Am in bed downed by something like a sinus infection. Channeling, channeling, always, I am Simone Weil although Simone Weil worked ruthlessly past her sinus headaches working in the fields and arranging worker protests while at the slightest hint of sinus troubles I dive into the covers. I am Sylvia Plath with her sinusitis. The madonna and the medusa, Weird Simone & Strange Sylvia, a dialectic like in Bataille's Blue of Noon. Je suis Colette Peignot. Je suis malade. Maladie a deux. There goes my knowledge of French.
I am in the bed with books. I am a invalid voluptuary. I give myself permission to flip because I am sick, I cannot delve into anything too deeply (can I? ever? delve into anything so deeply? I am reminded again that I am a terrible reader, I have not always been a terrible reader. I have always! been! a terrible reader!)
So. I am "reading" Maya Deren's Divine Horsemen, and Ian Hacker's book on mad travelers, and Oesterreich's 1920 book on Possession, which I read like I read Beckett, first few pages and then scurry off to write notes about how I can apply it to my own writing. Let me sample to you my journalled notes on the subjet:
Am fascinated by this woman who shot up her faculty department meeting, now claims not to remember. When amnesia is convenient, to hide ourselves from ourselves, our secret violences, desires. Is this why we don't remember our polymorphous perverse infantile states? All those chaotic gaps. Am reading Oesterrich's Possession, what Sylvia was reading before Ariel. interesting not many auto-records (love that! "auto-records") of possession, possession narratives, because of the nature of possession, followed by amnesia. He compares this with the memoirs of mystics, of which there are many. I am interested in writing narratives of possession. Fugue states of disassociation. How my actresses are possessed by a character (like Zelda? Zelda possessed by the character of her he had written?) How Vivienne would have fits, damaging a room. Sylvia. The dybbuk.
Andrea Yates. (underlined many times)
Of course all of this talk of possession reminds me so much of Kate Durbin's extraordinary essay on teenage girls and melodrama, which I still think about, I think it might be a femme-festo to a whole type of writing that is post-Plath, bulimic, possessed. (Have just read Durbin's The Ravenous Audience, which I passionately love and feel such kinship with, will write about later, also have read Ariana Reines' The Cow.) And also my fascination with the dybbuk, my interest in performing women's lives, inhabiting them, becoming them.
Anyway. Love that last bizarre little note "Andrea Yates." I leave myself many notes like that, usually names of women or characters. Andrea Yates is a figure who fascinates me, and many others, I know, but I think what fascinates me the most about Andrea Yates is the story of her trial, how the prosecutors used the excuse that she had been given inspiration by the crime through watching Law & Order! I love the postmodernness of that. Then it was overturned because it showed that the episode hadn't aired yet! The TV Guide defense! How our identities are constructed by TV. A term I just learned from the book on mad travelers: "doxogenic" a belief system created by therapists and the media.
Ian Hacker's book, referenced in a recent NYT article on the Americanization of mental illness, is about the fuguer, and mostly working-class men who find themselves in these disassociative states, roaming the world, centering around the story of a French man named Albert and the epidemic of mad travelers in the late 19th century. And how mad traveling was kind of the male hysteria, as Charcot saw it, and how mental illness diagnosis deals so much with gender and class. It's fascinating. And very much a link to what Baudelaire, and then Benjamin, curating Baudelaire, writes on flanerie, the "amamnestic intoxication". The dialectic of the flaneur, as Benjamin writes in Arcades Project:
on one side, the man who feels himself viewed by all and sundry as a true suspect and, on the other side, the man who is utterly undiscoverable, the hidden man. Presumably, it is this dialectic that is developed in "The Man of the Crowd."
"The Man of the Crowd" is a story by Poe that Benjamin really seizes on for his chapter on flanerie, basically the narrator follows a flaneur down the streets of London and (as a voyeur) observes the man's erotic compulsion towards the crowd, and this ecstasy of being lost in the crowd is contagious. I reappropriate the story for the ending of my novel Green Girl, as Ruth finds herself on Oxford Street, lost and dancing amidst the Hari Krishnas (who are figures of fascination to her throughout the novel, as are other mystic figures such as St. Teresa of Avila), and this is the ending:
I want to go to a church, she thinks. I want to sit in a church and let the white light bathe me. It doesn't matter what church, what religion. It would be best if I did not understand the mumbling pleas directed up high. I want to go to a church and direct my eyes up high and open my arms open my arms up to the ceiling. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Now, Ruth is a flaneur through the city of London, but she is not Benjamin's definition, because she is a young attractive woman (a Deneuve or Seberg lookalike). In this work I was grappling with Benjamin's definition of flanerie, and how the woman is both consumer and object of consumption, she buys, she sells herself. I was also really inspired by Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7, and in many ways Ruth is Corinne Marchand, a beautiful ingenue wandering through the streets, a celebrity, but a young pretty woman is always a celebrity, going to cafes, always aware of the gaze, of the mirror (oh love Varda's uses of mirrors), always consuming (that scene with the hats! trying on the hats like confections! reminding me of that Degas painting at the Art Institute, the salesgirl at the hat shop, dressed in drab green, fingering one of the pastel dream creations, as if daydreaming of a life in which she would be the wearer), always the object of desire. And then how does this change with Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight? A woman no longer the object of desire, now the object of curiosity or pity in public, still the object of the gaze, or fearful of the gaze, a voyeur of herself, a foreigner (as is my Ruth, but isn't a woman always alienated in public, always a foreigner?) still paranoid from being exhibited. For can a woman in public ever truly be hidden?
Much like Varda's Cleo (yes, much like she says, much like), I in Green Girl was trying to effect some sort of transformation for the character, some sort of breakthrough, but could only find it in her anonymity in the end. Many feminist critics thought that the film was not feminist enough, that Varda was not effecting enough of a transformation for the character. But what Varda was trying to perform, or critique about the character, is really interesting. Turning the object of desire into a subject, a meditation, a subjective documentary, of a woman in city streets. It is interesting that Varda was inspired by Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, but in the work, Malte Laurids Brigge can be invisible, he can blend in as he walks around La Salpetriere (I think of Foucault, how ironic an end, Foucault dying in La Salpetriere). He can wonder at the death within all of us. Then he turns inward, the mystical Book Two. Perhaps the mystic can relate to the fugueur. The mystic was a way for women to turn inwards, to leave their body, themselves, a body that dooms them to immanence, to objecthood, the gaze. Simone Weil as Dirty doesn't have to be the object of Bataille's desire or revulsion, she divorces herself from her body, her eroticism, her objecthood.
The flaneuer or the fuguer is anonymous, and experiences a mysticism, an out-of-body experience. Benjamin writes:
An intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets. With each step, the walk takes on greater momentum; ever weaker grow the temptations of shops, of bistros, of smiling woman, ever more irresistible the magnetism of the next streetcorner, of a distant mass of foliage, of a street name. Then comes hunger. Our man wants nothing to do with the myriad possibilities offered to sate his appetite. Like an ascetic animal, he flits through unknown districts - until, utterly exhausted, he stumbles into his room, which receives him coldly and wears a strange air.So the flaneur is a mystic, who has an internal hunger consuming won't satisfy. He resists smiling woman (prostitutes? mannequins? for those were the two choices of women in late 19th century modernity. I need to reread Janet Wolff's essay on the flaneuse in modernity, which I believe addresses some of this).
Ian Hacker writes that the famous fuguer Albert was never noticed on his travels, he was quiet, unobtrusive. So it is a point of privilege in which one is allowed to disappear on city streets (I think of Fanon's "The Fact of Blackness," the spectacle of the black man on white Paris streets). It is a point of privilege to lose one's identity in public. Repeatedly Albert loses his identity papers, like he wants to lose his identity. A desire to escape, from one's identity. But who is allowed invisibility?
Mysticism and hysteria have been two historical ways in which women, women from "good homes," women who were "good girls", have escaped from the oppression of their lives. But women have also been la flaneuses/fuguers, and I think of some of my favorite works of literature which embody this, embody the dialectic of the female flaneuse, which is perhaps distinct from the female vagabonde (Violette Leduc's The Lady and the Little Fox Fur, Varda's The Vagabond, Barbara Loden's Wanda, the vagabond as the undesirable, closer to the prostitute, who must beg or barter her body in order to exist, this is why she is on the streets, this is why she is wandering).
What is the female flaneuse escaping? She is escaping her role as a love object, she is escaping being the object of desire, of "posing," as Barthes would write, as constituting oneself into an other. She wants instead to gaze, to desire. I think of Erika in The Piano Teacher, the voyeur subverting the female gaze, this is what Elfriede Jelinek does that is so dangerous in this novel, she has a woman take on the gaze, control her own masochistic desires (wanting to leave her body, she dictates its release). Same with the cipher Sophie in Wonderful Wonderful Times. Sophie wants to watch Hans jack off, she wants to watch. Beginning of Berlin Stories "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking." They are characters but they are authors as well, whachers, to quote Anne Carson in Glass Essay about Emily Bronte (a mystic who was able to escape the quotidian, the dreary, the body in favor of the soul).
(Women in public, the spectacle of the public woman, the criminal, Baroness Von Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven, Sally Bowles, Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box)
Erika in The Piano Teacher is a fugeur, there are two Erikas, the good, respectful, mother's daughter, and then this criminal of the night lurking around, spying on couples fucking, squatting behind the tree. A link from Erika to Lol Stein, definitely another fuguer, walking around the town in a state of amnesiac consciousness, she goes shopping as well, these works are about the erotics of witness as opposed to being witnessed, replaying a site of trauma (the trauma of being female, of being watched, of being objectified, of being passive). Lol Stein the object of obsession, she is "watched" over the entire work by the narrator, who loves her, who watches her every movement. She is a minor celebrity in town, a subject of gossip, and is this what she escapes from as well in her fugue states? She leaves her body, the scene of the crime. (Not only sadomasochism a way to leave the body, to be the body without organs, but flanerie as well, mysticism as well.) The women in Destroy She Said are part of the theater, the war between man and woman, they are actresses, they play the part, they cannot resurrect themselves from being characters in a novel (madness, too? a way to escape being a character? Zelda moans from the walls of the asylum "I am the woman trapped in the pages of your book!").
My favorite flaneuse though is Robin Vote in Nightwood. She is the object of obsessive love, she is a character in everyone else's novels, and she leaves, she always leaves. Maybe I was influenced in the ending of Green Girl by Robin Vote in the church, converting to Catholicism, converting to whatever religion. She is Lol Stein, another Lol Stein, yet is her story ever told? Based on Thelma Wood, I think of Thelma Wood, I wonder about her, the object of such intense desire, to be immortalized as a character in a novel, a character in another's dreamscape of desires, what does this mean? Edna St. Vincent Millay loved her and Berenice Abbott loved her and Djuna Barnes loved her. She who crafted shoes on silverpoint. The consumer, the object of consumption (love as consumption, an illness, feverish, dreamlike, so intense as to make one want to die, the erotomania of Nightwood).
Felix the wandering Jew (the stereotype that is the original fuguer), and all the demimonde of Nightwood. Nora and her obsessive love. They do not see Robin. They project onto Robin. "When he asked her to marry him it was with such an unplanned eagerness that he was taken aback to find himself accepted, as if Robin's life held no volition for refusal." The femme fatale. The deadly woman. Who dies when she is not gazed upon, for she does not really exist. Another way for the flaneuse to be invisible. Out of the air I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air.
The woman who presents herself to the spectator as a "picture" forever arranged is, for the contemplative mind, the chiefest danger. Sometimes one meets a woman who is beast turning human....Such a woman is the infected carrier of the past: before her the structure of our head and jaws ache - we feel that we could eat her, she who is eaten death returning, for only then do we put our face close to the blood on the lips of our forefathers.
And so what is Robin Vote escaping from? Being a character. She is escaping from the oppressiveness of love. The oppressiveness of the past (she is American, she has no past, she can change her identity easily). But then Nora becomes Lol Stein, she becomes the voyeur, she becomes the narrator of "A Woman in the Crowd," she follows Robin, she becomes entranced with her disappearing love-object, who doesn't exist. (This reminds me of the Bunuel film, The Obscure Object of Desire, where two actresses play the desired love-object. Brilliant.)
As an amputated hand cannot be disowned because it is experiencing a futurity, of which the victim is its forebear, so Robin was an amputation that Nora could not renounce. As the wrist longs, so her heart longed, and dressing she would go out into the night that she might be "beside herself," skirting the cafe in which she could catch a glimpse of Robin.
This is the desire of the flaneuse, the hysteric and the mystic. To be "besides herself." To escape one's bourgeois existence. Dora knocking down walls. Thinking very Baudelaire too in Jane Bowles' Two Serious Ladies, the desire to slum, Jane Bowles' obsession with prostitutes. Also Vivien Leigh caught in a fugue state while playing Blanche DuBois, her aging Southern belle, Belle become Bad, in Gone with the Wind, Margaret Leigh writes that every good girl has a devouring curiosity about prostitutes. Vivien roaming the red-light districts at night, not remembering herself (escaping herself?), she who obsessed over cleanliness, no underclothes should ever touch the floor, everything white, pure, clean, she who became her characters, who found herself taken over by them, a Robin Vote, she who would ask cab-drivers to take her home and fuck her senseless, like Blanche's desire for Stanley, that ape, that brutal ape.
Next up: an essay on "Blonde Ambition," Doris Day and Sylvia Plath, Gene Tierney, Veronica Lake, Marilyn Monroe, Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, Cleo from 5 to 7, I tie them all together, I think, a continuation of the notion of losing oneself in public, and celebrity, and criminality....