"Some toys are dangerous."
Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
The term masochism was coined in 1890 by Kraft Ebbing, the author of Psychopathia Sexualis ( I have copy printed in English in 1903). The name came from Sacher-Masoch who detailed in his stories the desire to be bound, whipped, insulted, and enslaved by a beautiful and haughty woman of aristocratic bearing. Although Ebbing thought these desires to be anomalous, they were later revealed to be quite common, or at least more common than Ebbing would have supposed. Several cases in later editions of Psychopathia Sexualis drew inspiration from Sacher-Masoch work. In the 12th edition case 57 explicitedly stated he wanted to find a woman like Sacher-Masoch's heroines, case 68 a young artist thought only women of the nature depicted in Sacher Masoch's works would be able to charm him, and case 80 actually went so far as to correspond with Sacher-Masoch about his foot fetish.
Although his work was influential in terms of modern psychology, very few of his works appear in translation. I myself have been trying to find a copy of his story The Black Tsarina in which a female paramour of the Tsar is given power over him for a single day. But I recently found a rather nice translation of Venus in Furs and read it.
The story begins with a rather tradition Victorian set up, an unidentified narrator has a dream of a statue of Venus curled up in front 0f his fire. He relates the dream to his friend Severin who then hands over a memoir. The memoir constitutes the majority of the text. The use of a false memoir is a fairly standard framing device for Victorian literature. Frankenstein made use of several different types of memoir: Dr. Frankenstein's journal and the captain's log. Dracula is patched together from several different narratives mainly Harker's journal, news articles, and Mina's journal. The advantage of several memoirs spliced is that it gives different perspectives on the text. Here it is a single perspective.
The memoir tells the story of Severin's love of the young rich widow Wanda Dunajew. Severin's love of Wanda is intense, and he asks her either to be his wife or be his ideal: a haughty woman who treats him like a slave. The acknowledgement of there being a difference between his ideal woman and his ideal wife is unusual for the time period. Even more unusually, Wanda accepts, at first reluctantly, the role of ideal woman. Initially she several times asks Severin to leave off of his "insane" desire, but he will brook no middle ground. She must choose her role and continue with it.
Wanda decides that she and Severin must leave and go to Italy where he knows no one and therefore can truly be enslaved by her. She alternates between cruel mistress and loving paramour. For example after leaving him trapped in a dungeon tied up without food or water, she enters, saying "Are you sick? Your eyes are glowing so intensely. Do you love me? I want you to love me" (85). Her alternation makes it impossible to know which is her true self. Is she the cruel mistress who orders Severin to drive her to an assignation with another man to flaunt her power? Or is she, as she points out, playing a role so as to keep him? "I have to have admirers so I won't lose you. I never want to lose you, never, do you hear?" (86)
One of the failures of the text is that Wanda's character changes suddenly and because it is Severin's narrative, it is impossible to tell when this change takes place.After telling him she wishes to love only him, within twenty pages she has not only lost her love of him, but she is willing to give Severin up for the love of a young Greek noble man. The transformation is sudden and doesn't feel entirely real. This problem is compounded by the ending. Wanda tells Severin that her Greek will not accept Severin's presence in her household. Severin becomes enraged saying, "'If you become his wife, I'll kill you'...I clutched her and held her tight, and my right hand automatically reached for the dagger in my belt" (110). Wanda instantly transforms again, "'You appeal to me like this,' she said coolly 'Now you're a man, and I know at this moment I still love you'" (110). She claims that everything up until this moment has been a sham to incite his love. She proclaims they will leave Italy together and get married, a regular marriage, now that she has "cured" him of his desire.
But the following day after she has made all her good-byes, she asks to whip him. He agrees, but from behind a curtain the Greek emerges and whips Severin for Wanda's entertainment. Then the Greek and Wanda leave together. Was this Wanda's plan all along? Did she pretend to love Severin just to get him into this tableaux? Was she genuine in her conversation with Severin and then reconverted to cruelty by the Greek? Because it is Severin's narrative, the reader can not know. However, Severin is "cured" if his fantasy, and he visits upon women the same haughty disdain that Wanda once was visited upon him.
At the conclusion of the story, the anonymous narrator asks Severin what the moral of his story is. Severin replies, "The moral is that woman, as Nature has created her and as she is currently reared by man, is his enemy and can be his slave or his despet, but never his companion. She will be able to become his companion only when she has the same rights as he, when she is his equal in education and work"(119). His conclusion, that woman can only be equal when she achieves financial, legal, and educational equality is curious. Wanda is richer than Severin although Severin is aristocracy. Certainly she IS his equal financially and educationally, yet she still wishes to be dominanted by a man. Severin also seems perfectly happy to remain despot over his female servants. He, although he thinks himself cured, is merely a creature of extremes. He has gone from slave to master, not from extreme to equal.
In addition, the suddenness of the ending, the "cure" does not seem true. This is perhaps because Sacher-Masoch himself was never "cured" and could not imagine what life would be like without this domination. Or more likely such a normal life did not capture his imagination. Once the final confrontation between Severin and Wanda is over, he added a conclusion to the story because he had to, but it didn't have the same sway over him as writing about Severin's first encounter with Wanda in the garden at night.
Venus in Furs
Gracious, devilish, mythical lady.
Put your foot upon your slave,
Stretching out your marble body
Under myrtles and agaves.
Bad Bunni posted at 10/07/2004 01:21:00 PM
From Paris to the Moon
I met Henri at the little cafe, and we both had a glass of kir. We walked around a bit, hand in hand, in silence. We couldn't talk-talking for us required to many hand gestured and facial expression, so we simply walked. I was frustrated, not able to idly chat about going to Louvre, what I had seen, where I had been. He bought a baguette for dinner and we walked backed to his apartment, me feeling rather french and Henri probably feeling french without being aware of feeling french.
I sat on the sofa and he got us drinks and then went to make dinner. His friends were coming, explained, and so he put the tv on for me. It was CNN. Fairly interesting how one doesn't need to speak the language to understand CNN. There was coverage of the war, the french journalist who had just been taken hostage, an incident of anti semitism somewhere in Paris. At one point I went into the kitchen and there was Henri slicing up onions in a way that would have given my mother a grand mal seizure. Not only had he eschewed using a chopping board, but BUT he was cutting towards him. Dear lord, he could lose a finger. But he simply looked at me and smiled absently while continuing to cut. His fingers remained intact. I decided to leave the kitchen so that his limbs would remain safe.
After a bit, I heard people and went to meet Henri's friends, a lovely long haired girl named Gail, and two guys who said their names too quickly for me to catch. We sat smoking marlboro reds, drinking Coke, and chatting while Henri tended the sauteed onions. The friends, particularly Gail, smoke some english, and therefore the conversation was a little easier. Gail asked me if Americans drank Coke all the time and I assured we drank coke like the french drink wine. She asked if I saw celebrities every day-and I told her not EVERY day, but often enough-they wanted to know who and began a long list. Gail loves Mel Gibson and asked about him often, but I had to admit I hadn't seen him. They didn't seem to care about Woody Allen. They asked me about the french film actors I liked, I named a few Hollywood regulars and then threw in Belmondo which met with approval. They asked me where I had gone in Paris and I gave them a list. They were surprised I spent six hours in the Louvre. They asking me over and over Six hours? Six hours? Perhaps they thought I couldn't count in french so I held up my fingers. They asked me about Sept. 11th which involved some rather interesting play acting on my part. At one point I had to dip my fingers in the ash tray to explain how people were covered in ash. Gail asked me about the girl gangs in Harlem. I hadn't heard much-I was unsure what exactly she meant.
We had dinner-a simple meal of noodles with creme fraiche and onions and eggs. It was delicious. Eventually the friends trickled away. They gave me compliments. One of the men said "You don't speak a lot of french, but the french you speak is quality." Henri and I were left on the couch smoking and listening to the mopeds go by as it got dark. We went back to the bedroom with the fireplace and the iron work. We ended up with the mattress back on the floor, Henri asleep curled around me as I lay awake-not wanting to sleep lest I miss my shuttle to the airport or miss the experience of resting warm and relaxed and fed in Paris.
But I must have slept, I must have slept for a short while because when I opened my eyes it was 3:30 and I had to be back at my hotel by four so I could check out at five. I ran around dressing in the dark and then woke Henri. He stood up and hugged me-holding my head against him. And I? I hugged him back, but I didn't want to miss the shuttle. We exchanged phone numbers and writing addresses ( why phone numbers? what could I say to him?) and rushed down the small spiral staircase onto the street.
A Hero Returns
According to Joseph Campbell, all stories are composed of three essential parts: the road of trials, the apotheosis, and the return. At Charles de Gaulle, the check-in counter at Air France is the opposite of the one at Delta. If I started my trip with the foster children of satan, I ended it with the nephilim or descendents of the higher holy assembly. The man who checked me in spent fifteen minutes on the phone trying to get my boarding pass for my connecting flight without being asked. When he couldn't, he actually apologized with such sincerity, I thought I was going to weep.
I sat in Charles de Gaulle looking out at the full moon outside. I think I should write in my journal about my last night paris, but I just sit looking at the unusually large moon.
And just when I think I can relax, sit on a plane and let it take me back to a country where I can actually talk without thinking, THEN my flight out of Paris is delayed by an hour and half-making the two hour layover I had in Amsterdam into thirty minutes. The dash I made in 50 minutes when I came to Paris, I was going to have to make again, with a bag, in almost half the time.
As I sit on the plane contemplating the dash I think, "I went to all those shrines. Sacre Couer. Notre Dame. St Eustache. It has to count for something. I gave four euros to Saint Michel! C'mon Michel work with me, baby. Get me on that plane." At anxiety filled moments like this it is pleasant to forget how much fun I had on my own, and wish for a companion. The idea is that a companion in anxiety would help-if stoic, to serve as a good example to me-if hysterical, to distract from my own anxiety-if self assured, to assuage my fear by demonstrating things are under control.
And so after a one hour flight, I make the mad dash back across Schiphol airport. I take off at a mad pace, pulling my backpack with three bottles of wine, talking to myself-half coach, half faith healer, half schitzophrenic. "You can do it. I know you do it. You're are going to make this flight. C'mon. Keep going. Just a little faster."
I make the flight six minutes before take off. For a disabled girl with a swollen ankle pulling a bag of booze, it wasn't bad. Not quite a Budweiser commercial
, but not bad. As I get on the plane, they are giving the safety lecture. When the flight attendant who is about to close the door to the plane, holds it open for me, I reflexively say "Merci."
A Now For Something Completely Different: A Word About the In-Flight Movie-Hidalgo
Hidalgo, to me, seemed like the new myth of America-it's all about will. There is no destiny, no mitigating circumstance-if you have the will to win, truly, you will. Apparently the filmmakers bank on the audience not realizing that this line of reasoning is lifted pretty much directly from Nietsche ( the will to rule) and it essentially the same reasoning used by the character Kaiser Soze in the Usual Suspects.
In the middle of the movie, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to cry. I mean really sob. Put my hands over my face and just wail. Of course, I can't. As it is I am sure the other passangers why I got so emotional half way through a horse movie. But I was beset with this feeling of loss. Mind you going to Paris with no luggage, I didn't cry, but somehow losing Paris-Notre Dame, the Louvre, the D'orsay-even the aggressive artists, the flirting cab drivers, the oblivious tourists-it felt like a tremendous loss.
Threshold of Revelations
Part of going away is realizing how how many stupid ideas are rattling around in this noggin. I don't where this belief came from, but apparently I believed that the Seine had grassy banks. What makes this belief particularly inexplicable is that I have seen it in movies. Many times. But somehow I became convinced that the Seine has grassy banks. Totally untrue.
Also the Eiffel Tower is not visible from everywhere in Paris as I believed. (This is similar to the beliefs of my relatives that the Twin Towers were visible from EVERYWHERE in NYC) In fact, I barely saw the Eiffel Tower.
But when you go away, you also discover what you really missed about home, the things you didn't know you loved: my friends, a common language, an obvious set of social cues.
Landing at JFK is far easier than the last time. No one checks my bags. I make my quickly to the taxi stand. I still have to get back to my apartment. Because Delta lost my bags, I have to pick up my keys from the cat sitter. My phone doesn't have reception at the airport so I wait until I get in a cab.
I meet my cat sitter outside of Rohr's. I haven't slept in two days, but I am glowing. I dying to talk and blather and kibbutz. In the cab ride I have called all my friends to tell them that I am back. Mostly I leave messages. I am just so happy to hear voice mail in English. I am filled with energy. I have made it. I have returned. I have gone to Paris and gotten back without being molested by french men or eaten by marauding wolves.
I begin to spill out my stories in a manic jumble and I am met with...seeming disinterest. So Slowly the stories trickle out. I thought the return to the US would be easier. Like falling back onto a feather bed. After dealing with the indifference of the cat sitter, I get my keys and put away my luggage. Understanding that I needed to sleep, I went to F's for a martini.
After my martini, I was exhausted. I made my way back to my apartment. Although it was undeniably my apartment, and looked better than when I left ( the cat sitter vacuumed), it didn't feel like mine. It felt alien and strange. I thought I missed my cat, but no. After she jumped on my head disturbing my sleep again and again I discovered that I had spent eight very lovely cat free days in Paris and I was longing to go back to the that cat-less life.
Although the loss of my luggage hadn't seemed so awful when I was in Paris, suddenly it loomed as a tragedy here. Every day I discovered something new I had lost, my light floral skirt, the black skirt from florida, my ann taylor black strappy heals, my black cocktail dress, my kate spade make up case. Every day the loss seemed more intense and severe.
I tried to remain upbeat. It was tax free week and so I spent the thursday after my return replacing make up and underwear as well shirts and skirts. After I spent the whole day shopping a friend of mine called to ask me out to dinner. We sat dressed in black, drinking red wine from large glasses. Half through dinner my phone rang, "Hello? This is Air France. We have your bag."
I almost wept.
The next day Air France delivered my bag. I was worried that things would be missing, stolen, but not a single item was missing. Not even my mother's digital camera. I never knew I would be so happy to see my own clothes again. Turns out my clothes never left JFK. They stayed at the luggage counter at Delta for nine days before someone sent them to Air France-at Air France they had the brilliant idea of calling the number on the ID tag on the bag. I tell you as an atheist I am loath to believe this, but angels walk among us and they all work at Air France.
"Because everything that was meant to happen happens...eventually"-American Beauty
For years I thought of every thing I lost when I lost Eric. A trip to Paris, a wedding, a child, a family, a life.All those things gone for good. But that night looking at my luggage, half a bottle of Cote du Rhone open in my kitchen, I wondered if I would change anything. My friends seemed so focus on how much fun I would have had if my luggage hadn't been lost. "Yes, but I DID have fun," I said to them. "Ah, but you would have had more fun," they retort. "Not necessarily so. If I had followed all the advice and all the guides, I would have never met Henri or discovered the Tiger or had any number of fun adventures. Maybe it would have been more fun, maybe not. But I did, in reality, have a great time."
Maybe I was never meant to go to Paris with Eric, or maybe I was meant to go to Paris a long time ago and destiny got hijacked somewhere. The point is I got there.
And now all I think about is going back.
Bad Bunni posted at 10/04/2004 10:20:00 AM