the raw deal. throw the dice: winner take all

And winner take all… imagined outcomes. Libidinal investments. Perversion as an attitude and perversion as a practice. As Walter Benjamin said in the Arcades Project:“The fascination of danger is at the bottom of all great passions. There is no fullness of pleasure unless the precipice is near. It is the mingling of terror with delight that intoxicates. And what more terrifying than gambling?” . Yes, gambling and sex are dominant themes in the information age, Benjamin’s sense of aura and “weak messianism” thoroughly evaporated by even the greatest exaggerations of mechanical reproduction of anything and all in a virtual world ; the simplicity and accessibility  of access to pornography and sex through the Internet,is both a brave and cowardly new world, an economic reshaping with resulting  effects on sexuality and relationships that are appear to be quite profound.

As Donald Kuspit has remarked, open sexuality and sexual farces are ubiquitous, with the crotch  devalued, and sex of almost no value:   the most marketable and cheapest commodity around and a  palliative of the masses that surpasses even sports, anxiety about terrorists and economic meltdown.

Manet. Masked Ball at the Opera. Read More:

In terms of Art, Kuspit points the radar, at the “one genuine terrorist in modern art, Marcel Duchamp”, whose readymades  ingeniously blurred the difference between non-art and art, which license to all kinds of intellectual perversity, sex/love, materialism/money,  etc. Duchamp transformed art into a kind of “perverse theory, that is, conceptual kitsch, the most pretentious kitsch of all.” Kuspit: For with that difference obliterated, art becomes a perversion masquerading as a philosophical puzzle — not to say ironical gamble against the odds of non-art — which is why a good deal of contemporary art is of no interest to anyone except its narcissistic practitioners and aficionados, both persistently perverse and thus retardataire. Everyone else goes to the movies, where looking is openly voyeuristic and fetishizing, to satisfy their perverse impulses.

Sleeping Beauty. A prostitute drugs herself unconscious which allows clients to do what they want with her. Read More:

But Duchamp was not operating in a vacuum.  Modernist artists like Joyce and Picasso among others, were fascinated by sex and its purchase as an image of their prostituted artistic selves. Just as Baudelaire, in his poem of an old acrobat , viewed this figure , somewhat pathetic, as a mirror of a writer who had outlived his time. The old Christian tradition of division into the Virgin or the Magdalen is replaced by a new dynamic in Picasso in which the whore represents a pre-Christian, simplistic mode of existence.  More bestia, natural, real and genuine than religious iconography and more misogynous as well. Picasso’s Demoiselles captures a degraded, ill female commodity that is a mainstay of modern urban existence.

Manet. Olympia. Donald Kuspit:Let's go back to Manet's Olympia, the painting with which it all began, and still the most subtly perverse -- which also means anti-bourgeois, for bourgeois sex is presumably normal sex, that is, never ventures beyond the missionary position -- to grasp what's at stake in perversion, and that perverse deviation from traditional art called modern art. Why was the work so offensive -- so shocking to the bourgeois, or, as I would rather say, emotionally terrorizing? Manet himself was bourgeois, and knew the bourgeois had a perverse underside -- knew that the bourgeois male could only satisfy his sexual curiosity, that is, the full range of his sexual impulses, with a prostitute. Read More:

…which Benjamin notes in his chapter on Gambling and Prostitution: compares the elation of the winner “with the expression of love by a woman who has been truly satisfied by a man” . It is no coincidence that he couples the type of the gambler with the type of the prostitute. For Benjamin, and for those he choses to include in his collection, The Arcades Project, gambling is erotic in nature: “‘The passion for gambling thus serves an autoerotic satisfaction, wherein betting is foreplay, winning is orgasm, and losing is ejaculation, defecation, and castration.’Read More:

---The profession of these women is identifiable through their location not indoors where “good” women waste away their days couched away in the domestic sphere—but on the thresholds of buildings—interiors to be explored in the exterior world of the streets. Through their physical location, the nineteenth-century prostitute becomes part of the architecture, contrasting the coldness of iron, marble, and glass with the warmth promised by their available bodies—bodies identifiable as such because they are placed on the threshold and inside the arcades, a trade zone. As commodities, these women in their promenade, or from beneath a door sill, function in much the same way as numbers upon which the gambler places his bet...Read More: image:

…The end of the game is marked by the player’s catching up with the object of his pursuit, an object with two equally sought after faces: the affirmation of gain and negation of loss. However, in both states, the gambler receives an answer, which is itself always an affirmation of the game and his/her involvement in it. Winning ends the pain in a sensation of delight; losing ends it with sublime astonishment. In either case, the effect affirms the active life—the life that casts the die in the present moment—as opposed to the life that interprets or predicts the numbers that fall. ( ibid.)

Joan Crawford. 1926. ---Benjamin, Arcades Project:The origin of true lechery is nothing else by this stealing of pleasure from out of the course of life with God, whose covenant with such life resides in the name. The name itself is the cry of naked lust. This sober thing, fateless in itself—the name—knows no other adversary than the fate that takes its place in whoring and that forges its arsenal in superstition. Thus in gambler and prostitute that superstition which arranges the figures of fate and (AP 489) fills all wanton behavior with fateful forwardness, fateful concupiscence, bringing even pleasure to kneel before its throne. Read More:

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Kuspit:There is always a temptation to perverse, forbidden sexual acts. As Freud writes in Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), “the irresistibility of perverse instincts, and perhaps the attraction in general of forbidden things,” can be explained by the fact that “the feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed by the ego is incomparably more intense than that derived from sating an instinct that has been tamed.” Perverse impulses, by their very nature, and by the fact that they have been seriously inhibited by socialization — from weaning and toilet-training on — thus depriving one of deep pleasure, all the more so because it is instantaneous, can never be completely satisfied.

However held in abeyance — as they are by the self-righteous bourgeois males who fancy themselves the pre-ordained rulers of society — perverse impulses are addictive, which is why many high class bourgeois men are addicted to low class prostitutes, with whom they can satisfy their perverse impulses, at a price (undoubtedly emotional as well as economic). Manet’s Masked Ball at the Opera (1873) shows upper class bourgeois males, their power and authority confirmed by their top hats, surrounded by young prostitutes, clearly soliciting them. The women are mostly masked — their identity and individuality is meaningless — while the men need no mask to disguise their desire, and boldly pick and choose among the prostitutes, many of whom are young enough to be their daughters. Read More:

---Penned by Peter Morgan, the film is a retelling of the classic Arthur Schnitzler play “Reigen” that will chronicle the simple decision by one man to remain faithful to his wife and how it creates a ripple effect on various people worldwide, opening a window into modern relationships. It’s a intriguing conceit, and definitely one we’re curious to see unfold; it’s certainly a different take on the multi-thread drama.--- Read More:


Scholes:When it came to brothels, however, which in the modernist era were clearly perceived as a kind of public convenience, Joyce really deserved the palm, though he had one interesting and powerful rival: Pablo Picasso. Let us not forget, in this connection, that Joyce was “kept,” as an artist, by Harriet Shaw Weaver, who sent him money regularly for the last twenty years of his life. Both Joyce and Picasso, however, actually knew prostitutes. They almost certainly were both sexually initiated by these professionals and both, at some point, probably contracted venereal disease from the same sources. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , you will remember, Chapter Two ends with Stephen Dedalus in the arms of a gentle prostitute, herself enough of a child to keep a doll in a chair (with its legs spread suggestively, however), who bends Stephen’s head down to hers and by forcing her tongue into his mouth gives him the gift of tongues. At the end of the next chapter, of course, Stephen is kneeling at the altar rail, with his tongue out for the consecrated wafer to be put upon it, containing the body and blood of Jesus Christ….

---But Picasso was able, in the Demoiselles in particular, to bring the modern, the female, and the primitive together in a genuinely new way, of which the subsumption of the two male figures within the five females is the plainest indicator. This move was hinted at even earlier in his work--for instance in his 1901 parody of Manet's Olympia.--- Read More:

…The young hooker of Joyce’s Portrait is like the prostitutes and jugglers of Picasso’s blue period, represented with more sentiment than violence. This would change in Ulysses . It changed for Picasso in the text we are about to examine. Picasso’s most important early painting, and one of the most important he ever painted, is the Demoiselles d’Avignon, which he completed in June or July of 1907 . In this painting he made his most decisive break with the past, including the work of his own blue and pink periods, and began the move that was to culminate a few years later in analytic cubism. The Demoiselles is a brothel painting–its Avignon being not the Provençal home of the anti-Popes, but the Nighttown of Barcelona. Read More:

…Driven by their own flesh and by the promptings of no ordinary ambition, it is no wonder that these two artists found their most powerful expressive forms in these pornosophical, philotheological bordellos. But the brothel of modernism was also a sanctuary, a relic of a time when the flesh at least counted for something–so that artists could seek to contain and control their own commodification by joining forces with members of that ancient guild, incorporating images of prostitution within their works in a last doomed attempt to to sustain what Walter Benjamin called the “aura” of art. The threat faced by all modern artists is the one that overtakes E. J. Bellocq in Pretty Baby….

Louis Malle. Pretty Baby.--Read More:

…After World War I, Storyville is cleaned up and closed down by the moralizing bourgeoisie. The jazz musician (modelled on Jelly Roll Morton) must find another place to play. We know he will end up as a recording in someone’s record collection. The photographic artist marries his baby hooker and tries to continue his work, but her mother, earlier removed from the bordello by a wealthy cement contractor from St. Louis, comes back to rescue her daughter, so she, too, can grow up as a good bourgeoise. Did Victorine Meurent imagine herself as a “Bourgeoise of Nuremburg” when she exhibited a painting with that title? In Pretty Baby the artist is separated from his model, and the film closes with the cement contractor lining up his new family at the railroad station, so that he can snap their picture with a Kodak box camera. The Kodak slogan was, “You press the button, we do the rest.” In the brothel two of the major modernists found, in the very squalor and degradation of the place, a powerful embodiment of the human psyche that lent itself to a corresponding disembodiment of form–in which that power was explosively released. The brothel was the last sanctuary of the “aura” of art, a refuge from the mechanical reproduction that threatened to end the Romantic reign of art itself. This is why Louis Malle’s film, constructed from within the mechanical itself, can ultimately portray the brothel of modernism only in a mood dominated by nostalgia. ( ibid. )

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