L’Autoportrait d’un Pornographe

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L’Autoportrait d’un Pornographe (1972) is a short film co-written by director Robert Swaim and Roland Topor in which Topor’s Surrealist cruelties and black humour are tempered to present a sardonic and sentimental tribute to a dying breed, the small-time Parisian pornographer. Daniel Langlet is the photographer who also sells his views of unclothed women from a coat whose lining is pocketed with prints.

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Swaim and Topor compare this declining trade to the vanished street merchants of the city; the film dates from a time when “le sex shop” was a new arrival on the streets of Paris, and a competitor with which a purveyor of black-and-white soft porn could never hope to compete. Topor himself makes a cameo appearance, and there’s a possible reference to Cocteau’s Orphée (and another vanishing trade) in the glass cutter we see in the street.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les Temps Morts by René Laloux

Weekend links 500

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Projet onirique (tombeau pour un poète) (1901) by Henry Provensal.

• “20 years later, Sexy Beast remains something of an oddity…It offers a deconstruction of the genre, which is then reconstructed to marry the unhinged, convulsive beauty of surrealism with sturdy, universal storytelling.” Thomas H. Sheriff looks back at Jonathan Glazer’s debut feature.

Blau Gers, a new piece by The Alvaret Ensemble: Greg Haines (piano), Jan Kleefstra (voice, poems), Romke Kleefstra (guitar, bass and effects) and Sytze Pruiksma (percussion).

Wendy Carlos: A Biography by Amanda Sewell, the first study of the life and work of the electronic composer, is out in March.

The prejudice against writing sex in Anglo-American literature is something that utterly baffles me. What a bizarre thing it is to claim that this central, profound territory of human life is off-limits to literary or artistic representation. Sex seems to me one of the densest and most intense human phenomena, one of the things I find it hardest to think about—and so something I want to think about in art. The biggest surprise to me about the reception of my first book—other than the fact of there being any reception at all—was how much discussion there was about the sex in it. There isn’t very much sex in it! It said something about the culture of mainstream publishing in America in 2016 that a novel with maybe three or four pages of explicit sex between men could seem surprising.

Garth Greenwell talking to Ilya Kaminsky about literature and life

• Some (but not all) of the museums of Paris have made thousands of artworks available for free online.

• The Work of Fate: AS Hamrah introduces a screening of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée.

La Labyrinthèque: Histoire de l’art jouissive & enchantements littéraires.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the art of the (book) cover.

Tom Huddleston on 10 great stressful films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Malcolm Le Grice Day.

François de Nomé’s Imaginary Ruins.

Sexy Sadie (1968) by The Beatles | Sexy Photograph (1995) by Ui | Sexy Boy (1998) by Air

Weekend links 449

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UK poster, 1950. Cocteau’s film receives a UK blu-ray release this week.

• Into the Zone: 4 days inside Chernobyl’s secretive “stalker” subculture by Aram Balakjian. (Again. There’s an implication in Balakjian’s piece that illicit Chernobyl tourism is a new thing even though people have been doing this for a while now.) Related: Jonathan’s visit to the Chernobyl reactor control room, and photos of Soviet-era control rooms (plus a couple of stray American examples).

• “He’s a very interesting author: a disabled, gay writer during the Third Reich…who somehow survived only to be shot by a Red Army patrol days before the end of the war.” At the Edge of the Night (1933) by Friedo Lampe will receive its first English-language publication via Hesperus Press next month.

• “The tradition of the painted still life has been reinvented by contemporary photographers with pictures that pose a puzzle and slow the viewer down,” says Rick Poynor.

• Comic artist Matt Howarth has been writing short reviews of electronic music for many years. Sonic Curiosity is his archive site.

Bauhaus at 100: what it means to me by Norman Foster, Margaret Howell and others.

• RIP Jonas Mekas. Related: a conversation between Jonas Mekas and Jim Jarmusch.

• Beyond the Buzzcocks: Geeta Dayal remembers Pete Shelley‘s electronic side.

• Where to begin with Jean Cocteau: Alex Barrett goes through the mirror.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 278 by Sarah Louise.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jud Yalkut Day.

• Undulating Terrain (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord | Darkstalker (2000) by Bohren & Der Club Of Gore | Stalker Dub (2012) by John Zorn

Weekend links 443

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• Yet more Gorey: Mark Dery’s biography of the artist prompted The New Yorker to unearth a piece of cover art that Edward Gorey submitted 25 years ago. In the same magazine Joan Acocella reviews Dery’s book and examines Gorey’s life and art. At Expanding Mind, Erik Davis talks with Mark Dery about Surrealism, the gay voice, Penny Dreadfuls, and the occult and Taoist influences in Gorey’s work.

Moving Through Old Daylight: Mark Fisher, Jim Jupp & Julian House of Ghost Box Recordings, and Iain Sinclair in conversation at the Roundhouse, Camden, London, 5 June 2010. Topics under discussion included Nigel Kneale, TC Lethbridge, John Foxx, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, alchemies of sound, the homogenisation of culture, imagining space and the impersistence of memory.

• “A radical retelling of our relationship with the cosmos, reinventing the history of astronomy as a new form of astrological calendar.” The Space Oracle by Ken Hollings.

There was a deliberate, almost prickly quality to Fisher’s writing and thinking that is rare nowadays, when criticism is more likely to involve open-minded rationalizing than steadfast refusal. He was not one to frolic in ambiguity or irony. “Just because something is current doesn’t mean it is new,” he writes in K-Punk, as he wonders if a time traveller from the nineties would find any contemporary music as radical as post-punk or jungle had once seemed to him. When everything is cheerfully “retro,” Fisher argued, we lose our grasp on history—and, without a sense of why the past happened the way it did, our anything-goes embrace of “happy hybridities” is an empty gesture. “What pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists,” he writes.

Hua Hsu on Mark Fisher’s K-Punk

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on The Wind Protect You (1946), a novel by Pat Murphy which Mark describes as a forgotten precursor of Watership Down.

• “At once tiny and huge: what is this feeling we call ‘sublime’?” Sandra Shapshay explores the Romantic aesthetic.

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of 2018. Thanks again for the link here!

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 572 by Nastia, and FACT Mix 683 by Casino Versus Japan.

A Child’s Voice (1978) by David Thomson, an overlooked ghost story starring TP McKenna.

• Jean Cocteau’s Orphée returns from the underworld via BFI blu-ray next month.

Rated SAVX: The Savage Pencil Scratchbook

Orpheus (1967) by The Walker Brothers | Orpheus (1987) by David Sylvian | Overture To Orpheus (2003) by Colin Booth

The Strange World of Willie Seabrook by Marjorie Worthington

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This is a curious book. Marjorie Worthington (1900–1976) was the second wife of William Seabrook, an obscure figure today, known—if at all—as much for the lurid details of his life as for his books. In the 1920s and 1930s Seabrook was a well-regarded and very popular writer, delivering to the American public reports of his travels in the dangerous and exotic parts of the globe. Worthington was a writer herself, the author of novels, short stories and biographies, in addition to this memoir, her final major work. By the time The Strange World of Willie Seabrook appeared in 1966 Worthington’s subject was largely forgotten, his exploits eclipsed by wilder figures, while the “unexplored” areas of the world whose exotic lure had fuelled much of his writing were no longer so distant or so strange in a world of continental travel. Seabrook wasn’t completely forgotten at this time; I knew his name, if little else, from a paperback of Voodoo Island that my parents owned. This was a retitled reprint of The Magic Island (1929), a best-selling study of Haiti and its voodoo culture which, among other things, popularised the concept of the zombie.

Seabrook’s name is hard to avoid if you’re reading about witchcraft or the occult in the first half of the 20th century. Aleister Crowley knew him and mentions him in his autobiography, while Crowley is discussed in Seabrook’s Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today (1940). Crowley’s attitude towards Seabrook seems to have soured in later years, possibly because of some perceived slight or betrayal. The two men have a lot in common: both were the same generation (Crowley was born in 1875; Seabrook in 1884), both were addicts (Seabrook’s demon was alcohol), and both were fascinated by the outer limits of human experience. In Seabrook’s case this famously extended to eating human flesh, an experience he recounted in the follow-up to The Magic Island, Jungle Ways (1930). Marjorie Worthington gives a detailed account of this episode which was much more mundane than Seabrook’s printed version. When the African feast failed to materialise Seabrook decided to keep the incident in the book even if it meant staging a cannibal meal in Paris. One of the fascinating things about Worthington’s memoir is the frequent lurches of tone when Seabrook disrupts their generally placid domesticity with a hare-brained inspiration. If this makes him sound like an Jazz Age Hunter S. Thompson he wasn’t quite as mercurial, but the cannibal episode has a trace of the gonzo as the pair race around Paris one evening, looking for a convenient stove where Seabrook can cook the “rare goat meat” a friend has procured from a Paris hospital.

Worthington logs these and similar exploits with dismay, and one of the many curious aspects of her memoir is the unexamined nature of the attraction between herself and “Willie” as she calls him. Their relationship was an unusual one from the outset. Seabrook and Worthington were both married to other partners before they met; Worthington fell in love almost immediately but rather than go through the usual adulterous games the four people simply swapped partners and went on their way, all still married but now living with their opposite numbers. Worthington remained in love with Seabrook even though they were sexually incompatible, Seabrook having an obsession with bondage games whose outlet was provided by compliant women hired for the purpose. Worthington tried to be understanding but Seabrook’s fetishes and recurrent alcoholism strained their relationship, despite their mutual dependence. One of the ironies of the book is that Worthington recounts her abhorrence each time Seabrook retires to the barn for an endurance session with one of his new women but offers little detail as to what took place. This has the effect of stoking the reader’s curiosity which could hardly have been her intention. Seabrook told her he was interested in the mental effects caused by his bondage experiments—we see a photograph of one session on the cover of the new edition from Spurl—but the sexual dimension remains undiscussed.

The Strange World of Willie Seabrook isn’t an account of continual torment, however. Seabrook had many successful years, and the pair were friends with Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Aldous Huxley, the Astors and others. One of the best parts of the book concerns a journey by plane from Paris to Timbuktu at a time when international air travel was still a difficult and dangerous business. Worthington’s account of a noisy flight across the Sahara in a cramped aircraft that could only fly during the day makes contemporary moans about air travel seem like the whining of spoiled children. Her narrative comes alive when it assumes the character of travel writing, and she writes evocatively about her experience of the Sahara Desert. I’d have preferred more along these lines but for this it may be necessary to turn to Seabrook’s own works of the period, Air Adventure (1933) and The White Monk of Timbuctoo (1934).

The Strange World of Willie Seabrook is published by Spurl Editions on 25th October.