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Posts Tagged ‘sex’

Miniature Books by the Brontës, and Other News

July 3, 2014 | by

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Stephanie Mitchell / Harvard University, via the Los Angeles Times.

  • When Charlotte Brontë was thirteen and her brother, Branwell, was twelve, they designed and wrote a series of tiny books: “Measuring less than one inch by two inches, the books were made from scraps of paper and constructed by hand. Despite their diminutive size, the books contained big adventures, written in ink in careful script.”
  • Charles Simic is addicted to soccer, though in his youth he wasn’t very good at playing it: “My grandmother once came to watch me play and when she got home told my mother: ‘All the other kids were running around nicely and kicking the ball, except your son, who kept jumping up and down and flailing his arms.’”
  • Later this month, the Guggenheim will host “ANTI-PASTA: A Dinner Inspired by Italian Futurism,” which observes the tenets set forth in Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine.” “Be rid of pasta, that idiotic gastronomic fetish of the Italians,” Marinetti wrote, enumerating eleven requirements for an ideal meal, including “harmony between table setting and food, the invention of food sculptures, and the use of scents, poetry, and music, as well as scientific instruments during preparation.”
  • This may not be a cause for pride, but we’re proud of it nevertheless: two of the books in this “Weird Sex” roundup are by recent Paris Review interviewees Nicholson Baker and Samuel Delany. (On House of Holes: “Amid the bathetic histrionics, Holes asserts a striking degree of tender, if debauched, humanity.”)
  • New York has subways and buses, ferries and trams, but it also has dollar vans, a form of “shadow transit” operating “mostly in peripheral, low-income neighborhoods that contain large immigrant communities and lack robust public transit.”

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Mad with Desire (Kind Of)

June 24, 2014 | by

The peculiarly virginal hero of Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso.

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From Gustave Doré’s illustrated Orlando furioso.

Love stories center on a problem—two people love each other, or one person loves another, and how are they going to get together? Sex is part of the solution, or usually is. There are, in literature, those strange cases where it isn’t.

In the literature of antiquity, sex is almost a last resort for the expression of love, and it seldom ends well. It’s the classic pitfall of the Old Testament. The transformations that compose the Metamorphoses are often brought about by sexual peril: Daphne turns into a tree to avoid having sex with Apollo. Syrinx turns into marsh reeds to escape pursuit by Pan. Io is turned into a cow as a bizarre result of having been raped by Zeus. Actaeon, the hunter, is famously turned into one of the very stags he hunts as punishment for seeing Diana naked, and is torn apart by his own dogs. The beautiful youth Hermaphroditus is so repulsed by the idea of erotic contact with a female nymph; she, obsessed, tries to take him by force. She wraps herself around him as he fights her off and prays to the gods to join them as one. And so one they become: a single two-sexed being.

In the realm of myth, sex is transformation, metaphor. Later on, in Arthurian and Carolingian romances, it is the concept of virginity that transforms—and not women’s virginity, but men’s. For the knights of Arthur’s Round Table, undistracted by any real political conflict during the reign of peace, the pursuit of God in grail form is the definitive test of purity. Only the virginal knight Galahad can see the Holy Grail, because of his virginity. “I never felt the kiss of love, / Nor maiden’s hand in mine,” Tennyson has him admit.

Galahad finds his Carolingian counterpart in Orlando, the idealistic, probably virginal hero in the Matter of France. The fifteenth century’s Orlando furioso (and its less-read predecessor, Orlando innamorato) revolves around the physical manifestation of Arthurian religious idealism: the religious wars between the Christian and Islamic worlds. Both stories concern Orlando’s doomed pursuit of the seemingly nondenominational Angelica, a woman whose sexuality is so potent that to escape pursuit by nearly everyone she meets, she must turn invisible by the use of a magic ring not unlike Tolkien’s. She is much closer to the template Ovid lays out in Metamorphoses, the stalked female relying on bodily transformation to escape abuse, though she is, ostensibly, the villain of the tale.

The Orlando cycle may be, in fact, the epic text most densely populated with imperiled virgins since the Metamorphoses itself. Read More »

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“Aestheticized Loot,” and Other News

June 20, 2014 | by

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“Six different artists made these paintings.” Photo via Vulture

  • An excerpt from Marilynne Robinson’s next novel, Lila.
  • Discovered: twenty unpublished poems by Neruda.
  • As video games move from amusements to art, game designers should be increasingly concerned with presenting moral dilemmas in their games … Rather than having choices presented ‘as either/or, good/bad binaries with relatively predictable outcomes,’ games should strive to present ‘no clear narrative-or-system-driven indication as to what choice to make.’”
  • The photographer Eilon Paz has released Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, featuring pictures of, yes, record collectors and their daunting collections. Among the specialists: a guy who only collects The White Album; a guy who only collects Sesame Street records; the Guinness World Record holder (no pun intended) for largest collection of colored vinyl.
  • “A large swath of the art being made today is being driven by the market, and specifically by not very sophisticated speculator-collectors who prey on their wealthy friends and their friends’ wealthy friends, getting them to buy the same look-­alike art … It’s colloquially been called Modest Abstraction, Neo-Modernism, M.F.A. Abstraction, and Crapstraction. (The gendered variants are Chickstraction and Dickstraction.) Rhonda Lieberman gets to the point with ‘Art of the One Percent’ and ‘aestheticized loot.’ I like Dropcloth Abstraction, and especially the term coined by the artist-critic Walter Robinson: Zombie Formalism.”
  • Among the World Cup’s rules and regs: sex laws. Some teams are banned from pregame intercourse; others are only barred from certain forms of it. E.g.: “France (you can have sex but not all night), Brazil (you can have sex, but not ‘acrobatic’ sex), Costa Rica (can’t have sex until the second round) and Nigeria (can sleep with wives but not girlfriends).”

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The Physiology of Marriage

May 20, 2014 | by

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This man could save your marriage—or ruin it. A portrait of Balzac, based on an 1842 daguerreotype

It’s Honoré de Balzac’s birthday, making this as good an occasion as any to investigate one of his stranger works, 1829’s The Physiology of Marriage—an extraordinary kind of precursor to the self-help manual. Balzac was thirty when it was published, and already he felt he knew enough about the institution of marriage to advise others on the matter. And maybe he was: though he hadn’t married yet, he’d already perfected the art of the aphorism. This book is full of them: “To saunter is a science; it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live.” “A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected at least one woman.” And “Marriage is a fight to the death, before which the wedded couple ask a blessing from heaven, because it is the rashest of all undertakings to swear eternal love; the fight at once commences and victory, that is to say liberty, remains in the hands of the cleverer of the two.”

The Physiology of Marriage is a series of meditations on the more quotidian aspects of loving and living with another—many of which arrive at the rather contemporary conclusion that marriage is an exceedingly difficult arrangement, liable to end in adultery. The book has moments of surprising candor about men and women, and Balzac clearly knows a thing or two about, you know, the Human Comedy. But he’s also full of lousy counsel, and he loves playing power games. Here, for instance, are some excerpts from Meditation XII, “On the Hygiene of Marriage”:Read More »

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That’s a No-No

February 14, 2014 | by

Choosing your own erotic destiny, or trying to.

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Panel from Secret Hearts No. 111, April 1966.

A few nights ago, I was in a world-class sushi restaurant, holding a radish shaped like a rose and contemplating my next move. Koji, the head chef, had carved the radish-rose for me moments ago, after a game of strip poker that ended with him fucking me in the dining room. Earlier that night, I’d adjourned to a lavish hotel suite to suck tequila from a rock star’s navel; a renowned fashion photographer had taken pictures of my genitals and gone down on me in his darkroom, where I’d blurted without thinking, “God, I’m so wet!”; and I’d indulged in a little tasteful S&M with my friend’s older boss, spanking his firm, muscled, George Clooney-ish buttocks with a schoolteacher’s ruler.

Now I felt trapped, denatured, and sort of bored.

A Girl Walks into a Bar is a new choose-your-own-adventure-style erotic novel in which “YOU make the decisions.” YOU, in this case, was me—I was calling the shots in this vale of thrills. I’d picked up Girl in pursuit of cheap gender-bending laughs, but I also had what you might charitably call an anthropological curiosity. In the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wanted to see: What did a mainstream erotic novel look like?

Written by three South African women under the pseudonym Helena S. Paige, A Girl Walks into a Bar markets itself as an empowerment agent. “YOUR FANTASY, YOUR RULES. YOU DECIDE HOW THE NIGHT WILL END,” its cover says. (Another new novel with a similar conceit, Follow Your Fantasy, suggests, “Even if you choose submission, the control is still all yours.”) But by promising refuge for the powerless, the publishers reveal something much sadder—the subtext of these proclamations is that control, especially for women, is simply too hard to come by in the real world. One might as well get one’s kicks elsewhere. When you print “YOU DECIDE HOW THE NIGHT WILL END” on the front of a work of fiction, you imply that women are not often afforded the pleasure of doing so. Read More »

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The Habits of Highly Erotic People

February 6, 2014 | by

What can the French teach Americans about sex?

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From a 1923 French advertisement

Last month, as the New York Post went into paroxysms over the latest French presidential love triangle, we found a more academic comment on French habits of the heart, thanks to our attendance at a panel on “The Art of Sex and Seduction,” sponsored by the Alliance Française. On the first of its three nights, entitled “Did the French invent love?”, Catherine Cusset, a former professor of French literature at Yale, told a story:

A countess invites a young man to her house after running into him at the opera. After a stiff meal with her husband, who retires to his private apartments, the countess leads her guest down a secret passageway into a bedroom. The walls and ceiling are covered with gilded mirrors. Sexual frenzy ensues. At daybreak, the giddy, exhausted young man emerges from the den and runs into a marquis who has just arrived. The marquis thanks him profusely. The young man realizes that he has served merely as a decoy to distract the count from his wife’s true lover. The husband appears for breakfast and greets the marquis cordially. The last line of this story—Vivant Denon’s No Tomorrow, first published in 1777—reads, “I looked for some moral to this adventure and … I could find none.”

“There is no moral lesson,” Cusset said pointedly, and a communal gasp could be heard in Florence Gould Hall. Throughout the series, the audience was susceptible to gasps, audible stirring, and sudden eruptions of laughter. The French and American panelists, who included historians, scientists, sex therapists, and journalists, spoke about vaginas and orgasms in that purposefully blunt way one always expects and yet can seldom prepare for. Here’s what we learned about the difference between French and American sexual customs and attitudes, with a few startling facts about tout le monde. Read More »

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