Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Read Bruce Chatwin's essay on English artist Howard Hodgkin (from the collection What Am I Doing Here) and discovered this kernel of insight at the end:

...Howard's pictures have always been, more or less, erotic -- and the more erotic for being inexplicit. He seems incapable of starting a picture without an emotionally charged subject, though his next step is to make it obscure, or at least oblique. Yet is not all erotic art -- as opposed to the merely pornographic -- oblique? Descriptions of the sexual act are as boring as descriptions of landscape seen from the air -- and as flat: whereas Flaubert's description of Emma Bovary's room in a hotel de passe in Rouen, before and after, but not during the sexual act, is surely the most erotic passage in modern literature.

My friend Lindsey and I had a conversation about erotic art in relation to her reading of Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, which she found decidedly non-erotic. Something about repetition, ritual, and the banality of it all -- Sade's directness.

If memory serves me, I think Lindsey did, in fact, mention Flaubert as a literary erotist (to cite the first English translation of Bataille's term -- erotism, not eroticism), capturing in Madame Bovary the peripheral lines of desire that tease our fascination with Emma. Flaubert, then, and not Lawrence, does this to us.

Obliquity and erotism: pulsion, torsion, and the unknowable object of drive. Attention to detail. The sensuousness of form.

I wish, in Chatwin's brilliantly meandering final passage, he had written, "whereas Flaubert's description of Emma Bovary's room in Rouen, before and after, is surely the most erotic passage in modern literature." The "r"s rolling together, a pause to note the obliquity of erotism ("before and after"), and the brave concluding statement of fact. No need to say, much less italicize, during -- we know what's come in between before and after.

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