the Surrealists came to believe that chance was the force necessary to change art, life and indeed transform the world.

Maybe because they were finely attuned to its workings and therefore always on the look-out for its unexpected arrival that chance encounters do seem to have played a disproportionally large role in many a Surrealist biography, especially in the life and works of the two best exemplifiers of Surrealist scorched earth strangeness, Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage.

In 1923 Yves Tanguy was an ex-Merchant Seaman from Brittany leading a rather aimless Bohemian lifestyle in Paris. One day he passed a shop window displaying a painting by Giorgio De Chirico, Le Cerveau L’Enfant (The Child’s Brain). This random, chance encounter had an electrifying, galvanising effect upon Tanguy. He there and then decided to become a painter, despite the fact that he had no formal training whatsoever. It was an inspired decision. Tanguy was possessed of a unique, singular vision that defies all explanation and would greatly influence later Surrealists (especially Dali) and the Abstract Expressionists, notably Pollack and Rothko.

Tanguy’s great contribution was to paint irreal figures that are neither animal, vegetable or mineral, in a painstaking, precise naturalistic fashion, therefore adding to the illusionism of the extra-terrestrial landscapes with their depthless horizons. He would render this strange realm that could be interpenetrated as either a collective memory of the pre-organic origins of life or as a prophecy of the distant future or maybe a mental photograph of the unconscious, obsessively throughout the rest of his career.

In 1938, the wealthy American Kay Sage, who had recently, began to pursue an artistic career after the failure of her marriage visited the International Surrealist Exhibit in Galerie Beaux-Arts. She was so taken by another one of De Chirico paintings, La Surprise,  that she brought it and it would remain in her possession until her death. Another painting she noticed and admired immensely was, ‘I’m Waiting For You’,  by Yves Tanguy. This exposure to the works of De Chirico led Sage to change her artistic direction from semi-abstraction to Surrealism. This change of direction led to a solo exhibition that Tanguy attended and he was so moved by the paintings that he decided to seek Sage out. A meeting was arranged through mutual friends, the result of a series of chance encounters that led to their marriage in 1940 in Reno, Nevada.

They moved to Woodbury, Connecticut shortly afterwards. Their marriage was by all accounts difficult and tempestuous; however Tanguy’s death in 1955 from a stroke devastated Sage. She almost completely stopped painting her own eerie, dread-filled and depopulated surreal landscapes, instead making small sculptures out of wire and bullets.

In 1963 Kay Sage left this poignant and heart-rending suicide note: “The first painting by Yves that I saw, before I knew him, was called ‘I’m waiting for you.’ I’ve come. Now he’s waiting for me again-I’m on my way.” She shot herself through the heart. Tanguy’s friend, the art dealer and brother of Henri, Pierre Matisse scattered their mixed ashes on a beach in Tanguy’s beloved Brittany.

An Illustrated Promise of Paradise

As I have been writing about birds in art, film and literature this week I am rather cheekily including my own short story A Promise of Paradise, which has been published on here before, however now including brand spanking new and rather wonderful illustrations by sueblackpenart.

If you enjoy the story, my collection Motion No. 69 will be available for sale November 30th 2017 (3:23PM GMT to be precise), fully and marvellously illustrated by T.Kiros.

A Promise of Paradise

promise of paradise header

1.

Sara was sickening for something. Every day Alex had noticed that she was a little more drawn, a little more drained. Upon awakening he saw that her pale skin was flushed with fever. He felt her forehead and nudged Sara awake.

“You’re burning up, baby,” he whispered.

“I know, I don’t feel so good,” she replied drowsily. Her breathing was a ragged gasp, sweet with distemper.

“I should really get you to a doctor,” Alex suggested.

“I don’t have a doctor down here. The only doctor I know is the family doctor back home. I have never really needed one, apart from my bout of anaemia.”

“Well I think you need one now Sara, I’m worried about you. Don’t they have to take you on as a patient if you turn up at the practice?”

“Not sure about that really. Look it isn’t that serious, just a touch of the flu. A couple of days in bed will see me right. Besides, I hate doctors, they give me the creeps. The only person I want examining me is you, Alex.”

Alex felt that Sara was deluding herself as to the extent of her illness but was relieved at the same time that she didn’t want to see a doctor. He shared her aversion to the medical profession; found their probing of orifices and suggestive personal questioning highly intrusive. He doubted if there was a career more suited to people who held a deep-seated grudge against the human race. “Well if you say so. But if it gets any worse you will have to go. And while I’m at work you need to look after yourself. Fags and fever don’t mix so now would be a good time to give up. Plus, only one drink a day, a hot whiskey before you go to bed. And certainly nothing else. Do you understand me, Miss Essein? Now don’t go making that face at me Sara.”

Sara’s grey eyes had clouded over further while she put an elegant hand over her mouth to cover a large yawn.

“Aye aye Captain,” she saluted Alex, as he rose from the bed.

“I’m serious Sara. Do you want me to be worried sick about you all day, so worried that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate?”

“Do you have to go to work today? Can’t you pull a sickie and stay home to look after me? Please, Alex, you know that we would have such fun.”

He found the cigarette pack and took two cigarettes out. He lit the first with a yellow disposal lighter and lit Sara’s from his own. He passed the cigarette over to her.

“Thanks, well, I thought I wasn’t supposed to smoke.” Sara said as she drew on the cigarette, her eyes half closing.

“Sorry, well one wouldn’t kill you I suppose. You know I can’t take off; things are dicey enough at the moment without going AWOL. I promise I will call as soon as I get a chance. Please don’t pout baby. How about I make you a nice cup of tea and a bit of toast before I leave?”

“Honestly Alex I don’t know why you bother. You’re far too intelligent to be doing that job and be taking orders from that pig Wilkinson. It’s not like they pay you that well either.”

“You know I can’t stand it Sara but it’s only for the time being. As soon as something better comes along I’m on it. In the meantime, we have to have money coming in, don’t we?”

“You worry too much about money. You know my father would be more than happy to contribute to his little girl’s well-being.”

“I don’t want to go down that route Sara. I know I that I have never had any money, but I also have my pride to think of. I look after my own.”

“Does your precious pride mean that you have to neglect me, when I’m so sick? Fine, just go on to your job then,” with those words Sarah buried her face into the pillow.

“Do you want that tea and toast before I go?”

Sara lifted her face up for the pillow. “If it will ease your conscience, certainly.”

*

Out on street, though, Alex started to fret. Already he was missing her. He hated not having Sara in his sights. He felt at a loss and incomplete.

Although he had left only five minutes ago he felt a sickening nostalgia for the airless atmosphere of their bedroom.

I really must concentrate, he thought. You can’t live on love alone; you have to earn your crust, contribute to society, so they’ll leave you in relative peace; be a worker bee, a drone.

The train was overflowing as usual and Alex found himself squashed between an old African lady and an attractive pony tailed blonde who bore a passing resemblance to Sara. The old anxiety descended upon Alex, his mind overwhelmed by the undisclosed contents of all these other personalities with no relationship to himself. What, exactly, was the Sara clone thinking right now? Did she feel that her undoubted looks set her on a level above the nobodies surrounding her, who could only gawp and gape? Or maybe she was just thinking about her lunch hour. And the old biddy who was disintegrating as she rocked back and forth in her much-prized seat; was she remembering the time when she was young and pretty and had no knowledge of the inevitable decay and dissolution that faced her?

These projected imaginings of other people’s thoughts temporarily coloured the terrifying blankness of Alex’s mind but quickly became draining. What would they say if they saw into his own internal landscape? Would they see only an empty world with a cloudless blue sky; a place as vacuous as an award-winning ultra-modernistic glass office block? Or are other people simply too self-absorbed to concern themselves with the unanswerable enigma of other people?

His thoughts quickly returned to Sara; these days they never strayed far for long. A vague premonition (aren’t they always vague, but no less disturbing for that?) that her illness was far more serious than either of them suspected haunted his mind. It wasn’t just a cold or flu or some other common or garden ailment. It was something else, some other illness. Exactly what, he had no idea, however he knew, just knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had to return home straight away. The hotel would just have to carry on without him today. Wilkinson wouldn’t be happy, but he felt sure that he could talk him around in time.

At the next stop Alex got off but instead of going over to the opposite station that would take him back towards home Alex heading towards the station exit. Maybe a spot of fresh air would do him good; make things appear in a clearer light. He went to a café and ordered a cup of coffee and sitting outside at a patio table smoked two cigarettes end to end. Perhaps he was exaggerating Sara’s condition. It wouldn’t be the first time that his imagination had run away with him. At school every teacher had seen fit to comment on his over active imagination. This time, though, he felt that his instincts were right. He stubbed out his third cigarette half way though and returned to the station and caught the train home. Before returning he stopped by the supermarket and stocked up on essentials, mainly drink as they had been going though their supplies rather rapidly lately.

As he opened his building’s door and walked through the lobby with its dulled chessboard marbling, he dimly realised that now that he was home again that there would be no going back from here on out.

*

Sara was dead to the world; the bedclothes had been kicked restlessly to the floor. Alex unpacked the groceries, poured himself a stiff drink as there was nowhere he now needed to be today and sat down in the decrepit bedroom chair. He always enjoyed watching Sara sleep. Her guard was down, and her vulnerability was on view. The childish habit of sucking her thumb explained her slight overbite which he found so endearing. Her shallow breathing highlighted her ribcage. Alex could count the ribs; usually he got to eight but lately with the illness the flesh had melted off her already slender frame so now ten ribs on either side were exposed.

The telephone started ringing from their small living room and Alex tensed.

He was certain that it was Wilkinson calling about his absence; however, he was in no mood to talk to Wilkinson, so he let the machine get it. He was more concerned that the ringing would wake up Sara who quite obviously needed her rest. After the third call he disconnected the cord from the wall.

He would plug it back in tomorrow.

With the silence in the flat Alex had been about to nod off in the chair when Sara cried out and sat bolt upright in bed. Alex noticed her confusion as she looked around the room and noticed that he was there.

“Alex, you’re here. What time is it?”

“I don’t know, about one I think.”

“How come you are back home Alex, what happened to work?”

“Didn’t go. You were right; they can do without me for a day or two. I couldn’t leave my darling all alone when she’s sick could I? Even though you don’t seem that happy to see me.”

“I’m so happy to see you Alex. I was so miserable when you left this morning. It’s just that I had the most horrible dream,” she shivered at the memory.

Alex went over to the bed and after gathering a sheet from the floor wrapped it around Sara’s naked shoulder and pressed her close.

“Look at you, you are shivering. It’s OK baby, I’m here, I’m here.”

“It was so awful Alex. I’m so glad that you came home. It’s terrible to have a nightmare in the middle of the day. I know other people’s dreams don’t make any sense but if I tell you it might make it go away.

“I was walking on a deserted platform of an underground station. I was wearing my grey winter coat; you know the one, the one with a patterned lining.”

Alex nodded.

“Well it was stiflingly hot down there, especially with my coat, so I sat down at one of the benches. The indicator was down as usual. The tunnels kept zooming in and out before shutting up like a telescope. The only other living thing on the platform was a beautiful white dove. Its whiteness was so pure compared to the dingy yellow of the walls and the impenetrable blackness of the tunnels. I felt that if I could follow the dove to where it had come from that I would find a wonderful place without pain or sickness or fear. That dove was like a promise of paradise.

“I waited for a long time and nothing happened. No other passengers, and no train came, and the dove remained perched on one of the other benches, motionless.

“Coming from nowhere Alice sat down next to me. She looked different, she had gone all gothicky. She was wearing all black, her hair was dyed black and she wore thigh highs. What with the bright red lipstick and nail polish and her pale skin the effect was rather striking. She looked like a vampire dominatrix. Well you know what Alice is like.”

Alex did indeed know Alice was like and hated her for it. It wounded him that Sara was dreaming of that bitch.

“Daaarling, my god it has been a long time no see. Have you been avoiding me,” Sara continued, mimicking perfectly Alice’s plum posh accent. “I didn’t know what to say; after all I have been avoiding her somewhat, so I said that of course I haven’t, just been busy with one thing and another.

“Alice forgives you, this time and this time only. You are lucky I’m so sweet-natured. It is fantastic to see you again, even if I had to go to such extraordinary lengths to get even just a peek at you again.”

“This seemed a strange thing to say but I put it out of my mind.

“Are you heading up West, Alice? When is the train coming? I feel like I have been waiting forever.”

“No Sara, I’m going nowhere but here. Don’t you know where we are?”

“At the train station,” I answered.

“Yes Sara, the station where the train never stops. Not ever, ever, ever…”

“As Alice was speaking I noticed red bumps appear above her right eyebrow. Soon they joined together and formed an ugly-looking blotch. Alice did not seem aware of anything, just went on talking but I wondered how she could be unaware of such painful seeming hives. She was gesticulating wildly, the heavy silver bracelets flailing. At this point the dove flew over and perched on Alice’s left shoulder. Alice paid the bird no notice even when it started pecking at her temple. Soon her forehead was nothing more than a bloody gash as the dove kept on pecking. With impeccable timing the dove’s beak pierced a twitching vein causing a shower of blood to drench my coat and face, I wanted to scream but couldn’t. How could Alice remain so composed, she hadn’t missed a beat, when all this was happening?

The face consuming splotch had reached her cheeks. Hesitantly, almost tenderly the dove drove its beak into Alice’s left eye. It plucked out the eyeball and swallowed before proceeding to do the same to the right eye. Its purpose served the dove flew away lazily, its blood-stained plumage shimmering exotically. I wanted to escape but the sight of Alice’s face, which was now completely red, competing rash and blood stains with accents of smeared lipstick, not to mention the horror of absent eyes paralyzed me.

promise of paradise sarah

“But this was too much.” She had grabbed hold of my wrists and she leans towards me with her tongue, which resembled a piece of under cooked veal, protruding obscenely from hemorrhaging lips.

“We were rocketing above the city now, thousands of streets and millions of people streaming beneath our feet. I just wanted my feet back down on the ground but Alice’s grip on my wrists was so tight that little crescents of blood had formed beneath her fingernails and there was no avoiding that devouring mouth no matter how I twisted and turned, except to fall…

“At that I woke up, Thank God, and found you here.”

After Sara had finished Alex was silent. She obviously needed to be comforted after such a nightmare, but he couldn’t think of anything to say that would assuage her terror. He kissed her softly on the forehead.

“What do you think it means?” she asked hopefully.

“Nothing Sara, it’s just a dream. You’re ill and you have a fever. Fever dreams are often particular vivid. It’s only a dream and nothing more. Anyway, you have nothing to worry about now. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

II.

A Promise of Paradise Salon

After a sleepless night Alex stirred from bed to call Wilkinson to tell him that he wouldn’t be back at work for a couple of days. He remembered pulling the cord out from the wall but couldn’t recall cutting it. It had been completely severed. Obviously calling was out of the question, he would have to walk three blocks to the nearest phone box and it would probably be vandalised anyway. He could ask the neighbours, but he had never met them, so he presumed his request would be met only with blank stares. Oh well he thought that’s that job gone then. They would be OK for money for a little while, they probably had enough in the bank to cover the rent and bills for two maybe three months. As for being without a phone, Alex was actually quite relieved. Who did they need to speak to apart from themselves? Not Alice or Wilkinson or her father or his mother certainly. Sara must feel the same otherwise she would not have cut the cord. At last they would be alone together without any outside distractions.

Although Sara’s worsening condition was a cause of considerable concern for Alex in the following days he secretly welcomed it for several reasons, though not without guilt. For now, Sara had real need of him in her weakened state and relied upon him for everything. He cooked all her meals and administrated her medicine. He dressed and bathed her. This coolly perfect woman was totally dependent upon him and he in turn was her willing servant, slavishly satisfying even her most bizarre whims. The second reason was the sex. The fever had unlocked something inside Sara and now she made love vociferously, urgently. Their previous kisses and embraces seemed polite, formal; almost abstract in contrast to the intensely wanton caresses Sara now lavished on Alex. Never had Alex known such rapture. Every passing day and night confirmed Alex’s initial revelation upon first seeing Sara; that he had to possess her totally, whatever the cost. As she gazed down upon him, smiling her slightly asymmetrical smile, the one flaw that in the manner of a baroque painting made her perfection unique he knew that there was nothing he wouldn’t do to keep hold of her. Alex wanted Sara to stay down here with him forever.

It was inevitable really that Alex would succumb to the sickness in time, given that she never left his side or that his body had absorbed all her secretions. Every salty drop of her blood, sweat and tears.

A Promise of Paradise Illness

The sickness started with the world dividing itself into a complicated grid except for the centre which was a black and white tunnel. The peripheral pattern consisted of various nauseating clashes of neon primary colours. To escape the electric disturbances of the periphery he descended down the tunnel. Alex’s head exploded with the pain. Every sense impression was an infernal torture. He didn’t move for two days. Then the fever began. Alternating periods of equatorial heat and arctic chill. Nightmare ridden delirium or a disturbing lucidity. Pre-occupied as Alex was with his own condition, he could hardly fail to notice that Sara was rapidly deteriorating. She would spend hours in the bathroom eking out the last strand of bile from her shrinking stomach. An angry rash had appeared on her left arm constantly screaming to be scratched. Laying his head on her breast and listening to Sara’s heartbeat he had detected a definite arrhythmia. With these proliferating symptoms and his own sickness Alex knew that they had to see a doctor but the thought of venturing outside the flat brought on severe panic attacks that resulted in spells of hysterical blindness. In his mind their mutual illness was forging a bond that could never be broken. Soon he wouldn’t be able to tell where he began and Sara ended.

Diurnal time had ceased. The heavy blackout curtains cut out all light, so it was neither night nor day just an unceasing now. Time without season, without reason or rhythm, in retreat they made their own weather. Their disintegration was reflected in their surroundings. The kitchen roof sagged with the rain. Sections of the support beams in the bedroom ceiling were exposed as parts of the panelling fell. The sinks drained on some glacial time scale; a millimetre every millennium. The toilet had to be constantly plunged. Bags of rubbish were strewn around the kitchen floor. Every inch of counter space was covered with haphazardly stacked dirty dishes and glasses in constant danger of toppling. Even the television had turned a strange shade of blue, a cause of paranoid consternation. Alex became convinced that it was leaking radiation, which resulted in mutations to their basic genetic structure which was the cause for their various afflictions. However, no improvement was apparent after Alex had kicked the screen in. Most seriously of all they were almost out of food; even taking into account their decreased appetites Alex knew their supply could not hold out for much longer. Sooner rather than later something would have to give, one way or another.

III.

“Can’t you sleep either?” Sara asked.

“No, yet I am so tired. I haven’t slept for ages,” Alex replied.

“It’s this itchiness with me, God I just wish I could scratch this arm.”

“Don’t Sara. You don’t want scars all over your arm, do you? And it will cause it to spread.”

“I know. It’s just really hard not to. Why can’t you sleep?”

“Well, apart from feeling absolutely awful, I’m afraid to go to sleep. I keep having this nightmare about my father.”

“But you never knew your father Alex. Didn’t he die when you were a baby?”

“Yes, when I was nine months old. I often wondered about that coincidence. Officially the verdict was misadventure, but my mother told me that it was definitely a suicide.

“In the dream I am at my old house, my mother and step father have since moved. For some reason, although I am my current age I am wearing my school uniform, short trousers and a blue blazer with a stag’s head crest.

“On the dining room table is laid an open coffin. Inside is my father, although I have no recollection of his appearance I recognize the body from the one photo my mother kept. Though it is his funereal my father is not dead. However, I seem to be the only one to notice the fact. Nobody else is paying attention to the wide-open eyes roving back and forth. All my relatives and the other guests are too busy enjoying the champagne and the food served on trays by the exotic waiting staff.

A Promise of Paradise Dream 1

“Somebody passed by and told me a joke. I was already quite drunk and found the joke so funny that soon I was coughing. I coughed so hard that I coughed up some phlegm that landed on my father’s face. He glared at me through narrow eye slits. At first there was silence but then somebody started clapping and soon there were raucous cheers. My grandfather summoned a waiter to bring me a bottle of whiskey.

“In great spirits I went outside to the back garden with grandfather. From somewhere my grandfather had got hold of a double-barrelled shotgun and proceeded, with unerring accuracy, to despatch every bird in sight. He collared his son Chris to act as retriever, who on all fours would go lolloping across the suburban gardens and over fences to pick up the carcasses in his mouth and bring them back to deposit them at his father’s feet. Soon there was a hastily constructed pyramid of slaughtered pigeons, starlings, swallows, tits, orioles, pheasants, thrushes, grouse, peacocks, eagles, guinea fowl, sparrows, ravens, albatrosses, a dove, vultures and birds of paradise. When Chris placed a dodo on top of the heap it collapsed and entombed my grandfather.

“Back inside all decorum had been lost. Guilty as I felt about unleashing such fury against the defenceless remains of my father I could understand how the sheer helplessness of the corpse provoked everyone to commit further outrages. My mother tried to pull off their wedding ring, but it was struck fast. Next, she tried to lubricate the ring by sucking on her dead husband’s finger, but it still wouldn’t budge. I suggested cutting the finger off, after all what use did my dead dad have for it? Somebody went into the kitchen to get the knife.

“Even my stepfather, usually so gentle and placid, was affected by the atmosphere, stubbing out his cigarette in a pool of spit on my father’s cheek. The cigarette sizzled as it slowly extinguished, filling the air with an acrid smell of burnt, embalmed flesh.

“The revellers, for that is what they were really, were now engaging in the kind of senseless atrocities that marked the latter days of the Borgias. I would have been loath to witness such acts if I hadn’t somehow instigated them.

“This question haunts me though. I keep on thinking throughout that my father would have been better off dead. All the time, better off dead.”

*

When Alex saw Sara leaving he was afraid that their protective magic circle had been broken and that all the denizens of the lower depths would be let loose.

He had been too exhausted to stop her. As she packed her backpack and told him that there was a world outside these four walls, that she missed her family and friends, that she was better now, he had done nothing but lick his dry lips. He wasn’t sure if she was really preparing to depart or if it was just another hallucination. He was becoming increasingly prone to visions whose vividness made him question what was really happening anymore.

It was only after the front door had closed that he realised that she had really gone. Sara would return he reassured himself. She was far too ill not too. She had convinced herself that the illness was abating and that she was on the mend, but Alex knew that it was all wishful thinking, merely a brief respite.

Sara would return, but in the meantime Alex was tormented with jealously. He imagined her in increasingly perverse situations with a wide selection of men and women stroking and fondling her yielding flesh. Try as he might he couldn’t stop thinking of Sara in a variety of obscene postures. Her body was a banquet which the whole world feasting on; he alone was denied a taste of her succulent sweetmeats.

Most of all the image of Alice plagued Alex. Sara greeting Alice with arms wide open, their lips meeting and merging, fluttering tongues probing. He’d always known what Alice was after. He pictured her whispering in Sara’s ear; stroking her long blonde hair to reveal the exquisite swan neck before kissing and then sinking her teeth into the snow-white skin, drawing blood.

Alex realised this was the quickest route to insanity. Sara had only been gone an hour, what if she never came back? Then he would have to find her. Of course, it would be better if she returned of her own volition but if not then he would have to bring her back. How long could he wait before he ventured out onto the streets? Not long but he decided to give her a while yet. In the meantime, he had to do something. What exactly? He paced around the flat going from room to room. In the bathroom he searched the medicine cabinet which was still well stocked considering the number of pills they had been taking. He found a bottle of sleepers but rejected them as he wanted to be wide awake when Sara returned so chose instead some uppers. Closing the cabinet door, he caught his reflection. Alex had to admit that he looked dreadful. Unshaven with sunken eyes entrenched beneath the violet and purple circles. Before the sickness Sara had always shaved him with his old-fashioned cutthroat razor, the only possession that had been passed down to him from his father. He enjoyed the feeling of powerlessness that being shaved by Sara with a wickedly sharp razor blade brought. A moment’s distraction, a slip of the wrist and he could end up with a nasty cut at the very least.

*

He heard the key turn in the door and Alex forced himself to remain calm. She had come back of her own accord. But what if she was just returning to collect the rest of her belongings?

One look at her face as she entered the bedroom and Alex knew that he didn’t have to worry. Her shattered expression and the wan little smile that played upon her lips told Alex that Sara would never leave again.

He went over and gently embraced her. She rested her shoulder in the bony hollow of his shoulder. He stroked her hair while she cried.

“There there my love, don’t worry, you’re home now. No need to cry, you’re with daddy now.”

“Do you forgive me Alex?”

“Nothing to forgive my darling. You are back now, that’s all that matters. I wouldn’t let anything, or anybody ever hurt you again. I promise. You believe me, don’t you?”

“Of course, Alex. I will never leave you again. It was so strange out there, all the people rushing around and the noise and all the traffic. What’s it all for? I don’t think I could ever begin to understand. There must be something wrong with me; other people seem to get on just fine. What’s wrong with me Alex?” Sara had composed herself somewhat and looked into Alex’s eyes beseechingly.

“There is nothing wrong with you Sara. If there was something wrong with you then that would mean that I am messed up as well, because I feel the same. It’s just that we are not of this world, we feel things differently. There is nothing for it, Sara, we are what we are, and the world just is, and nothing will ever change.”

“I feel so sick. I thought I was getting better, but I feel worse than ever. Are we ever going to feel well again?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we left it too late. Perhaps it will pass in time. I doubt it though.”

“So, what do we do now, Alex? I want to be with you forever but where do we go from here?”

Alex looked at Sara. Soon she would realise the inevitable.

“We could go travelling. I have always wanted to see Rio and we could go gambling in Vegas. I hear Hong Kong is wonderful. Wouldn’t that be lovely Alex? A change of scenery might make us feel better” Sara said hopefully.

“Of course we could Sara, but in the end it would only disappoint. We have already been there many times in our dreams and the reality will pale in comparison. At first it would be exciting and new but after a while every place becomes the same, just another hostile environment full of strangers. No amount of sunshine is going to cure us. The sickness is inside us. Besides wherever we are in the world we would still be ourselves. I suppose we could always get married.”

“Oh Alex, I want to be with you but not like that. Could you bear to see me aging: losing my looks, so that you have to take to drink, both of us numb and insensible to the point of stupidity. Our eyes dimming and the fire inside us quenched. No thank you. You have to come up with a better solution than that.”

“We could go our separate ways after all, but would it really be the same with someone else Sara?”

“No, I could never pretend that it would be Alex.”

“There is nothing else for it then, is there?”

“Just like we discussed that one time”

“Exactly like.”

“When?” Sara asked.

“Soon. Tonight,” Alex replied.

“Let’s push out the boat first, O.K., I am so exhausted, I don’t think I have the energy without something to keep me going.”

“Of course, a little artificial stimulus never hurts.” Alex went to the bathroom and ransacked the medicine cabinet. He selected a handful of violet pills which he hoped would be conducive to the mood and returned to the bedroom where Sara ate the pills from his hand. He swallowed the rest and they settled down to wait.

“How long now do you think?”

“Not long now. Don’t worry; just enjoy.”

passion

The hours rushed by. The moment came, and they knew. They rose at the same time and kissed before walking hand in hand to the bathroom.

Sara ran the water for a bath while Alex got out from the cabinet his shaving kit. Then he positioned the rickety chair so that he could see his face in the mirror. When the bath was full Sara took off her clothes. She mixed up the shaving soap and with the horsehair brush applied the lather to Alex’s face and neck.

“You remember what I told you don’t you Sara”

“Yes, always downwards never crossways.”

“That’s right. Don’t be scared, everything’s going to be alright” Sara hesitated. “Why do I have to wait? Couldn’t I go first?”

“Believe me it has to be this way. I couldn’t bear to be alone without you ever again. Before I met you, I was alone for my entire life. You already tortured me with your absence once today. I can’t be alone. Besides I don’t have your courage. Trust me, it won’t take long, and we will be together again soon.”

Sara nodded. She started shaving Alex’s cheeks. He watched her beautiful face in the mirror studying his face. Soon he was clean-shaven. Sara paused. He took her hand which held the razor and pressed it against the skin of his throat. This was the moment of truth. He was surprised to see himself sweating. He nodded upwards towards Sara and held her hand as she moved the blade. The razor blade broke the skin and the blood started flowing as Sara cut across his throat, going deeper. Alex willed himself to not utter a sound as the pain became unbearable. He saw that Sara’s face was tear-stained as she continued to slice with the blade. Before long she succeeded in severing an artery. He heard her cry out. Before losing consciousness, he saw Sara step into the steaming bath, the razorblade encrusted with blood poised ready in her left hand.

Mishima: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters-Kyoto 's House-Paul Schrader 1985
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters-Kyoto ‘s House-Paul Schrader 1985

While watching Paul Schrader’s excellent, and underrated biopic of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,  I was struck by how contemporary and up to date a figure Mishima seems, in fact far more relevant today than when the movie was first released.  Of course certain individuals tend to be ahead of their time, however, as Mishima was a narcissistic nihilist who espoused a highly individualistic form of extreme right-wing nationalism for the most dubious of reasons, this is more of a reflection on the perilous state of current affairs than an inspirational story of a heroic touch bearer from the past lighting the path to a better world for present and future generations. Regardless of this disturbing fact, Mishima remains one of the better of the twentieth century’s right-wing writers (not exactly a crowded field, but still) with a lucid self awareness, fanatical determination and fatalistic steeliness that warrants a closer look through the glass, however darkly.

A sickly and isolated child who wasn’t permitted by his grandmother to play with other boys or even go outside in the sunlight, Mishima became aware of his sado-masochistic and homosexual tendencies at an early age while leafing through a book and discovering a reproduction of a Renaissance painting of St Sebastian. In his first, breakthrough novel Confessions of a Mask, Mishima describes the occasion for his first orgasm in decadent prose,’The arrows have eaten into the tense, fragrant, youthful flesh, and are about to consume his body from within with flames of supreme agony and ecstasy,’ and he would later pose as St Sebastian for a photograph, one of a series of aggressively stylised portraits published in the book Torture By Roses.

This strain of theatrical narcissism and exhibitionism that Mishima displayed time and time again shows a profound lack of a core identity. He would pose as St Sebastian, a yakuza gangster, a bodybuilder, a samurai and as a soldier. Particularly as a soldier. Along with this addiction to his own image adopting various roles, he obsessively cultivated a cult of the body. One of the requirements placed for his arranged marriage was that his wife couldn’t encroach on the time he spent either writing or body-building.

Along with the inherent masochism required to achieve the perfect body, body-building enabled Mishima to indulge his fixations on virility, health and purity, but also conversely on their opposites, sterility, decay and perversion. In a particularly convoluted example of self-loathing (a speciality of his, and one that he undoubtedly derived a perverse pleasure from) Mishima adopted a fierce anti-intellectualism but which was defended purely on intellectual grounds.

Given Mishima’s inveterate ability to aestheticize every facet or experience in his life, not only experiences that are typically aestheticised like art and the body, but also action, violence and death itself, perhaps it is no surprise that Mishima adopted fascism* as his ideology. After all, as Walter Benjamin shrewdly noted, one of the hallmarks of fascism is that it is the aestheticization of politics. It’s theatricality, militarism and not so coded homo-eroticism and rituals of dominance and submission seem tailor-made for Mishima, with the added bonuses that its nihilistic emphasis on ‘blood, fire and the night’ gave him the opportunity to write the perfect ending to his life, achieving his desired aim of writing a line of poetry with a splash of blood.

During the last years of his life Mishima became increasingly pre-occupied with politics. He published essays about fascism, wrote a play called My Friend Hitler and founded a private militia called Takenokai (English: Shield Society-or the SS-as Mishima was fluent in both English and German the coincidence doesn’t seem so coincidental) comprised entirely of handsome university students, with the express purpose of defending the abstract ideal of the Emperor’s dignity. Mishima increasingly desired to be seen as a man of action, noting that both Lord Byron and the Italian decadent writer and one of acknowledged originators of Fascism, Gabriele D’Annunzio had both commanded their own private armies.

Mishima is most famous for his spectacular suicide in 1970 by seppuku after the failed coup d’etat,, which Schrader rightly centres his movie around. This act was the culmination of Mishima’s solipsistic vision; a fusion of life, art and action and a expression of fascistic aesthetics: Mishima’s Gesamtkunstwerk.

When this movie was first released, fascism seemed spent as a living force, rightly confided to the trash heap of history. Subsequent events have proved how wrong this assumption is with virulent nationalist movements sweeping across the world. Although Mishima nationalism was a somewhat idiosyncratic affair, it does highlight certain aspects of fascist aesthetics and  the appeal it may possibly possess beyond the merely economic factors that are always tepidly cited as its chief cause of its spread.

Fascism is a purely reactionary force, and is best viewed in the light of everything it opposes and seeks to cure; namely modernity. Tradition is seen as a bastion of lost greatness, with gender roles set in stone, rigid conformity and static hierarchy. With its cult of the strongman who personifies the state, its staged presentation of might and the quasi-mystical emphasis on symbolic talismans (the flag, uniforms, anthem, rallies and parades) fascism is in itself a decadent response to decadence and in a certain respect the very essence of the modernity that it rejects so vehemently.

*  I use the term fascism with caution. Please note that in the above article I am not labelling Mishima a fascist in the lazy pejorative sense, of say, a leftist from the 80’s towards anyone who was slightly centre-right, or indeed present day hard right apologists who indulge in verbal gymnastics by claiming  that it is, in fact the liberals who are the actual fascists; but in the sense that fascism is understood as a term in classical political philosophy.

Chance Encounters 1

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Oscar Dominguez-Maquina de coser electro-sexual
Spain produced some of the finest surrealist visual artists, all of whom gravitated to Paris in the twenties. Picasso, although assiduously courted by Andre Breton was never officially part of the movement, however he remained a sympathetic fellow traveller, contributing to Surrealist periodicals and drawing inspiration from Surrealist techniques. Other heavyweights more directly involved were Joan Miro, an important innovator in pictorial automatism; the Surrealist film-maker par excellence Luis Bunuel, and of course the most outrageous Surrealist of them, Salvador Dali. Continue reading