December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
Barbara Rubin’s 29-minute Christmas on Earth is the filmic record of an orgy staged in a New York City apartment in 1963. This double projection of overlapping images of nude men and women clowning around and making love is one of the first sexually explicit works in the American postwar avant-garde. Today Christmas on Earth generates a small but passionate discourse in avant-garde film circles. Many consider it to be an essential document of queer and feminist cinema, though others dismiss it as the worthless effort of a naive amateur. watch
December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Yea, theyr Firmament-propping foundation shal be adequated with the Valley of Iehosaphat: whose sublimity (whiles it is in beheading) the skie shall resign
November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
Alain de Botton specialises in a kind of humdrum potted sagacity, the kind of stuff that has all the outward appearance of insight while managing to avoid saying anything at all. This mushy nothingness can take the form of pointless tautology (‘In a meritocracy, success comes to seem earnt – but failure deserved’), excerpts from the Dictionary of Twee Vacuousness (‘Magnanimity: the one who was right does not say ‘I told you so,’ the one who was wronged does not seek vengeance’), outright untruth (‘Choosing a spouse and choosing a career: the two great decisions for which society refuses to set up institutional guidance’), inspirational pap (‘Our real motivation comes from people who don’t believe in us’), and the final spluttering descent into total incoherency (‘The end logic of our relationship to computers: sincerely asking the search engine “what should I do with the rest of my life?”‘).
These nuggets are all from his inevitable Twitter account; for the really heavy froth you’ll have to turn to his books. To be fair, Alain de Botton is a man of great intellectual breadth. In his many published works he has managed to be boring about Proust, anodyne about art and architecture, tedious about travel, and spend several hundred pages completely failing to understand love, sex, and religion. Aside from the general awfulness of his writing, it’s on these last two subjects (I don’t really like Proust) that his peculiar monstrosity really shines through. In Religion for Atheists (Penguin, 2012) he tries to reconcile the virtues of religious faith with a non-belief in an objectively existing God. That’s perfectly fine; plenty of worthwhile thinkers (Bloch, Althusser, Agamben, Badiou) have tried to do the same. However, for de Botton religion is useful because it ‘teaches us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober’ and because it can help us learn ‘how to face the trials of the workplace with a modest and uncomplaining temper.’ No it’s not. Religion is fire and passion, a point of connection between humanity and the infinite, the cry of the oppressed creature, the foundation of universalism. It’s meant to be vast and terrifying and emancipatory. In the face of the vastness of the Absolute Other all human distinctions are meaningless; that’s why so many radical liberation movements have been religious in nature. What this book does is try to turn six millennia of blazing fervour into a half-baked set of minute consolations. It’s an act of hideous violence.
That’s bad enough, but How To Think More About Sex (Picador, 2012) might be the worst book ever written. It’s not too long, but de Botton manages to squeeze into its pages an entire compendium of some of the most grotesque and ungodly sexual acts ever committed. There are the infamous blood orgies of the Mughal emperors, in which the slit throat of a young harem slave was used as a lubricant; there are the thanatophilic séances of certain Theosophist sects, in which the spirits of the dead were summoned and subjected to days of sexual torture; there’s the story of the medieval Saint Quasivermus of Caenumia, who held that congress with earthworms was the only unsinful carnal activity. His book describes every possible interposition of body parts with orifices: there are toes in nostrils, the practice of ‘elbow-fucking,’ and one instance in which an entire dwarf is inserted into an anus. The whole book is awash in a queasy sea of bodily effluent – blood, vomit, bile, cum, pus, piss. Of course, none of this is in the text itself, but it’s the unvoiced content of de Botton’s continual refusal to follow his title and actually think about sex. What he does is recoil from it. For him, sex is for procreation and to stave off loneliness; it’s always a fundamentally selfish act. Most of the time it’s a case of ‘squandered human energy;’ he continually resorts to the idea of sexuality being somehow base: a vestigal, degrading, primal urge we’d all be better off without. At one point he even upholds impotence as an ‘achievement of the ethical imagination.’ None of which is necessarily objectionable – maybe we would be better off without libidinality, free to concentrate on more important things like compiling spreadsheets of sporting statistics and overthrowing capitalism – except for the fact that de Botton never actually makes any argument for this position; he just presents it as a given. He doesn’t seem to even consider the idea that sexuality might be fundamentally related to how we can conceive of ourselves as people, or even that it might actually be enjoyable.
Alain de Botton doesn’t understand sex or religion because sexual and religious experiences are fundamentally transcendental; they allow people to escape the bounds of the atomised subject. They point, however darkly, to something we can’t quite name or describe. They are experiences that are not yet completely banal, and there’s no room for that kind of thing in his watered-down gruel of a philosophy. Does Alain de Botton fuck? Of course he doesn’t. What happens is the female of the de Botton species releases her eggs in the water, and the male comes along later and fertilises them. read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Rita Lino
I just don’t like the way it appears that women are too stupid to realize “he” includes them as well
August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
Samuel Pepys, the famous womanizer and diarist, was certainly no prude. This is a man, let’s remember, who brought his telescope to church so he could enjoy “the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women” and who famously detailed his numerous extramarital affairs in a mixture of Spanish, French and Italian.
So what was the book that made even Pepys blush? It turns out to be a surprisingly modern exploration of sexuality written in the form of a dialogue between a teenage girl and her more experienced cousin…
The School of Venus punctures some common notions about pre-modern European sexuality, which is too frequently dismissed as ‘Puritanical.’ Although the book was a product of a misogynistic and male-dominated society, it is surprisingly frank about female sexual autonomy. Katy almost immediately begins wondering “why should not ones Finger yield a Wench the like pleasure” as a penis. Soon after, Frances speculates about the societal benefits that would result “if Women govern’d the world and the Church as men do.” Female multiple orgasms are referenced throughout, and there appear to be a few scattered allusions to the clitoris (referred to as “the top of the Cunt” which “stands out.”)
Some of the language in the text is also surprisingly modern, as when Frances advises her to acquire “a Fucking friend… one that will not blab” and Katy worries about how “to break the Ice” with Mr. Rogers, the friend with benefits she has in mind…
So what do we know of this book’s history? Scholars ignored texts like these throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but since the 1980s historians of sexuality and gender have engaged with The School of Venus. James Turner’s Schooling Sex argues that the book is part of a larger “educational fantasy in sexual writing” which bounds female sexuality by a “set of male-ordered ‘rules.’” Turner also uncovers the publication history of the book, which was “simultaneously prosecuted to extinction and flaunted in the most public places.” read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Viola Cangi
March 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
‘Alternative’ nude modelling site Suicide Girls gives calculated instructions on their website about the kinds of photos, make-up and aesthetic sets they accept: ‘tasteful’, ‘picture perfect’ shoots with ‘a little bit of face powder and mascara and freshly dyed hair’, but specifically not ‘cheap wig[s]’, ‘top hats’, ‘stripper shoes’, ‘food’ or things that look ‘cheesy’, ‘gross’ or ‘creepy’.
Similarly, the ‘girl next door’ look of the Australian all-female explicit adult site Abby Winters represents an alternative to glamour photography, featuring make-up-less, ‘amateur’ adult models – but models are still required to cover up hair re-growth, remove piercings, and not have any scratches, marks or mosquito bites for the shoot in order to appear ‘healthy’.
Other sites I’ve shot for speak about the importance of models representing their ‘own’ sexuality, but then go on to qualify: “We might get you to tone down the eye make up a bit”, “Maybe don’t talk about politics”, “Lesbians don’t really use double-enders do they?” One company asked me repeatedly to stop wearing frills.
In doing so, these sites produce bodies of a particular class, size and appropriate femininity, which are marketed as ‘real’, but which are equally constructed, conventionalised and cultivated. This fear of replicating ‘cheesy’, ‘predictable’ mainstream porn means that depictions of ‘real’ sexuality are often similarly clichéd, albeit with a different set of aesthetics.
In their avoidance of ‘the mainstream’ (whatever that means), ‘alternative’ porn (whether it brands itself queer, feminist or ‘erotica for women’) can sometimes replicate and reinforce what Gayle Rubin calls ‘Good, Normal, Natural, Blessed Sexuality’: the sex is vanilla, and involves only bodies (without objects or toys). Sex occurs in the home, between members of the same generation and only within couples. The scenes are soft, gentle, usually in ‘natural’ light and ‘every-day clothes’ (which in my experience means we are expected to bring Bonds underwear).
To think that this could be any more ‘real’ than mainstream porn seems strange to me, especially when it is produced in an environment that is completely staged: our movements are restricted by camera angles, someone is standing beside us operating the equipment, many of us are professionals pretending to be amateur, and in true ‘documentary’ style, we are expected to cum on cue. These kinds of websites are marketable and loveable because they refuse to define themselves as ‘porn’ – even though, as Annie Sprinkle said in the Herstory of Porn, the difference between erotica and porn “is all in the lighting!” read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Elene Usdin