modernist garden: flowers of evil

In retracing the steps of Charles Baudelaire’s Paris, Walter Benjamin also arrived at a similar conclusion with respect to modernism’s influence on society. The flaneur, the urban dweller; this persona lead Benjamin to remark  that the prostitute is the only merchant who, along with their merchandise, also sells themselves. The women sex trade workers, staking out their territories, were a manifestation of a generalized aesthetic, occupied the bottom rung, the basest element of the pyramid, but also reflected broader relationships in society with respect to “trade” and the barter of commodities within emerging market systems of exchange, now enhanced through mediation by images made possible through technological advances in film, radio and printing. But, the idea that there is a relationship between prostitution and modernism is not new, and Benjamin could see this in the modernist arts of Picasso and Joyce which were opening up commodified narratives which can be said to have ruptured connections with the Old World.

In his writings on Paris as the artistic center of the nineteenth century, Benjanim, in addition to flaneurs, writes of other psycho-anthropological figures such as the dandy and prostitutes, and arrives at a  new character, a product of the times, of production and the flow of merchandise. The conclusion, to Benjamin was a situation in which the civil classes are faced with retracting or re-writing their previous contract with a basically independent poet or artist which would inevitably lead to a need for that poet’s prostitution, called the reification of art.

---In his work My Heart Laid Bare, Baudelaire himself writes that there exists in every man at every moment two simultaneous postulations, one toward God, the other toward Satan. Beckoning God, or spirituality, is the desire for ascension, beckoning Satan, is the pleasure of descent.---Read More:

It was Baudelaire who introduced experience in terms of shock as the heart of his artistic endeavor. And it  was Baudelaire who advocating learning to block the blows,counterpunch, which would permit existence for himself and others despite an earthquake cancelling out that possibility.  Benjamin then came upon  the conclusion of the people’s loss of experience, replaced by mediated experiences, buffers, in a highly developed society as well as the substitution of that lost experience by the dynamics and aesthetics shock reception and response; the Freudian world of trauma, hysteria, panic and fear.

Saftich:central symbol, the incarnation of that magical landscape, which emerges as an allegory in Baudelaire's poetry, is the prostitute. Through this figure Benjamin proves that the female body has lost its aura of natural femininity and become merchandise, consisting of dead and jaded fragments. Its beauty has become a type of cosmetic disguise (make-up and fashion). Read More:

The modern society theory then, even more applicable today,  is that  the increasing number of blows in place of individual defense mechanisms,  has raised a series of mechanical replacements that, although partially shielding us,like bandages, also remove  the possibility to understand and assimilate that which is actually arising. The media- surprising that Chomsky never dwells on this-   acts as an anesthetic against the blow of novelty. Ultimately,  if shock can be accepted,if the tolerance is high enough, experience will manage to after all. However, since consciousness is basically at a premium, depleted  with defending against the blow,emotional frozenness as a repulsion of stress, experience related incidents are suppressed into the unconsciousness. Experiences lived permit  us to rationally understand life’s shocks and defend our consciousness from their onslaught and deeper permeation.

Experience, in this sense is just the immediate result of shock, lacking any filtering and the obesity of shaped and spun narrative: this is the context of Charles Baudelaire who continually absorbs blows caused by the passing masses, the lights of the city and other situations typical for the life of a modern city. The philosophical and esthetic value of Baudelaire’s poetry arises from the result of his elevating the experience of shock reception into a transformed esthetic principle.

---or the seduction of Jean Rhys by Ford Madox Ford as a way of assisting her with her career, or the impregnation of Rebecca West by H. G. Wells, which hindered West's progress in getting established as a writer, or the misogynistic and anti-semitic attack of Wyndham Lewis on Gertrude Stein's prose, or Ezra Pound's expulsion of Amy Lowell from the imagists--and so on. Modernism's exclusion or marginalization of women can also be shown in the extraordinary role that prostitution played in the development as modernists of those two giants of the movement, Joyce and Picasso....Read More: image:

So, violence against  women involved in prostitution continues is a visible marker on our society, and an obvious attack to the dignity of these people. Normalizing prostitution for the sake of these women is simply one option, but the idea of commodifying the body reaches into the innards of the economic system and all the degradations it is able to distribute.

Jeff Jetton: You were

usly duped by Larry Flynt into taking an interview with Hustler magazine, which may speak less to Flynt’s ability to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and more to your disregard of, or unfamiliarity to, popular culture.

Noam Chomsky: I wouldn’t say I was duped. I wouldn’t have done it if I had known what it was. But I do … like I didn’t ask you what you were doing.

Jeff Jetton: Sure. But you really had no clue what Hustler Magazine was at the time?

Noam Chomsky: Never heard of it. I’m pretty much out of popular culture altogether….

Jeff Jetton: In the post-Hustler interviews, you seem to have a rabid distaste for porn, calling it degrading to women. But surely there’s a deeper conversation to be had about human sexuality and erotic material. Is it just that all pornography is –

Noam Chomsky: I’m no expert on pornography. The core element of it, I think, is degradation of women, whatever else goes on. I don’t think it should be outlawed, but I’m not in favor of the degradation of anybody.

Jeff Jetton: Do you know who Lady Gaga is? Read More:

Louis Malle. Pretty Baby.---In this film the brothel is a refuge, a sanctuary for photography as a form of art. E. J. Bellocq is presented as a licensed voyeur in the brothel, of which he neither approves nor disapproves but accepts as providing the best material for his art. After a time he comes to belong in the brothel, on much the same footing as the elegant Negro who plays an equally elegant jazz piano--and is called "Professor," of course. Neither of these two "goes upstairs" with the prostitutes. They are, themselves, prostitutes of a sort, making their livings off the comodification of their arts rather than with the sweat of their bodies. This situation, in which musician and photographer manage to exist both in and on prostitution, practicing their arts in an accomodation with commodity culture, offers us a fruitful image for the situation of the artist under the cultural and economic regime we know as modernism. Read More: image:

First: through their clothes, carefully applied makeup and well-groomed faces, they all happen to look contentedly middle class, as if prostitutes led urbane lives in the midst of standard bourgeois comfort. Second: they are all white, as if prostitution in Canada was something that did not disproportionately affect aboriginal women and girls who are coerced and trafficked into sex slavery. And perhaps most appalling of all, they are all smiling, as if the prostitution of their relatives involved no real exploitation, indignity or insult to those enchained by the whims of their johns and pimps. … It is telling that this campaign could not put the face of a single real relative of a prostitute upon its posters, but had to rely on actors. ( Letter to the editor, National Post, July 13, 2011)

---Violent attacks against prostitutes were Stepping Stone’s motivation for the campaign, according to Anthony Taaffe, the creative director at Extreme. "People have a bad habit of pigeonholing sex workers as not being people," Taffe said Tuesday. "It’s easy not to care about a certain group within society if you actually don’t see them as people." Remove the moral aspect of sex workers’ jobs and the public might relate to them as human beings first, he said. "It’s easy for people to kind of go, ‘Oh, that woman’s just a whore,’ " Taffe said. "Well, no, that person is also somebody’s mother or somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister or something like that. So it helps humanize them a little bit. "And I think that’s what we want people to really understand is you might not necessarily agree with what they do for a job, but don’t forget that they’re humans and they deserve the same respect that you give to your brother or your father or your mother."--- Read More:


The ‘holy prostitution of the soul’ compared with which ‘that which people call love is quite small, quite limited and quite feeble’ [Baudelaire] really can be nothing else than the prostitution of the commodity-soul —if the confrontation with love retains its meaning. Baudelaire refers to ‘that holy prostitution of the soul which gives itself wholly, poetry and charity, to the unexpected that appears, to the unknown that passes’, it is this very poésie and this very charité ; which the prostitutes claim for themselves. They had tried the secrets of the open markets; in this respect commodities had no advantages over them. Some of the commodity’s charms were based on the market, and they turned into as many means of power . As such they were registered by Baudelaire in his ‘Crépuscule du soir’:

Against the lamplight, whose shivering is the wind’s,
Prostitution spreads its light and life in the streets:
Like an anthill opening its issue it penetrates
Mysteriously everywhere by its own occult route;
Like an enemy mining the foundations of a fort,
Or a worm in an apple, eating what all should eat,
It circulates securely in the city’s clogged heart.’

Only the mass of inhabitants permits prostitution to spread over large parts of the city. And only the mass makes it possible for the sexual object to become intoxicated with the hundred stimuli which it produces.

Walter Benjamin, 1938
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Scholes:Benjamin also observed that the prostitute held a special fascination for the modern artist because she was subject and object in one, both the seller of flesh and the fleshly commodity that was sold. This parallel between the situations of artist and prostitute was both fascinating and troubling for male writers and artists. For painters in particular, it was complicated by the relationship between artist and model, which recapulates in certain respects the situation of client and prostitute, and indeed, many models were also the sexual objects of their painters. We should pause, however, and consider how much more complicated this relationship was for female painters and sculptors in particular. Many of them were both models and artists, objects and subjects with a vengeance. The case of Camille Claudel, one of the sculptor Rodin’s models and mistresses, yet a talented scuptor herself, is now, thanks to film, well known. Less well known is the case of Gwen John, one of the finest of English painters, who was also a mistress of Rodin, posing for his sculpture called “The Muse,” whose work is only beginning to be properly known and respected today. A “Muse,” of course is a woman who inspires an artist, rather than an artist in her own right. This list could be extended specifically to include the women artists who became models, mistresses, muses, whatever for Picasso himself–but, for the moment, a mere mention of this aspect of the situation will have to suffice.

Now we are concerned with the other side of this relationship–specifically, the ambivalence of male artists who saw that they, too, sometimes played the role of prostitute in order to function as artists. Under the commodity culture which spawned modernism, even successful artists could scarcely avoid thinking of themselves in this manner. The greatest of modernists were often as jealous of one another as any prostitute might be of another who was getting a higher rate. Thus we find James Joyce, in a 1920 letter to his friend Frank Budgen complaining in this vein: “If you see the October Dial in any reading room you will find a long film about me. I observe a furtive attempt to run a certain Mr Marcel Proust of here against the signatory of this letter. I have read some pages of his. I can’t see any special talent but I am a bad critic” (Let. I, 148); and in 1927 he complained to his patron, Harriet Weaver about yet another rival or competitor: “My position is a farce. Picasso has not a higher name than I have, I suppose, and he can get 20,000 or30,000 francs for a few hours work. I am not worth a penny a line. . .” (Sel. Let. 327). Read More:

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