Showing posts with label revenge of the object. Show all posts
Showing posts with label revenge of the object. Show all posts

10 Jun 2020

Horrors of the Casting Couch

The only way to become a star is to get under 
a good director and work your way up.


When researching a recent post on the 1959 film Horrors of the Black Museum, I came across this publicity photo featuring one of the female stars, June Cunningham, and writer-producer Herman Cohen getting an eyeful of the former in costume and presumably on set.

Clearly, it was meant at the time to be humorous, in a saucy postcard or Benny Hill-like manner. But today, when so many things are viewed differently, it does seem slightly troubling - and, indeed, will be for some members of the Me Too generation far more shocking and horrifying than anything that appears in the movie itself. 


Of course, games involving the complex interplay of sex and power have a long history in the entertainment industry and the central role of the casting couch - upon which so many promises are made (by mostly male directors and producers) and so many favours granted (by mostly pretty young starlets) - has been an open secret from the beginning (so much so that casting couch has become a well-known euphemism for the sexual politics of showbiz and a popular pornographic trope).   

It would be wrong, however, to always interpret this phenomenon reactively and think only in moral terms of abuse and exploitation, vulnerability and victimhood. For one thing, power isn't something that one party exclusively possesses and the other doesn't; nor does power always express itself in a base or vulgar manner. Further, as Foucault recognised, power doesn't only weigh on us as a form of repressive violence; it also induces pleasures and is a great productive network running through the entire social body.

Looking at the above photograph, we might also recall Baudrillard's work on seduction and the revenge of the object that curdles conventional notions of agency, consent, and truth. If nothing else, it's important to know that appearances are deceptive, situations reversible, and tables can often be turned in the blink of a gouged out eye.

Thus who can really say who is fucking with whom here? Cohen wears the trousers; but Cunningham has the ability to charm the pants off him ...  

29 May 2020

Who Knew (that Maupassant was an Objectophile)?


As the clinical sexologist Amy Marsh rightly points out, whilst objectum sexuality is often regarded as a relatively recent phenomenon, it actually possesses a much longer cultural history, as revealed, for example, in classic works of literature, such as Victor Hugo's queer gothic novel of 1831, Notre-Dame de Paris, in which Quasimodo is as passionately attached to the bells of the cathedral, as he is to the beautiful sixteen-year-old gypsy girl Esmeralda: 

"He loved them, caressed them, talked to them, understood them. From the carillon in the steeple of the transept to the great bell over the doorway, they all shared his love." [1]

However, I think my favourite instance of objectophilia in 19th-century French literature occurs in Maupassant's short story Qui sait? (1890) ... [2]


In this tale, the anonymous narrator - confined in a psychiatric unit - confesses that he has always been something of a loner, but possessing no particular animosity towards his fellow human beings: 

"I have always lived alone because of a certain creeping unease I feel in the presence of other people. I don't know how to explain it. I am not averse to seeing people [...] but if I feel they have been near me for any prolonged period of time, even the closest begin to get so much on my nerves that I have this overwhelming, increasingly urgent desire to see them gone or to go off and be by myself.
      It is actually more than a desire. It is a real need, something absolutely essential to me." [275-76]

I used to believe, like the narrator, that there must be many thousands of people who feel this way. But, actually, it turns out that most people don't; they are perfectly content, rather, with being part of a vast, seething mass of humanity. It's only a rare few souls, for example, who cannot travel on a rush hour tube, or step into a crowded lift; and only a queer type of person who finds solitude blissful, rather than a huge, unremitting burden to bear.  

Similarly, despite the narrator's insistence on the perfectly normal nature of his (introverted and solipsistic) psychology, it's actually very unusual - or what we might even term perverse - to become emotionally and/or erotically attached to inanimate objects. (It should be noted that I use the term perverse here without any negative connotation or moral judgement attached.)

The narrator informs his readers:

"My house has, or had, become a world in which I lived a solitary yet active life, surrounded by familiar objects, furniture and bibelots as lovable to me as human faces. Little by little I filled my house with these things and I lived in their midst as happily as in the arms of a beloved woman whose warm, familiar embrace has become a prerequisite to a calm, untroubled existence." [277]

That's very lovely, I think. Unfortunately, the tale takes a bizarre twist when the beloved objects stage a revolt and abandon the amorous subject by one night marching out of his house, whilst he watches with astonishment from the garden:

"What I could now hear was the extraordinary sound of steps coming down the stairway and on to the parquet and the carpets - the sound not of shoes or of human footwear but the clatter of wooden and iron crutches clashing like cymbals, or so it seemed. Suddenly, what should I see waddling over the threshold of my own room but the big armchair in which I used to read. It came out into the garden. Others from the drawing room followed it and were followed in turn by low settees crawling crocodile-like along on their squat little legs. All my other chairs leapt out like goats, with footstools lolloping alongside.
      You can imagine what I felt like! I slid behind some shrubbery and remained crouching there watching the procession continue to pass by, for they were all leaving, one after the other, quickly or slowly, according to size and weight. My piano, my full-size grand piano galloped wildly past me with a musical murmur in its flank; the smallest objects such as hairbrushes and crystal chandelier droplets crawled like ants on the ground accompanied by glass goblets on which the moonlight cast little glow-worms of phosphorescence; curtains, hangings, tapestries spread like pools and stretched out octopus-like tentacles of fabric as they swam past. My desk hove into view, a rare eighteenth-century piece now containing some photographs and all the letters tracing the sad history of my painful love-life. 
      I suddenly lost my fear. I threw myself on it and held it down as if it had been a [...] woman attempting to flee. However, there was no stopping it and despite all my angry efforts I could not even slow down its inexorable progress. In my desperate struggle against this appalling power I was thrown to the ground, then rolled over and dragged along the gravel. In no time, the rest of the furniture [...] began to trample all over me, bruising my legs in the process. When I let go of the desk the rest of the pieces careered over my body as a cavalry charge mows down a fallen rider." [279-80] 

Talk about revenge of the object ...! Is there anything else even remotely like this in all literature?

The tale's English translator, Siân Miles, reminds us that the French composer Paul Dukas used the idea of a "mysterious and threatening proliferation of avenging objects" [3] in his symphonic poem L'apprenti sorcier (1897) and that Bret Easton Ellis also incorporated a scene into American Psycho (1991) in which Patrick Bateman is stalked by an anthropomorphised park bench, but that's really about it (I think, though would love to know of further examples). 


[1] These lines from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, translated by  Walter J. Cobb (Signet Classics, 1964), are quoted by Amy Marsh in her article 'Love Among the Objectum Sexuals', in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, (Vol. 13, 1 March, 2010): click here.

[2] Guy de Maupassant, 'Who Knows?', A Parisian Affair and Other Stories, trans, Siân Miles, (Penguin Books, 2004). All page numbers given in the text refer to this edition.

[3] Siân Miles, Notes to 'Who Knows?', by Guy de Maupassant, in A Parisian Affair and Other Stories, ibid., p. 320. Miles mistakenly claims that Dukas composed his work twenty-five years earlier than Maupassant wrote his short story, but, as a matter of fact, he only completed it in 1897, i.e., seven years after Qui sait? was first published. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, as it is known in English, was, of course, based on Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling written in 1797. 

Those interested in knowing more about the role of objects in fiction and the manner in which inanimate things infiltrate our desires, fantasies, and concepts of self, might find Babette Bärbel Tischleder's The Literary Life of Things (Campus Verlag, 2014) worth reading. I agree with the book's central argument that one of the most important things about literary texts is that they "encourage us to see our practical, emotional, and imaginary engagement with the nonhuman environment in modes that resist any clear-cut distinction of subjects and objects, the physical and the metaphysical, the animate and the inanimate" [18]. 

27 Nov 2018

You Can Take the Girl Out of Sodom ... (Notes on the Story of Lot and His Daughters)

Jan Matsys: Lot and His Daughters (1565)


I've said it before and I'll undoubtedly have opportunity to say it again: the Bible is the world's most transgressive work of literature; a mytho-historical novel that contains page after page of terrible events and wtf incidents.

And there are none more shocking than the story of Lot and his daughters ...


Having escaped the destruction of their hometown of Sodom and witnessed their mother turned into a human condiment, the two young women and their elderly father find themselves seeking refuge in a mountain cave.

Here, according to the account in Genesis [19:30-38], they ply their old man with wine and then engage in drunken sex with him over consecutive nights. This is done not only without his consent, but, apparently, without even his knowledge or memory of what occurred. In this manner, each girl conceives a male child as hoped, thereby illicitly preserving patrilineality or their father's seed.       

Now, I'm no prude - but, really, this is a bit much, isn't it?


Having said that, there is something perversely pleasing about the daughters initiating and perpetrating the incestuous rape of their father, after he previously offered them as sexual playthings to the Sodomites if the latter would but agree to leave his angelic guests unmolested. For it hints at the idea of what Baudrillard terms the revenge of the object

However, some commentators prefer to turn the biblical account on its head and insist that women can only ever be victims of patriarchal power. Thus, they argue that it was more likely that Lot raped his daughters and that the narrative we are given in Genesis is a perversion first and foremost of the truth concerning incest and sexual abuse.

Such a cover-up - if that's what it is - may have been done in order to exonerate Lot and preserve the family honour. For whilst he may have been something of a black sheep, Lot was still the nephew of Abraham, father of the Covenant and progenitor of the nation of Israel. It could well be that the familiar practice of victim-blaming and shifting responsibility for sexual abuse away from the male perpetrator is first given religious sanction in this tale.  


Readers interested in the idea that it was Lot who raped his daughters rather than vice versa, might like to see the following article by Ilan Kutz: 'Revisiting the lot of the first incestuous family: the biblical origins of shifting the blame on to female family members', in The BMJ, 331 (7531), pp. 1507-1508, (24 Dec 2005). Click here to read online. 

For a sister post to this one on strange flesh and sodomy, please click here.


11 Mar 2016

Deborah de Robertis: The Naked Truth

Deborah de Robertis (self-portrait, 2014)

Deborah de Robertis is someone I'm very fond of. For not only does she have a lovely face, but she provocatively blurs the lines between art, performance, criticism and flagrant self-promotion. Of course, she’s not unique in this by any means, but she does it with rather more style and chutzpah than most.

In May 2014, for example, wearing a beautiful gold sequin dress, she entered the Musée d’Orsay and posed in front of Courbet’s obscene masterpiece, L’Origine du monde, displaying her own sex and silently challenging passersby to gaze into what the artist does not dare to reveal in his painting; the concealed eye or black hole of the vagina that lies beyond the fleshy lips of the labia; the sticky abyss which stares into those who foolishly stare into it; the zero point where philosophers and insects lose their way.

De Robertis thus seductively turns the tables upon those who would not only objectify the female body, but render it passive via its representation. She seems to say: ‘You want to see a cunt? Here’s a cunt!’ knowing full well that the museum authorities will rush to cover it up just as the news media will censor their own images in their coverage of the story (whilst nevertheless hypocritically reproducing Courbet’s 1866 oil painting of Joanna Hiffernan’s nether regions).

Then, in January of this year, de Robertis repeated her stunt; though this time she stripped naked in front of Manet’s celebrated (but equally controversial) Olympia and ended up in a police cell for two days (held for indecent exposure), as well as the in the international press once more. Stretched out on the museum floor, she adopted the same confident and unabashed pose as the reclining nude in the 1865 portrait.

Unlike the latter, however, she had a miniature camera strapped to her head in order to record those who came to voyeuristically gaze at her. In interviews afterwards, de Robertis explained that her aim was to bring Olympia to life and reverse the usual relationship between model and viewing public; to extract what Baudrillard famously described as the revenge of the object.

For these twin operations of vulva activism (or what the brave women of Femen term sextremism), I salute her. Torpedophiles who are interested in seeing footage of the events should click here (Origin of the World) and here (Olympia).

20 Mar 2015


Panchira by dw817 on

Panchira is a Japanese term for what is doubtless a universal practice; looking up the skirts of young women in the hope of glimpsing what perverts always like to term panties.

Because panchira is a well-established convention within comics, cartoons, and other aspects of popular culture, generations of Japanese men are reared to regard the fetishistic obsession with female undergarments as perfectly natural; they are normalised, in other words, into a pornified worldview that encourages the belief that it is an acceptable and harmless pastime to sneak a peek or take a snapshot up the skirt of any woman in a public space, with or without her consent.

Ironically for a practice that is often regarded as a national sport, the phenomenon of panchira in contemporary Japanese society can probably be traced back to its Westernization following American occupation at the end of the Second World War. As elsewhere, during the fifties and sixties there was a relaxing of taboos as new ideas and fashions began to circulate.

One crucial catalyst to the emerging craze of panchira seems to have been the release of the Billy Wilder movie The Seven Year Itch (1955). The iconic scene in which Marilyn Monroe has trouble with her skirt as she stands on a subway grate, excited the pornographic imagination of the Japanese public even more than the rest of the world. The practice of scoring a glimpse up young women's skirts became extremely popular at this time and many magazines ran articles advising men of the best places where they might view panties.   

What, then, are we to think of this? Obviously, panchira can be analysed psychologically as a form of voyeurism and - from a feminist critical perspective - as an example of what is termed the imperial male gaze (an immobilizing glance by which a woman is both sexually objectified and fixed in place).

But could it not alternatively be argued that it is the male subject who is effectively seduced and made helpless (almost idiotic) before a panty-clad crotch: that panchira thus results in a revenge of the object ...?         

30 Jan 2015

Auschwitz and the Question of Evil

Auschwitz by Tana Schubert (2014) 

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, allowing commentators in the news media to put on their most solemn faces, mouth a series of clichés and broadcast all-too-familiar images, thereby constructing a lazy moral narrative around a place and an event that demands and deserves far more than sanctimonious inanity. 

For a start, we need to face up to the fact that, as Baudrillard points out, the Nazi genocide was not the extermination of a people by evil, but, rather, the attempted extermination of evil by a people acting in the name of Love; the murderous outcome of idealism and an insanely logical order.  

Secondly, we must reconsider the piles of rotting corpses and accept that they are, technically speaking from a camp commandant's perspective, besides the point and profoundly problematic. For the final solution essentially aimed not at the monstrous production of dead bodies; rather, it was an attempt to systematically process death and transform wretched human flesh into bars of glistening, pure white soap. As Nick Land writes:

"We simplify out of anxiety when we conflate the mounds of emaciated bodies strewn about the camps at the point of their liberation - the bodies of those annihilated by epidemics during the collapse of the extermination system - with the reduced ash and shadows of those erased by the system in its smooth functioning. The uneliminated corpse is not a submissive element within this or any other 'final solution', but an impersonal resistance to it, a token of primordial community."

In other words, it is only because our bodies are weak and prone to disease - only because our flesh is mortal and life is fundamentally immoral - that fascism of whatever variety can never triumph: Evil makes free.

12 Dec 2014

The Case of Old Eguchi

Photo by Akif Hakan found on

Back - once more - in the House of the Sleeping Beauties and the case of old Eguchi ...

What is he hoping to find in bed with drugged and naked teenage girls and why do his fantasies invariably involve violence and a desire to physically abuse the young bodies that stimulate such sweet memories, rather than treat them with tenderness and affection?

Is it because male sexuality is inherently aggressive? Do all men dream of rape and incline towards tyranny as soon as they have a hard-on? I don't think so. Nor do I believe that Eguchi's anger towards the sleeping beauties is born of impotent frustration, or the ugly resentments of age (though he is acutely aware of his declining powers and his lust is doubtless driven to some degree by the approach of death).

Rather, I think we must look elsewhere for why it is Eguchi repeatedly thinks of strangling the girls, or placing his hand over their mouths and noses and so preventing them from breathing. He is aware that such acts constitute evil, but he can't help contemplating them; of sacrificing virgins, rather than merely deflowering them.

His thoughts, in other words, are atrocious rather than sensual; Eguchi wants to leave his mark on the girls and - above all - he wants to waken them and imagines that he might have a better chance of doing so were he to tear off a limb or stab with a knife, rather than place kisses on a breast or his flaccid penis between soft lips.  

Ultimately, it's not the astonishing beauty of the young women that drives Eguchi mad; it's their radical passivity. He cannot bear the fact that not only do the sleeping girls not speak, but they do not know his face or hear his voice either. In other words, the girls - who have volunteered to become perfect objects - negate his subjectivity so that not even the smallest part of his existence is acknowledged.   

It's the desire to still be recognised as a man and a living being in the eyes of the world that is uppermost in his heart - and this is precisely what is denied him. And so, even when sandwiched between the naked bodies of two women, Eguchi knows himself to be fatally isolate and alone - just like the rest of us at last.     

Note: 'House of the Sleeping Beauties', by Yasunari Kawabata, can be found in House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories, trans. Edward Seidensticker, with an introduction by Yukio Mishima, (Kodansha International, 1980).     

9 Apr 2013

On the Picture of Dorian Gray

Dickon Edwards, by Sarah Watson

In a brilliant and typically gnostic manner, Baudrillard observes: 

"In the end, all figures of otherness boil down to just one: that of the Object. In the end, all that is left is the inexorability of the Object, the irredeemability of the Object."

                           - The Perfect Crime, trans. Chris Turner, (Verso, 1996), p. 172

And so, at the close of Dorian Gray, all that remains is the picture. Having fulfilled its symbolic destiny and  taken its revenge, the portrait hangs upon the wall in immaculate triumph. Dorian lies dead because he mistakenly surrendered up all his secrets. But the picture-as-object remains an insoluble enigma outside of human reflection. 

Stare long enough at any image and it is not you who looks at it, but it which looks into you. Such is the abysmal nature of art: it exposes the illusory and superficial nature of subjectivity. Ultimately, despite all his crimes, passions, and perversities, Dorian bores us. The truth of the matter is that after many centuries of tedious and often painful self-confession and analysis, we know all that there is to know about the soul of man. There are no more mysteries of the human heart left to explore.

So it is that only the object excites our interest, as it leads us away from psychology towards a speculative materialism concerned not with feelings and desires, but the alien world of things, forces, and strange phenomena. We can forget human being and being human - or forms of literary analysis that talk endlessly about character and agency. 

It was - to reiterate - the picture of Dorian Gray that was the source of all that was most curious in Wilde's book. Only in the picture and in the actual events of the novel as events, were elements of genuine queerness assembled; not in the bi-curious world of Dorian, Basil and Lord Henry. 

And so, next time you take a picture of a friend or loved one, be honest enough to admit that what really excites you is the resolution of the image rather than their stupid smiling face. Dare to acknowledge that today, for us, identity is not something divided against itself as it was for the Victorians who worried endlessly about the beast or the queer within, but something to be produced, multiplied, circulated, broadcast, and consumed. 

For this is not an age of full-length portraits, or even mirrors. It is, rather, an age of screens and photoshopped personas encountered on-line. And so, if you really want to know all about someone, don't bother looking into their souls, or fingering their sex, just check out their Facebook profile and there they are in all their obscenity. 

25 Dec 2012

The Case of Jacintha Saldanha

Potlatch is an archaic form of economic exchange, based on the notion of giving a gift of such value that the receiver is thereby humiliated and at the same time obligated. This can include the gift of life.

For it is not only possible to shame and to challenge an enemy via a spectacular display of wealth, but also by a senseless and violent act of sacrifice, including self-sacrifice or suicide.

And so we come to the case of Jacintha Saldanha: the nurse who killed herself after falling victim to a prank telephone call made by two Australian DJs who thought it funny and inconsequential to make a fool of someone. Now they know better.

For what this proud and honourable woman has done is turn the tables on those who would make her look naive and gullible in the eyes of the entire world. She has effectively rendered them speechless and powerless by making of her own life a sacrificial offering that has to be accepted with deep sorrow and regret, but which can never be returned. 

In refusing to be a figure of fun and by making exchange impossible, Jacintha Saldanha has extracted the object's revenge.

So who's laughing now? Certainly not Michael Christian or Mel Greig.